Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Please Can I Plan Now?!

Those who know me personally know how much I love order and organization. Thus, I simply love homeschool curriculum planning season. And yet, this year, I have had more urgent responsibilities to address first. I feel as if the season is almost over, and I am just about to begin.

These are the things I cannot wait to do next…

1.       Read all the good stuff. --- I always try to go back and read something to re-center my homeschooling compass before I begin planning. It’s premature to start looking at curriculum until I remember things like why I homeschool, my beliefs about homeschooling, and encouraging words from more seasoned homeschoolers. My all-time favorites are: Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss, Seasons of a Mother’s Heart by Sally Clarkson, and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School.

2.       Print all the pretty things. --- I love using Pam Barnhill’s Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace guide and forms. They’re the perfect mix of beautiful and orderly. And I recently discovered which is an online planning and tracking system, so I look forward to using this incredible resources this year to prepare for my high school record keeping needs. I also like the free forms at the Homeschool Connections resource page.

3.       Think about each of my kids individually. --- I find that I rarely take the time to consider each child’s gifts and challenges. Using a tool such as my Prayerfully Reflecting on Last Year helps force me to remember that each of my children is a unique person of dignity created in the image and likeness of God. It’s too easy to repeat my plans for each child, but it’s essential that I assess whether I need to tweak existing plans for the educational needs of the next child at that grade level.

4.       Be honest with myself. --- I can read all the good stuff, but I need to reflect on how to implement those ideals within the limitations of our family. I can print a ton of great forms, but unless those forms have a realistic amount of white space and flexibility, I know I will fail. And, I can think about the needs of each child, but sometimes the needs of one child trump the needs of another for a season. Most importantly, I am human and have my own weaknesses. If I do not set boundaries for my own needs, we will not get through one week of school without a complete toddler meltdown…from me.

5.       Make booklists. --- I get giddy when I think about all. the. books! When I did a cursory look of my homeschooling materials before I packed them into boxes for our move, I was dismayed to see that I have most of the books I will need for next school year. I will have to work very hard to plan to use the materials I know work for us instead of buying all. the. new. books! But there will still be some consumables to buy and things for the first grader that I didn’t save from the older children, and I will have to make a list of library books to put on hold throughout the year, and etc…

6.       Pray. --- There’s nothing better for my salvation than a situation where it is inexcusable to pray, and planning a year of education for my four children demands prayer. So I will be taking hard stops at each planning step to check in with God. It’s difficult for me to sit down for a few moments, but I look forward to the motivation to just do it.

Then, I will Prayerfully Plan for Next Year. If you haven’t yet done that for your family, please let me know, so I feel like I’m not behind the curve as much? Thanks! Here we go!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How Are You Doing?

Everyone keeps asking how I am doing, and I am honestly not sure how to respond. They ask on playgrounds and during play dates, in text messages and phone calls. But I just cannot settle on a short answer to this question. If I am going to be genuine with others, a one word summary just does not seem to work for me.

I am tired. The emotional burden of caring for four children who are sad and/or angry their daddy is gone and sad we are moving away is draining. The physical work of feeding, clothing, preparing to move, finishing our schoolwork, and keeping a reasonably clean house is exhausting. And I don't sleep as well without my husband when I finally do force myself to shut down my brain and turn out the light.

I am joyful. The challenges listed above are giving me new opportunities to connect with my children and serve them. It's only natural that when I see the lovely people I have grown to know and love all around me here in this city that I feel grateful for their presence in my life. I have no doubt that the Lord is guiding us through all of this, and His love is such a comfort and a joy.

I am humbled. This week alone four friends have asked to throw me going away parties, and while I would prefer to not make a big deal of me, I know it's because they care. When I resigned from the board of our local homeschool conference last week, it was overwhelming to think that I started it all with a dear friend and a vision five years ago. Clearly the ministry God had for me here was bigger than I could have imagined, and to see in hindsight the many ways He used me to connect others is simply embarrassing.

I am excited. The longest I have ever lived anywhere in my entire life has been the six years we have been here. It's home and a lovely place, but my personality likes change. I like the challenge of meeting new people and learning new things. Our reason for moving is to be closer to my family, and I will be so glad to see them regularly and watch my children enjoy their grandparents and uncle. Starting over is fun for me, and I look forward to organizing our new home and daily lives.

I am sad. Because my children are sad and I have to leave these fantastic friends. My heart almost stops each time I think of not seeing my husband for 9-10-11-12 months. So I hold back those tears and try not to think, so I can breathe. He is not here, and that hurts. I also often find myself thinking about our broken world and all the people who are so lost, and that makes me sad. I guess I keep coming back to the fact that I am so grateful for my faith to get me through these tough times, but too many are without God in their lives.

So, how am I? I'm tired, joyful, humbled, excited, sad, and taking things one day, one hour, one plate, one moment at a time. And if I stumble through an answer, sweet friends, that's what I really wanted to say when you asked.

Friday, May 20, 2016

For when I doubt...

We spent a month getting our house ready to sell. The uncertainty of the crazy market had us doubting we could come out with any kind of profit on selling our four-year-old home. So we scoured and staged from top to bottom. If there was something we could do with minimal expense to increase the likelihood of a sale, we did it. Half of my garage was filled floor to ceiling with "excess." My house was immaculate, appealing, and spacious, and I dreaded keeping it that way as long as would be necessary with four children and no husband to help. My anxiety was tangible.

You see, amidst that hard work, we also prepared to send my husband off for training and deployment. He's a reservist, and he's been activated. We bought what he needed and wanted, and he packed his gear three separate times (no kidding). He managed one-on-one dates with each of our children and took me out every Saturday night for a month. We rewrote our wills and prepared powers of attorney and sold his car. I took fresh pictures of each of the kids with their dad and bought frames that could record his voice. There were tears.

And then, the next time I doubt the Lord's generosity, I want to remember this particular week...

Day 0 - After a day of last things, we stuck the for-sale sign in the front yard and fell into bed exhausted. The house was officially listed for sale that evening. We were packed to leave the next morning to drop off my husband for pre-deployment training.

Day 1 - Having vacuumed our pretty carpet lines and set out the fancy towels, we left home and drove four hours to deliver things to the armory, his new civilian office, and ultimately my parents' house while the first house showing occurred. I received an email with feedback that night from that first showing that said, "Clients liked it and are submitting offer." Boom.

Day 2 - I dropped my husband off at the armory at sunrise. More on that goodbye another time. Around lunch we received an offer from the first showing; it was low and unacceptable. Meanwhile another showing was scheduled. Feedback from that one asked if we would accept a much higher cash offer to close in two weeks. (I will not write about my mental response to having to get out of my house in two weeks, because it involved cursing.) We were glad people like our house; we like it, too.

Day 3 - Realizing we may be moving sooner than expected, my daughter and I toured the only two apartment complexes within 15 miles of my parents' home that have four-bedroom units available in the next two months. (I had planned to get a more affordable three-bedroom, but my generous parents are upgrading our temporary accommodations.) We learned the second showing guy was a realtor who wanted to flip the house, so we told him to submit an official offer if he wanted us to consider it. Meanwhile, our realtor discussed a more appropriate offer with the first showing family of five (yes, I googled them).

Day 4 - By the end of day four, we had a signed contract for our full asking price with a bit of closing cost assistance and had decided to apply for the gorgeous first apartment we visited, partly because my daughter loved the pool. It would be ready the week of our closing date, the same week my brother had already planned to fly to our house for a visit. As one friend said when I told her about these dates all aligning, "God is just showing off, now." For a moment that night, we had second thoughts about the expense of the apartment. Maybe we could get a house for that much?

Day 5 - I spent a few hours researching rental houses in the area and nearby on-base housing. I even visited a rental house with a landlord willing to do a short-term lease, but none were in an area I felt safe alone with the kids. So that afternoon I completed the online application for that first apartment.

Day 6 - We were approved for the apartment, and spent most of the day visiting and playing with dear friends who live only a couple of miles away from our soon-to-be apartment home. My kindred-spirit friend listened and loved on me while our children played; we even had margaritas with our Taco Tuesday lunch! Afterwards, I took all the kids to see the apartment complex, and my oldest son, of course, noticed the stock of candy at the coffee bar in the clubhouse!

Day 7 - The children and I drove home to our "under contract" house without the stress of keeping it pristine at every moment. It was odd to walk in the door, knowing my husband wouldn't set foot in the house again. At the end of day seven, I fell into bed exhausted.

Yes, because God can move mountains when he wants, we are selling our house to the first buyers to view it on the first day it was available and moving into the first apartment we viewed. Throughout all of this, my husband and I were able to text regularly (which was a pleasant surprise), so he could weigh in on each decision. But in the end, it's absolutely clear that God is in control, and we are not.

Friends, family, and readers, feel free to direct me to this post the next time I freak out!

Monday, April 11, 2016

One Plate at a Time

I'm juggling a few too many plates these days. Usually, I do that by choice, but currently it's all just being thrust upon me. The books on my nightstand are a testimony to the chaos of life these days. For a while I was stuck like a deer in headlights again, not knowing where to turn or which task to tackle next.

I'm trying to pass off all of my volunteer roles as quickly as possible, since we will be moving as soon as our house sells. I am preparing to list our house for sale as soon as my husband leaves for his pre-deployment training in about a month. And of course, I'm trying to wrap my head around the whole concept of deployment on a practical and emotional level, so I can be present to my children who will need me more than ever this coming year. Those children also need to eat and do chores and continue their homeschool studies, and ideally have a mom who finds some joy and not just sorrow in our coming year. It's a lot.

In fact, all of my friends keep asking me how I'm doing, and I really don't know. I'm keeping my head above water. I'm crying at least once a day. I know that God is with me, and I feel the comfort of His love. I'm definitely not sleeping well. The kids are enjoying that I'm saying "yes" to a lot of their requests for Easter candy and screen time. I'm pouring every ounce of energy into my husband when he is home. My to-do lists are pages and pages long, so there are many moments of recognizing my inadequacy to do it all.

But I have settled upon a daily goal that seems to be working, for now, to keep myself moving forward and not melting in a puddle of irrational emotions like a teenage girl (It probably helps that I witness this regularly to understand how ridiculous it can be!).

My goal: Each day I try to spend time with each of my plates. Some days I spend more time on one than another, but if I at least do one thing from each area, I feel like I am doing more than just surviving.

I might email about a Moms' Night Out, pre-pack one room, listen to a podcast about deployment, check that my name is on all financial accounts, read aloud to my kids, order a Walmart grocery pick up for the next day, make clean up more fun by bribing kids with jellybeans, write out lesson plans for the next month, get on the treadmill while watching an episode of The Good Wife (hooked, I admit it) or Lark Rise to Candleford (finally back on Amazon Prime!), and spend some time reading a novel before bed. And it's a full day.

There is one key element that I think is making this work. I'm anchoring my days in prayer. In the morning, even though I'm back to my old pre-Lenten habit of waking up when my little ones wake up, after feeding them breakfast I sit on the couch with my tea for morning prayers. Because I'm so exhausted, I find myself lying down in the middle of the afternoon, the perfect time to pick up my nightstand rosary and pray a Chaplet. And I'm often falling asleep with my rosary in my hands, usually not completing an entire rosary, but finding peace in the prayers.

What do you do when your plates are spinning out of control? If you don't have a strategy that works for you, try to choose one task from each plate, big or small, each day. I'd love to hear if this works for you or not! (Disclaimer: it might not; God made us all different!)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Profound Act of Mercy

My friends and I have been talking a lot this Lenten season about this Year of Mercy, thanks to the 2016 Faces of Mercy Catholic Conference 4 Moms. We began by understanding that mercy is twofold. It is both forgiveness and relieving the misery of others.

Tonight in Catholic churches all around the world, priests will wash others' feet during Mass. It seems an odd thing to do, to wash someone's feet. It's very intimate and kind of stinky. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John describes it:

1Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him,
3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,
4rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.
5Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.
6He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?"
7Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand."
8Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me."
9Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
10Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you."
11For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."
12When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
13You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.
14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
15For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

I have been pondering how Jesus' act of washing the feet of his disciples was an act of mercy. They wore sandals, all the time, in the hot, dry desert. History tells us their feet were caked in sweat and dirt, and they walked many miles in a single day. So I imagine that washing their feet in cool, clean water was a relief from the sticky, smelly, achy feeling of unclean feet. Jesus relieved their misery when he washed their feet.

And He insisted upon it. Jesus did not allow Peter to excuse himself from receiving this mercy and still be in His good favor. It was through this act of relieving their misery that He taught them about humility. He needed the disciples to see that true Christians extend mercy to others, even when it's dirty and stinky and requires us to stoop below our position.

To me, that sounds a lot like motherhood. We do dirty, stinky work. We change diapers and wipe noses. We listen to the anger pour out of our teenagers. But that work relieves the misery of our children. Mothers humble themselves to do the menial tasks of daily life to keep our children healthy in mind, body, and soul.

When I go to Mass this evening and observe the merciful act of feet washing, I will try to reflect on how I extend mercy to others, in my family and in my community, by doing the dirty work and bowing down. And I will pray that we will all, like Peter, openly accept the way God's mercy comes to us in our hearts and through the acts of others.