Thursday, March 31, 2011

Backyard school

I love my garden. I love taking “before” pictures of my garden.

This does not make me a good gardener, just someone who loves new beginnings as much as the thrill of dirt under fingernails. As you get to know me you might realize I have few “after” pictures of my garden. A love for new beginnings doesn't always translate well to strong finishes, and I have more than once lost a garden mid-season because I suddenly lost interest in watering.

Fortunately, living in South Central East Texas (confused yet? Translate to: somewhere north of Houston) gives me two opportunities a year for new beginnings. And this spring just might be a season of grand success.

What makes this season different? Well, for one thing I got started on time. Plant date in my zone works out to March 7, and by now we are in full swing. I have harvested a few strawberries, and have a handful of tomatoes and peppers already set. Today I even discovered my 13 month old artichoke plants, recently transplanted out of the greenhouse into a patch of native clay, have set flowers for the first time. Meaning I've got three baby artichokes growing out there. Squeee!

The second reason I predict success has to do with my new gardening buddy. Upon beginning our third grade homeschool experiment a week ago, gardening seemed a natural place to combine her interest with my needs. She is a little scientist, and I hope to use the garden to teach her a bit about the scientific method.

We have made a growth and observation chart. We catalogued each of the plants in the greenhouse (about 70% of my garden) and chose one of each to measure each week throughout the season. We measured height, number of flowers, and number of set “fruits”, and noted general appearance and presence of pests. We will also mark each time we water, and whenever we harvest, and how much.

Our observation plants include:
Big Bertha Sweet Pepper
Early Girl Tomato
Red Onion

Along the way, I discovered that “measuring” a red onion or a broccoli plant looks different than a tomato or a pepper. She discovered . . . well I am not sure yet. I had to remind her that she only had 90 minutes of school today, and she could darn well get over her attitude about playing number games with me in the garden! But really, I pray for patience in every moment. I hope to find some way to capture her interest in documenting the world around her. She so enjoys learning on her terms, but balks at anything that smacks of “making a report.”

I crave success with this garden because really, I have undertaken two gardens this season. I am carefully tending both, trying to pull weeds, seeking appropriate plants for each, and praying for the consistency to water each every day.

The stakes for the garden of my daughter's heart are a little higher than for my backyard garden, but the challenge remains the same. Can I trust God to grow it? Can I pray for strength to see it through the season? Can I learn to nurture each bit of fruit and harvest it at the proper time?

By posting at least once a month about this season in my dual gardens, I hope to develop that needed consistency, and to show encouraging progress to both my homeschooler and me. My fingers are crossed for a few strong progress reports and a stellar “after” picture.

Read stories of other homeschool families as they learn about gardening and related life lessons by visiting the Homeschool Village here:

Monday, March 28, 2011

To Catch a Tiger

My firstborn has stretched and surprised me since the day she was born. She has always marched to the beat of her own drum. I thought she was individual in the ways all children are different, but recently we realized she is truly a rare breed.

In preschool she never desired to participate in group activities. At church, she would sit and watch as the rest of the class sang and danced their way through “Father Abraham”.

I signed her up for creative movement class, hoping to capitalize on her 3-year-old need for activity. She stood at the edge of the group and wrapped herself in a curtain while the other 11 students listened raptly to the teacher, who had enough audience that she left my treasure alone in her solitary world.

Later, we tried tumbling for tots. She enjoyed it, but then used all her time between turns running to the far end of the gymnasium and slamming herself full force into the pads.

My favorite example of this child’s personality came at the end of her only semester of preschool. Ms. Jodi gave each child an award for something at which she excelled. One child was a good friend; another was pegged with artistic promise. My daughter received the “Coyote Pack Leader” award. Apparently every day at free time, she would gather the other nine children in the class and lead them to the top of the playground structure, where they would howl at the moon together.

Catch a Tiger by the Toe
“Coyote Pack Leader” summed up my daughter beautifully. Deliciously awkward; an enthusiastic herder of other children; forever busy. I came to recognize these as leadership traits, and realized my job as her mother entails steering her, helping refine those strong qualities into their most positive light.

We sent her off to kindergarten with high hopes that “the system” would somehow help smooth those rough edges. Instead we got reports of hands and feet going places they shouldn’t. I learned I could not send yogurt for lunch, because the container could not survive the journey from home to cubby to cafeteria, between all the spinning and banging into walls she did while in line.

In first grade, our princess intervened in a playground fight. One boy threatened to hit another in the face. Her sense of justice took charge, and she hit the offending boy first. Guess who went to the office for that? Another time her classmates were mocking a substitute teacher’s name. She stood up and screamed at them that they weren’t being nice. For thanks, the teacher sent home a pink slip to me that she was out of control during class. Hrm. First grade’s primary teacher characterized her as being in the bottom 10% of the class in social development, but remained optimistic that she would catch up.

Second grade brought a boy with extreme social and behavioral issues into her life, and they became best friends. That year, we had a hard time telling whether her challenges were personal or related to being the one who could best communicate with her friend. I seriously considered pulling her out for homeschool about this time last year; but we decided her biggest developmental need was social practice, so we left her in the system.

By the time the third grade parent teacher conference rolled around last October, I had the script memorized, “Your daughter is really bright! But I honestly have no idea how she learns anything, because she never seems to be paying attention.” This year we also began to feel the teachers were quietly telling us our daughter was disruptive, and what were we going to do about it?

If She Hollers, Let Her Go
Finally, after mounting frustration with the increasingly accusatory tone from the teachers, and after several months of soul searching, we took her for a psychological evaluation. And boy, am I glad we did. A week later, we sat in a small office across from the psychologist as he went over her report. As expected, she tested consistent with ADHD.

But there was more. The ADHD is more a manifestation of a high intelligence than a disability. Many smart people in history could tell you that the trade-off for brains is a reduced ability in other areas, such as social development. Our daughter simply has a quick and busy mind that is bored to tears in school, a combination that tends to get her in trouble.

A wave of recognition crashed over both of us immediately: school will never wear down her rough edges. What’s more, her intelligence level actually measures above even the gifted and talented kids the district supposedly seeks out. She has a diagnosed condition addressed by the school district, but she doesn’t qualify to receive help unless she is failing. And she is too smart for that..

Sometimes you just have to accept that a square peg will never fit into a round hole.

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe
So what alternatives lie open for us? The psychologist recommended we look into other options for education. So we have something new to think about this week.

In the meantime, why waste any more time fighting the system in third grade? A fresh wind blows. We have decided to school her at home the remainder of this year, while we research other options.

Today we started the first full week of school at home. After considering this option for years, I am a little nervous to actually attempt it. But this tiger is worth catching, and hugging until I cannot hug any more.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just Enough

From my journal for Tuesday, March 22.
  • Today I withdrew my daughter from public school.
  • Today I have an exquisite sore throat, the cap (I hope) on six weeks of sickness in our house.
  • Today I put the Captain on a plane for the rest of the week, for a last-minute business trip.
  • Today I needed to prepare for small group tomorrow night
  • Today I got up early to prepare my heart for all the day would hold -- only to fall back asleep on the sofa and oversleep regular start time by almost an hour.
It did not take very many minutes of today for me to realize I had nothing for it. I started at a deficit, and had no adrenaline with which to catch up.

And yet, at each step, I have been given just enough for the moment:
  • Teachers and administrators, while obviously curious, have simply complied with my every request for conferences and paperwork.
  • The pain of my sore throat has been lessened by taking a painkiller (go figure).
  • My complicated schedule worked out seamlessly. I even had time for a nap.
  • One friend offered to bring me lunch. Another sent words of encouragement. A third called and was available to pick up baby so I could focus on my meetings at school.
  • After anticipating four hours of reading and developing a discussion, I found study questions online. Boom, done.
  • And the final grace, I won a powerful time management App as part of a Twitter party.
Sometimes I feel as if the road stretches out ahead of me, with no discernible changes or challenges on the horizon.

More often, as today, I feel my way ahead through a dark maze. Today I especially sense the darkness, as I embark on a brand new journey of homeschooling while in the grip of sickness, without my primary support by my side.

I feel out of my depth.

But I think today also marks an occasion in which "let go and let God" seems entirely appropriate. I keep hearing myself mutter, "God, be enough in this moment, because I've got nothing."

Photo credit

And something causes me to stop and consider: Isn't this exactly where our Father wants us to stay all the time? All those times I think I see the road stretching straight out in front of me, those are not times of clarity; rather, they are times of illusion. None of us can truly see further than this moment, even on a good day.

I wonder how many missteps I would avoid if I could remember, at each moment, to wait for the light to show me the next step. What blessings might come my way if I acknowledge my God as the light for every step, not just the ones I question? 

So today, I pause and whisper, "Thank you." Thanks that I see more clearly than ever, because I have the presence to recognize I only need to see the next step. And God always gives me just enough light to see where to place my foot.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

Monday, March 21, 2011

Putting 'Me' On Hold

Since the day I became a parent, I have felt the cramp in my personal style.

Don't get me wrong; I like the new style okay. Kids are an amazing blessing, and my life feels so full in ways it would not be without them. But mentally, I think of myself as the age at which I had my first child: 28. And the further I physically get from that age, the greater my sense of loss as I wonder, when will it be my time again?

Here is my true confession: I am lazy and self-centered. No, really, ask my husband and he will tell you. And I have concluded that kids just don't mix well with those two faults. I do a terrible job of paying attention to them, because I am so worried about getting what I need. And I never get enough of what I need, which is time alone.

Over the years, I have attempted (half-heartedly) to grow out of these faults. But progress has been slow.

Fortunately (depending on one's perspective), I think I just hit the jackpot of growth accelerator. I am about to start my own homeschool.


I first read the allegorical story of Hind's Feet on High Places at the age of eight. It immediately captivated me and even influenced the direction of my life.

The journey Much-Afraid (the primary character) undertakes includes elements of every believer's spiritual journey; so throughout my life I have had repeated flashbacks of the story as I encounter situations similar to hers. This week, I think of her arrival at a bend in her path, one that leads in the opposite direction of her goal of the mountain tops, down into a desert valley.

Although at first her heart feels broken at the apparent detour, she eventually decides to trust the Shepherd's path. She builds a little altar and sacrifices her need to determine her course, and says, "Behold your servant, Acceptance-with-Joy." Then she proceeds into the valley.

I want to be able to say that this week. "Behold me, Father, I accept your path with joy."

I know I want to write; to put words to paper and smith them until they shine. I know I want to develop discipleship materials for new believers, and to begin actually discipling women young in their faith.

I have a sense of purpose.

But guess what? My first job remains to my children. And right now one of them needs me, to pour into her as much as she can handle. While I might like to say, "But my writing!" I know God will hold that for me as I start a new journey, one to homeschool my brilliant, strong-willed, socially off-beat, active, very tactile learner.

When Much-Afraid reached the end of her journey, she learned that she could not have made it through some parts of the path, had she avoided the detour through the wilderness. The path through the valley had not been pleasant, but she had grown stronger as a result of it.

I do not know from this perspective, how much time will be left for me to write, train, and mentor after I complete jobs # 1-4: God time, husband time, children time, house time. But even if the writing ends up waiting until my 2 year old graduates from high school (which I doubt), even then I choose to trust that this path is the most important one to be on right now. I choose to accept with joy the privilege of putting my personal dreams on hold, in order to invest in my one-of-a-kind firstborn.

But: Kimberly and Caroline? I am still attending SheSpeaks Conference. Believe me, I will be VERY ready to get out by then!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In the Right Place

A week ago I phoned the Small Groups Pastor at my church and asked if I could help out teaching the next membership class. As in, after attending and observing, maybe next time I could help present the content, to gain speaking experience.

In my long term plan, perhaps someday I could even be a contributing member of the Spiritual Development team. I hoped, but expected little.

By the end of the call, he had given me 30 minutes of the next 90 minute class to speak on Prayer, Bible study, and the importance of Small Groups. I had 5 days to prepare.

Oh, and by the way, all the dreams I have for further discipleship of the many people within the church who are just feeling their way through the Christian life, knowing they need something beyond Sunday morning services or even book discussion groups? I should go ahead and begin to sketch that out, too. Words echoed over the line, You are an answer to prayer.

The exact phrase that went through my head as I ended that call: Feels like drinking from the firehose.

Surprise, sometimes you end up right where you are meant to be.

I have considered my sense of growing into a new phase as a message that my time has come to publish a book. But perhaps I commit my usual sin of leaping in the direction I think God points, instead of walking with him step by step.

Remember Abraham? God made him a promise that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky. But by the age of 85, ten years after the giving of the promise, Abraham thought he had better give God a hand. So he made a baby with his wife's servant.

That did not work out so well.

God still blessed the child of that union, Ishmael, but To.This.Day the children of that line remain at odds with the children of the promise. That would be all the unrest you hear about in the Middle East.

The child of the promise, Isaac, came when the time was right. After Abraham had celebrated his 100th birthday. When nobody but God could claim to have orchestrated that one.

Book publishing still lies within my sights. But here I see something to give the process greater authenticity. It just so happens that the areas that drive me in discipleship mirror the topics about which I would write. So I called. And God accepted my offer, then gave me more.

It's a small thing, really. Volunteer leadership in my church pays about as well as my blogging, and my job as a mom. But in my heart I feel the resounding YES that leadership in discipleship represents that next phase I felt coming. Writing--better writing--will grow from that.

Really, if I ever publish a book, it will be God's wisdom within its pages. Otherwise I prefer not to write.

Do you sense God leading you right now? Like Abraham trying to fulfill the promise his own way, do you sometimes try to force movement in the direction you think he is leading?

One of the hardest lessons of the Christian life says WAIT.

When we don't know what way to step, I think the obvious step always moves in God's direction. Go back to Scripture, go back to prayer. When He knows the time is right, when only He can receive credit for your growth, then He will move.

And when He does move, you had better step back. Because He is not shy with the firehose.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Drink :: Time for a Fresh Glass

In Central Texas, spring already raises her head. New plants and seeds went into the garden two weeks ago, and a pea-sized Early Girl tomato already grows in my greenhouse.

Spring, the season of new beginnings; of growth.

Part of the new beginning was born out of a week's worth of hard uprooting, reclaiming the bed along the back fence from native grasses that thrive on unattended soil. New shoots already poke up, offending remnants of the underground root network I tried vainly to remove cleanly.

A week's worth of hard uprooting might do my soul some good right now, too.

Seems like the slightest breeze turns my steps to the right or left, away from the direct path toward my Maker. The smell of spring; a sick kid; time to register for a long-awaited conference; steps toward greater leadership within my local church; a new blog design.

Thanks to my yearlong commitment to Drink Deeply from the well of God's living water, I continually adjust my steps back toward center. Today felt like an off-center day, and it wrapped up with a (very nicely worded) rejection letter. Not too painful--well, maybe a little more so than I expected--but enough to check me once again.

What am I about here? If pride received a blow, then perhaps, like the weeds in my garden, I have some tending to do.

I sit here so grateful for the knowledge that despite a day of knowing I ignored a quiet summons in the wee hours, my Maker is still waiting patiently for me. It's time to go take care of some weeds.

She Speaks 2011 :: To Equip, Empower, and Inspire

I can hardly believe registration is live.

The day I discovered She Speaks in 2008, I drew in a reverent breath and thought, "This was made for me!"

My heart's desire has always been to equip, empower and inspire others to take a step in their spiritual journey. In 2008, I was first spreading my wings as a writer; beginning to understand my obsession with words as a God-given impulse, designed to be used as a ministry tool.

The She Speaks conference exists to equip, empower and inspire women as speakers, writers and Christian leaders, so they can better encourage others in their spiritual journey. It seems a perfect match.

The timing was not quite right, however. Nor was I really ready. But I have watched, and waited, and hoped each year that my time would come soon. Similar to getting a passport before having a travel date, I read MaryBeth Whalen's "For the Write Reason" as preparatory material. I submitted and had an article published via Proverbs 31's website in October 2009.

In three years I have grown as a writer; as a mother; as a wife; as a friend; as a member of my local church body; as a child of God. The need to speak my mind has been slowly replaced with a need to speak His mind. Followed by a deeper need to seek His mind, for only then do I have any wisdom worth sharing.

Last fall, just weeks after the 2010 conference, my husband and I agreed that this would be the year. It will be my first conference, my debut, into a new career of writing and speaking to equip, empower, and inspire women in their spiritual journey.

The anticipation has continued to escalate as I attempt to use this year (now five months left!) to prepare myself as much as possible for this experience. It has given me a timeframe

to build my blog;
to dive into freelance writing opportunities;
to seek out speaking opportunities;
and even, scary enough, to put together a book proposal.

Today I submit my name into consideration for a scholarship to the conference. I am so excited to attend; to fellowship with peers in this world of Christian media; to learn as much as possible; and hopefully even to meet some of the people whose names and words I see online all the time.

A quick note to Lysa and your lovely team of judges: I am thrilled to have you here visiting my corner. May you continue to be richly blessed as you invest your energies into equipping leaders in Christian ministry. THANK YOU!!!

To be honest, I will attend this conference one way or another. I am about to complete my registration, begun Friday but tabled while I prayed over the breakout session choices. I already have enough affirmation to stand tall and know my calling as a writer. My husband supports me in this financial commitment.

But oh, how sweet to add the blessing of a scholarship to a weekend full of even half what this conference promises to hold.

Do you need something to equip, empower, and inspire you as you attempt to follow God's call toward writing or speaking ministry? Check out She Speaks, and let me know if I might see you there!

She Speaks Conference

Friday, March 4, 2011

What's the Big Deal about Small Groups?

Not At Home In Mitford
Do you live in Mitford?

Mitford is a fictional pastoral mountain town, full of idiosyncratic church ladies and charming, rascally little boys, created by novelist Jan Karon. While Mitford exists only in the mind of the novelist and her readers, she based her creation on the real life pastoral mountain town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

I don't live in Mitford. I don't live in Blowing Rock, either.

I live in what feels to me like a small town, when compared to my previous hometowns of Santa Monica, California; Detroit, Michigan; and Salt Lake City, Utah. The population of our combined metropolitan area here in Texas totals about 175,000. I continually find wonder in the many connections found here, from friends who know one another to the ease of word of mouth referrals.

But this small town really stretches the meaning of small. I love the idea of life in a really small town, one with 2000 occupants. Or maybe only 500. I imagine knowing everyone and being known; neighbors helping out upon the birth of a baby or unexpected illness; pastors and doctors making house calls.

A church building in idyllic Blowing Rock, NC

Community Outside Mitford
The pace of life and the size of my city conspire to remove the small-town feel from my life. I have sociable neighbors, but we all move in our own social circles. I attend a great church; but with 5 services, each seating about 300 people, it becomes difficult to know anyone well.

How does one find real small-town community in a world like mine?

In any community of more than 200 people, cells begin to develop: smaller groups that look out for one another and function as a mini community within the larger one. Many churches foster these smaller communities with elective groups, designed for 7-15 members, that meet outside the large church meeting times. These groups might be called Home Groups, because they typically meet in homes; Life Groups, because they are organized around common life interests such as sports, pets, kids, marriage, or a Bible study book; or Small Groups, because they represent a complimentary facet to the Large Group weekend and evening services.

We may be convicted to change as a result of something we hear in a weekend message, but lasting life change happens in the context of Small Groups.

In my incredibly scientific estimation, Small Group involvement counts for 50% of the church experience. When the church is larger than 200 people, the pastor simply cannot appropriately shepherd everyone. Here I present my three fact-filled reasons why I believe this statistic.

Spiritual Growth: In Small Group, individuals are known. Their struggles, their dreams, their spiritual growth are all fostered as they have a chance to interact with others about what they are learning along their journey.

Connection: In Small Group, individuals are noticed. People are by nature relational. Those who come only to Sunday services may end up moving on after a few months, not understanding why they can't seem to connect with this church. But those who seek out and find a Small Group, gain a sense of ownership and belonging within the church family. This increases when an alert small group leader contacts them after missing a meeting or two, to ask directly, "How are you doing?"

Care: In Small Group, individual needs can be identified and met. Babies, illness, car trouble, and all variety of prayer needs can be addressed in the context of this size group, thus freeing up the pastor to pursue his direct line to God for next Sunday's message.

I have been part of Small Groups at different churches off and on since 1997, and have led several times since 2004. This semester my husband and I are corralling two groups under one roof, as the men read John Eldredge's Wild at Heart and the women read the companion book Captivating. Over the years we have learned that the content is seldom as critical as the relationships formed through the experience of meeting together every week or two.

The investment to join a Small Group returns dividends in spiritual growth, connection, and spiritual care.

I would love to hear what Small Groups look like in your church community. Have you taken the step to get involved? If not, what's holding you back?