How to Survive Being Locked Up

The kids and I have been pretty much house and yard bound for 56 days. I have gone to the store twice, and they were both not wonderful experiences, but I did sorta enjoy the excursion. We are blessed in the fact that our day-to-day hasn’t changed as much as other people’s: we have no fun activities, sports, or pretty much anything that we looked forward to before, but the structure of our day is the same. This feels like a homeschooler’s February (this is the worst month of home ed for our people. I don’t know whether it’s the grayness, the winter, or the lack of excitement, but it’s often during this month that many of our kind are ready to throw in the towel.)

So. Now that the chaos has worn down a bit, and you aren’t watching the news biting your nails, here’s some ways to get through- and maybe even thrive.

Get Dressed Every Day

They said you could save the world by staying on your couch. Well, okay, but your mental health will plummet. You will lose all desire to get anything done, you will feel like hot garbage and if you don’t feel good about how you look, it will come through in how you deal with things. This is not the time to cut your hair- but you can try and style it differently. I used to wear not as nice clothes everyday, and save my good clothes for going out, but honestly, we don’t go out all that often and I hate seeing myself in photos wearing a tshirt and jeans. So now I have a couple nice tops that I wear around the house- and don’t care too much if they get stained from life.

Routine, routine, ROUTINE

Not a schedule, but a flow. I know I’ve said this a million times. It’s better for everyone when they know how the day goes. If you stay up late watching a movie together and sleep in- that’s fabulous! So start the day from there. What schoolwork needs to get done, and when is the best time? Make sure that’s when you sit down to do it. The worst days for me are the ones where the phone rings and I answer it first thing in the morning, and the kids go off and do their own thing, and I start doing my own thing (clean the kitchen in peace, whatever) and then have to get everyone back to the books later. It’s so much harder than just doing what I know we do best, even though at the time it feels good to get something done.

Quiet Time

By now everyone has probably identified the hardest part of this life- it’s literally more than full time. No breaks. We don’t do a lot of screen time and the screens we do have I use for my maximum benefit. In the afternoon, for a specified amount of time, is when they can watch a show. Then I have a bit of a chance to catch my breath. No snacks. No talking. Little kids use the bathroom before, and then it is Quiet Time with capital letters. They need a break from each other and from me. Now that our house is bigger, I can even split them up to go to different areas, which they enjoy. When it’s over, it’s very common to find four or five of them playing soccer in the backyard, or starting a game. They’re ready to play together again.

Be Observant

The second hardest part? Your child’s welfare depends on you. Their education, health and well being is all on your shoulders. This can be very stressful- or it can be liberating. You are the one who knows your child best, and knows what they can handle. If they aren’t doing well emotionally or behaviorally, it’s probably best to take a step back and see what’s going on. Maybe they need more time with friends, or you. Maybe they need less screen time in general. Maybe they need to be able to run outside and get their frustration and energy out. Maybe they need more worksheets (just kidding! That’s literally never been a thing!) I cannot stress this enough. Depressed kids don’t realize they’re depressed, and they certainly don’t use that language. They either act out or withdraw, commonly. By the time that you notice, there is typically a bunch of red flags that were missed, and it’s really hard to get back to basics. Hindsight is 20/20. Many times it could have been avoided by minimizing stressors, getting more interaction with mom or dad, or having some good conversation with friends. We need to advocate for our children and keep them healthy.

Look for FUN

We started some fun things. Dropping little gifts off at people’s houses. A weekly lego contest (not my idea.) Scavenger hunts. Mailbox adventures. Soooo many walks. Lots of jokes. Mainly, I’ve learned that when the kids get a fun idea, we need to just run with it. Don’t try and make it plausible; don’t put it off; don’t make it perfect. Just let them do their thing and help if needed. The most fun things in our house the past couple months have not been from me, but from the kids. Makes sense if you think about it- they know what they enjoy more than Pinterest does.

Reach Out

If you don’t need to, great, but chances are someone needs you. As an introvert, I feel really guilty that each time that something gets cancelled, I have a little spike of relief. I know that’s terrible. Part of me loves staying home: I always have so much to do! My home life is a never ending story. It is a fulltime job keeping up with laundry, meals and dishes. I am perfectly content to do what I need to do around the house each day and occasionally text a friend. But, I believe very deeply that God has created us for relationships and community. So when I’m doing okay- it is literally the perfect time for me to reach out and make sure that others in my life are also okay. When I’m not doing okay, I need to call a friend and ask for prayer and encouragement.

Pivot

This is a new word to our family, brought to us by the year 2020. When something isn’t working, we pivot. Change course. Change direction. Our home and education is not ruled by a bureaucrat in an office, it is decided on with wisdom. When things start going downhill with fractions, we pivot: read together, and try again tomorrow. I could tell so many stories of certain math or language concepts that simply took a few days to sink in. I could have kept pleading, trying and fighting, but real education will not come from that place. So many days I have died to my own plans and goals, because we had to camp a little longer on a step in the middle. Is that failure? It feels like it at the time, but in the end, when a concept is fully grasped, it’s worth it. Having many children at different ages means that sometimes I have to put something off until later when a little one desperately needs attention too. That’s not a fail; that’s pivoting to meet real needs first. God knows how many hours we have in each day, and it’s just the right amount. I pray often that I will bow to His plan in the moment, and not my own- and certainly not to someone else that doesn’t even know my children!

Put First Things First

Amidst all the chaos, conspiracies and information of this weird time, my “mission” has never changed. The mission I have chosen is to be a disciple of the Lord, to in turn disciple our children, and to be a light to the world however I can be. I have literally no interest in whatever is going on at “higher” levels: I have access to the highest. I’ve always known that evil reigns right now, but it won’t forever. It’s all good. My focus is on my family and my community as a whole, and how I can best show them the love of Jesus. Anything else is just white noise to me. Maybe one day I’ll have time to dive in and really research it, but right now I’ve just got too much on my plate. I have to prioritize, as I just don’t have the mental space for more than that.

Look for the Blessings

There’s been so many amazing little and big things that have occurred. We’ve had a slower schedule, which we needed. I’ve been able to reconnect with my family, and I didn’t realize how much I had let that slip. The handsome hubby and I have enjoyed creative date nights. Don’t get me wrong- some things have been very, very challenging and devastating for the kids, and for me, but we’ve been able to see the blessing too. Our church family is amazing, even without a building to meet in. Our son has been connected to the youth group he met up with on our cross Canada trip, and we are so thankful for that. There’s been a lot of hard, but there is some sweet in there too. We must grieve for the things we lost and are losing, but when the blessings are there, it’s good to notice them and appreciate them for what they are. I’m out of work, and I miss it, but I am enjoying gaps on the calendar too. Some days are harder than others. Some days I genuinely don’t want to go to bed because I don’t want to wake up and do the whole thing over. It’s hard, but I’m thankful for the new things we have experienced.

You’ve got this, Mama! And you’re doing well! What has been hardest for you? What have you enjoyed?

Large Family Eating

If you’ve ever wondered how I occupy my day as a kept woman, it may just surprise you to know that a large portion of it has to do with food. Another is laundry, but I just plain don’t want to talk about that. Chances are, at any given moment, I’m figuring out a meal, preparing a meal, cleaning from a meal, or being asked what will be served at the next meal. Every now and then, I might get a curious question about our grocery budget, but it doesn’t offend me at all. This is a big cost in everyone’s life, and we’re all trying to do our best. The average Canadian family of four spends roughly $220 a week in food. Our number is roughly a bit less, and it also contains our eating out (which we rarely do) and all other groceries (laundry, toilet paper, personal hygiene, etc.) but it’s for a family of nine. We have people over for meals often, I babysit quite often and I never feel like I can’t be hospitable due to budget constraints. Here are some ways I stay within the lines.

  • Shop twice a month. I only go every two weeks or so. We have a second fridge and freezer to store the 7-4L jugs of milk we will go through in that time. I found when I shopped weekly, I spent much more.
  • Use a service! Click and Collect has been a lifesaver. I can’t go over budget without it staring me in the face. It tells me easily the price per unit to compare prices, sales and brands so I don’t have a meltdown in the middle of aisle four trying to figure out which baking soda is cheaper. Like, more than twice. I don’t “accidentally” buy more of something than I need when it’s on sale, because I can easily check the pantry or freezer to double check. However- be cautious leaving the website open if you have children who know how the service works. I came home with four candy cups and four packs of Mr. Noodles once. Many stores offer this now.
  • Meal Plan. If you are the manager of a home, you really should have two separate meal plans. One is in case of survival mode: at least a week’s worth of meals (allowing for three per day) that can be thrown together quickly; the ingredients are all in the house at any given time; meals that everyone will mostly eat; and will nourish bodies rather than inflame. Think hospital stays, huge stress times, extended illnesses, etc. When families go through tough, hard stuff- which is inevitable- everyone will still need to eat. If you’re doing drive thru windows or super processed stuff, things can go from bad to worse financially or in your health (which will make a bad spot even worse!) Having a meal plan on the inside of your cupboard door that hubby, older kids or friends can see and access will help things go smoother and save a lot of money. Think scrambled eggs and toast, spaghetti sauce, frozen batches of soup, frozen chicken and stirfry veggies, whatever. You can also rotate the same three days or whatever too. Don’t reinvent the wheel. The goal is to fill tummies, be prepared quickly, and be there when you need it. You might know it all off the top of your head, but having it written down adds a nice, peaceful feeling in times of chaos. You can also direct it from your bed, if you’re the one that’s down.

The second meal plan helps with saving money and being a good steward of what you have already purchased “in good faith.” You know, the stuff that was on sale, or healthy, or at the time seemed brilliant. I make my meal plan for the next two weeks based on what is already in my house. I do buy fresh veggies to add to this, but that’s it. This frees up your shopping list to be ONLY WHAT IS ON SALE. I never, ever, ever, pay full price for meat, cheese or big ticket (anything over $5) items. I do pay full price for butter. It bothers me on a deeper level than it should. We go through so much butter. Essentially, I am restocking my pantry and freezer when I shop, or looking for fun new recipes to try in the future, and I buy enough to get me to the next sale. If I’m out of something that’s not on sale, I wait and pray.

  • Homeschool. You laugh, but honestly, we eat yummy, nourishing soups at least twice a week. It costs like $2 a pot, or something. Even in the summer. For snacks, we only have seasonal fruit or veggies, popcorn, yogurt, raisins, frozen fruit and *occasionally* cheese strings. Lately I have been buying boxed cookies which has been a hit. They only last a couple days, but it’s made school a bit fun. I wish I baked- I haven’t in years. Hopefully soon. Our oldest daughter is very capable, so I should be taking advantage of that. I buy granola bars and juice boxes but only as a big treat; we grab them when we know we’ll be out of the house for a long time so that we won’t stop somewhere. They don’t eat them at home. I do buy “special snacks” for after we clean the house on Fridays, and popsicles or ice cream for Family Altar, but those are special and hidden. Snack wise, we save the treats for treats. For drinks, we do water, milk, coffee for us parental units, a LOT of teas, and I just recently started buying iced tea for my son who has complained about the variety. Very, very, rarely, we have juice.
  • Emergency Situations. I kinda eluded to this in the meal plan point, but sometimes, stuff comes up. You need to have a meal or two that you can throw together FAST and take with you on the go, or get on the table as soon as you get home. Also, a way to eat out if things go sideways. We live 45 minutes from the city, so there have been times we had to pick something up because it was cheaper than running home and coming back! In those situations, we will grab the $6 pizzas from Little Ceasar’s, and we can all eat under $25. We’ve also gotten a rotisserie chicken and a bag of buns to eat in a park. I can count on one hand the amount of times we got fast food last year- it costs us upwards of $70 to feed our herd. We all do, admittedly, love it, but it’s just not worth it in any stretch of the imagination. Once, we thought doing a Chinese buffet would be cheaper. Spoiler alert: it was not. We paid over $100 and two kids only ate tater tots.
  • Pack meals. We are able to do a lot of super fun things, only because we bring our own food. I pack a lunch for the hot guy I live with or, bless his heart, he would eat out every single day. He works out of his vehicle, so I get it, but this has helped limit the midday munchies. I’ll do a future post on this, but as a hint- make sure you have some kind of “treat.” It makes it way more fun and not such a drudgery. For us, beef jerky, canned iced tea, fruit snacks, chips, strawberries- all of it helps deter from joining the food lineups where they are usually serving worse food for more money.
  • Cook everything from scratch. All the mixes add up. All the sauces add up. There are recipes online for just about everything. Keep in mind there’s always a lot of added junk in canned soups, broths or packages. I do buy all our condiments, but for the most part, if I can make it I will. Whatever I can’t gets added to the list, and I buy it on sale.
  • Have some convenience foods. Hahaha. Made you glance at the last one again. We eat predominantly whole foods. The only thing in our rotation that I can think of, offhand, that isn’t, is pasta. Fine, and potato chips. Don’t judge me. But I do keep frozen pizzas, chicken burgers or wings on hand in case I need something quick. Again- it’s not the goal, but it’s still better and cheaper than eating out. They aren’t in my “meal plan,” but if we have an opportunity to go out for dinner sans enfants, I am NOT cooking first! Very “worst case” scenario- they get freezer burnt and need to be tossed out. Best case scenario- someone drops off their kids, you have twelve to feed on short notice, and you can. Ask me how I know.
  • Time your sales, know your prices, and research. I tried Costco about seven years (and four children) ago. It wouldn’t have saved us money then. I’m interested to try again but they don’t have click and collect here, and I just don’t have the time right now. Soon. For us, at the time, sales prices at our main store were cheaper than the regular prices at Costco. Keep in mind that I don’t buy gluten free stuff (other than a few things in the pantry for those who come over) or have any diet issues. I’m sure that makes a difference. Also note that most things go on sale in most stores around a six to eight week cycle. When it comes to base prices, I have my own little guidelines that I try and follow that help me know if something is *really* on sale. Please know that the stores are deceitful and will make things “look” like they are discounted- when it’s an awkward size, or on the end of the aisle, or with a fancy tag. You must know how much things cost. For example, I don’t spend more than $1/100g for cheese. For meat, at the grocery store, I will do $3.50 a pound for anything boneless, and $2 a pound for stuff that has bones. When I’m buying better quality meats, I double that happily. I used to keep a special binder where I tracked the sales prices at the three biggest stores around here. Sigh. Those days are gone.
  • Spend money on the good things. There are times when you need to buckle down, and times where the belt’s a bit looser (get it?) I try to spend the extra money on better quality meats, veggies and fruits. In the summertime, we lavishly eat the produce in abundance; I freeze and preserve what I can, and we live like kings. In the wintertime, the prices go UP and the quality goes DOWN where we live. I won’t pay a lot of money for fresh stuff that I know has been trucked in from the ends of the earth and is loaded with junk to make it look good. Find where your value is, and make sure that’s where the funds are directed. We love good roasts and ribs, so I try to buy them when I can on sale, and save in other ways. I want to be very clear- I could cut our budget by around $100 a month by buying less quality ingredients or less veggies and fruits. I’ve chosen not to. But some things that I would like to change and achieve in our diet, I simply can’t right now. I would be putting my own personal ideals above the good of our family. Now, that line is different for everyone. I encourage you to find it for yourselves and to stay true to what you decide, and to get rid of the guilt and pressure. It makes no sense to buy organic apples and leave the power bill unpaid.
  • REUSABLE. We don’t do paper towels, disposable pads, paper plates or napkins, plastic cutlery, etc. I was doing awesome with cloth diapering until I fell off the wagon during my last, really hard, pregnancy. Hoping to get back on pretty soon! I had to fit the disposable diapers in the budget, and it simply is, what it is. There are times you can’t do everything, but it sure saves money when you can (and it’s so much cuter.)
  • Plan ahead. Whether it’s a garden in the summer of the things you eat the most, or getting ready for Christmas, know that chances are pretty good you will also be eating food next season. We had a bunch of extra-special game days during the holiday season which required extra-special snacks. I started buying a few here and there in October and stashing them. I buy discounted halloween candy for the stockings at Christmas. (I also buy the Halloween packs of chips for a special treat when we go out for the day. I have three cases in the back of our seldom-used car that I keep forgetting about.) I buy big pork loins on sale in the spring, and slice them and freeze them in marinade for grilling.
  • Rewards. Don’t spend extra to get them, but hopefully there is some kind of bonus offered to you. I save all my grocery points all year, and then used half of them at Christmas. I had three turkey dinner meals, two birthdays, a lot of fun foods, and we had a great time when it came to the food. We’ve never eaten so lavishly, and we were still able to stay well under budget.

So, I’m writing this somewhat late in the evening, and our oldest son came home from youth and read it. He started complaining about soup, and the fact that we never have juice or free reign over granola bars and stuff. “Mom, you make us sound super weird, like we’re in poverty!” We then spent the next half hour talking about the dire situation most of our nation is in. Almost HALF of our country is $200 away from not being able to pay their bills. We looked up all the foreclosures in the area. The desperate posts looking for help and people to drop off leftovers, as they don’t even have a way to pick them up. We had a huge heart to heart- which he said I could share- about how we, in our home, have gotten into debt, and gotten out. And then in, and then out. And how it is hard to provide in this “economy,” but how we do have a lot of control over our situation, in our family at least. And how entitlement could kill us all, and it can start easily with the snacks we eat. We have dreams, this family of mine, and we can achieve them only if we are good stewards of what we have, and don’t spend what we don’t. I ended up crying at the end: he said, “Wow. Thank you, Mom. Seriously,” high fived me and walked away. No promises not to complain in the future, but it really blessed my mama heart.

Cough, cough. Stepping onto soapbox.

We are leaving a legacy for our children. One that says convenience trumps budget. “Wants” trump “needs.” Taste trumps nutrition. We, as individuals within a nation, are desperately close to falling apart at the next small, inevitable, crisis. We must, as home managers, be able to provide what our families need within our means. If the bills are racking up, or there is a lot of debt, we should be slashing the expenses that we can, mercilessly. There’s not much we can do about the mortgage, car insurance or power. Shop around, but it is what it is. The groceries and household spending is what WE CAN change. And not only to make sure that our family is financially healthy, but physically healthy as well. This, in turn, will help our children to be able to take care of themselves when they leave the nest, also. Otherwise, we are one accident, job loss, traumatic event from losing EVERYTHING. And not only that, but we are bringing up our children to make the same mistakes. No one deserves special snacks, fancy drinks or eating out. It’s just food. There is enjoyment there, meals and snacks can be fun and delicious, but if everything we eat has to be sugary, labeled cleverly, fancy or convenient, then I think we are facing a massive attitude problem. If everything is categorized within ourselves as deserved, or a reward, I think the root of entitlement may lay there. We could easily have been born in any other country, and live in extreme poverty (as in, no access to water/education/etc.) How many people classify themselves as poor or broke, and then buy a $4 coffee like it’s okay? I get it; I’ve been there. It’s not right. Maybe I feel the pressure more as a mom of many, but it is no less real for everyone else. I encourage you, if this hits home, to look into Dave Ramsey budgeting info, or reach out. It’s never too late to turn it around.

*Stepping down*

My prayer is that this awfully long post has something that helps or at least inspires you to look for ways to save money, and live a bit more intentionally. To sum everything up- we should be putting our money into the things that we value, and not spending it in places we don’t.

Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

I’m sure we’ve all heard or just somehow “known” the unspoken rule- do not announce your pregnancy until you are at least 12 weeks. Well, I’m not sure what Bible verse they use to back it up, but I have looked through almost all of them regarding pregnancy and loss- and there isn’t one.

I remember my very first baby loss, of baby Noah. I was 11 weeks along, and I had just announced the happy news to the Facebook world three days prior. I had four living, perfect children, and I thought that it wasn’t even a threat at this point. I was devastated. While I sobbed, one person mentioned, “You shouldn’t have told everyone. . .

Obviously, they meant nothing harmful at this statement. But I still remember it, five and a half years later. They were so, so, wrong.

I could not have gotten through that period of grief without people. One lady, that I would never have even thought to call, showed up at my door with flowers and a hug. Another, brought chopped vegetables to “throw at the kids” (I thought that was so clever) and a precious tea cup. Others messaged me or texted. I didn’t feel embarrassed at all. There was a baby, a sweet, amazing baby inside me, and he or she died and we don’t know why. That is devastating, to anyone who actually believes in the value of life. The people who showered me with love and prayer were literally God’s hands in my days, whether they know that or not, and they were not my close family or friends. They were women who had walked this path and knew what it entailed. To this day, when I think of them, I’m so humbled.

The second loss, we had decided to wait until Christmas to surprise the kids. What a cute memory that will be. Until it wasn’t, and baby Jordan left us as fast as he or she came, at around seven weeks. No one knew we were expecting, so I juggled the physical and emotional pain, with seven children and various activities, while my hubby had his wisdom teeth extracted with tremendous complications. What a time that was. Eventually I told a few friends, but it was a very alone, cold, and broken time. We had to tell the kids at this point so they would know why things were hard at home. They were devastated, and bummed that we hadn’t told them in the first place.

The third one, I didn’t wait that long. I was so, so, so sick and believe me, looked pregnant at like 13 days. I feel like I’ve gotten a bit of confidence now. I was so excited for this precious baby. We told family and friends right away, and told everyone else around 10 weeks. I think my hubby announced it at church around 8 weeks? I’m so thankful for our church family, because they hooted, hollered and congratulated us and made this baby their own. I could have waited until the hallowed 12, but it didn’t really matter because our baby didn’t die until way after that. So I still had to un-tell everyone anyways.

The point is- it’s a life, or it’s not.

It’s a baby; a beautiful gift from the Father- or it’s not.

We wonder why the world doesn’t believe that babies are babies, but we act like they aren’t until a specific undisclosed time. But what if they die early on? Yeah, what if?! And now we expect mamas to go through this alone? What a horrible, awful message we send to young moms. So then, the underlying message is, maybe only tell only a few friends or specific family. That’s all well and fine, but what if they can’t give you the support you need? I love my friends dearly, but most of them are in the same, busy season that I am. The ones I really needed the most were the ones a life stage or two ahead of me. Unfortunately, they can also be the ones that dictate the unspoken rules.

The first twelve weeks can be the absolute hardest. Sickness, fatigue, fear, and the constant loom that this baby may not make it- but you are all on your own. I don’t think that this is what God intends for new life, and for family life within the church at large. I think all life is God-breathed and created for a purpose. Yes. Babies die before the end of the first trimester. They also can die during the second trimester. Sometimes- I’ve heard so many sad, quiet, stories- they die at birth. Death is here. And it will be, until He comes again. So, I think we should celebrate when we can.

If you are expecting- or when you are- and you want to keep it under wraps- absolutely! You go ahead and do that! This is your special time, and you get to decide. Everyone is different, and some people are private. You do you, always.

But I know too many ladies, and more every week, that tell me their stories, and how they suffered all alone. I can see it in their eyes- the pain, the unspoken grief, and the bitterness at being on their own at such a sad, awful time. My heart simply breaks for them. And these are ladies who attend churches that believe babies are formed at conception, and that they must be protected. Some of them were sooo excited and couldn’t wait to tell everyone! But they didn’t, because what if the baby dies? Then it would be so. . . What?

I ask you?

Embarrassing? Hard? Triggering?

Yes, it’s hard. It’s hard to value life. To laugh when it comes, and cry when it leaves. It is very hard. It is so, so hard. It’s literally against our very culture to celebrate life, because it isn’t considered to actually be of value. But like I tell my children, and often, the hard stuff is where the blessing lies. Don’t be afraid of the hard.

So, if you are expecting something precious, and want to shout from the rooftops what God has done for you, DO IT! Do NOT be afraid! And if you want me to celebrate with you, I will bring the wine herbal tea. There is nothing like new life. I will celebrate and pray for you and your baby. If you want to keep it secret, do that! You will remember this season for your whole life. Do whatever you wish. But do not let the fear of man (or woman) make your decision for you. God is so good. He is celebrating with you, too.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

He Lived and Is Loved.

We tried for a few months. All of a sudden, there was an extra line on the test. It was faint- but very there. I tested again a few days later, and it was much darker. There was life.

And then the sickness hit. Like a forceful storm, it covered everything. All-the-things were hard. I was dizzy and nauseous. Stuff around the house went undone. I cried in frustration. The weeks went by. We saw him via ultrasound at 8 weeks. He was a-moving and a-shaking, just like all our other live babies.

We decided to announce his presence. It was a bit before the 12 week mark but I’ve never cared about that *at all.* (That’s a whole other post.) We were so happy. But I was still soooo sick. I started feeling little flutters and movements which made my day.

On my birthday

I needed to know who this was, that was giving me such a hard time! I needed to know his or her name, and just know their identity. I tried two internet blood tests that just didn’t work out for me. After crying and having a total meltdown, Sim booked me in for a gender ultrasound.

It didn’t go as planned. There was no heartbeat; we went to the hospital.

It was confirmed, baby died. I was booked for an induction the following day.

Sim went and picked up our crew from the church where they were being looked after by family. I feel bad that he had to tell them on his own. There was a lot of crying and sadness. I drove myself home, stopping at Walmart on the way. I picked out a special blanket to wrap my baby in, and bought myself the same one for the kids to snuggle at home.

I went home, to a dark, cold house, with a dark, cold tummy. I ran a bath, and weeped. Absolutely weeped. I am TERRIFIED of labour. I’ve avoided induction every time, even being way overdue.

For weeks, whenever the labour fears started to creep in, I would ask Sim. “I’m strong, right?” And he would laugh and say, “Oh yeah.” Obviously, I only mean strong in God’s power and might. I can do none things on my own. That’s just a given. But God and I have gone through over 100 hours of labour together, two hemorrhages, and so many things that scare me when I think too much. I was already afraid to birth this baby, even at week four. I kept repeating, over and over: “I’m strong, right?”

Well, now my baby has died and I have to go through ALL the stuff that scares me most- and with no life in the end. No joy, no sweetness. No new baby smell. Nothing. Just emptiness. No fingers to hold, no toes to count.

We got to the hospital at 8am, the labour and delivery ward. When I went to the desk to check in, all the ladies stood up in a line to greet me and said “Hello, Sandra. We are so sorry.” They were literally the kindest people I’ve ever met. We were escorted to a room with a purple butterfly on the door. Everyone who entered knew what it stood for, and were gentle with their tones and just so sweet. They wheeled in a cart with hot chocolate, coffee, teas, baking and chips. I laughed- I could drink as much coffee as I want, I guess. We could help ourselves all day, along with the hospital meals brought at lunch and dinner.

They started the induction at 11:30- four pills inserted high into my cervix. The OB looked like one of my friends, which made me trust her right away. I requested the full of buffet of pain relief, in case I wanted it. I’ve delivered all my babies naturally, but I had no desire to take one for the team this time. I had to lay still for thirty minutes to an hour after each round. Sim and I watched TV on his laptop, and cried and laughed alternately. Four hours later, it was repeated. And again. It got more painful each time. I heard a baby cry down the hall. There’s nothing like that sound.

My tummy started to ache. I was expecting contractions and heavy cramping, and instead I was just freezing cold and screaming hot alternately. My abdomen ached, but there wasn’t really a break in between, like contractions. It was just a constant hurt. I don’t think my pain threshold was all that high, though. I really was being a sucky. I’ve been through a lot worse, with two spine surgeries, etc. But everything just hurt.

They offered me the pain relief or sleeping aids around 9:30. I didn’t think it was “that bad” though, because I didn’t think it had really started. I asked how long the genuine labour would take when it got going. “Six hours?” I asked. “Hopefully. . . .” My nurse responded. It can go in any direction, there’s not much for predicting. I turned down all the meds, expecting it to get worse and wanting to have options available.

Around ten pm, I started to shut down. I CAN’T DO THIS. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home. I want my kids. I want it to be a week ago. It wasn’t physical pain, but just constant waiting and noticing every twinge and ache and wondering if this was “it.” It all hurt, but not all-encompassing, it was just super uncomfortable and I couldn’t ignore it. I wanted it to be done so bad, but I didn’t want him gone. I was crying and we were watching “Christmas Vacation.” I could feel myself going downhill fast. The nurse brought in a cot for Sim to sleep. They kept mentioning that when it was “go time” we would have to pack it up and make some room. I remembered the tools, the blue paper everything is wrapped up in, the smells of the latex and all the equipment. Ican’tdothis. I remembered all my other labours.

Around 10:40 I went to the bathroom. I felt pressure. When I felt ready to push, I was supposed to tell the nurses so they could get the doctor and have everything ready, start my IV since I’ve hemorrhaged in the past, and put in motion the whole thing that scares me so badly.

As I sat there, I felt God say in the pain of my heart. “Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

I gave just the *tiniest* little push, and felt my baby come out in his sack. I started yelling for Sim, and I just held it there, waiting for another contraction. I knew they were worried about my body retaining the placenta, and I knew the cord could break very easy at this stage of the pregnancy. I waited, hearing the chaos coming down the hall and in my room, and felt my body push on its own the rest of the placenta. I could tell, even without seeing, that everything had come out.

I cried and yelled, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you! Thank you!” The nurses probably though I had lost my mind. I was crying and just so thankful.

I was thankful I could do it on my own, and not have a whole bunch of people around me with yucky tools. I didn’t have to have a D&C. Seriously, so much of this stuff just freaks me out, and He totally spared me all of it. I am so thankful for His mercy, even when things are terrible.

They brought me back to bed, and the nurse cut the cord. They laid my baby on my chest- just like so many times before. He was so little. He weighed 67 grams and was 15 cm long.

He had two beautiful eyes.

Ten perfect toes, ten teeny fingers.

A look in his face that was totally Elijah.

A big belly.

Sim and I took turns holding him, touching him and thanking Jesus for his life.

The nurses took photos of him. In some, he’s holding a little, white heart that fits perfectly inside a big heart that the hospital gave me to wear around my neck. They weighed him; measured him. Every time they held him, they kept the blanket perfectly straight, adjusting it as needed. They reverently took him from me, and gave him back when they were done. They wheeled him gently in the little cart with a bassinet, carefully and slowly.

Finally, I had all the medicine I needed to not bleed out- not that it was even a thing, just a precaution that they always do to me now. We opted to leave a few hours after his birth, at 2:30 am. Then we could be home with the kids when they woke up.

We held our baby one last time, and replaced him into the bed.

They put a white blanket over his bassinet.

We left, without him.

It hurts.

It hurts, but God is good.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.

 Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Some excerpts from Psalm 34)

See The Battle

A few weeks ago, we sang in church about our weapon being a melody, and fighting our battles with prayer. This was super convicting to me- getting ready for church had NOT gone well. Maybe you know what I mean. We overslept, the whole crew needed baths and showers, nothing got put away the night before since we had gotten home late, we were out of milk, etc. And of course our oldest had worship practice earlier, so that adds an element of chaos getting him out. Everyone bickered and sniped, we couldn’t find the littlest one’s shoes (she takes them off constantly) and we just tornadoed our way down the highway. Yuck.

Dusing worship time, I realized that these moments, the ones that are SUPER HARD and CHAOTIC *are* my battles. It seems ridiculous, but it’s true.

I know some mamas walking through the shadow of death; some who have just lost their husbands; some who deal with health issues of their children or themselves; and the list goes on. Some women face incredibly hard, all-encompassing struggles that last for months or years. I pray that God gives them an extra measure of grace and peace.

What is a struggle? Or a battle, worthy of the promises that come with it? I think it can mean a much broader spectrum.

I think a battle can be any time we are losing our self control to the issue at hand. When our anxiety skyrockets, our blood starts pumping, our voice takes an edge, our patience wears thin, and our joy wavers. This is the battle- in the everyday trials of life in this place.

This all flooded over me during worship. I bawled while I sang- and prayed that He would help me recognize the battle, while I was in it. What a beautiful thing it is to struggle- because then we can access the promises from God! Here are a couple of my favs:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Unfortunately, I got to test it and see if my new lens held up. Our precious, wonderful, fabulous feline, Emily, snuck into the van that night when we were unloading. Of course, we didn’t notice until the following day. Well, I had a PILE of errands that outnumbered my afternoon, and I was planning to take my mom along, who is housebound, to get her out for a bit. Of course, we got out the door later than I hoped. And the smell. I’ll let you imagine it. I found the location of the bulk of the mess. Since kids aren’t supposed to wear their coats in carseats (a really fun new rule!), and since it was warm when we got home, all their coats were left in a pile on the seat. Apparently, that made a nice nest for dear Emily. All their coats needed a few washes (I think it only hit the top one, but I was still undone.) Did I mention that my washing machine was broken, and the repairman couldn’t come until Thursday?

Instead of losing my salvation, I simply hummed. “This is how I fight my battles.” Something changed: I could feel it. I didn’t laugh; I didn’t see the “good” in it. But I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t frustrated. I didn’t speak sharply to the kids, and I didn’t carry it in my neck and shoulders, or for the rest of the afternoon. It was over. Something changed.

I got it cleaned up pretty quickly, and we were on our way. This may not seem like a big deal, but honestly, things like this seem to happen a lot, and they just break me! I do alright with patience when it comes to humans- but silly, annoying circumstances make me crazy. It’s always made me so frustrated and angry with myself. Finally, I feel hopeful that by identifying these little, tiny moments of struggle, I can use them to be closer to my Father.

How about you? What are the things that just “undo” you? What triggers you to lose your self-control? How have you seen breakthrough in your struggles? I would love to hear about them.

You’re Doing Great.

We were so blessed to go to a couple’s home this summer, who are in their next stage of life. Their kids are out of the house, and they are eagerly awaiting grandbabies. They loved on us, and made us feel pretty darn special.

I thought it was “all about the kids,” until the Mama looked at me and said, “You guys have it so hard now. When we were raising our kids, as long as we didn’t feed them cookies for lunch, we were doing okay. Now everything is wrong to everyone, and you can’t really win for trying.

Ummm. Yeah.

I think I, personally, fall into the “crunchier” side of the spectrum- crunchy being all about breastfeeding, baby led weaning, cloth diapers, whole foods, etc. etc. Sorta a neo-hippy, if you will. But I’m not all the way crunchy. I’d say about 70%. We still eat Kraft dinner (that stuff is delicious) but I do feel appropriately guilty and/or embarrassed about it. I’m actually hoping no one even reads that sentence. Maybe I’ll delete it. If we have other kids over, I certainly wouldn’t serve it, lest they tell their parents. When it comes to purchasing organic foods, it just simply isn’t in the budget. I prefer to buy in-season and stay away from as much processed as I can. There’s also a lot about natural medicine and living that I appreciate- but there are some instances where I just don’t feel certain about something, and we are at the germ-infested doctor’s office exchanging an infection for a virus, I’m sure. I make compromises, depending on the needs of our family at that moment, and I refuse to feel guilty for any of them.

The point is- I am always doing the wrong thing at any given moment, to a large percentage of people, young and old. I sleep train my babies, which has resulted in very little crying through that first year. I can usually tell from the first few seconds of a cry what is wrong, and can fix it. Generally, with very few exceptions, my eight week olds sleep eight hours at night, and by 13-15 weeks, they are going 12 hours. That is straight through, without waking up. But if I tell people that, they assume my babies lay in bed for hours crying (they don’t at all. When you have three to four little people per bedroom, it would be incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing to let them cry. It would become a complete chaos situation really quick.) My Oma was taught in the hospital not to feed her babies past 10:00pm, which I think is unbelievably cruel, but that’s what they were taught. Sleep training means different things to different people.

But. We believe there is always a “right” and a “wrong.”

Never mind that they are always fluid, and always changing (which, if you believe in absolutes like I do, means that they aren’t actually “right” or “wrong” at all.) Science, data and research is always proving one side over the other on all-the-things. It may change in ten years or from generation to generation, but the proof is there. Momentarily. Until the next funded research project.

So what are we supposed to do? Throw up our hands and give up? Let ourselves feel discouraged and depressed about the things we do that are not the popular opinion? Or bulldoze our way through mommy groups, proving to others that “THIS” is the best way?

The problem, with sensitive, possibly hormonal, mothers, is that if we are doing the “wrong” thing- no matter what the reason, and to what group of people- we believe we are a bad mom.

This simply isn’t true.

Listen to what it says.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A weakness is not a lack of trying. It’s not a surrender, a white flag, or an “Oh well, guess this just ain’t my thang- I’m just gonna lay down right here.” It’s a heart that’s trying- and still falls short.

And man. Do I ever fall short.

So yeah. I’m just gonna keep on plugging. And where I’m failing- that’s where He’s showing up. I am going to delight in my weaknesses, not hide them. Not show them off, mind you, because it’s certainly nothing to be proud of. But on the days where the schoolwork took a little longer than normal, because someone FINALLY conquered long division, or discussion over our novel was super exciting- we just may have some good ol’ mac and cheese. I like it with ketchup.

You’re doing great, Mama. Yes, you.

Family Altar- A “How To”

We were challenged nearly two years ago by Neil Campbell, from Family Foundations, to start doing a family altar. It’s become a treasured part of our week and something that has been sewn into our family tapestry. I think it’s incredibly important to work on a family culture, and have those anchor points to our weeks, months and years where we reconnect and turn our focus to the things we really, genuinely, care about. We try and do it every Friday, but sometimes we have to switch days. And sometimes two weeks go by before we return.

So what is it? An altar, from the biblical sense, is a consecrated space that is dedicated to God. They often used them to place upon their burnt offerings. “Altars were often made in response to a significant encounter with God in order to commemorate it” ( source ).

I loved the idea of having that physical response to God, and his provision in our lives. Because man, He is all over us. So we adopted our own, and although it looks a bit different each week, it does have a bit of a routine.

I wish I could say that I make a beautiful roast beef and mashed potato dinner, with a few extra sides. I do not. We have spaghetti. We have spaghetti every Friday night, because I make extra sauce so we can have the leftovers for lunch after church on Sunday. I don’t even make it anymore- it is below my pay grade and firmly Silas’ job. But it is one of their favourite meals, that Every. Single. Person. likes, which rarely happens. So, we have spaghetti.

We go around the table, youngest to oldest, and mention all the things we want to praise Jesus for that week. I record them all in our family binder. Even two year-old Beth has lots to say, and we often cut her off when she starts looking around (“Thank you Jesus for. . . chairs! And for a door! And for forks!”) Some of the stuff they say is so precious. Three year old Elijah mentioned something that Silas had done for him four or five days previous, which meant so much to my Si’s heart. And it’s funny: we’ve done this through a miscarriage, super tight finances, hurting relationships and every broken appliance under the sun- and we’ve still come up with over a full page of things we are thankful for.

We list all the people we are praying for. There’s a missionary family we have spiritually invested in; we have some Compassion children we love; and a few family and friends that are going through hard times, or have lost someone special. Everyone picks one or two to pray for specifically. We write them down, too, and then we can celebrate when we know something has changed, or things have turned a corner. We all silently and reverently hang our heads, and gently take turns in a counter-clockwise manner. Not. The little kids, by this point, climb all over us until it’s their turn to pray. Some people forget who they said they would pray for, so I whisper it loudly across the table. This is also when Melody puts her spaghetti hands in her hair.

When dinner is done, the kids take turns choosing worship songs, and we sing while we clean up together. When everything is mostly back to rights, we have a special dessert (and I never do dessert at all, so they’re all special!) Usually, it’s easy like ice cream, popsicles or ice cream sandwiches. One day, I hope to bake a really beautiful dessert with a French sounding name, and place it on the table while all the children gasp in astonishment. Probably not this month. Or year.

But the treat is special enough. We sing and eat, and have a time praising Jesus. He has been so good to us. I pray and bless them all, one by one- although now that I mention it, I’ve forgotten the past few weeks. Ugh. Next week. I’ve also been doing some reading on cultivating sibling relationships, so I want to start having them thank each other for something they’ve noticed in the past week.

Image result for may the lord bless you and keep you

It’s a fun time, and it can always keep growing and changing. I’d love to do more of a Bible discussion or study time one day. It’s not a possibility right now, at dinner time. By any means do not picture this as a super quiet, calm, and peaceful time. As a matter of fact, in a video we posted about a day in our life- you can literally see me chewing out a child who simply would not sit down to save her life. But honestly, this is church, this is time with our Lord, and He doesn’t expect it to be anything else than what it is. I love that He takes our little fishes, and our burnt loaves, and multiplies it into an abundance.

If this is something that resonates with you- I encourage you to start small! Please! And slowly add to it. The first time, I had this beautiful (long) devotion, and some great discussion questions. . . it did not work for us at all. We need more interactive, short burst type things right now. Otherwise, it’s too easy to quit before you even start.

What types of things are you weaving into your family tapestry? Believe me, I would love to hear about it! And if you’d like to check out our video about a Day in Our Life, here it is.

Home Educating- Reasons Not To, Debunked

I’ve been trying to write this for weeks, and something just keeps coming up! What a crazy three months we’ve been trying to fit into one here. Anyways.

I asked on the facebook page a little while back for some obstacles to keeping your kids home instead of sending them away each day. While the site was pretty quiet, I did get some responses in different ways.

  1. Socialization– I didn’t think this was still a thing. But here we go. Homeschoolers are generally more active in society than their public school counterparts, both in early years and as they grow and start their own families. This may be because having 29 other kids from the same socioeconomic background in the same room doesn’t actually mean one is getting “raised” or is learning the proper way to deal with different situations, conflicts or problems. The best way to learn to deal is from someone who is more mature. Socialization is absolutely a thing for dogs- but for children, it really doesn’t make sense. Now, if when people use it as an excuse they mean it for the “social life” aspect- that’s a bit different. In our area, and with our board, we have an almost ridiculous amount of activities to join. We do a small percentage because we actually need to get some bookwork done, but we often hang out with other families. One of our fav highlights is when a group of us get together every other month or so- I think there’s maybe six or seven moms? But when we get together, there are over 40 children, ages newborn to teens. It’s so beautiful. The kids literally all play together, regardless of ages, and there are limited disagreements or problems (literally, I think only the toddlers fight!). They do crazy games outside involving sticks and possibly other handmade weapons. Rarely an injury. These kids know how to PLAY, and how to make the most of a big group. We always look forward to these days (thank you Cyndi!).
  2. Education- Everyone knows the story of little Johnny who was homeschooled and didn’t learn anything, and now lives in a box by the river. It’s terrible, unfortunate, and very wrong. As parents, we take on the responsibility of actually educating in some form or fashion, and you can NOT pass the buck. It doesn’t matter what methodology we adopt or enact, WE are responsible for making sure that our children get the tools that they need to succeed. I will offer you, however, that there is also a percentage of children that go through government-run institutions and come out the other side unprepared. This article from the Business Insider offers some great reasons as to why homeschooling is the smartest way to teach children, currently.
  3. But, we don’t actually “like” being with our kids– Honestly, I get this one the most, whispered with an embarrassed glance (sometimes whispered, sometimes in earshot with no care in the world to the ears that can hear.) Sometimes it’s called “missing the breaks,” or the time alone. Yeah, that’s unfortunate. But I will mention- the reason that you may not get along with your child is that you aren’t the primary influence, or the one who is currently raising them. If they are gone for the majority of the week, they are going to take on attitudes and beliefs from those they are around the most. Whether it be their teacher or friends, it doesn’t matter. Have you ever worked in a negative work environment, and felt the strain? It’s the same for children, but they don’t have a solid foundation from which to reach from. I bet if they were home with you, after some time together (it always takes awhile to deschool) they will be just as weird as you, and you will love hanging out with them.
  4. But they are supposed to be a light! This one is such a travesty. For one, government-run schools were not a thing in those times. It was just accepted that when you had children, you kept them. Some children went off to religious type schools, but it was in order to increase their faith and their knowledge of the Torah. It wasn’t to learn all the different pronouns that people can be referred to as (*Please see note at bottom.) The Bible never intended that verse for children, it was written to the mature believer. Not a child. Our job is to raise them to get there, and in the meantime give them a solid foundation. I try my hardest to be a light wherever I am. But I know there is not any point in going to the bar every night- I know some people are successful in that, but for me, it would be a whole lot of wasted time. Time better spent making relationships with people, and forming friendships. School is not set up for our kids to be lights- it is set up to snuff them out. Oh, this is a good one too, about the philosophy of public schools.
  5. But, it’s hard! Dude. You don’t even know. Maybe I can’t debunk this one. But aren’t we told that life will be hard? Aren’t we literally promised that? Blessings come from the hard things. Not the easy things. Seriously, it’s so hard. But I can already see the good coming from it.
  6. It doesn’t prepare them for life– Sigh. And classrooms do. I literally never know what to say to this without it coming out condescending (although, in all fairness, it’s being said as a judgment to me, sooo.) My oldest children are 11, 10 and 8. They are able to meal plan on different values (they each plan a meal once a fortnight) and cook it from start to finish. They can each make three or four simple meals from memory. They can clean a kitchen- starting with washing dishes, to drying, to putting everything away, wrapping up leftovers, sweeping, mopping. They can take care of babies or little children’s needs. They can answer the phone and take messages. They are capable of carrying on a conversation with just about anyone- even though one of them is pretty shy. They are able to read social cues and sense when someone is uncomfortable and try to help them. They do well in public speaking. They all read at, literally, double their respective grade levels, and are able to discuss the ideas presented. They know how to do laundry. The two boys are able to do some car things- change tires, check and replenish fluids, etc. They don’t have the physical strength or size, but one has helped me to charge the battery in the car and hook up an air compressor under the hood to inflate things. The older two are able to budget for short and long term purchases, and make decisions to reflect that. Actually, our oldest son saved his allowance for six months to plan a Huge Party. He had a pretty amazing DJ, a full snack buffet with gluten/peanut free options (although no one at the party had an allergy, he was prepared) fireworks, a talent show, a website and a guest list of 70 kids invited (40 showed up). It was pretty amazing. So yeah. I feel like they are on their way to being prepared.**

Now, my notes:

*If the pronoun thing comes across as rude- I didn’t mean it that way. But it literally took me ten minutes to explain to them that there are people who prefer to be referred to as different pronouns. Not a whole class. Not hours. And then it’s something we talk about along the way. And if you doubt me, here’s a story. My son went to a birthday party for a fellow homeschooler. Her cousin, grade 6 at a Catholic school, confided in my son after ten minutes that she was a pansexual. When I asked him how he felt about that, or what he did, he said he just kept hanging out with her and playing with her. He also felt bad that her mom didn’t know, and thought she seemed sad. He was sad that they weren’t close, like we are. He mentioned that he was glad he can tell me anything. I found out later that her teacher at school had offered up this buffet of identities, and the kids got to “choose one.” Whatever the case. I didn’t realize that the schools were doing so well in math and reading scores that they are also able to aptly help children find their own identities. That’s awesome. I don’t pay that much attention to what they are teaching, but it sure sounds like they are getting lots done. Due to this situation, and others that I have personally witnessed, I can confidently say that my children are able to connect with children of different backgrounds, orientations and cultures, and treat them kindly and respectfully. That doesn’t mean they are perfect by any stretch of the imagination but that 8 times out of 10, I can expect them to do the right thing when I am not around (Not with each other, mind you. Man they fight.) I’ve also been able to make sure they’ve been in lots of different situations, with me. They learn from watching, and then they learn as I gently lead them.

**The reason that our kids are capable in these ways is not through any big effort on my part. Please don’t take it as a list of our big accomplishments. It’s just what happens when you have babies and need help and slowly train them to do just that. I think it’s just as important my boys can run the house as my girls. For outside and car stuff, my HH is an amazing teacher and always takes the time to show them what he’s doing. Home education literally doesn’t end- it’s alllll the time.

So. Time is running out. If you live in Alberta, you have under a week to take the plunge, and still be able to easily sign up with a board. If you are in another province, there isn’t the same pressure, but there is. I know someone in every province, willing to help you get started. We only have a limited time with these amazing children. One shot to get it right. It might seem long now, but it’s really not. One of my precious-est friends spoke on the weekend about losing three of her children at a young age. She was so thankful for the years they spent together, growing, learning and loving. I was so encouraged that even though this is super challenging, it is the best way to live with no regrets. One day, I’ll be old and bored. Until then, I will raise these children with my husband and the Lord.

Two Small Coins Worth of Planning

I’m having a looovely weekend, all alone in a basement suite, with a beautiful garden and deli salads and hot coffee. I’ve been waiting for this for a while.

It’s a bit overwhelming, sometimes, training up children. Getting our arrows ready to be launched. Nurturing soon-to-be adults ready to make their mark on a hurting world. Really, investing in the people who will grow our grandchildren.

No pressure.

And since I believe that God has entrusted us with their lives and discipleship- not anyone else, and certainly not the government- that means that all their life learning and education is on our, and my, shoulders.

No pressure.

Today I attended a service here, at a church I’ve never been before. The pastor spoke of the widow who gave everything she had in offering: a measly two coins. This meant more to Jesus than all the rich people’s lavish donations. It was encouraging to me, because I am giving all I have, knowing that it’s all He’s ever asked of me. It may not seem like much to some, but it’s all I’ve got, and it’s for Him.

I’ve had years in the past with a lot of planning that went well (2017). I’ve had years when my plans were so utterly ridiculous, you would think I forgot that there are literally children involved (2013). I’ve had years that the plan went out the window, and we just needed to “do the next thing” (2015). I find the older they get, and the more little people we have added, the more I need to have a plan in place to feel that I am doing all that God wants me to. This doesn’t mean that we stick to a minute by minute schedule- imagine! But when I have one learning to read, and one entering junior high, two in the middle, and three little busy people, I need to have some sort of “flow” to follow so that everyone gets the Mama they need, when they need it. They can’t all do math at the same time. We’ve tried that. Doesn’t work. Seriously. Our family does well on routines: everyone likes to know what comes next.

Here is my school breakdown.

First, I come up with a “focus” for the year. We always have our core subjects (math, Bible, reading, spelling) and everything else gets added to that. Last year our focus was French. We spent time in it everyday, we listened to cds in the car, around the table, and I believe that we have a good foundation now that we can add to. Our eldest, especially, did really well and picked up the ebb and flow of it due to this immersion. This year, we will continue with it and add it to the Loop.

This year’s focus is writing. Both the actual mechanics (cursive, typing and printing) and actually communicating effectively through different media. I’ve read news articles lately that looked as if they were written by fifth graders. Unbelievable. In our society, one needs to be able to email, text, and write well, because often, that’s the only way we communicate (a post for another day, to be sure.) We will spend time every day over the year really investing in this. I already know next year’s focus, and the year after that. It may change, it may not.

Second, I determine which subjects we do together, and which will be independent. We do the group stuff together first, in “Morning Time.” This year, our Morning Time will consist of Bible Road Trip (something I’m pretty excited about), whatever read aloud we are doing, Brave Writer (a very cool writing course that can be used across ages) and handwriting. We will Loop (more on that in a sec) science, social and French. They will do their math, spelling, reading, writing (different one) and typing separately (we don’t own four computers!).

Third, I figure out the flow. I hesitate to use the word schedule, because we don’t follow it to a T. We have a flexible time we start with Morning Time, and we mostly keep at it until everyone is done. If they are all squirrely and need to go outside, we break early. If they are all snuggled up or drawing quietly while I’m reading about Canada’s history, we go a bit longer. We add in our Loop subjects here, as we can. Sometimes we can do them all a few times a week, sometimes a week passes that we didn’t get anywhere. That’s okay. We just do the next thing on those. When everyone is “done,” they play outside, no matter what. If they only last a few minutes because it’s super cold, that’s okay. I think they still need the fresh air. After outside time, we break up into the individual subjects. Some like to go around the table, some go on our bed and listen to music. It doesn’t matter to me as long as the work gets done. As soon as they are done, they can do their chores and then do their own thing. We are done by 12:30 or 1, although this year our biggest guy will have a bit more independent studying in the afternoon.

That flow is by far the hardest part to figure out. I need to know what everyone is doing and when. If I’m working with children who are just learning to read, I need the bigger ones to be doing typing, or their own reading. I can’t help them with their math. It took me almost an hour of pacing, scribbling and thinking to figure that part of our flow yesterday.

Fourth, I plan out our yearly schedule. We like to be done at the end of April so that we can focus on soccer and baseball. Also, after the long winters, we just want to be OUTSIDE as soon as the weather changes. We don’t take off many days during the year. I figure out how many lessons need to be done each month in order to get to our goal, and I know how much wiggle room I have. We do NOT do school on birthdays, and this year only one falls on a school day, so that was lucky!

Fifth, I plan out our resources, field trips, supplies. I don’t do inside field trips in nice weather. We are going to the zoo the first week of September (we start school the second week or so, depending on the forecast), and an art gallery in November for our writing projects. I’ll try to nail down a date ahead of time if I think Daddy may want to come, so he can take the day off. I need to order specific novels and books for different things from the library, to have them ahead of when I need them. We live out of town, so I need to get our art supplies or weird science experiment stuff when I normally get groceries. I purchase all the books I want to read aloud, so that the next is ready to go when we finish. These are all little things that I have not planned in the past, which has greatly reduced our freedom to go ahead of schedule, or switch things up.

Sixth, I plan our own “family school” things. On Friyay (not a typo), we have a light school day and do art (which I didn’t do at all the first few years) and something else cool. Last year we did the Torchlighter series, which was a DVD about different missionaries and some activities to go with it. This year we are doing Magic School Bus kits. We also do House Blessing on Fridays, so we try to get done school a bit earlier. We’ve decided that on Wed. nights, we will do our DVD lessons. Stephen is able to go ahead in French, but it’s very hard to watch DVDs in our little home with little people. So those nights he’ll get to stay up a bit later, have popcorn, and do his French. Same with Silas (other TV) who will be listening to his writing seminar (Institute for Excellence in Writing.) We’ve learned the importance of being flexible, and adding snacks! Once a month or so, last year, we would stay up late on a Saturday night and do a bunch of science lessons. I also need to figure out our “bare minimum” days. If I am sick, or something comes up, or if God changes our priority of the day, this is the smallest amount possible, but what still makes me feel like we’re okay. Usually, math and Bible.

If this seems super regimented- it’s not. It’s just my plan that is subject to change. The most important thing every single day is relationship and discipleship. If we have to stop to take care of sick kids, or babysit for a friend, or run outside and enjoy a sunny day after weeks of rain-that’s what we do. It just helps me be prepared for what’s coming, because when we’re in the midst of the laundry, meals, groceries, field trips and potty training, I can’t remember what book I wanted to read aloud next. I just need it to be on the shelf, ready to go!

This is literally, just the school stuff- my weekend goals are half complete. I need to have a meal plan of all the meals, and snacks. It helped SO MUCH last year that when I was working with the younger kids, the older ones would make lunch. I also get the younger kids to prepare the snacks that we munch while we work. But I can’t give the instructions while I’m working with someone else, so it all needs to be written down and planned for ahead of time. So, back to work I go!

How do you plan (or not plan?) What works best for your people?

Are You Willing to Run?

Obedience. The word, to me, can have heavy connotations. I think of obedience school, for dogs. Of authoritarian, official, rules that must be followed to be protected from punishment.

As someone who follows Jesus, though, it also carries a freedom that others may not understand. It’s a covering; a protection from things that would harm me or my family. I don’t know all-the-things, and I don’t pretend to. It’s so beautiful to have something to trust in and believe in. It provides such peace when the world may be whirling and storming around me.

In reading the account of Joseph in Genesis, I am always amazed at how he reacted when Potiphar’s wife put the moves on him. By all accounts Joseph was pretty handsome, and she obviously noticed. She kept at him, until finally she grabbed his cloak to really get things moving. He didn’t try to persuade her, he didn’t try to save his ego, or assuage her feelings.

He bolted.

Left his coat right in her room, and didn’t look back.

He wasn’t afraid to be awkward. Wasn’t afraid to look weird. He was more afraid of going against his Master. That legitimate fear of breaking trust, stealing what wasn’t his, and hurting the people he worked for was stronger than being embarrassed and his possible yearning for fun, relationship or a good time.

We need to be like that. I need to be like that.

I need to FLEE from temptation, whatever that means for the situation. If it’s a conversation that’s headed into gossip- just get up and walk away. If it’s something threatening to overshadow my main priorities, it needs to go. We cannot be comfortable entertaining sin in any form.

Is it because of the damnation? The angry hellfire? Not at all. It’s because of love. And that love is protection from things that hurt others, or ourselves.

We don’t need to wait for “conviction.” We need to run. Escape. Get out of Dodge. Back to the protection that comes in perfect love. Then we can regroup- maybe explain why we believe what we believe or put better boundaries in place. But when we have that feeling in our soul that this isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing, we need to get up and walk out, and we need to teach our children to do the same thing. The more we stifle that sense-that voice from the Holy Spirit- the quieter and quieter it gets until we can no longer hear the whisper of peace.

And, man.

How I love and need to hear His voice.