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Summer R&R (That’s Routines and Responsibilities)

My husband brought it home proudly, proclaiming this inflatable pool would make the summer great again. I immediately hated it. The pool was large, it sat lopsided, it was always full of grass, and it was a pain to keep clean.

It’s always Mom’s job to keep the pool clean. Like I have nothing better to do, nothing else to keep clean. Give me a large vat of water you don’t intend to change, leave it outside all the time, throw stinky bodies into it, and let me keep it clean. Sounds like the best summer hobby ever.

We’ve never had a pool before. This was a big upgrade from the plastic ones you use for toddlers and then dump out every evening. This held a bazillion more gallons, and if the EPA didn’t arrest me for dumping it out every night, the water company would.

So the pool sat in the yard. The children gleefully splashed in it for hours upon hours every afternoon.

And the pool got greener, and greener, and greener.

I woke up on the Fourth of July excited about the family cookout we were to enjoy. But one look out the window saw cholera growing in my pool. Not a pleasant view while grilling hamburgers.

We had to drain the pool, I said. This is a health hazard, I said. We should never have gotten the stupid pool, I said.

“Just drain it real quick while I go grab the burgers from the store.” Husband Who Started It All closed the door behind himself and drove away.

Do you know how long it takes to drain a bazillion gallons of water from your green petri dish to the street out the front? The rest of my life. That’s the answer.

We got more than half drained before I could not stand wasting any more of my holiday watching water trickle. I commandeered two teen sons and forced hard labor dumping out the other half-a-bazillion gallons of water across the backyard.

Then I complained why was the backyard so muddy.

As long as the pool was empty, we needed to move it to more level ground. So we lifted up the pool to drag it across the mud puddles . . . and gagged. The underside was growing biochemicals that could wipe out the city.

We finally moved the beloved monstrosity, flattened it out, scrubbed it with bleach, and began slowly refilling it. I could hear the water company going “ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching” every second.

Read the Rest on Thriving Life Homeschool.

When It’s Just Too Hard to Pray

It’s time for some deep, down honesty about spiritual valleys. Because maybe you’ve been here, too. Or maybe you’re here right now. No need to raise your hand or walk the aisle. Just hugs and nods coming your way.

I think I told you I just came off two bad, bad years. I mean, they weren’t totally bad. There were some amazing blessings: two new members of our family, a book published, new friends, a new church. I need to remember the good times, cling to them like the precious gifts that they are.

But there was so much heartbreak. In fact, 2016 was the single worst year I have ever lived through. I had to list what I experienced for my counselor because I had blocked out most of it. I had to ask my husband, research my journal, and look back on the calendar. Every three to four weeks for an entire year I faced a major trial or life event. Like clockwork. It was horrifying to look at the timeline. And I’m talking about losing family members, public slander, financial setbacks, and marriage difficulties. And that’s just the stuff I can mention publicly. You name it, I went through it that year.

And the next year, 2017, was not much easier. An entire year of weekly counseling to recover from the previous year. A major depression. An unexpected health diagnosis. Family upheaval. Professional setbacks. Yikes, the good year was not much better.

You’ve told me, friend, that you’ve been facing the same. 

So while this year has started out a walk in the park compared to the previous two, I am still reeling . . . spiritually.

One does not simply roll through trials unscathed.

Have you been here? Scarred and burned by the fire you’ve walked through? Exhausted with no strength to even reach your arms to heaven?

The clouds that roll between the soul and the Father darken the sky and the heart until no light can be seen.

This is when we walk through the valley of death. This is when we ask, whisper when our voice is too weak, breathe out our final cry . . . why have You forsaken me?

That’s when it is too hard to pray.

Because there are simply no words. No words left to ask, no words to express the deep hurt of the soul, no words to break through the tears. No words to reach the clouds that cover His face.

This is when we need another’s prayers.

We beg friends to pray for us. We post on social media, or more secretly an email or text . . . I am hurt. Please pray for me. And we hope the other’s prayers will be effectual, like that of the righteous man.

In my own grief, I turned to other prayers. For one year I read the Book of Common Prayer daily, following the lectionary’s Bible readings and reciting the prayers given as though they were my own. Because they were. Not vain repetition, but the grasping of a drowning soul for a lifeline to the heavens.

Now I have found a simple, more personal prayer guide. Jesus Every Day gives words to my soul’s needs, my heart’s cries, my life’s failings. It changed my devotions from rote reading (which was useful in its own way, keeping me grounded in the spiritual discipline and reminded of where I am going). Now my private time is becoming truer to me and where I’m at. And where I’m going.

Now there is even a quick podcast. Five minutes a day my friend Mary (author of the prayer book I’m using now) prays for me. I can listen quietly and reverently give thanks she can put words where I cannot. Or I can even begin to pray along, hesitantly regaining my voice to God.

The clouds can thicken and harden between us — you and me, both — and our Heavenly Father. It is a valley all of the saints have walked. And it may be a place we travel again. But gently the clouds will thin and break, and the light of His love will slowly shine down.

As they are again for me. And they will soon for you, too.

Are you weary, discouraged, or frustrated with your daily life? Yeah, I’ve obviously been there, too. But there is hope for overcoming it all, finding hope and healing for you and for me . . . and even reaching out to give grace and healing to those around us. We can be Rocking Ordinary in our daily lives. Please join our mission of real, honest to goodness living it out with bold faith.

 

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The Dark Valley My Child Walks

Each morning, my children and I begin our homeschooling day with Bible Time. Just 15 minutes of Scripture, a page of the Bible storybook, quick observations, and prayer. Nothing more, just gentle meditations. Curled up in recliners or rockers, or pressed up against one another on the sofa. Everyone buried under a blanket and The Book, the scented candle drawing their hearts upward.

This year has been our twins’ first exposure to God’s Word. They are eating it up, demanding a second Bible storybook after finishing their first. They are disgusted when the Sunday School lesson is a story they already know. “Isn’t there something new?” they complain.

So they move forward a page at a time in their Bible storybook, listening to the passage read in the Scriptures by older siblings then reading the children’s version in their picture book. The youngest two eagerly remind their siblings of “what just happened” and the parts they remember from the last book. The little scholars forget no detail of any tale, and no one can keep up with their enthusiasm.

What does this tell us about God? What does it tell us about us? What should we do now? Three simple questions to chew over as a group, to engage our hearts and minds and draw our attention, our souls deeper.

Lately, our daily reading has been in Psalms. Coming to the 23rd gave them delight, as our pastor just finished a series on that psalm. They were glad to hear more about their Shepherd. The dawning sun shone through the slats of the wooden blinds:

Even though I walk through the darkest of valleys, I will fear nothing, for you are with me; your rod and your shepherd’s crook make me feel safe.

“The Lord Is My Shepherd” from Psalm 23

The oldest sister Adana said this verse is her favorite in the passage. It reminds her that God is with her in the hard times.

“Is a dark valley a scary thing we go through?” Juliana pressed her soft body against my side.

“Yes, it’s anything difficult we go through.”

“Like being taken away from my parents. That is a dark valley.” Her wide eyes looked steadily into mine. My heart gasped, and my mouth went dry.

Roman squirmed around her, and I bit my tongue not to remind him don’t put your feet on the sofa. “But Jesus is with us, right Mommy?”

His twin interrupted with authority. “Jesus was with us, and He brought us to a safe place. He brought us to a new family that can take care of us and loves us.”

The kitchen clock ticked the time away, time that had passed so hard the past months for the young girl. Juliana, the one who lay on her floor in deep depression for hours every day for many months. Juliana, who insisted to every caseworker, attorney, advocate, and therapist involved in her care that she must be taken back to her mother, refusing for the longest time to believe she never would. Juliana, who told her therapist she had no comprehension of forever mom but knew her real mom loved her and missed her and needed her now.

Juliana knew what we all must know: the dark valleys come. We are very afraid and even fight our way through kicking and screaming. We may despair of ever getting out of the darkness.

But Jesus is with us the entire way. And He leads us to the other side until He makes us feel safe.

The next day, the sun shone again on the brown, leather sofa.

Trust in God and do good. Love him, and you will have everything you need. Follow his ways, and your reward will shine like the brightest sun. Be calm and patient, and your day will come.

God looks after those who love him. Even though they may stumble, he keeps them from falling. He holds them up with his hand. God never lets them down.

God will always take care of his people. He will look after them when times are bad. He will rescue them from wicked people because they turn to him for help.

“Your Day Will Come” from Psalm 37

Juliana pointed to the picture. Jesus held the young boy’s hand as they walked through a darkened forest toward a bright light.

“See? He takes care of us in a dark valley and leads us to better things. I’ve been through a dark valley, and Jesus takes care of me.”

We will fear nothing.

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Lenten Silence (and Why We Should All Be Quiet)

Baptists don’t really Lent like the rest of the Christian world. We’re too maverick, too non-traditional. For Pete’s sakes, most of us don’t even have an organ anymore.An organ in church, I mean. We do have heart. But many conservatives of all stripes — even Baptists — long for the comfort of spiritual traditions. If this is you, come closer for a confessional whisper. If not, take a warm hug with you as you go on with your lovely life of worship in the way God convicts you.

Several years ago, I became enamored with Lent. The season of spiritual and physical fasting, the inner expectation of resurrection, the hunger for more of the Spirit beckoned me to leave my self, my self-centered existence, and follow after. After more through less.

But my people are not liturgical. At. All. My husband grew up in Peru, where the clash between the Catholic tradition and the Protestant freedom was still tense in his own family (his own grandfather was a missionary persecuted for preaching Protestant gospel in the jungles). So Christmas and Easter is about as far as he can go into the Church calendar.

And, yeah, I’m Baptist. Need I say more.

Since girlhood, I have been drawn to the orderly comfort of church disciplines. Robes, preludes, communion, fasting enable me to more clearly see God’s grace and forgiveness. And yearn for more.

Lent called me. I resisted, fearful of the Pharisaical implications possible to my watching family and in my own life. And I also recognized resistance to giving up something I loved. Loved more than God Himself.

So I hesitantly started a quiet, private Lent. I fasted lunch for 40 days one year. I rose earlier for longer devotions another year. I began looking forward to a marathon of turning from physical comfort (laziness?) toward closer fellowship with Christ.

A year ago, however, I faced a crisis of faith. The spiritual disciplines became a desperate attempt to find my first love. My prayers became bitter and caught in my throat. Heaven, as the saying goes, became brass. (I told you I would always be honest with you. Life is not always skipping through the sunshiny feels with Jesus holding your hand.)

So for Lent last year, I prayed The Book of Common Prayer every day. It doesn’t get much more non-Baptist than that. But the daily Bible readings comforted me, while the prayers gave words to my faltering voice.

This year’s Lenten season finds me more hopeful as I spy the light at the end of my valley. So I have prayed earnestly (one of the few prayers I found ready in my heart) that my new fasting would be revealed, something to help me glimpse yet more of His face.

A week or so ago, I read this:

In his sermon on Psalm 62:1 — “For God alone my soul waits in silence” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer took time to explain the modern fear of silence, and to show how modern man has avoided it by media, a phenomenon operating in late 1920s Germany.

First, he said, we seek new noise to avoid ourselves.

“We flee silence,” Bonhoeffer said. “We race from activity to activity to avoid having to be alone with ourselves for even a moment, to avoid having to look at ourselves in the mirror. We are bored with ourselves, and often the most desperate, wasted hours are those we are forced to spend by ourselves” (Works10:503).

We hate it. Silence inevitably forces uncomfortable truths back into our vision. Who we are, who we have become, the good and the bad and the revolting and the boring — all things about our lives, the things we would love to change, the memories and events and the scars we would never expose on social media. In the silence, nothing about us remains hidden; everything bubbles again to the surface. Taking and sharing new selfies is always easier than the fearful unknown of what will emerge if everything becomes silent.

— Tony Rienke, “Why We Should Escape Social Meda (And Why We Don’t),” desiringgod.org, 01.20.18

Then from a contemporary writer that has shaped my view of Sabbath:

I took the forced Sabbath as permission for remembering the markers of my past, praying between pages of books, contemplation, and journaling all the things. That time was a capsule of uninterrupted intimacy with Jesus. I practiced listening and adoration more than requesting and seeking help. I anticipated silence and waiting.

— Shelley Miller, “Dancing into February After a January Setback,
shellymillerwriter.com, 01.31.18

Silence.

When it is hard to hear His voice, silence beckons my soul be still. Be still and know. Be still and see. Be still, my soul.

This Lent, I am practicing strict social media stillness. Social media and blogging are closed, shut into the closet of my life while I open the windows of my heart to welcome in the fresh air.

Don’t get me wrong — I love social media. I love the connections, I love the laughs, I love the conversations. I love you, you close friends I have met there and chat with every day.

There is nothing sinful about Facebook.

Sometimes, though, God asks me to give up something to Him. To leave a love behind to draw closer in adoration of Who He is.

So for 40 days beginning tomorrow, I bid you adieu. I pray that the weeks will be joyous for you, that your own walk with the Lord will be just as sweet, and that we all can join together later in laughter and love.

For no matter our Lenten practice (or not, as your freedom in Christ may be), Christ draws us all to Himself with each day’s new mercies. They fail not, as does not He.

3 Easy Tips to Simplify Your Homeschool

Ever met a facebook homeschool friend who just . . . gets it? That’s Sara Dennis. She is homeschooling made easy. Like in real life. So it’s a big sigh of contentment to welcome her with us today.

Is your homeschool driving you batty? Are you trying to juggle too many balls each day? As a long time homeschooler with 6 kids, I use these three tips to simplify my homeschool and save my sanity.

3 Easy Tips to Simplify Your Homeschool

1. Limit Activities Outside of the House

While the stereotypical homeschooler stays locked in the house all day, homeschoolers actually tend to pick up too many activities. You have dance classes, soccer, science clubs, co-op, church, park days, field trips, scouting trips, and more!

The question becomes not if you stay locked in the house all day, but when are you ever home!

But having too many activities is as bad as having none. You lose the time you need for family dinners around the table. The time kids need for hunting ants in the back yard. Time you need to actually sit down and complete your studies.

So when people ask how I simplify my homeschool, my first answer is I limit our outside activities.

I limit our activities to the afternoon hours. The mornings are for homeschooling and completing educational activities. Evenings are family time. Time we gather in the living room and enjoy being a family.

But our afternoons are free to explore!

I also limit the number of activities the younger children are involved in. My own kids have swimming lessons, park day, nature hikes, and trips to the library. We’ll even join the occasional field trip. But the goal is to leave time for the best homeschooling has to offer.

Make sure you have time to enjoy life, study the slug on the side of the trail, and follow the rabbit trails.

2. Combine, Combine, Combine

Combining content studies in a large family simplifies your life tremendously. By content studies, I mean history, science, art, and music.

Have everyone studying the same time period in history. For instance, your entire family can study Ancient Rome. Older children take an in-depth look at the Roman government. What caused Rome to change from a republic to an Empire? Your younger kids learn about Romulus and Remus, Hannibal crossing the Alps, and Julius Caesar conquering the Gauls. And you’ll stay sane with all your children studying Ancient Rome!

Do the same with science, art, and music.

Introduce your children to Mozart and pull out a picture book for your young elementary kids. Encourage your high school teens to read a biography about Mozart and learn what makes his music distinctive.

Combining subjects wisely simplifies your life and allows you to give the children an awesome education.

3. Use the Same Curriculum

I know the common advice is to personalize the curriculum to each child. I don’t. Personalizing the curriculum each child uses complicated my life to no end!

Each curriculum has a different lesson plan, a different style of teaching, and different types of problems. Trying to learn the ins and outs of using the various curricula gives me a headache!

Instead, use the same curriculum for each child and learn the curriculum backwards, forwards, and upside down. Truly master the curriculum.

This allows you to adapt the curriculum to each child’s needs. Does one child loathe answering questions about their history readings? Why not create a notebook page or write a short report instead.

If your little 1st grader loathes sounding out words, pull out the magnetic letters and spell words instead. Or play memory until you’re sick and tired of the game!

Mastering one curriculum and tailoring the curriculum to each child’s needs is simpler than spending your days and weeks researching curriculum.

And wasting time trying to find the perfect curriculum.

These three tips for simplifying my homeschool have kept me sane over my 16 years of homeschooling. My family has enjoyed time to study ants in the backyard. We’ve discussed The American Revolution at the dinner table with even the youngest kids joining the conversation.

And I saved time and money when I stopped searching for the perfect curriculum for each child and instead made the most of the curriculum on my shelves.

How do you simplify your homeschool?

Sara Dennis is a homeschool mom striving to give her kids an excellent classical education. After years of trial and error, she’s convinced a well-run homeschool is the key to a beautiful and doable education. Sara blogs at Classically Homeschooling about classical education and the well-run homeschool. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.

Do you wish homeschooling was easy? And wonder how Sara and I and so many other homeschoolers can teach and work and play and enjoy life . . . while remaining human? That’s what Homeschool Made Easy and Homeschool High School Made Easy help you with. And maybe put that smile back on your face and spring back into your step. Maybe . . . that book and a cup of coffee and some warm, fuzzy slippers.