Monday, October 15, 2012

The end of the story

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  Not exactly a holiday you wish to celebrate.

Five times our family has experienced the joy of expecting a baby, only to be crushed by loss.   I know we have been blessed.  Six more times, that joy was made complete in the present as I delivered healthy children.  But looking around our table, I sometimes still see the missing spots.  The longer gaps between children where a brother or sister should have been.  And I catch my breath and thank God that this is not the end of the story.  

Someday I will hold those children again: the ones whose feet never touched this earth, but were born directly into the courts of the Living God.  Someday He will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will be together again.

But in the meantime, it still hurts.  1 in 4 known pregnancies ends in miscarriage.  Chances are, if you have not had a loss, someone you know has.  This October 15, please remember those who grieve.  Pray that God will comfort them.  Lend your ear and your arms to listen and hug when they need to remember.

I have been blessed, in a way, in that all my losses were in the first trimester.  I never felt my babies move before I had to say a premature goodbye.  But there are many, many moms out there who felt the kicks and knew a gender and gave a name before their babies went ahead.  Honor those moms by asking how they are doing.  Talk about their children by name.  A dear friend told me, after losing her full-term baby, that what hurt the most is that no one talked about him.  No one wanted to say the wrong thing, so they said nothing.  And it made her feel like he had never been real.

May God Himself comfort all who grieve their babies, and may He daily reassure us that this world is not the end.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On a ledge

First, an update on the kiddos.

School is going well this year.  I absolutely think we did the right thing putting the boys in school.  The girls are learning so much and I actually feel like we are getting everything done that we should.  I am so happy with our arrangement.  Nate is loving school and making friends.  We are working with the school on his dyslexia therapy and he is making progress.  The little boys are transitioning, not without some bumps along the way, into a more structured environment.  I think this is good for them, and will help them if/when we decide to homeschool them again.

And as for me, well, I am here.  I've had some major changes in the last few months.  I quit my job to be home more, though I am looking for one with a smaller time commitment each month.  I left my church, as I could no longer receive in a place that does not allow women to teach men.   I found a church where I felt home (thank you, St John the Apostle UMC, for being a safe landing spot for me), but my husband didn't like it.  So we are looking for a new church together.  I left our homeschool co-op, as I just couldn't handle teaching another class right now, and felt the prevailing winds of the group were too legalistic and patriarchal for me.

So I've left behind a lot of friends.  And I feel like I'm drifting in a way.  I don't really know what to cling to except Christ.  A lot of the things I've been taught for the past 10 years seem like garbage now:  ways to control people, control women, control children.  As if the Gospel were a fantastic self-improvement plan instead of the water of life.  I've found that I am so desperate for grace.  My efforts are never going to be enough.  No matter how many fancy plans I make, I will always fail.  So I have to cling to One who won't.  And I have to be quiet enough to let Him speak and reclaim the words that seem so twisted in my mental dictionary.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”                                                                                                   John 4:13-14
Looking at my daughters has changed my life.  My girls are growing and asking questions about their roles as handmaidens of the Lord.  And I'm realizing that the box many of the people around me are building for their girls is so, so small.  That the yoke they've placed on young necks is anything but light and easy.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”                                                                          Matthew 11:28-30

Serving the Lord where He has planted you should be light and easy.  Not easy in the sense of "never being difficult," but easy in the sense of "wow, I love this pair of jeans."  And for me, it has not been that way for a long time. (Would it not make sense that the One who made me would fashion me to fit perfectly in the role He has for me, but to chafe at the wrongness of an unfit spot?)

Right now I am waiting.  I am asking and I am listening.  I am considering seminary.  Feels scary to put that into words, but I feel like there is so much I don't know and so much that I want to know.

I've just felt for the longest time like I was standing on the edge of a precipice and the tiny ledge I stood on was slowly shrinking.  I felt like I could keep clinging to where I was and standing on the things I had been taught, knowing it was not a true safe place.  Or I could listen to the Voice that beckoned and just jump, trusting in my Savior to catch me and bring me into a real green pasture of rest.

So I'm choosing to jump.  To follow Him and trust that He still speaks. To believe that the One who made mountains also made me and has a perfect niche in this world just for me.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.      Psalm 27:13-14

Monday, June 11, 2012

Educating as unto the Lord

We've been homeschooling for 5 years now.

Five full, wonderful, stressful, exciting, exasperating, joyous, delightful years.

And next year, we're taking a new direction.

My boys are headed to public school.  Our plan has always been for them to go with Philip when they are in 5th & 6th grades (for those who don't know, my husband is a mad scientist/teacher at a local intermediate school).  Nate wasn't quite ready last year, so he's heading off with Daddy for 6th grade.

And the little boys, well, that's another story.  Gabriel went to speech pre-K this year at the elementary school. And he thrived.  His behavior has improved so much (and we actually understand him when he speaks!)  So we are sending him and Luke to the elementary school next year for K and 1st.  They are excited and I am praying that more structure will help Luke in the way it has helped Gabe.

Which leaves me home with my girls.  I'll have a 2 yr old, a 2nd grader and a 4th grader.  I am so thrilled that I will have more time with Anna before she heads off with Philip to 5th grade the next year.  I am determined to teach Abigail to read - a challenge for both of us as she struggles with dyslexia.   Thankfully I'll have the carrot of "more time for crafts" to dangle before her!  And finally, I am delighted that I can thoroughly and completely enjoy my last go-round with the terrific two's as Leah Claire heads into the world of preschool.

I've even found a new homeschool enrichment co-op (though I will miss my SACC friends mightily) that will allow me to have 5 whole hours to myself each week.  (Imagine shopping alone!  Or taking a nap!)

But I've gotten a lot of flack from friends about this arrangement.  As if I have given up on my children and ceded them to the devil.  As if homeschooling is God's perfect design for children and public school is satan's playground.  

But I think that's silly.

God never said that we must homeschool.  Sure, there is Deuteronomy 6:7, which says of God's laws, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."  Which homeschool zealots take to mean that we must have our children with us 24/7 so we can teach them God's laws.

But we have to remember that this command was given at a time when most children were with their parents 24/7 anyway.  And most fathers and mothers worked in the home.  We make a mistake when we read more into a verse than was originally meant.  When we read condemnation when it was not intended.

I believe the whole counsel of God is clear.  We should be teaching our children to love Him, follow Him and obey Him.  But homeschooling is not the only way to do that.

I also believe that we should be preparing our children to function at the fullest of their capabilities in a modern world.  That means giving them opportunities for academic excellence.  It means not using the cop-out "what really matters is that they love the Lord.  As long as they know the Bible, it doesn't matter if they know physics or chemistry."  Because academic excellence and a heart for God are not mutually exclusive.  The God who created our minds is glorified when we use them to our best ability.  And He is shamed when we waste them for some sham of holiness.

I have to admit, after 5 years, I have realized that I cannot do it all with excellence.  I cannot teach all 5 of my school aged kids to the level that I would like (at least not at this point).  I refuse to short-change my kids because of my pride.

I hear "we have all our homeschooling done by noon" and "it only takes 2-3 hrs per day" on homeschool blogs all the time.  But that isn't how it has looked for us.  We start in the morning and I'm usually finishing with the last child at dinner time.   We have been using an inclusive curriculum (Tapestry of Grace) that allows us to do many subjects together.  But there is no getting around the fact that math, reading, grammar, writing and spelling have to be done individually.  And when your dyslexic child's reading level is not the same as his comprehension level, you must read aloud most of his work.

Something's gotta give.

I want my children to love God wholeheartedly, but I also want them to be fully educated and prepared to do the things He has for them.

Homeschooling is a blessing.  But so is our educational system.  I challenge other moms to look honestly and prayerfully at the job they are doing with their kids and realize that putting your child in public school does not mean you have failed.  It may just be one path God uses to grow your child and educate him.  His Hand is not limited by your limitations.

If you cannot do it with excellence, maybe you need hand off the baton.  And that is okay.  I realize this may sound a bit judgmental, but I am getting so weary with the homeschool rhetoric.  When I hear moms say things like, "Well, we were busy last year with the new baby, so we just didn't do math," it makes me sad.  And angry.  (Especially when the new babies come every year or so.)   Raising your child to love God doesn't mean short-changing them educationally.

Or at least it shouldn't.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Special snowflake

As I've been trying to shake the crazy patriarchal garbage out of my skull, I've been actively trying to befriend more folks who aren't super conservative Christians.  It's nice to expand my horizons and meet people who challenge my beliefs.  It's comforting to know that there are many, many people out there who love Jesus fiercely, but aren't swigging the dominionist patriarchal kool-aid.  And it's good for me to hear honest critique of Christianity.

I often find myself reevaluating the things I hold dear.  And realizing how silly, and frankly unimportant,  some of the things we churchy folk do and profess.

One specific idea that I've been wrestling with is the idea of a personal God.  Conservative bloggers get mocked when they write things like, "Look at the gorgeous sunset God blessed me with," or "God really provided today.  I went to the market and they had a surplus of apples.  I scored several baskets for only $3 and canned a ton of applesauce."  As if they were God's special snowflake and God does things just for them.

It can be hard to reconcile a God who helps me find my keys with the God of the Calcutta slums.  Why does He paint me gorgeous vistas, when children across the world are living in a refuse pile or being forced into prostitution at seven years old?

Why does He care about my little needs when theirs are so big?

And I don't know.

I know that sin and decay have wrought destruction on our planet.  One needs only pick up a newspaper to see the crime and corruption running rampant in our world.  Famine, disease, war, greed, and pollution threaten millions worldwide.  Natural disasters bury cities or sweep them out to sea.  As a race and as a planet, we are broken.

I know that God has embarked on a dramatic rescue plan through His Son to redeem us and make things new.

But it hasn't come into its fullness yet.

The world still heaves with labor pangs.

But what does this mean in regards to a personal God?  The One who knows every hair on my head?  How can He care about my petty wants and seem to ignore the real needs of dying children?

Maybe that is the answer.

God really does care about my little needs.  But only because He wants me to be whole.  He wants me to be full and healthy and ready.  Because this kingdom He is building comes through us, His church, His bride.  And we have to be His hands.  We must take the care we have received from the hands of our loving God and let it energize us to reach out.  Let it empower us to reach the least of these.

It's the only way it makes sense.

Because a God who cares even the tiniest bit about your providential double coupon cares a heck of a lot more about a starving child.  And He is counting on us to stop naval-gazing and give everything back.

We really are His special snowflakes.

But so are they.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why I am NOT raising my daughters to be "Maidens of Virtue."

It's that time of year again: curriculum time! The mailbox has been stuffed with catalogs and my inbox is full of "for sale or trade" lists from other homeschooling moms. Something I see popping up over and over is curriculum for young women training them to be "keepers at home" or "maidens of virtue." And when I read about such things, my stomach turns.

 Because I am not raising my girls to be maidens/keepers/homemakers. I am raising them to be Christ followers. And I don't think that means they get a different education that their brothers. I don't think there is a biblical list of "godly girl character qualities" and a separate biblical list of "godly boy character qualities." 

We are ALL called to be followers of Christ - to emulate Him. As we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are to show the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). We are ALL called to mutual submission and deference (Eph. 5:15-21). We are ALL called to serve each other (Gal. 5:13).

I think we do a disservice to our sons and daughters when we catagorize virtues as male or female. As if all godly men are strong and brave, while all godly women are soft and sweet and domestic. What message does this send to the tomboys and artsy young men? What message does this send to boys and girls who don't fit the mold?

That the way God created them is not right. It's not good enough.
That they have to change to be accepted by God and Christian society.
That being a guy means being tough and taking on all the responsibility without showing fear or sadness.
That being a girl means loving the home and sewing and cooking and cleaning.
That guys cannot be soft without being wimpy or whipped.
That girls cannot be strong without emasculating men.
That God's desires for our character are dependent on our gender.
That God has one mold for boys and one for girls and if you don't fit you are rebellious.

And I don't want to tell my children these lies.

I want my boys to be:

able to lead
able to follow

And I want my daughters to be the same.

Don't get me wrong.  I want my daughters to be virtuous.  And my sons as well.  But I don't want to tell them that some virtues are male and some are female.  God embodies all that is good.  And we are ALL His image-bearers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Taking the crazy out of packing the workboxes.

So apparently I am not bright enough to delete photos on my new camera and can't find my memory card. So we'll have to go without visuals on this one.

I try to make packing the kids' workboxes as hassle free as possible.

Some of the kids' assignments are on the computer. For those, I laminated cards that say "Reading Eggs - 30 min" or "Teaching Textbooks, next lesson."

For the rest of the stuff, I have a general order for each kid. I wrote it out on a piece of paper, laminated it and keep in the front of their desk apprentice.

For example (keep in mind that Bible/art/history/science are all being done together):

Luke's Boxes

1: All About Reading
2. Critical Thinking
3. Handwriting
4. Singapore Math
5. Hands on (I try to pick one hands on math assignment here, like using C-rods or counting bears or another math manipulative)
6. Blank
7. Blank
8. Reading Eggs

So, the ones with dedicated assignments are easy. I just put that book into the folder or magazine holder. For the others, things are more complicated.

On Sunday evenings I go over our TOG and science plans for the week. If there are any worksheets or projects that I want to do, I assemble them and put them in folders in my desk apprentice. I have a folder for each child. Some things may be appropriate for just the older kids or just the youngers, so I just print out as many copies as I need. I also spend a lot of time perusing Pinterest and other hs sites, so when I see a project or worksheet that any of the kids might like I print it and put it in their folder.

So each night as I pack the next day's boxes, I just go to that child's folder and choose whichever worksheets/projects I need to fill their boxes. I have a stash of logic puzzles I can use to fill boxes in another folder as well. And, of course, all the file folder games.

Doesn't take me longer than 10-15 minutes at most. And as I pack their boxes, I check the previous day's assignments.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Our new homeschool system

So, as we've added pupils to the school, organization has become more and more important. When educating more than one child with a learning challenge, it becomes vital. This year, we began using a modified workbox system.

She suggests dividing the work into 12 boxes per child, per day. Since we do unit studies, all the children are studying the same science, history, Bible and art. This means we begin our day on the reading carpet and listen as I read from our various "living books" (we try to choose more real books and fewer textbooks). We pray together and if we have an art project for the day, we complete it after carpet time.

This year we put up a reading tree. Every time we complete a read-aloud, we add a leaf to our tree. Our goal is 1000 books between 10/11 and 10/12.

This is the whole school room:

You can see my desk on the left there, with my filing cabinets. The desk on the right side of mine faces the children's area and its drawers hold all of our colored paper and supplies. I also have a desk apprentice on that side with my stuff in it.

Yes, that is a dishwasher rack sitting on the left side of my desk. It is perfect for book storage. It allows me to flip through our current or future read-alouds easily. My file cabinet is full of file-folder games for the children's workboxes. These are easy to make games that reinforce skills the children are learning. Most include a key so the child can self-check.

Here are Luke and Abby's desks:

Each child's area has a desk apprentice, a bookshelf, a desk, chair, and a light. Sue Patrick suggests using all plastic shoeboxes for the workboxes but we found that to be unwieldy. So we use a combination of magazine files, plastic shoeboxes and file folders.

Each day I pack the children's boxes/folders with their assignments for the day. If it is a workbook, I put a sticky note on that day's workpages. They begin with #1 and work through #8. As they complete each box/folder, they remove the number from the velcro and place it on their docking station.

Then they place their finished work in their worktub. (See the white tub to the left of his desk apprentice?)

I begin with Luke and work around to Nate. So I try to stack the older kids' boxes with assignments they can complete on their own in the early boxes. If they get stuck on a box, they can simply replace it in their folder and wait for me to get to them.

Each child has his/her own space to be responsible for. I tried to design cute docking stations for each child's numbers as well.

Here is Abby's desk:

And docking station:

Nate and Anna share the other wall of the school room:

The giant board up on the wall is our All About Spelling/All About Reading board. I am in love with this O-G based phonics/spelling program and have seen all four kids growing in their spelling and reading since beginning this fall.

When we use the board, I just pull it down from the wall and set it against the end of the table on the floor. We do our assignment and then put it back up. This keeps Leah Claire out of the letters.

Here is Anna's docking station:

And Nate's (those are supposed to be Legos, no mocking the art skills):

You may have noticed a couple of extra squares on each child's station. Those are for "bonus boxes." Usually a board game or fun activity that they may choose to do when they finish school.

So there you have it, the Pfanstiel school system. Love to help anyone out or take suggestions!