Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: The Socialization Question

Image credit:  Flickr

I’ve been thankful to have received very little negative feedback overall in response to our decision to homeschool at this point in our lives.  The most common, subtle concern I hear, though, usually goes something like this:

Person:  “So, are you involved in a group or co-op?”
Me:  “Yes, we meet weekly with a group of other homeschooling families.”
Person (visibly relieved):  “Oh, good!  I mean, for socialization.”

Aaaaaaand there it is.  The ‘S’ word.  One of the most famous arguments toward keeping children in a conventional school setting.  In fact, it’s an issue I had heard raised so often before we had ever considered homeschooling, that when we were agonizing like crazy people over in the process of making the decision I spent quite a lot of time fretting over whether I would be depriving my children of adequate socialization by having them at home.  And I’ve many times encountered a version of this statement from other mothers:  “I would be interested in homeschooling , but my son/daughter is so social!  I feel like I would be stifling him/her by keeping him/her away from a classroom setting.” 

Like most homeschooling parents who have wrestled with the socialization question, my initial anxieties have now given way to suppressed smiles when I sense a hinted concern from a relative, or look back at my own worries.  I now view the whole subject as a well-meaning myth with some real values underneath.  Here’s what I mean:

The socialization myth assumes that the conventional school setting is the way to ensure healthy social development.  However, even putting aside the historical norm of children who did not spend seven hours a day within the modern school model – children who were apparently, by this argument, all social misfits – the present-day evidence is proving that this assumption is unfounded.  Even a quick search turns up several studies showing that homeschooled children are just as socially confident and well-adjusted as their peers – or even more so.  But beyond the research, the frequent interaction I have with teens and young adults who were schooled at home (and are some of the most delightful, creative, polite, confident people I know), assures me that my kids aren’t missing a crucial component of their development. 

The socialization myth assumes that a whole lot of awesome socialization is happening at school.   Something that surprised me a lot during Maya’s two years in public school (during which I spent quite a bit of time volunteering in the classroom) was how little time the kids actually had to interact during the school day.  Examples:
  • Assigned seats on the bus
  • A noise-level rule system (Level 0 is silence, Level 1 is whisper, etc.) that found the kids at the silence and/or whispering level a lot.  A lot. 
  • Such a short lunch period that Maya had to consciously not talk with her friends in order to have adequate time to eat.
  • Far less recess time than what I had as a kid in school.

It’s not that I have a problem with these things, necessarily (other than the lunch thing, which drove me nuts).  And I’m not saying that there was a total lack of social time at school or that playtime is all that makes up the idea of “socialization”, but it was surprising to me when I’d spend a day with Maya at school just how little time she actually spent in playful, or even “regular” interaction with her peers, compared to what I’d assumed.  (Necessary disclaimer:  Teachers, you are awesome and are not the problem!)

But as I said, the socialization conversation has some real values at its heart, and we are actively trying to work out these values with our kids.

There is great value in children learning to play and talk and interact in a healthy way with their peers.  That’s why our kids spend time with friends in different situations several times a week – something actually made easier with our homeschooling schedule.

There is great value in children spending time at work in a group setting – learning to take turns, share information, work as a team, etc.  That’s why we love our weekly homeschool group and value our kids’ time in their Sunday school classes.  They have a lot of fun and build good skills by learning in a small group setting.

There is great value in extra-curricular activities, where children can learn special skills under the instruction of other adults and explore areas of strength and interest alongside other kids.  That’s why we love Maya’s dance lessons with a group of 11 other girls her age, her piano lessons, her scouting troop.  We love Noah’s interactive group music class and his city soccer league.  We love our growing involvement in 4-H clubs and our mornings and story/craft time at the library.  And honestly, we love these things even more now that our school day takes up less time and we aren’t fighting the after-school, after-homework fatigue that sometime took some of the enjoyment out of other activities.

There is value in children learning to interact well with people of all ages, with diverse backgrounds, in different settings.  That’s why I (mostly) like that my kids are with me during the day as we run errands and spend time out and about.  They have opportunities to chat with checkout clerks and store greeters, ask questions, help out, and play with their toddler cousins.  They are learning real-world social skills that I hope will serve them well in their teens and into adulthood. 

So that’s the long version of how I would answer the socialization concern (the short answer being a head-nod and “Mmmmhmmm.”).  I would never say that homeschooling always provides better social interaction than conventional school, because I don’t believe that.  I think involved parents who encourage social values make the biggest difference, regardless of school situation.   I do believe that where I once feared homeschooling might be a hindrance to socialization, I now see it as a great opportunity.  The bottom line is that we are around people a lot – learning, playing, working, serving – and our decision to homeschool has, for us, only been a benefit to building relationships and engaging our society.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thoughts From Others



Boom.  This post from Jen Hatmaker is pretty much everything I'd like to scream when I read through my Facebook feed these days.  And also when I look at my own heart.

The Mythical "They"


I'm one who fact-checks pretty much everything, but this one?  I don't even want to know if it's skewed, stretched, or blatantly false.  I'm just going with it.

11 Reasons Why You Should Drink Coffee Every Day


This made me laugh so much.

Famous Brands Updated with Honest Taglines


I have a minor obsession with weird little life hacks.

18 Everyday Products You've Been Using Wrong

Friday, October 18, 2013

Random Friday Thoughts


                                        Image Credit: Flickr

I have a sick five-year-old.  Poor guy.  The only thing that perked him up slightly this evening was a popsicle.  (Okay, two popsicles.)

Since the kids were basically in front of the television already, I took the opportunity to deep clean the kitchen.  And scrub down the refrigerator.  And sort the pantry.  And clean both bathrooms.  And vacuum/mop all the floors.  It was sort of awesome.  

Zooey Deschenel is so delightful.  

This week marked the time for the yearly tradition in which I bake a pumpkin pie, freeze a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream, take half the pe and roughly chopped it, then fold it into the ice cream.

Parks and Recreation gets better and better all the time.

I would like to know why, every fall, we discover that no one in this house has socks that match or fit.  

It is October 18th, and we have not yet taken our children to pick out their pumpkins.  Parenting fail.

I need to go search Pinterest to figure out what to make for breakfast tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts from the Kids

Image Credit: Flickr

(In the van today..)

Me:  "Hey guys, I'm writing about stuff I'm thinking about every day this month.  What are you thinking about?"

Maya:  "Oh!  Well, I'm thinking about how fun it will be to go to piano lessons today.  I love piano lessons!  Probably because it's so fun to play music.  And I love doing the duets with Aunt Diane.  I just think it's so cool that I am actually learning how to play an instrument!  And I'm starting to do whole songs!  Oh, and then tomorrow I have dance class, and I love dance class too, because I feel really grown up when we practice the new moves, and I'm so excited to learn our recital dance, and we'll get to wear beautiful costumes with fur muffs because it's an ice-skating dance!  So I'm learning two things I love for two days in a row!"

Noah:  "I'm mostly thinking about eating stromboli."

(Sounds about right.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: What We're Studying

Image credit: Flickr

When I began homeschooling last year, I knew I couldn't just merrily hum along while piecing together a complete curriculum out of my own creativity.  No. Just...no.  That would not be a gift that I possess.  I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, but here were some of my criteria:

  • Literature-based.  Solid, classic literature that would nurture a love of reading and writing.  
  • Structured lesson plans.  An outline of 180 school days that would give me a detailed plan for how to cover all of the subjects and materials in a way that made sense.  
  • No extensive preparation required.  I did not want to have to spend my evenings doing research and pulling materials together.  
  • Everything included.  Please, no tracking down obscure books at the library or typing up sheets of sample sentences for language arts.  
  • Faith-based, without being defensive, weird, or overly-sheltering.

I looked into every homeschool curriculum I could find, overwhelming myself with the decision, until we finally decided to try Sonlight.  I had heard good things, and from what I could tell, this company's vision fit every necessary line on my list.  I loved their commitment to good literature, and I appreciated their detailed lesson plans as well as the freedom they encourage to make the plans fit your individual needs.  I loved that I'd receive all the needed materials, and I was very impressed with Sonlight's philosophy on solid, non-weird Christian education.  

Ten weeks into our second school year at home, and I cannot say enough good things about this curriculum.  Sure, I've made my own adjustments to their suggested schedules over time, but the overall focuses and the level of education I'm able to provide with relative ease have been a huge blessing.  

This year, Maya (3rd grade) is in her second year of a World History core, with last year leading up to the fall of Rome, and this year picking up with the time of the Vikings and putting us currently in the adventurous Middle Ages.  I am learning right along with her, and as a history-lover, it is so fun to study the people, places, and discoveries that have shaped the course of human events.  

Maya's science studies this year will take us through geology, meteorology, and mechanical technology. She's doing 4th-5th grade language arts, readers,, and spelling and is doing her math through Teaching Textbooks at the computer.  She has weekly Bible memory verses and daily scripture readings and is studying interesting Bible facts as well as powerful missionary stories.  We are learning about world cultures and religions and specific prayer focuses that we can use as we intercede for people groups around the globe.

Noah (Kindergarten) is focusing on reading skills, spelling, language arts, and writing.  He has crazy math skills, so I'm just letting him run with it and when he's done with these workbooks we'll order the next ones.  He's studying basic science subjects like nature, weather, animal groups, etc., and other "world around me" things like typical jobs that make up a town.  He has memory verses as well, and we read from a Bible storybook.

Both of them have been studying art books with me from time to time, and we do some science experiments, crafts, and creative writing too.  

I've contemplated shifting things around so that we're not covering every single subject each day, but having one or two days a week that are heavier in science and a couple that are more history-focused, for instance.  We'll see.  But this works for now.  

And even though there are days when we're all a little off and nothing is going well (oh, hello there, last Tuesday!), we are really enjoying our school time and the things we're learning together.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on the Weary and the What IF

Image credit: Flickr

Sometimes I grow weary of Christian culture.

Not the true backbone tenets of Christianity.  Not Jesus...He is is always worth everything.

But the culture we create around our faith.  The fads and the lingo.  The "truths" we adopt that are nowhere to be found in the actual Bible.  The parts of following God that we pour our focus on because it feels comfortable, and the parts we downplay because it doesn't.  The sins we yell about because we don't struggle with them, and the ones we sort of pretend aren't really a big deal because we do.

And I think what drives me the most crazy in it all is that in our zeal to live our lives to please God, we forget that we're called to be brothers and sisters.  We adopt pet theological or political ideas and decide that everyone who disagrees is not just wrong - but our enemy.  We must stay away.  We walk out of churches and lash out on Facebook and break relationship over and over again.

There have been times that I've wanted to step away from the internet forever. Because of the fighting. Among Christians.  Blogs pitted against one another in word wars over gender roles, postmodernism, whoever happens to be president, etc.  Factions forming and labels leveled.

There have been times I've wanted to step away from church forever.  Because of the fighting.  Among Christians. Hurts piled on hurts, rumors and perceptions that wrench apart friendships.  Leaders worn and broken by the impossible burden of expectations.  Differences allowed to irreparably divide.

This would be a good time to point out that I am pointing each of these verbal fingers at myself just as much (if not much, much more) as at anyone else.  I drive my own self into fits of frustration over my failures at unity.  The tension of being unafraid to disagree on issues, but to not allow that disagreement to fracture a friendship or cloud my view or cause me to label another Christian in all sorts of stupid ways. Ugh.

When I first heard about this thing called IF:Gathering, I was more skeptical than excited.  As Sarah said more eloquently than what I'm capable of, I have all the feelings about conferences.  The rah rah emotions and lip-service to real life change.  The intention of inclusiveness that might not really pan out, as we simply form larger circles of same-ness.  I have been there, done that.  And I am done with that. 

But this IF thing?  It grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go.  When I began to hear who formed the planning team, I wondered if maybe, possibly, this movement could really be different.  I'm very aware that these people disagree on some things, but also that each one of them loves Jesus to a depth that puts me firmly to shame.  When they planned the conference, then learned that the cost was prohibitive for some, and so they re-did the whole structure from scratch, threw fees out the window to open the doors and decided to just trust God?  That they really cared more about gathering women in Austin - and everywhere - to seek God together, than on making everything silky smooth?  When I had four friends who said, "I'm in.  Let's go to Texas!"?

When Jen Hatmaker posted this?

I don’t know how else to say it other than this: This feels right. It feels right to say come, come one, come all. Come to this table. Practice dissimilar theology? Grab a seat. Don’t fit a mold of some sort? Sit with us. Cranky about conferences but crazy about Jesus? Pull up a chair. Hungry, tired, hopeful, impassioned, cautious, fire in your bones? You belong here. Starving to see God move in our time? We need you. Old-timer, new-comer, here is your seat. Rich, poor? This is your table.

God, gather us and move. We care nothing for our constructs but only for your presence. Shove us aside, tear down the walls, and build a raging fire. May your fame be declared, your kingdom come on earth, and your daughters set free and set ablaze. Bring us to your table; there are enough seats for all. We are hungry and ready and we await You.

Well then.   Sign me up.  Cranky, tired, cautious, starving.  Burned out on so much, but ready to remember what matters in this whole mess.  Ready to see what happens - what is already happening - when we choose to take the petty dividing lines and the guilt-by-associations and all of the other junk we hold out as shields and drop it all to see each other how He sees us.  To live unafraid again.

Today, IF:Gathering Austin sold out in less than an hour.  My four friends and I, by some small miracle, were all able to register. So, let's do this thing.  

Because when Ann says this...

...and Jen says this...

...and Sarah (the one with the twin-to-me conference feelings) says this...

...and Angie says this...

...and Nish says this...

...and Jennie (the visionary) says this...

...well, then God is moving, people.  And I'm ready to trade fatigue for a movement toward freedom.  To stop living in the weary and start living the what if...?


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Thoughts on my favorite 8-year-old



I didn't post yesterday.  FAIL.  I have a good excuse though...I was on a camping trip with Maya's scouting troop, and couldn't get fast enough internet speed to make Blogger work around the campfire.

So let's just forget that little glitch didn't happen, shall we?  Who needs October 11th anyway?

It's bittersweet being a mom to an 8-year-old.  She's still so much my baby in many ways, but in others she's totally growing into herself.  Spending time closely with her the past couple of days, away from the distractions of home routines and electronics, I was hit really hard with how she really is becoming her own person.

Oh sure, she's very obviously my daughter, as proven by her tendencies toward perfectionism and over-thinking.  Also, she is getting to be spot on in her use of sarcasm.  Which was sort of inescapable.  But she also sways way more to the extroverted side of the fence, preferring to have plans for outings and be around people as much as possible.  She's more sure of herself than I am, which I love.  And she thinks camping is awesome...which I'll learn to be okay with.

I love watching her figure it all out.  Telling me last night that she wanted to make friends with a girl her age at the campout, and then laughing and running side-by-side with her for hours today.  Dealing with disappointments and experiencing regret.  Trying to face her fears of loud noises and jumpy dogs. Trying to sort out the conundrum that she'd really like to be a rock star when she grows up, but she doesn't want to sing in front of people.

As sentimental and weepy as I get thinking back on when she was a toddler (which was like, yesterday), I wouldn't go back to when she was two, or four, or six. I loved her at all of those ages, but every year just gets better.  Because not only do I love her, I love who she is becoming.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thoughts on Popular Things I'm Into and Not Into


I tend to vacillate between intrigue and rebellion when it comes to things that everybody seems to be doing, wearing, or watching.  Some of this all-the-rage stuff hasn't sucked me in yet, but I've definitely found myself on board other uber-popular bandwagons.  

Stuff I don't get yet:

1. Breaking Bad

We’ve held off so far, because of the intensity of the subject matter.  But we’ll see.  It very well may happen, especially now that all the episodes have been made.  

2.  Greek Yogurt

I’ll out myself as being very, very un-fond of yogurt.  But when everyone was all, “Greek yogurt!  It’s so different!  Try it!”, I gave in.  And decided that it is very different, and also still not good.  This is an unpopular opinion, I know.  

3.  Instagram

I have an account.  I’ve posted, like, 10 pictures.  I get the appeal, but I’m honestly too lazy to learn the ropes of another social media format.  I’m sort of a technological octogenarian. 

4.  Call the Midwife

I tried, you guys.  I did.  Everyone said that if we liked Downton, this would be another favorite.  I just can’t get into it.  Maybe I need to give it more of a chance?  

5.  The Kardashians 

Why are these people a thing?  And why do I somehow know way more about them than what I’d deem reasonable? 


Stuff I'm definitely into:

1.  Candy Crush

I didn’t want to love you, Candy Crush.  I thought all of your crazed fans on Facebook were a little sad.  And then I decided to try a few levels, “Just to see.”  Now, I count myself among those under your sweet, striped and wrapped candy spell. 


OH MY GOSH.  We cannot stop eating these every night at our 10:00 PM snack time.  Can't stop.  And do not want to. 

3.  Anything created by Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and/or Mindy Kaling

Some people’s work is so popular because it’s just plain genius.  Tina and Mindy’s books made me so happy, Parks and Recreation gets more brilliant each season, and The Mindy Project?  Inching up my list of TV favorites.



I never thought I’d buy anything beyond drugstore-brand makeup.  It felt a little ridiculous to me, actually.  But I’d read so much about the quality of this palette that I finally had a lady at Sephora put it on me, and the rest was slightly embarrassing history.  But honestly, the quality is night-and-day compared to any eye makeup I’ve ever owned, and this palette will last me a long, looooooooong time.  So I’m (mostly) at peace with it. 

5.  Myers-Briggs personality studies

Our women's group at church is starting a study on gifts and purpose, and we're beginning by looking deeper at our personality types.  I know the Myers-Briggs model has been leading the way on this subject for a long time, but it's been really fascinating to look at my natural tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, as well as those of my husband, my friends, and even my kids.  (I am team INFJ, by the way!)  

So that's where I stand on some popular products, trends, and entertainment.  Any super-popular things you can't quite get on board with, or that you're head-over-heels for?  


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Thankful Thoughts

Image credit: Flickr

Today I am thankful for perfect fall weather; sunshine and turning leaves, tee shirts in the afternoon and jackets by evening.

Today I am thankful for friendship.  For four awesome women ready to take on a travel adventure with me in a few months.  For text conversations that make me laugh and keep me sane.  For a busy friend willing to let me drop my kids off for a bit while I run to an appointment.  For encouraging Facebook messages and plans for coffee.

Today I am thankful for my health.  

Today I am thankful for a decently-clean kitchen and laundry that is folded and put away.

Today I am thankful for fresh-baked apple pie.

Today I am thankful for weekend plans that make me smile.

Today I am thankful to have not had a repeat of yesterday.  

Today I am thankful for dinner at Chick-fil-A, waffle fries and play places.  For getting to keep that clean kitchen going for a little while longer.

Today I am most of all thankful that Mark is home from a business trip.  That the kids sprinted through the airport to tackle him, the bags are unpacked, and he's here in the living room with me for our usual evening mini-marathon of sitcoms.  

It's a beautiful thing to end a day so full of gratitude.  In truth, I always could...if I'd simply make the choice to remember.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: Our Typical Day



This school year threw me at first.

The adjustment from doing lessons with one kid to teaching two kids was a big thing.  Logistically, going back and forth from 3rd grade subjects to Kindergarten reading and writing took some getting used to, and I suddenly had far less time in the mornings for even small household tasks like unloading the dishwasher or switching the laundry over to the dryer.  But we're starting to hit a groove, I'm learning to let some of those chores go until afternoon, and we're discovering what sort of routine works best for us.

The smoothest school days are the ones where we don't have anywhere to go in the morning and we can just buckle down and concentrate on getting everything done at once.  It doesn't happen every day, but we've developed an ideal way to set up the flow of our school time.

6:00-ish  - I'm up.  Immediate coffee.  Then some relaxed time to read, write, and just mentally prepare for the day.  I didn't love getting up early at first, but this time is crucial for my sanity and I'm starting to really enjoy it.

7:15-8:00  - The kids get up sometime in this time frame.  I don't wake them up unless we have an especially busy day.  This is one of my favorite perks of homeschooling - dropping the before-school morning rush we did for two years.

8:00-8:30  - Breakfast

8:30-9:00 - Get dressed, teeth brushed, ready for the day

9:00 - Maya and Noah both start on math.  Maya does hers through a computer program, which is great.  She does fine with math, but doesn't enjoy it much and is prone to easy distraction.  The computer-based lessons have been very successful for her, and it gives me time to be more hands-on with Noah's math.  He is getting pretty independent with his workbook, though, since this is his favorite subject. We're set to be through Kindergarten math by Thanksgiving (!), so I need to be ordering the next year's curriculum soon.

9:30 - Maya works on her creative writing or language arts, or plays educational games on the computer while I do Noah's Bible story, memory verse, History/Science stuff, other reading, and language arts.  Since it's Kindergarten level, it doesn't take a ton of time.

10:15 - Noah can play or do his sentence-writing while I do Maya's read-aloud studies with her.  This includes Bible, world focus, geography, history, fables/poetry, literature, and science.  This sounds like a lot, but our curriculum divides the subjects into very manageable pieces, and we love being curled up on the couch with our books.

11:15 - We tie up any loose ends.  Spelling lists, science experiments, independent reading, crafts, any leftover writing assignments, etc.

11:30-noon - All done for the day!

Again, this routine is ideal.  We often have plans or situations come up in the morning that push things around.  But I really, really try to have us done with as much as possible by lunchtime.  This leaves the afternoons open for free time, errand-running, music/dance lessons, etc.

Every homeschooling family has a different form and rhythm to their day, but this is what is working for us right now!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Recipes in my Thoughts



Fall is not only my favorite season, but my favorite time of year for cooking and baking!  Here are some new recipes I've tried and loved lately:

When I saw this one I was more than skeptical.  A chocolate cake that uses cooked quinoa in the batter?  But if there's a foodie blogger that I trust, it's Mel.  So when I was searching for a gluten-free dessert to take to a family gathering last week, I gave this a try.  And the verdict?  WOW.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake with Whipped Chocolate Frosting

Also from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, this recipe for sweet pork burritos.  We loved these, and the recipe made enough filling mixture that I was able to freeze some to fill more burritos the following week.

Smothered Sweet-Pork Burritos

Ree posted about this Skillet Chicken Lasagna, and I wasn't sure whether to try ricotta cheese or sour cream in the sauce, so I used some of both!  So good.

Skillet Chicken Lasagna

A trip to the apple orchard last week meant that it was time to pull out my very favorite apple pie recipe.

Brown Butter Creamy Apple Pie

And two fantastic recipes for baked donuts that have both made successful appearances at our Saturday morning breakfast table in recent weeks!

Baked Pumpkin Donuts

Browned Butter Glazed Cinnamon Donuts



Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Sunday Un-Thought



It's been a crazy day, and I'm still claiming a no-thought weekend. So, since as we've been watching through Scrubs again for the umpteenth time in recent evenings, I will simply offer a clip that always, always makes me laugh.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Links: Thoughts from Others



I'm taking a break from thinking this weekend!  Here are some thoughts from elsewhere that I enjoyed reading this week:


Sometimes I wish Kristen Howerton wouldn't make me thnk so much.  But this post is one of several essays on the tensions of orphan care that has really challenged me recently.

How the Christian orphan care movement may be enabling child abandonment


I have plans with four friends to head to Texas this February for the If: Gathering.  Jennie Allen's post about what is already happening in this movement gave me chills and makes me even more eager for the weekend.



And a random list of tips that gave me some great ideas for efficiency in the kitchen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts on Church, Part One: To the Visitor



Dear new family visiting our church last week,

Hello!  I’m Laura.  I don’t know if you remember me, but we met briefly when you dropped your kids off in the nursery on Sunday morning.  I saw the tag on your diaper bag from the big church across town, and remember briefly feeling the urge to apologize for our baby/toddler area, with its more-than-gently-used furniture, and changing table placed across the entrance as a makeshift door.  Then I reminded myself that this is just who we are.  I heard that your family is looking for a place to call your church home, so let me tell you a little bit more about us.

Yes, we meet in a large room on the second floor of an old theater.  The stairs could use some paint or stain, the sink in the bathroom sometimes has issues, and we’re not exactly sure what’s dripping from the ceiling onto one of the window sills below in our meeting room.   We pack a lot of people into that room some Sundays, and we have to kind of sit close. 

We have a pretty casual order of service.  An opening song, with or without an instrument (but we try to have lyric sheets), and then someone will call out announcements.  Someone from the teaching pool will go up and teach through scripture, but we’re a pretty interactive group.  There is always discussion time after the main message, because we value hearing the insights God gives each of us into His Word. Then more singing (sometimes with a guitar, sometimes not), and sharing.  

We have a lot of kids here.  A lot.  And we just seem to keep adding to that number.  Because of this, we often have logistical issues in terms of available adults to care for all of these babies and toddlers and elementary kids on Sunday mornings.  This can be frustrating.  Also, the kids can be loud.  Because...you know...kids.  But we work hard at all of this, because our children are a major component of the vision God has given us as a church.  In an American church culture that – according to the bleak statistics – has largely failed the previous generation(s) of kids who are leaving church attendance (or the Christian faith altogether) in droves, despite being immersed in “Christian culture”, we take very seriously the responsibility of raising these children God has given us with an authentic picture of what it means to follow Jesus. 

For us, this means providing classes for them every other Sunday so that they can build community together and study foundational things at their level, but it also means keeping them in the services with us on the other Sundays.  So they can hear the discussions, witness the sharing, even share their own thoughts on what God is revealing to them through the scriptures.  We want them to know that they are valued members of our church body, and we long for them to grow into a deep love of the gathered body of Christ.

We’re kind of diverse, here.  While we stand unwaveringly on the core tenets of the Christian faith, we disagree on a lot of the minor things, and that’s okay with us.  Pacifists sit next to people who have proudly served in the military, and I’m aware that different positions on political issues are represented.  Young-Earth and Old-Earth Creationists mingle together.  It is a rare and beautiful thing to let the big things be big and the little ones be little as we sharpen and learn from one another.  And while it's really messy sometimes and we have lots of room to grow in this, we are doing our best to get there. 

We have three pastors.  And not one of them is “lead pastor”.  They lead together.  We recognize that this is untraditional in the modern understanding of leadership.  But we have always believed that team leadership provides health, strength, and accountability, and this just works for us.  Make no mistake – these three guys lead us.  And with servant hearts and commitment to Jesus and each other, these couples blend their gifts, pray like crazy, and take the responsibility of pastoral care seriously.  They are imperfect, amazing people with big dreams and huge hearts. 

If you show up some morning and we aren’t here, look for us across the street at the food pantry, or check the door for a hastily-scribbled note about where else we might be gathering for the morning.  This isn't a great model for church growth, but again...it's us.  You see, we have long talked the talk about serving our community, and we’re trying to get serious about it.  So we’re giving up “our time” as a church gathering on Service Sundays to meet together other places as we meet the needs of others.  This will sometimes look and feel a bit disorganized, and we’ll work on that.  But if we waited to step out until we had a perfectly structured plan?  Well, it just wouldn’t happen.  So we'll throw out the call, ask people to bring egg bakes or garden rakes, and just do what we can.  There will be missteps and miscommunication.  But we have to keep pushing through and living out our values.  

We make a lot of mistakes.  We aren't always the best about communicating plans, despite our best intentions.  Our pastors all work other jobs as well (something we value), and everyone has busy lives. Goodness knows we will always have much room for improvement, and we have to give one another a whole lot of grace.  But we do have a call from God, and we are doing our very best to follow.  

As much as I will still spend time fretting over whether or not you liked us or enjoyed the morning or think we’re really weird, I have to let that go.  You see, we want you to be comfortable with us, but we want us all to be a little bit uncomfortable too.  Being all up in one another’s space, hearing each other sing without the cover of loud music, discussing the scriptures together and throwing out prayer concerns and song requests in the middle of our worship times…that can be a little unnerving.  And also?  It can be a little awesome. 

Can I confess something to you?  I enjoy structure.  I enjoy big music.  I prefer comfy chairs to folding chairs and don’t like speaking up in front of people.  I like to sit kid-less and quiet without the interruption of a request for a certain color of crayon.  I like to know what to expect each week.  Last weekend when I got up, I didn’t really feel like making two pans of breakfast casserole for Service Sunday.

But I love these people.  More than all of the stuff I enjoy and prefer,  I love the way these women hold me in prayer and our small group feels like our family and our ragtag Sunday mornings together push me right out of my comfort zone toward deeper maturity in Jesus.  I love that we value calling over skill, and that we hold such a deep desire to raise our plethora of children into true Christ-followers.  I love knowing that I can trust the heart intention behind the instances of disorganization.  I even love that being a part of this church family means that I have to expect less of others and more of myself – to ask questions when I’m confused over details of an upcoming event, to step out myself when I see a role that needs to be played or a potential ministry that needs a leader.  I don’t always like this stuff, but I love it.  Because it has changed me – it is changing me.  I am disciple-ing and I am being discipled.  So is my husband.  So are my children.  And there isn’t much more I can ask than that. 

So dear visitors, I deeply hope that you were blessed by your morning with us.  Please know that you are welcome any time.  Please also know that we understand that different people need different things from church.  For many incredible people, our congregation is not a good fit for one reason or another.  Believe me, we know this all too well.  God has called families who once worshiped with us on to other church homes over the years, as He has refined our calling and theirs.  Others have gone away whom I still believe in my heart of hearts were an odd-yet-perfect piece of the puzzle God is putting together here, and I still wonder if He may call them back.  But in any case, there are a whole bunch of great churches in town with different looks and feels, different structures.   I pray that you find the one that God intends for your family.  If it’s us, we will be thrilled.  We won’t have any sort of formal thing welcoming you into membership, I’m afraid (again – that’s just not us), but we will commit ourselves to growing with you in Christ, and will hope that you jump right in and grab a hammer as we build together what God is putting in place. 

Blessings on you and your super-cute little girls,
Laura


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thoughts on not being crafty, but rescued by the internet.

(sciessors image credit: Flickr)

I believe I've mentioned that I have zero crafty skills.  My children have been known to exclaim in shock over any decorative idea that accidentally turns out well ("Mommy! You did that?"), and to suggest that mending projects be farmed out to friends ("Maybe Miss Ryann could sew it for us...")

So last week, when I was out shopping and hit an autumnal decor conundrum in searching for wreaths to hang on our garage light fixtures, unable to find any that didn't include smiling scarecrow faces or phrases like 'Happy Fall, Y'all!', I texted a friend, and this conversation took place:

Me:  "Why do nice fall wreaths not exist that aren't trying too hard to be cute?"

Friend:  "Oh.  Well, because you need to make your own."

Me:  "Hmm.  Then I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

Things looked brighter for my sad, unadorned garage, however, upon a quick internet search that afternoon.  The thing about Pinterest and do-it-yourself blogs is that, sure, some postings make people like me feel like a cave person because I can't do this or this or even this, but the online world is also making room for those of us who can't look at a sewing machine without breaking into a cold sweat with memories of seventh grade home ec class and futile attempts to thread the bobbin.  

I queried the words "easy fall wreath" or something and after enduring the sight of several self-esteem-wrecking examples, including some sort of "easy" quilted masterpiece (how nice for you, lady), I found a few tutorials for rag wreaths.  Which I didn't realize were even a thing.

Description: "Make your own rag wreath - no skill required."

Me:  "Oh my gosh, that's me!  I have no skills!"

So, I was soon headed to Hobby Lobby, where I wandered the fabric section for awhile, nervous that the crafting experts would sense my fear and know I was miles away from my natural habitat (otherwise known as the already-made decor aisles of Target), and finally selected four or five fall-ish fabrics that I hoped would work together.  After feigning confidence in my decisions over yardage so that pincushion-wrist lady wouldn't suspect I was trying out a no-skill project, I grabbed a couple of wreath frames, checked out, and headed for home, stopping to borrow my friend's pinking shears (because why would I own those?).

Friends, listen to me when I tell you this...the Internet is a wondrous place.  And I have proof.  For the very same person who was responsible for this lovely scene in our laundry room last year...



...now has two of these displayed outside.  

 


ATTENTION, EVERYONE!  I HAVE CRAFTED!  

Mark was pretty impressed with all of this too, when he came home to find me gleefully finishing up the second wreath and proclaiming, "Look what I made!  Me!  I made this!"

His pride only waned slightly when he saw the Hobby Lobby receipt a few days later.

Mark:  "Wait, that wreath stuff cost us how much?"

Me:  "Yes, but remember - I made them myself!"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: What works (and doesn't work) for us




A year ago, I was just a couple of months into our first year of homeschooling. As an unlikely homeschool mom, I was honestly surprised by how much we enjoyed Maya's second grade year here at home. After the wrenching decision to make the initial leap last time, this year's choice was 100% easier. Homeschooling was, again, where we were being led.  My concern for this fall, though?  Adding a kindergartner to the mix!

While the adjustment to teaching two kids spun me around in the beginning, we are hitting more of a groove these days.  I'll do a post sometime this month about what our typical school time is like, but I want to begin with some realizations about a few often-typical elements of homeschooling that fit our family, and some that don't.  The beauty of home education is that it can look so different in each home!  Here is some of what it looks like in ours.

What works for us:  An organized curriculum.

I cannot even tell you how crucial this is for me.  In a future post I'll write more about what we use and are studying, but let's just say that I would be lost without a very detailed curriculum.  I do not have a teaching background, and the thought of just searching out lesson plans and pulling together a few things to create a unit study makes me want to go curl up in the fetal position.  I know that many homeschooling families use their own curricula, and I deeply admire their ability to do so.  Me?  I need something that's prepared, complete, and lets me know which books to open up each day.

I maintain a strong attachment, also, to making sure my kids are learning at least the same traditional academic concepts as their public school friends.  I'd actually like to be more relaxed about this, but the reality is that I'm much more comfortable if my kids are "caught up" or more in terms of math, reading, and language arts.  Then the history, science, Bible, and other great stuff in our curriculum is an awesome bonus.

What doesn't:  A dedicated school space.

I know many of the books and blogs highly recommend that homeschooling families create a specific space in their homes for school to happen, and I totally get the idea behind that concept.  I just have zero desire for it here.  We like to do reading on the living room couch, language arts at the dining room table, and spelling on the go.  We pack up our books every Friday to go do school at the local coffee shop.  For me, one of the perks of homeschooling is that it's...homey.  I know that if I had to physically shift us to a school space when our daily studies began, it would feel like a chore, and I wouldn't enjoy it as much.  So while I drool over the Pinterest posts of gorgeous school rooms along with everyone else, I've decided that this is one of those "homeschool DOs" that works for many families, but just doesn't work here.

What works for us:  Getting done in the morning.

With two kids and two sets of studies to get through, dedicating our mornings to school has become incredibly important.  That has meant saying no to a lot of things that I know we would enjoy, or could have been possible last year when we were only working with one curriculum.  It means keeping busy, and often eating lunch on the late side, but our days go so much better if our afternoons are open for free time and non-school tasks.  Since all of the kids extra-curriculars are also in the afternoon, it also means less fatigue on their parts if there's a good break before we pack up for music, piano, or dance lessons.

What doesn't:  Stretching school leisurely throughout the day.

I would be the worst "un-school"-er ever, as evidenced by several of these points.  While completely enamored by and (to be honest) envious of the families who can just live life and just let learning happen, pretty much all of us in this house are a little bit too task-oriented to allow that lovely, relaxed approach to school take over.  We tend to fall into the "is this task/job/lesson/venture complete?" "can I check it off my list?" category - right down to my five-year-old, who has been known to ask me to put additional jobs on his chore chart just so that he can turn the cards around when they're done.

All that to say, while we enjoy our school work and it feels shockingly un-chore-like most days, we have to give it a compartment that can be closed upon completion.  So even the idea of saving our school read-aloud books for bedtime feels a tiny bit stressful (crazy alert!), because it's still that one little part that isn't quite done yet all afternoon and evening.  This is weird, I realize.  But it's honest.

What works for us:  Counting our blessings.

We talk a lot with our kids about the joys of doing school at home.  They love it (and so do I) that they don't have to wake up early and rush to meet the bus, and that they're done so much earlier in the day than they would be if they were attending traditional school.  We talk excitedly about the books we're reading together and the eras of history we're currently studying.  It's important for Mark and I that our kids realize that homeschooling is a family calling for us right now, and that it comes with so much to be thankful for.

What doesn't:  Fear.

I want to say this carefully, but I still want to say it.  I've talked with homeschool mothers (and read their posts) who are incredible crusaders and defenders for the cause of homeschooling, and against any perceived or actual threats to the freedoms that homeschooling families enjoy.  That is fine and good!  For me, though, as someone who is naturally prone to worry and alarm, I just can't get pulled in.  So when I read advice about not letting your kids play outside too much or not bringing them to the store frequently during school hours?  No.  I won't live like that.  We will live our lives and abide by the laws, I can make my voice and my votes heard when the time is right, but we will not live fearfully or angrily about this - because I can naturally slip into both of those modes.  I will not click on every screaming headline or listen to every radio program about the forces coming after homeschooling families.  I appreciate the advocacy, but too often these things do not offer any sort of advice on rational action to take, but instead just send a message of "be warned"!  No, thank you.  I want to stay informed without living alarmed.

I recognize, too, the helpful factor that we are not anti-public school.  While the longer we walk the homeschooling road the more we love it, we still know that this will be an ongoing decision.  Along with keeping our kids on par academically with their public school peers, I also want to foster a fear-free attitude in their hearts toward the idea of learning in that environment, in case we ever decide that it would be the best thing for them again.  I want my children to appreciate - even celebrate - the blessings of our homeschooling lifestyle, without any shuddering or condescension (pet peeve) on their parts toward public school.

I love homeschooling.  More and more I can see us continuing on indefinitely, which is something I never thought I'd say a few years ago!  But traditional schooling works beautifully for millions of families, we had a primarily positive experience with Maya's two years in public school, and if that is what we decide on again at some point in the future, I want us - and our children - to feel ready and confident to take that step.



So that's where we stand at the beginning of year two!    Now, to make breakfast and get these kids started on their math!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Oh! Hello, October.

It's that time of year again.  Of linking up with The Nester in a commitment to write every day in the month of October.  I've wavered over whether to participate (because school!  and life!  and busy!), but last year's venture was good for me.  And by good, I mean really hard.  So with some encouragement, I'm jumping off the cliff again into the welcoming waters of earlier rising and more discipline, as I take a month to write through my...


An admittedly broad topic, but it's what I need.  Far too often I hide in the safe writing zone, consumed by concerns over what others will think.  I want to write even a tiny bit more bravely this month.  That could mean discussing frivolous things like television and entertainment I enjoy without worrying (as much) about appearing shallow.  Or delving into spiritual matters without hyperventilating (as often) over what my diverse group of friends will think of my theology.  And yes, it will mean days on the topics of homeschooling two children and discovering new recipes and odd obsessions and pet peeves.  I just want to write more, share more, and be myself.  

My first thought of the month:  Am I really doing this again?  What exactly is my problem?

Here we go!