Unexpected Gifts

Unexpected Gifts
Have you ever noticed that sometimes the best things can happen when our plans go awry? An unexpected snow storm cancels appointments, and you're gifted with extra time to be home with your family. The item you placed on special order for Christmas suddenly isn't available, but you somehow find it available at a lower cost (with faster delivery). The fundraiser you worked so hard on didn't reach your total donation goal, but an individual donor out of the blue blessed your nonprofit with a generous year-end gift (which happened to surpass the total that the fundraiser brought in).

All of the above examples are real! Their level of importance in the scheme of eternity varies, of course. Yet they represent a few ways I've seen the little grace notes of God's love song in my life.

As I think about how often we find gifts in unexpected places, I'm reminded of the chapter I contributed to the book collaboration Absolute Vision. "When Your Vision Needs CPR" tells the story of how my dreams completely changed as God worked in my heart and through my circumstances to give me a new vision. This came at a time when I felt as if my own hopes and desires were fading away right in front of me. 

When I was a starry-eyed college graduate (and a new bride), I never could have imagined...
  • Being a mother to 9 children
  • Homeschooling my children through high school
  • Caring for a child with special needs
  • Founding a nonprofit ministry
  • Running a business that allows me to use my God-given skills and passions
All of the above--bullets on my life résumé--are things I am immensely proud of and thankful for. And yet ALL of the above are also UNEXPECTED GIFTS! 

I never set out to have a large family. 
I never thought we'd homeschool beyond 5th grade.
I never would have even thought to ask God for a child with significant health issues and developmental delays.
I never dreamed of starting a nonprofit.

And while I DID dream of running my own business, I never would have imagined the turn my business efforts have taken, all because of these incredible, unexpected gifts.

What unexpected gifts might God be placing in your life?
How might He use those gifts to shift your dreams?

If you're a homeschooling mama who is feeling the ache of wondering whether "this is all there is" or whether you can REALLY "do this," I get it. I hear your heart's cry, because I've felt it myself. Reach out and let's make some time for YOU. Give yourself a gift this season: the gift of finding joy right where God has placed you, knowing it's part of HIS vision for your life. 
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Homeschooling Through the Busy + Hard Times

Homeschooling Through the Busy + Hard Times
Last week we explored what it can look like to homeschool through the holidays. This week I'm pondering some rhyming words and how they can help us seek God's heart for our homeschool when life feels too busy or just plain hard. I pray these thoughts can be an encouragement to you if you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged...whether during the holiday season or any time of year.

Mama, when life is difficult, do you lean on God's grace? Are you rooted in the truth of who he is and who you are in Christ? In case you need a gentle reminder, we don't have to do it all. We don't have to BE all. God IS our all in all, and his grace covers us and brings us into an eternal relationship with him. If you're feeling stretched thin, take some deep breaths with your eyes closed and ask the Lord to show you the many ways he showers grace on you and your family. Then allow yourself to wallow in that wonderful, amazing grace! If our almighty, holy God can lavish us with grace...shouldn't we at least sprinkle a little on ourselves?! Yet we are often so hard on ourselves, berating our weaknesses and failures. And sadly, this mindset spills over onto our children, whether or not we intend for it to happen. 

Certainly, we must model for our children what to do when we sin. We should teach them to confess sin to God and the people we've hurt and ask for forgiveness. But we also need to model for them what to do when we simply bump up against our human limitations. Being weary or leaving a to-do list unfinished is not a sin! We must differentiate between fleshly failures that require forgiveness and healthy human limitations that simply require...rest. Grace. The ability to laugh at ourselves and start over.

In the guidebook I wrote for mamas expecting a baby with a life-limiting diagnosis, I encouraged them during the difficult journey to give themselves "lots of grace and lots of space." I actually think that's an appropriate bit of advice for ALL mothers! We all need margin in our lives for the many times we need to rearrange plans and schedules because of unexpected events. Do you leave space in your day or week for this? Or are you so booked up that any change in circumstances will throw everything off? 

How about mental space? Does your brain have time to rest and be bored (important aspects for cultivating creativity!), or are you scrolling social media or navigating the internet, jumping from one distraction to another so much that your brain is constantly buzzing from all the input?

Sometimes we need emotional space. Perhaps we recognize the need for space to grieve. To process a transition. To evaluate a complex relationship.

And finally, spiritual space is crucial to everything else discussed here. If you don't yet have a habit of DAILY being in the Word and praying often (on your own and with your husband and children), I encourage you to do whatever it takes to carve out the space in your daily routine to make this a priority. That leads to our next word...

Colossians 1:17-18 tell us that Christ "is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." When Jesus has first place in your life and you are seeking to follow and glorify him, life truly does go so much better! That's not to say we can escape difficulties, but Jesus helps us order our lives in such a way that we can navigate busy and hard times with grace and ease, being confident that "he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6).

When we follow Jesus first, our marriage takes the next place of priority, and then our children. Every family has different dynamics, of course, but these relationships are divinely ordered for our benefit and for God's glory. If we change up the order, we cause ourselves and our loved ones grief and difficulty. It's worth a quick assessment from time to time to ask ourselves: am I placing Christ first in my life? Do I put my children before my husband? Do I place activities (even good ones, such as ministry) as a higher priority than the primary relationships God has given me?

I'll close this post with the thought that we all have our own race to run. We cannot compare ourselves to anyone else. And...as I've been learning...I cannot even compare myself to myself! I often lament that I can't do [insert activity] the way I used to 10 years ago. (Multitasking, for example, is something I used to be much better at than I am now!) I can't compare our homeschool life in 2022 to what our homeschooling looked like in 2012 or 2005. The race I'm running now looks much different from the race I ran as a young bride, a new mother, a mom of 3, or a mom of 6 holding down the fort while her husband was deployed.

And let's not allow the word "race" to make us anxious...because our individual race might involve at any given time walking, sprinting, crawling, or even heaving on the side of the path for awhile. "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).


Which one of these resonates with you today? Share a word of encouragement you've received so others can be blessed on their journey as well!


P.S. Mama, if you're feeling overwhelmed, let's make some space on our calendars for a clarity call. I have a limited number of spots, but I'd be honored to walk alongside you and encourage you on your own race. 
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Homeschooling Through the Holidays

Homeschooling Through the Holidays
What does homeschooling during the busy holiday season look like for your family? Or what do you WANT it to look like? Around our house, we tend to stick with the "usual" schedule for the first couple of weeks of December, mostly for my sanity. I know from experience that we NEED structure or else the children will drive each other (and me) absolutely bonkers! However, there is a lot of flexibility built into our daily routine, so we try to finish academic work in the mornings and leave our afternoons free for Christmas activities. In December, our co-op classes don't meet, so we have an "extra" day we don't usually have during the school week. This gives us even more time to "get through" our academic activities. 

This year for whatever reason we seem to have gotten a bit of a head start on some of the Christmas things! As the kids have grown older, I'm finding more and more joy in letting them take the lead when they have interest. (Another way you can read that: I have learned to stop controlling everything, lol.) For example, my 11yo son spearheaded the entire decorating efforts, leaving me free to care for Verity and do some planning. (I told him I reserved the right to rearrange decorations!) 

My 15yo loves to work in the kitchen, and she has decided she enjoys (now and then) doing a project with ONE younger sibling at a time. She made peanut butter balls with one younger brother one afternoon and fudge with another brother the next day. Today we are starting our cookie baking efforts, and because I've had more time (or at least it feels like it) compared to some years thanks to the kids' growing independence, I'm finding myself looking forward to the group baking project rather than dreading it.

And because we had some pre-season family planning discussions, amazingly, we have quite a few gifts already wrapped and under the tree. I don't know when I've felt so organized this early in December!

Honestly, during many of our holiday seasons I felt as if we were in survival mode. This year I started praying about how we could have more balance and peace, being intentional about our activities and celebrations. God has graciously led us to some specific ideas but also...beyond the DOING...He is helping me find joy and contentment in simply BEING.

So what does homeschooling during the holidays look like for YOUR family? I asked that question in my homeschool support group and received some great answers. (If you're not in that group, by the way, join us to find encouragement from other moms committed to homeschooling long-term!)

These responses are from seasoned homeschool moms who have a wide range of experience and ages of children. With their permission, I'm sharing some of their answers here, because I believe it's so important to see how different everyone's homeschooling AND holiday activities can look. 

Laura H., an Iowa mom of 5 (some of whom have some significant health issues), shared, "We put the books away! We're taking a break from traditional school from Thanksgiving to New Year's and focusing on enjoying the Christmas season with family. Lots of baking, crafts, concerts, movies, etc."

From Indiana, Adriane V., mother of 12 (including a daughter with Trisomy 18), answered, "We throw our entire normal schedule out the window. For us December is focused on advent calendar activities, Christmas movie themed parties, reading Christmas books, puzzles, games, making homemade Christmas cards, baking and delivering treats to the elderly and neighbors, cleaning, decorating, purging house of excess stuff, playing outside in snow if there is any, volunteering in community."

Renee T., mother of 7 in Michigan, said, "Our bigger kids are staying on track with their usual stuff, but for the younger kids I'm trying something new. We are doing a Christmas unit guide I downloaded free from Pam Barnhill, and it has suggestions for learning how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. Looking forward to starting that next week."

And Casey H., mother of 6 who is currently living in Germany, remembers this about her earlier days of homeschooling (her kids are older and flying the nest): "We started earlier in the summer to be able to take that whole time off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and just enjoy field trips, outings, and the treats of the season. It was lovely."

I hope some of these ideas have inspired you and given you a sense of freedom as you head into a busy holiday season. If "getting through school" feels stressful, remember how much value there is in participating in Advent, whatever that looks like for your family. All of the extra things we find ourselves doing are also educational! So if you haven't already done so, find the freedom to focus on what truly matters. 

Do you need an objective observer to help you bring order and creativity to your homeschooling during this busy season? I have a limited number of spots for a FREE clarity call. Sign up now to take advantage of this opportunity!
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3 More Reasons I'm Thankful for Homeschooling

3 More Reasons I'm Thankful for Homeschooling
Recently I shared 3 reasons I'm grateful for homeschooling. This post gives 3 more reasons I love our home educating lifestyle! 

Friendships - 
The idea of the weird homeschool kid who "isn't socialized" is so far from the truth, it doesn't even warrant being called a "stereotype." Our kids socialize GREAT, thankyouverymuch! We cherish the bonds we form with others in the homeschool community...and that includes the friends we parents find as well! Sometimes we meet with others in a field trip setting (such as depicted in this photo, from a group event to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame & Museum of the American Cowboy). Other times it's developing deeper relationships with those we see in our homeschool enrichment classes on a weekly basis. Regardless of how or when we find those "kindred spirits," it's a blessing to find fellowship, community, and encouragement as we interact with like-minded families.

Fostering a love for learning - 
My school experience was so different from my kids' education. I was an A student, but I mostly studied to pass the test, not because I had some deep hunger for knowledge. My children's perspective on learning is much different because of the way we are able to engage in the learning process. I'm so thankful for their curiosity and the ability to dig more deeply into the things that interest them.

Forming lasting bonds - 
I know my children and teens and young adults much better because of our homeschool journey. Homeschooling requires intentionality with our personal relationships, because schooling is so much more than checking a box. I cherish the time I spend with my kids, knowing our family bonds are so much closer for being forced to figure out how to use our time and space to accommodate everyone's needs. And in addition to the relationships our kids have with their dad and myself, they are forming bonds with their siblings that are much deeper than they would have if they were separated into different grades at a local school. Yes...there are many times they drive each other (and me!) absolutely crazy. But the truth is, they love each other fiercely, and as they grow and mature, they naturally seek each other's advice and input. These relationships are so important! As we tell them, they will likely have each other much longer than they'll have us here on earth!
This photo is from Good Friday 2022. My oldest son was home from college on spring break, and my married daughter came over with her baby girl so we could have a special, symbolic lunch, with time to read from the gospels about Christ's death and resurrection. It's not always possible to have all 9 of my children (plus my grandbaby!!) together, so it's extra special when we can make it happen!

How are your relationships thriving because of homeschooling? Or perhaps they aren't at the moment...if that's true for you, I'd love to pray with you and walk alongside you as you seek God's wisdom for where you're at in  your journey. Let's hop on a call together and see where God leads us!
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3 Reasons I'm Thankful for Homeschooling

3 Reasons I'm Thankful for Homeschooling
I love homeschooling for so many reasons! I've put 3 of them together in this post and will share a few more later.

Freedom - 
I am very grateful for the freedom and opportunity to teach and talk to our kids about the things that matter most to us. As parents, we take Deuteronomy 6:4-9 seriously, and for us, homeschooling is the best way to carry our our God-given responsibilities for raising the next generation. In a world that is increasingly hostile to truth, we cherish the freedom we have to use the Word of God as our primary teaching tool. Parents, we must freely speak of the foundational truths God has laid out in Scripture AND in the universe He created. 

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Romans 1:18-20

Flexibility - 
Especially on a week like this one has been, with sickness running through the house, I'm grateful for the flexibility homeschooling brings. Not only can we set our own schedule, but also we can pick up and GO! Nothing like doing school by a lake, in a park, at the library, in the car, or on a mountain! And certainly in many, MANY times of transition over the years, the flexibility of homeschooling has served us well. Whether it was uprooting our family for yet another military move...or adding yet another baby to the household...the flexibility of our home educating lifestyle allowed us to make important adjustments at an appropriate pace.

FUN - 
If you're not already homeschooling, you may not believe this, but honestly, homeschooling is FUN. Perhaps not all day every day, but I truly have fun with my kids as we learn and discuss life together. It's a joy to watch them learn and grow. And we get to go on some stinkin' cool field trips! We've gone to the zoo on the first day of public school, taken school books to the lake, and even skipped "school" so we could take advantage of an opportunity taking place during typical school hours. We've made some incredible memories together, with a whole lot of laughter and silliness along the way.

If you're a homeschooler, what are some reasons you're thankful for homeschooling?

If you're not a homeschooler, what is something you're thankful for this year?

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