Friday, June 16, 2017

Be There

I went on a 20-hour womens’ retreat last month led by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. (By the way, if you ever have a chance to go on one of their retreats in Ann Arbor or near Austin, go!) There were many things about those fleeting hours that I have brought home to ponder, and this one won’t let go, especially given the division and fear that is crushing our world today.

At one point the Sisters showed us the first part of this wonderful new movie, Liberating a Continent: John Paul II. One portion of the film that struck me was after Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, and he went back to visit communist Poland, his homeland. The government did everything they could to discourage people from going to see him, fabricating and spreading stories about damaged roadways, rampant disease, and filth. But despite these lies and because of the inability for the faithful to ever speak in public about their faith, they went to see him. Historians estimate that 13 million people saw him over his nine-day visit in Poland.

I forget who, but one of the historians or clergy who were interviewed for the film explained that those gatherings were a catalyst for change. You see, these people did not know what their neighbors believed. There was no free speech, but by seeing one another gather together to pray with the pope, they realized how many fellow citizens were desperate for change. By physically being there, a new unity came about which inspired the strikes and other actions that would one day lead to the fall of communism in that country and beyond.

In our culture, it isn’t often difficult to know what another person thinks. We share our opinions freely, as we should in a country of free speech. Our Facebook feeds and our lunchroom discussions are as often about politics and religion as pop stars and TV shows, since we seem to have outgrown the previously taboo nature of these topics. But when we encounter another person who has similar beliefs and is living in a similar situation as we are, our faith is indeed boosted, and we feel we are a part of something bigger than our little circle of influence.

You have probably experienced this at a concert, conference, retreat, or similar large gathering. Wow. Look at all the people who love what I love. I felt that way on retreat this weekend as I met women from all over the State of Texas who were busy with jobs and families but needed 20 hours to focus on God, reflect on their vocation, and pray together for our families and our world.

Especially as mothers, especially as homeschooling mothers, we can feel extremely isolated and wonder if anyone else has similar struggles. But as soon as we head to the park and start chatting about toddler meltdowns and tween-age dawdling, our spirits are lifted, and we know we can persevere. When we encounter another soul thirsting and questing for God, we feel an instant connection and realize we are not alone.

In my own life, I recognize the need to find like-minded friends with similar vocations. All they have to do is be there, to send a text or to meet me for coffee, and I find renewal. It does not matter how we spend our time, whether we delve deep in conversation or merely chat with constant interruptions as our children play squabble. The Lord created us, women especially, for relationship with one another, and making the effort to show up not only feeds the souls of those around us, but also comforts our own hearts by reminding us that constantly striving for holiness is indeed a noble thing and not an impossible quest.

Perhaps there are obstacles to finding these IRL (in real life) gatherings. It is then that social media can fill a void with forums and blogs, Facebook and Instagram. A simple post can connect us to strangers and remind us Whom we serve, taking us out of our self-centered thoughts. We can find our tribe, and we can be reminded to fight the good fight and keep the high standards.

So my challenge to you is to reach out today. Be present to someone IRL or online, and stand side by side, appreciating your common ground and respecting your differences, because God loves us all when we are united in His Son, Christ Jesus.

Monday, June 12, 2017

This Book

This book. When it was first published as an ebook in 2014, I was in a fog. My youngest was just about a year old, I was struggling to keep a home business alive, and I sincerely thought it should not be taking me so long to bounce back to orderliness and productivity after another new baby. I was homeschooling a 5th and a 3rd grader and chasing a three year old amidst it all. Rest and peace were elusive.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace (affiliate link) came out on Sarah's blog and sounded like it would be a great help to my weariness. I had been reading and enjoying Sarah's perspective for a while, but reading a post here and there while nursing was hardly enough to cobble together a coherent thought to remember and apply tomorrow.

So I devoured her e-book. I printed it and put it in a binder and promptly read through it. I enjoyed her focus on trusting God and respecting who He created my children, and me, to be. But as she began to suggest practical ways to implement surrendering our homeschooling to the Lord, I fell back on my old perfectionist, worrying ways. And then, I promptly called a friend, one who had also read it, and complained, declaring the impossibility of the ideas within it. It just did not make sense!

How could I allow my children not to finish their math book by the end of the year? How could I simplify my curriculum when we hadn't even started Latin!? And how on earth could I schedule our days to allow for seemingly idle time? 24 hours are just not enough! (If you are laughing with me now, you have been there!)

But when the Lord wants to heal you, He doesn't give up. The following school year Sarah's words kept coming back to me. I argued with myself regarding my objections to her wisdom. Yet, even in Confession, Father was telling me to stop looking at prayer as something to check off of my to do list and just to "rest in the Lord." So, little by little, stubborn me began to surrender more and more to Christ. I brought my "couple loaves of bread and a few fish" to God and sat still long enough to let Him work in our homeschool. The results were grace and peace beyond my imaginings.

The following summer, I picked up the book again, in print form and remarkably edited to clarify its message, and I devoured it with new eyes. Now I read it at least once a year, sometimes twice. Each time the Holy Spirit prompts me in new ways to realize that I am not "the be-all and end-all of whether the education [I am] offering [my] children is going to be as successful as [I] hope it is." God is, and I endeavor to "seek Him first."

I highly suggest every homeschooling mother, whether you are enrolled in a hybrid or home-based program or you cobble together your own lessons, read this book. There is wisdom here that comes directly from Scripture and other wonderful books and from the daily experiences of many. If you look to planning next year as an enormous chore that you are incapable of completing or have not fully finished your school year and are limping to the finish line, consider reading this book. (And it's good for those of you who school year round, too!)

Would you like to join me to discuss this remarkable book over the next few weeks, as I study it again? I'm hoping that for the next several Mondays I can manage to get a post up here with my thoughts on each section of the book, and we can try to chat here. I know some of you are joining me to study the book in other ways, but a few friends requested a non-local, non-Facebook place. Let's try it! If you're in, please comment below, so I know to plan to chat with you next Monday about Part One!