Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Christmas Card I never sent...

Take Joy!

I salute you!  There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach,
is joy.
Take Joy.

Fra Giovanni


A belated Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

It's the end of the year as we know it...{Part two}

...Part Two of a rambling I began here


This focus, in my opinion, falls deeply and intimately under homeschooling but I have chosen to tease it out and reflect on it separately.  I don't think that the relationship between my two boys--its health or its continual development--would have taken as much precedence in their, or our, daily lives if they attended public school.  From my observations of friends and neighbors whose children are not homeschooled, once the children are spending the majority of their day away at school, there seems to be a significant shift of focus onto each individual child's relationships with other kids.  This phenomenon is really just a natural outcome of the "socialization" that occurs when you separate children by grade/age level and keep them together for the majority of the day.  And although this is the reality that most of us experienced and that still informs the way we view childhood, it by no means is the only or best experience.

My two boys spend an extraordinary amount of time together.  They even share a room and a bed so the togetherness is at a ridiculous level.  Ridiculous and wonderful.  I believe wholeheartedly that my boys are learning the fine art of socialization through every interaction they have with each other.

According to The Encyclopedia Britannica "socialization essentially represents the whole process of learning throughout the life course and is a central influence on the behaviour, beliefs, and actions of adults as well as of children."

As my boys navigate each and every conversation, quarrel, explanation, narration, aggravation...they are learning how to be real people in a world of real situations.  We wake up each morning with the crazy idea that simply by living our lives together we are learning important lessons about life, love, loss and longing.  This is our "life course" and, according to Britannica, it is the central influence on making us who we are in society.  By choosing to be together more often than apart, we are intentionally being the central influence on each other.  I think that is a good thing.

Because all this togetherness is not always butterflies and rainbows and unicorns dancing.  Oh no... far from it.  There are moments when anger fills the room and threatens to become king and commander.  Words fly off handles at break-neck speed and not everyone ducks in time to avoid the blow.  People disappoint and forget and hurt.  At the most basic level, people are people.  

And I don't believe that happens in the same way outside of the home.  Yes, there are mean girls and bullies and Queen bees in schools.  From personal experience, we know, all too well, the power of cliques and how quickly ugly words speed through a school.  But I don't believe those happenings are examples of people being people.  At least not real people.  Those are instances of people finding themselves threatened and afraid and in an attempt to not be done in by the crisis, put on a persona that will protect them and their perceived status.  They are not being real, in either their response or their continued putting on.  And this is the cycle that is perpetuated, year after year, ad nauseum.

As a family, we have decided to step out of that crazy house and, instead, face each other as we are.  It's risky, for sure, because someone might not like who we are at any given moment.  But it's real.  And I believe that this focus on being real is the most important work we are doing.  If my boys feel free to be who they really are, think of the potential.  When they are struck with an idea or a desire, they don't have to check to see if it is acceptable or popular.  They can simply run with it.  They will have the freedom to try on different hats in an environment that won't chastise them for their individuality.  They can become who they were created to be.  I believe this is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to each other.

Extract from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (1881-1944)

‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ‘Does it hurt? Asked the Rabbit. ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ ‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’ ‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse only smiled. ‘Someone made me Real,’ he said. ‘That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’

Finding the gifts...

This has been the other theme of my year.  I've been inspired by Ann Voskamp, through her website and her book, and I have found that it has had a profound impact on my life.  

Life is a crazy, wonderful, difficult ride and without a lightning rod to help me take it all in, well...I don't do a very good job.  I'm a mess, actually.  
But I have found that when I intentionally look for God's fingerprints on everything, the discipline truly grounds me and protects me from destruction.  For on my own, I am vulnerable and weak and pretty much destined to mess up.  Royally.  But when I stop, even in front of the boiled-over oatmeal, and breathe in perspective and humility, the situation does not have power over me.  And that shifting of power, off the things of this world and onto the Giver of all things, radically transforms...both the moment and my heart.

And boy do I need transforming.

The discipline is simple enough, yet so foreign to the patterns of this world.  The instinct, the habit is to whine...complain...tread water in pools of pity.  The habit is to look for the why when really we should be looking for the because.  

Because He loved us first.
Because in Him, and through Him, love dwells among us.
Because, only when I embrace my weakness can His strength be fully manifested.

He is the Great because.  

And when we start looking and begin to actually count the gifts, the glimpses of His love, the evidence of His constant presence...well...
it is then that we can begin to really live.

I don't know about you but I want to be fully alive.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more. 
It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity. 
It can turn a meal into a feast,
a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. 
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today,
and creates a vision for tomorrow.
-Melody Beattie

So, as we wind up 2011, I look with wild anticipation at all that is in store for 2012.  I know that it won't be all good, I'm not that naive.  But I believe that entering into the freshness of a new year feels pretty good.  It has been written that His mercies are new every morning.  The gift of a new year is one example of God's mercy and grace and love.  Let's accept the gift and get on with the living it out.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

It's the end of the year as we know it... {Part One}

Well, December found me very much preoccupied with everything but writing on my own blog.  I read a gazillion other blogs, mainly for Christmas inspiration, whether that be in the form of decorating or gifting or baking.  And I spent entirely too much time on Pinterest (how can you not get sucked down that rabbit hole?) But what I didn't do much of was write.  This little piece of cyberspace, the one that I decorate with photos and word pictures and quotes that I like and links to people far more amazing then me... well, it remained in the shadows.  The truth of the matter goes something like this... sitting down and gathering my thoughts and then pouring them through my fingers in a way that is somewhat coherent, well, it takes time and energy and focus.  And as much as I LOVE doing it, the fact that I learn so very much about myself when I read back over what I've written...well, it is work.  Good work.  Mindful work.  Life-giving work.

But work, nonetheless.

And this Christmas season I simply chose to expend that energy in places other than here.  I guess in the blogosphere that makes me a simple wannabe blogger.

Darn it.

And now I find myself at the end of the year and Christmas is over (well, not liturgically, but in the commercial, way-of-the-world sort of way) and I feel spaces opening up all over the place.  Literally and figuratively.

As I've begun to disassemble some of the Christmas cheer that has bedecked our halls this season I have been refreshed by the new spaces created. (I must pause here for one moment to say that I have never been more pleased with the way our little house was decorated this year...just the right mixture of homemade whimsy, quaint vintage pieces and the miscellaneous other things that John and I have managed to gather over the years..I loved being in my house this Christmas, especially when the lights were low and everything shimmered in the Christmas lights...)   The last few days have found me riding a wave of momentum and I have found myself inspired to prepare for a fresh new year.

But because "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end" I wanted to take the time to reflect on this year that will soon be ending so as to go into 2012 with a feeling of closure and contentment.

Being outside...

It's something that has always been important to me and one of the things that I have made happen just as much for me as for my boys.  And this past year provided some very good outdoor opportunities:

*Eagle watching on the Missouri River
*The ThunderBlizzardApocolypse in February that my boys will be talking about for the rest of their lives
*Several hikes in the woods and fields around our house, the Spring ones being among the best because of the hope and joy they bring after a winter full of weather phenomena (see aforementioned weather event)
*Taking turns guiding paddles boats and kayaks around our neighborhood lake...many an afternoon was whiled away in this manner.  I highly recommend this activity.
*Finding new trails and Conservation Areas in the state to explore and discover color in forms that are never old or tiresome.

But despite the many pictures to indicate otherwise, we didn't spend as much time outside this year as we have in the past. I'm not sure why.  It is always good for us.  Always.  I want my boys to be connected to the natural world through experience, especially when so much of the world is connected by way of electronic and artificial means.  This is one of those items that I will be tweaking in the coming year (that will be a different blog post).

The Learning Rooms...

This has been an interesting year, homeschooling-wise.  Even though we have always homeschooled, it still amazes me how much I continue to think/analyze/critique/tweak/completely reconfigure/start over/try on new styles/abandon said new styles to return to what we were doing to begin with/question/question again/oh, and, once more, question...EVERYTHING.  It can be exhausting...if I let it.  But as I close out this year and look to dance into the next, I'm beginning to feel a little more comfortable in my skin.  I am continuing to learn that what sounds and looks good for another family may or may not sound or look good in our family.  I have been spending more time quietly and unobtrusively observing my kids, watching for the things that make them shine and, conversely, what dulls and diminishes them.  I'm tired of trying to fit my round shaped kids into other people's square shaped spaces.  We've spent more time "off" than "on" so far this year and I'm okay with that.  My kids have still managed to grow and learn and expand in unique and awesome ways.  One decision we made this year was to stop participating in the larger homeschool group's Co-Op and, instead, gather with a few close friends for our own "Mini Co-Op" twice a month.  It has proven to be a good move for us.  Friendships have been strengthened (between the kids and the moms!) and we've been able to do some things that we wouldn't have done on our own (frog dissection!).  I have some new ideas about how we might spend our time together in the coming year and I'm excited to try on some new outfits, again.

More posts to come...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Love-colored glasses

My heart is different this year.

It all started when we watched The Story of Stuff and suddenly the way that I thought about everything was turned on its head.  How the little decisions we make every day, every minute, are connected to things larger than ourselves and although that can become incredibly overwhelming, maybe even sometimes paralyzing, it can also be a huge wake-up call to how we live our every day lives.

And then along comes Christmas.

Watching the madness of Black Friday commercials while at my parents' house over the Thanksgiving holiday (cardio training for the mad dash to get items first?  really, Target?)...
bringing in the paper that weighed 5 lbs because of all the store circulars stuffed in between the headlines reporting the continued depth of our economic crisis and the desperateness of average folks...

it just became too much.

What are we doing?  Why do we choose to engage in this madness, year after year?  The more that I pondered those questions, the more that it became poignantly clear:

Peer pressure is alive and rabid, even among grown adults.

And I don't want to feel that way anymore.

I didn't like it back in 1986, when I knew something to be true in my heart and yet I chose a different way so that I wouldn't stick out any more awkwardly than I already did.  Acquiescing was certainly easier, but there was also a cost.

There's always a cost.

What do I really want and what am I willing to sacrifice in order to get it?  Because if everything has a cost, what can I really afford?

I can't afford what the world wants me to give, that's for sure.  There is only so much that can be purchased within an already lean budget.  And what the world offers is often fleeting and faddish anyway.   Like a one night stand that seems good at the moment but leaves you vulnerable and doesn't call the next day.

I think it's high time I choose to live in a different kind of moment.

And the amazing thing is this:
the choice to go a different way, to invest in family and friends, to infuse my moments with love rather than trinkets costs only

I guess, in reality though, my time is really my everything.

Which is convenient because what I really want to give is

But how exactly do I do that?  In a culture that also wants my everything, how to I make a different way?

I've decided to try by making this one change, inspired by Advent Conspiracy, because sometimes, one thing can really be every thing:

"If love is to be the driving force of our gift giving, then money cannot be.  Our dominating culture of consumerism can, and must, be rejected.  When we refuse to equate money with love, we become free."

I am going to make love the driving force of my gift giving this year.  When I think of those with whom I want to share Christmas, I want to look at them through love-colored glasses.  And maybe sharing some of myself might be nice, too?  Because what is a gift if it isn't sprinkled with something of the giver?

"In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life..."
Mumford and Sons

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } A prayer for thanks-giving

Despite the fact that I can feel the dance begin,
the one that sweeps up family and feasting, bustling hands and beauteous light and twirls them round and round my heart,
I sense You pulling me deeper.
Yes, it is good to gather, to greet each other with holy kisses and to give thanks.  Generations after generations have taught us that ritual.  We know it by heart.
But Lord, I long to live out my thanks giving.  I don’t want it to be reserved for pre-appointed dates on the calendar.
I need to practice this act of thanks giving so that it becomes a sacrament. 
Because on many days, the thanks are slow in coming.
And some days, they don’t come at all.
How can this be?
Perhaps it is because my wandering heart finds your shadow and declares you absent, choosing to embrace emptiness and despair.  Looking closer I might see that the darkness that puddles around me is actually cast by the breadth of your wing.  And that you are always passing by.
I must burn the Truth on my lips--that your mercies are new every morning-- so that when my heart fails and my vision blurs, my mouth will declare forth your praise.
Lord, may my thanks giving always be a response rather than a ritual and may I learn to see that your love is everywhere.

Monday, November 21, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Margin

"A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man's life as in a book."
- Henry David Thoreau

I don't think that we set out to create chaos.  Not on purpose, at least.

But if we don't check ourselves from time to time, it is very likely that we will find our own speedometers trying to keep pace with that of a culture whose gait, too often, is sprinting.

The tension to keep moving is palpable and pulsing.  It is expected and exalted. Sometimes, it is even alluring and attractive. 

But that does not mean that it should be fed.  

You feed things that you want to grow.  

And so I must constantly decide, what do I want to grow in my life?

I'll tell you, first, what I don't want to grow:

...fear, anger, the need to compare, idleness, bitterness, feelings of superiority, judgment, shallowness, a growing list of accomplishments with nothing but exhaustion and weariness to show for it, ugly words, confusion, clutter, distrust, empty dreams, never following through on things...

But the only way to keep these things from taking root and becoming established is for me to create some breathing space.  Some lee-way.  Room to move.

And the way to do that is to envelop our times of planned activity with a cocoon of calm.

Just as the white space that surrounds the text on a book's page helps to more clearly frame that which we are reading, so must we give room for our lives to speak.  

What a tragedy it would be if, years down the line, I stopped to look back over the story of my life, only to find the text bleeding all over, eclipsing the light from the pages, masking the narrative.

And so, again, I must ask: how then shall we live?

First, we must breathe.  Deeply.  Breathe in the moments.  Actually draw them in.  because, just as with wine, are lives "develop flavor and blossom" when allowed to breathe.

Then, we must allow what is happening, right here and right now, to engage, bemuse and fascinate us.  This is it. These moments are what make a life.  Embrace them.  Accept them.  Keep them.  

And then, we must consciously choose to stop.  Whether it is in order to more fully live in the when the first snowflakes of the season begin to fall as you are walking to the mailbox and you pause, throw your head up to heaven and stick your tongue out in praise...
or whether it is to build a buffer from one activity to the next, make the choice to stop.

Pull the weeds of busyness and harried living from the sacred space of your life and 

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.  ~Author Unknown

Sunday, November 20, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Our little house

Peace - that was the other name for home.  
~Kathleen Norris

I am so thankful for this little house of ours.

When we made the heart wrenching decision to leave our Atlanta home and the dear people with whom we had shared life for eight years in community, not to mention the dozens of other beloved folks that were instrumental in shaping us as individuals and as a family, it was done with some trepidation.  What would life on the outside of our Atlanta bubble look like?  What would we look like?  Where would we land?

It turned out that we landed much further away from the family that we had migrated towards.  But that was where the job was and there are times when you have to take the hand your dealt and pray that you make the best of it.

It all happened so quickly. The job offer, the scurrying to find housing, trying to figure out where one should settle when they know absolutely nothing about the city to which they are moving, calculating what we could actually afford compared to what the bank said we could afford....

And then, on one of those days when there is already too much to do than can be accomplished, John happened to look on Craig's List.  And there it was.

Our house.

I can remember the day he called me on his cell phone.  I was in St. Louis and he was stealthily creeping around the land and house, trying to get a better sense of what buying this antique might mean and trying to describe it to me, all the while, hoping that no one spotted him and called the authorities.

But, kind of like I did on that first date, I knew somewhere deep down, that this was going to be our house.

And so it was.

And yes, owning a 175 year old house often provides us with constant entertainment, as well as aggravation, but it is such a blessing to be the caretakers of this piece of dirt and this piling of stones.  To own a bit of history and to be adding to its story.  Again, I will say it...

It is a blessing.

We have no idea how long we will be here in this particular house.  Life happens and new opportunities present themselves and you just never no what is coming down the pike.  

But it is my sincere prayer that as long as we are here, living out our days and nights, we continue to make this house a home.  

That we would infuse this space with grace and forgiveness and joy and light.

And above all, that we would make this a house of love, made real.

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other.  It is the place of confidence.  It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts.  It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.  ~Frederick W. Robertson

Friday, November 18, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry.

~Mark Strand, "Eating Poetry," Reasons for Moving, 1968

I am so thankful for this new ritual of ours.  

The heating of the kettle, the clinking spoons in the mugs, the sweet crumbs on our lips and the delightful belly laugh as we read another nonsense is all so wonderful.   I doubted its power, this "tea-time and poetry," especially with two boys, but I am overjoyed to be so very wrong.  Sure, the warm drinks and sweet confections did their magical wooing but the word plays and rhymes kept them at the table.  And now there are favorite poems and there are recitations of verses, delivered at just the right moment and it
is. all. so. wonderful.

I will let the poems do the rest of the talking.

Soliloquy of a Tortoise
on Revisiting
the Lettuce Beds
After an Interval of One Hour
While Supposed
to Be
in a Clump
of Blue Hollyhocks

One cannot have enough
of this delicious stuff!

-E.V. Rieu

                                                                                       you so
                                                                            in the
                                                             of your

-Arnold Adoff


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks) My dog

With eye upraised his master's look to scan,
The joy, the solace, and the aid of man:
The rich man's guardian and the poor man's friend,
The only creature faithful to the end.

George Crabbe

I wanted you for a very long time.

You see, it's very hard for me to to successfully carry out this thing called life without a four-legged, hairy animal at my side.
It seems that dogs help define me as a person so, the years that I was without a dog (college, single, early marriage)...well, the memories of those times will always have a dog-shaped hole in them.

But here you are, in all your Australian Shepherd hairyness and herdingness, your Labrador chewiness, and your Beaglesque diggy/sniffiness.   And who could have imagined that the sum would be greater than the parts? I sure didn't.  Just a little over two years ago, if you had asked me what I was thinking about you...well, you would have found that the praise and adoration didn't come all that quickly.

I almost lost my mind over you.

But, who you were, deep beneath the trouble you caused and the havoc you wreaked, well, that is what saved you.

Because, at the end of the day, you don't seem to remember that I screamed at you that morning or that we forgot to feed you until noon or that we shoo you off of the bed just as you've dozed off.  You just choose to leap for joy at our return, lick the tears from our faces and bark at all of those horrible vicious squirrels that are trying to take over our yard.

All of that and

when we are walking freely, taking in the air and the sunshine and all that is glorious about this world, well






I am joy in a wooly coat, come to dance into your life, to make you laugh!
Julie Church

Monday, November 14, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Reading aloud

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, 
Go throw your TV set away, 
And in its place you can install, 
A lovely bookshelf on the wall."
— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

He's sitting in the big blue chair, the one that has held all of us at one time or another, and sometimes, two or three of of us together.  The lamps glow softly, holding the darkness at bay, and the blankets are pulled close around wiggling toes.  Eyes look slowly about the room, focusing and blurring as they listen to the word pictures being painted by his deep and easy voice.  We are all at attention, despite our relaxed poses.  
We travel the world, traipse through time, try on different personas, imagine new beginnings and weep at sad endings.  We laugh, we muse, we sigh, we gasp.
And the most beautiful part of it all...we do it together.
This daily ritual has become sacred.  Despite their growing minds and bodies and no matter that some of them can read all by themselves, this hallowed time is kept.

"You may have tangible wealth untold.  
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. 
Richer than I you can never be – 
I had a mother who read to me."
— Strickland Gillilan

Friday, November 11, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } a slight pause

Please be patient with me as I take a break this weekend to go live out my thanksgiving...

I will be spending time with my parents, my husband and my boys
embracing the great joy
that is my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Creation

My whole body is covered with eyes:   
Behold it!
Be without fear!
I see all around.

-Eskimo poem

Some days, it overwhelms me, all of this beauty.  I will walk in the woods or bend down to touch flowers or stand on toes tipped to feed birds and, suddenly, it will fall in on me.

The beauty.

Crashing and swirling and whistling through my fingertips.  And a whirlwind spins in my core, lifting my soul and my eyes upward, singing with music of the spheres.

He is here.  Always, He is here.

His mark is everywhere.

Everywhere, evidence of the shaping, the molding, the creating.

His tenderness.  His strength.  His fury.  His glory.

All of it melting and blending, one into another, boldly, then quietly.  Brazen, then hushed.

And in everything, a rhythm.

For creation is the very heartbeat of God, pulsating with ripples and shimmers and gold dust.

"When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty."
-John Muir