How to Kick-Off the New School Year in One Easy Step

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Before there was school, there were babies, and before there were babies, there was passion, and before there was passion there was marriage, and before that was knock-you-head-over-heels-love.

And while education is important and it’s all the buzz this time of year, it’s good to remember that this whole ‘growing people’ ordeal was first born of love.

There was a time, when I lay in my husband’s arms and dreamed dreams of this stuff… little people, the music recitals, the soccer games, the meals together, the reading together, the slow-motion laughter of happy-family bliss.

(NB: Not included in those idyllic fantasies were the more practical certainties of chaos, noise, mess, and general stickiness that would accompany my future existence, hourly, as a mother.)

So here’s a gentle reminder to remember your man in these days of noisy preparation.

Because he is where your family-love story began; when you love him with a passionate-surrender-it-all-delight, you create again the space for love to do miracles.  When you connect and stand as a team, all the craziness of the season somehow dims and your heart settles as you face the noise together.

So, don’t put the babies before the man.

Water your first love first and the good things will grow; remember his steadiness and faithfulness, his diligence and sacrifice and consider it all while you kiss him and love him in the real and deep ways that God made you for.

(That’s the way to kick-off a great new school year.)

Sparkle Eyes

I catch myself, at times, squinty-eyed and firm too many times in a row with a particular child.

It could be that this child is in a ‘stage’ (one of those exasperating seasons where I get to the point where I’d gladly trade any other ‘stage’ for the one we are currently in -  a seriously dumb thought) that seems to coax the worst out of me as a parent.

That’s really the time when I need to apply some personal self-control, change course and start by letting my eyes speak.  (Then my mouth usually follows.)

Obedience, compliance and good behavior are not my child’s first job.  His first job is to be loved by me.  God loved me first in spite of my junk, and I love my child first in spite of his, that’s the order set up in creation.

Amazingly, when I work with my eyes to start the process of joy rolling again, the rest of our interactions begin falling into line as well…   it’s almost magical.  When I begin to see my beautiful child through all his funky noise, and love him in spite of the chaos and goobers and willfulness, we begin to connect again.

This connecting is a feature of attentiveness and deliberate focus on my part.  Distance so often comes from my own distraction.  When I look on my child in love, I’m saying, “I really love you, and I’m not ignoring you.  You are so important to me that I’m only seeing you right now!”

When I feel like turning on my own funky noise to silence a child, I have been reminded more and more lately, that it is my delight, my joy, and my love that actually blesses and builds up this child into the person I know God made Him to be.

Unsettled

This is one of those times of year when I can too easily slip into the delusion that if I just tweak enough and prepare enough, life will glide forward in a sort-of rainbow-colored efficiency; gone will be the effort and work and sweat that seems to be characteristic of daily life.

If…  I get rid of a bit more junk.

If…  I plan our time better.

If…  I map out our goals.

If…  we make such-and-such repairs.

If…  we absorb these books and that curriculum.

If… we participate in these programs.

If…  I do everything perfectly now

…I can be at peace.

Spot the lie.

We are, in a sense, foreigners and aliens in this world.  If I am uncomfortable here and don’t seem to fit, it’s because I don’t.  Tweaking my schedule and my furniture and my goals may be helpful, but these things will never be the ultimate solution to my hunger to be settled.

I’m living in a foreign land that has pressures and expectations and stresses that I will never fully resolve.  The tension between me the world will continue unabated, until I learn to rest in God, in everything.

This isn’t home.  It’s where we work and play and love and learn, but it’s still journey, not destination.

Snowy and Tucker

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With great focus they collect bowls and fill them with water.

Then, they collect an armload of (alas, clean) dish towels, and the hand-soap pump from the bathroom and carry it all outside and ‘do laundry’ for hours.

They painstakingly soak and wash each dishtowel and hang them out one by one along the fence; a pretty line of double-clean laundry.  Their golden hair wisps about in the sunny breeze, and Tucker and Snowy talk like old-timers about all the newsy tidbits of their day, happily preoccupied with their work.

This play is their work for the day, it is their educationImitation-play is the occupation of young children; it is their natural process of learning and developing.  It is far from rigid, busywork at a table… it is touching the stuff of life and applying imagination to the process.

After cleaning up their own mess (mostly), they will likely come in and draw together, lots of letters and words are included in their pictures these days, though neither is really reading yet.  They will eat a snack and put their peach pits in the compost when they are done.

They will argue.

They will ask a million questions.

They will drive me nuts.

They will make me belly laugh.

They will force me to pause and wonder in awe at their simple brilliance and profound faith.

They will ask me to read stories, and I will read the same ones over and over again.  They will help me wash dishes and we will sing songs together as they splash water and bubbles all over the chair and counter and floor, and I pretend not to notice the mess.

I just keep chopping up the sweet potatoes for dinner.

They will open a bakery with play dough and bake me a cake on the deck.  The play dough will be filled with sticks and maybe an honorary dead bug.

They will hunt down every cherry tomato in the garden, and chase the kittens, and ride their bikes, and listen to an audio story, and swing on the swings, and draw on the driveway with chalk.

They will ask a million more questions.

Then, I will fill their bellies with hearty food, give them a bath and daddy will sing them to sleep.

Tomorrow, they will do it all again: learning to live, one ‘play’ at a time.

Sorting

paintA new season tends to bring with it a fresh analysis of priorities and the inevitable sorting between good things, best things and ultimate things.

The book Margin has come up in a few conversations lately, and I think it’s a word and a concept that I need to plug into more in response to this fast/busy/stress life that’s been heralded as normal here in North America.

Time is so very precious and running around chasing things, opportunities, events, people and experiences does not necessarily enhance my life on this earth; in fact, I am growing concerned that we (as in I ) are actually being distracted from the most important things: prayer, meditation, reflection, lingering, reading, creating, and the organic growth of relationships.

I am taking stock.

Practically speaking, I’m wondering if it’s possible to move out of the ‘weekly’ mindset and move toward a two week schedule cycle.  Music lessons every two weeks, chores, errands, book work, and other commitments all slotted within the span of two weeks, rather than crammed into the tight pulse of seven days.

The clock seems to have simultaneously shrunken its capacity and expanded its demands; I’m thinking about coming up for air and maybe even staying above water for a while.

So, I’m on a quest to slow down.

I’ve got to start jamming the pace creatively: my kids are growing fast and I’ve only got so much time with them in these special growing years to pursue the important and necessary and good things that God has put on my heart.

Away

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We stole away for a long drive and a week with friends; there is something so refreshing about time spent with soul-companions on life’s journey.

We walked and played and talked and sang and ate and laughed; reveling in the brisk air of deep-friendship.

It made me consider how tender and fragile we all are, working out our working-out-of-life on this blue-green sphere, sometimes alone and sometimes together… but, here we all are, trying to deal with the mess and the joy that is ours as humans.  The familiar pulse of questions and decisions, movements and choices that are ours, mark us all as we move forward.

And so, here we go, again today – diving deep into the middle of life and all its crumbs and confusions, delights and delusions – with the opportunity to embrace it again and work out the story of what has not yet been lived or realized or created in all of history so far: the story of us.

Creative Space

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I was recently ruminating with some guests about the general decline of original creativity in this fast-paced age.  Old themes are easily resurrected, and putting a new face on old stories or ideas is common in movies and literature, but where are the original ideas, the new discoveries, and the brilliant “aha!” moments of innovative designs?  I know they exist, but they seem rare.

The precious ingredients for creativity: imagination, meditation, concentration, musing, thinking, tinkering and dreaming don’t happen automatically in a relentless and wired culture, instead a whole lot of overwhelm seems to take center stage and I can easily become paralyzed under my to-do lists.

Dreams are easily dampened; creativity is easily crushed.

I like this reminder by Seth Godin:

“Dreams are difficult to build and easy to destroy. By their nature, dreams are evanescent. They flicker long before they shine brightly. And when they’re flickering, it’s not particularly difficult for a parent or a teacher or a gang of peers to snuff them out.” –Stop Stealing Dreams

How I long to be a dream-fanner.

This makes me wonder how I can make our home a place where the diverse dreams God has planted within us can be fanned into creative expression that will build and bless the world around us.

What’s so difficult about this, for me, is that the process often requires mess and commitment and space and time… all things that are not convenient or urgent… meaning, that if I don’t make genuine creative space available in our life, or make the creative process a priority, it likely won’t happen. 

These are the kinds of things I think about when I’m washing beautiful smudgy cheeks.

Delight

When I started out on this child-raising venture, I was eventually confronted with a need to articulate our family’s philosophy of education…  Because, of course, “every child needs an education!”  Well, just what is an education, how is it acquired, what is my role and what is the role of the children in attaining this noble thing?

Delight, motivation, passion – these concepts immediately resonated with me in relation to learning; these good things will lead a little human to places of purpose, productivity and compassionate living, because they are inner and organic, not imposed from outside.

When a child is motivated to learn, to study, to explore, to read about a thing because the subject is important to her… then comes the ‘education’.

First comes love (surprise!), then comes study, practice, growth, skill, and adventure = education.

An education is not something that is done to children or given to them: it is a God-given hunger-process that they possess, if we would but free them from the constraints of generalized expectations and uniform, one-size-fits-all preoccupations.

Every parent is the primary teacher for their child; and ‘teaching children’ by working with their delights is a most rewarding (though, I confess too, oftentimes confounding!) occupation.  (It tends to involve a whole lot of risk and work for the parent too!)

Delight-directed learning opens the doors of knowledge for a child, as together we pursue the passions already planted in that young heart.

A few delights we’re exploring around here:

Dorian’s tomato garden producing some lovely results.

Snowy’s tightrope; because she can’t stop moving and testing her physical agility.

Duke’s soccer net made out of PVC pipes, inspired by World Cup Soccer… so many soccer games this summer!

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My favorite lip balm recipe so far, much more solid and even a little color!

Education Unlimited

Sometimes, I like to look at my kids’ desks and reflect on how their contents reflect the personalities of the individual users.  Other times, I just feel like throwing a grenade at the whole mess and watching all that jumble of paper and recycling and books and knick-knacks go up in smoke.

More often though, I look at the additional assortment of activities and books and lists (my personal contribution to the overflowing desk-effect) and I am embarrassed by what those things represent: my own insecurities in being their ‘teacher’.

Because, really, how on earth does one grow a child?

Scientifically orchestrated curricula, glossy ‘proven’ strategies, and even heaps of fancy-looking busywork, and dare I say it (?!) even books do not grow children.

Love grows children; particularly, love devoid of fear.

As a parent, stepping off of the ‘fear train’ has probably been one of the most radical processes I have endured on the journey so far.

Child-raising/education choices compelled by fear do not bear good fruit.  Somehow, I have to keep catching myself from believing the opposite. 

Instead, I am choosing to trust that God has a plan and purpose for each child and this frees me up to move with their passions and visions and ideas, even if those things don’t resonate for me, personally.   It’s like I’ve removed an invisible chain tethering them to my comfort/experience (pathetically uniformly-schoolish-approaches) and now we’re out in the wild-wide-open spaces of real life…

…and it’s awesome.

It’s a life of unbounded freedom and possibility.

Seed Bank

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There is something provokingly profound about the maturing of a seed.

The hope-investment: planted months ago in a little spot, tucked between dirt and pebbles, we dreamily planted all sorts of wonderful things.

But, my when they grow: life in actionForces beyond our power knit and awaken… a flower, a fruit, a purpose!

Every day I am planting seeds for some future harvest.  I’m never sure which ones will ‘take’, but that’s not really my job to figure out, that’s the work of faith.

My effort is this: more time on my knees in the dirt.

If I don’t seed the idea today, or plant the seed of forgiveness, or take the risk, or recklessly cast about the seeds of love, what harvest will there be in any of my tomorrows?

Today’s work is all about the planting.

The Heavenly farmer will bring in the harvest in its time.