But God.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Parenting three (almost 4) little ones is hard work. There are endless spills and tantrums, sheer exhaustion, and your time and energy are pulled and stretched and twisted in every direction.

But that's not exactly what I'm talking about.

Parenting their hearts is what I find so challenging. Between making hundreds of chicken nuggets and reading thousands of stories and wiping bottoms, there is the need to gently guide their souls. To teach and train and discipline with patience, kindness, and consistency.

In this season with kids ages 1, 3, and 6, I've said it before that I feel the stirring to do less, and do it better. Instead of schlepping the kids all over town for soccer practice and play groups and even school, we've chosen less: to be home, together, for the majority of our time. Even though it's exhausting in its own way with so few mommy breaks, I doubt I'll ever regret this ongoing decision toward simplicity.

I'm learning that daily choices form habits, and habits form legacies. Fifty years from now, when Liam and Lanie and Brooks think of their mom, will they see me in their memories hunched over my phone? Will they see the back of my head in our minivan as I cart them to one more activity? Or will they see my eyes, engaged with them and eager to hear what they have to say? Will they remember seeing me read my Bible? Will they see me reaching out to others in need, consistently opening our home because we've made the space in our schedules?

A few months ago, the kids and I zipped into the church parking lot after a hairy morning (as most Sunday mornings as a pastor's wife are) and Liam tried to get my attention.

"Mommy," he said. "I think Jesus is kind of like a vent. If God is on the outside of the vent, we are inside and we are trapped and we are so cold in there because of our sin. But on the cross, Jesus breaks through the vent and helps us to get to God!"

"Buddy, did you hear that somewhere?" I asked, knowing I'd never thought of a Gospel metaphor involving a car vent.

"No. I was just looking at the vent and thinking of Jesus."

Right there in the car, it hit me once again that Shawn and I have planted tiny seeds of faith. Others have watered them. But God (my favorite two words in the Bible!) has made them grow. It is He who is growing our children's hearts with deep roots in Him. It isn't even the habits or rhythms or atmosphere I try to create in my home that will grow them in godliness. And you know what that means for me as a mom? The pressure is off! The very best thing I can do as I walk this journey of motherhood is also the best thing I can do as I walk this journey as a human: to be firmly rooted in God's Word, faithful in prayer, abiding in Him, and listening to His voice. The rest? That's up to Him. It is He who prepares the way and the good works before the world began. It is He who promises to complete the good work He began in each of us. Because of this, I can truly rest. I can experience true freedom. I can take a deep sigh of relief that it's just not possible to screw up this mommy gig too badly with Him as our safety net, our guiding light, the very hope for our souls.


Monday, November 26, 2018

On our way to the park the other day, Liam was talking about his friends he'd spent time with earlier in the day.

"I realized that [the boy] had brown skin and the rest of his family had white skin," he said, "and then I remembered he was adopted. From Africa!"

"Isn't his skin beautiful? It looks like chocolate," I replied.

He agreed.

I tried to explain to him that just like Liam is red-green colorblind, some people think we should all be colorblind - but only to skin color. But as believers, we believe God created those magnificent shades of brown and peach and gold and we should celebrate their beauty and diversity.

Liam sat for a while, then said, "I'm glad our brown friend didn't live during Civil Rights. Things were so unfair for brown people then." We talked for a moment about how, sadly, things are still unfair for our dark-skinned friends in many ways.

He thought a while longer then said very bluntly, "I'm just glad I have white skin..."

I paused, nervous to hear the rest of the sentence, until he finished, "so I can be like Abraham Lincoln and help my brown friends."

Just that morning, I'd listened to Dorena Williamson's interview on Jamie Ivey's podcast, and it couldn't have been more timely. She talked about the importance of having conversations about race with our kids and about celebrating diversity instead of pushing it under the rug as something inappropriate to talk about. I know the kids and I will have countless conversations about race and diversity in the future, and I am grateful to Dorena and others for helping guide this conversation and many others. May we be bridge builders for the Gospel.

(Dorena wrote a beautiful children's book called ColorFull that is one of my kids' faves. Click on the photo of the book to take you to Amazon to purchase!)

An announcement from the Newby kids....

Friday, November 2, 2018

Homeschool/Sonlight so far.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Chalkboards via Chalkfullofdesign.com
We're 3 months in, and we've begun to find a rhythm in homeschool. (Yay!) I still feel 100% committed and thankful that we have chosen homeschool for Liam this year. It's working beautifully and we are all thriving. As it's become a more natural part of each day, it's not even something that's always on my mind. It's just something we do: show up every morning, give our best, and (for me) try to listen to my kids' cues for when we should be done for the day.

I wanted to list a few highlights and challenges we've encountered so far. I know I'll love looking back on this at the end of this year (and in future years, if we continue homeschooling), so I thought I'd document it now.

+ Sonlight has been an enormous gift. I can open my Instructors' Guide on Monday morning with little to no prep over the weekend and dive in. We already own every book that's used, so there's no hunting around in libraries or online for them. I'm continuing to work at the hospital 20+ hours every weekend, so this is such a necessity. I love checking off boxes, and it really helps us all stay motivated knowing our lesson plans are perfectly organized and ready for us whenever we choose to do school.
+ One criticism I've heard about Sonlight from other moms is just how book-heavy it is. With the read-alongs and readers, it is a lot of reading. For us, though, this has only been positive. Liam is an advanced reader for his age, so the books are what keep him challenged and coming back for more. And we've enjoyed all of the choices, most of which I had never heard of before Sonlight.
+ I am loving the addition of Hands-On History, which is a box you can order separately to include several hands-on projects that go along with our history lessons. These kits contain everything you need to make a great project from start to finish.

- There is a lot of Bible reading. I don't mean this as a criticism - I think you know if you read this blog that I love the Word of God. But for a kindergartener, it's a lot to listen to. We're slowly but surely working our way through this book, as suggested, but have slowed it down quite a bit because I've realized that my kids' attention span doesn't last the length of two (lengthy) Bible stories. The book itself is pretty dry, but I'm thankful it tackles not just the popular Bible stories but many that are more obscure.
- The Scripture memory CD that comes with the curriculum is... umm... not my favorite musically. The songs are like listening to Barney, but even more annoying. BUT the songs include the Scripture reference and Liam has had no trouble memorizing a verse for every letter of the alphabet (we are currently on the letter Q) so I really can't complain. I know there are plenty of other Scripture memory CDs, but it's so hard to find them with the reference woven into the song, which is really important to me.
- We are still navigating how to entertain and contain two very energetic younger siblings. Brooks has a knack for pulling all the books off the shelves or finding something tiny and putting it in his mouth the second we sit down to get started. It's easy to get frustrated, and I know it will be a while before he's able to truly participate. Some days are easier than others, for sure. I have to remember that we are all being taught and discipled - even me - and it doesn't have to be confined to the morning hours. There are days that it's just too frustrating to keep persevering with Lanie and Brooks in the room, so Liam and I pick it back up during their afternoon naps. This has been an adjustment for me as I crave that downtime, but it's not an everyday thing.

I'm realizing more and more that it is God who led us down this path of homeschooling, even though it wasn't originally my first choice. For this year, I can't imagine anything sweeter. I am so thankful that Liam has the time and the space to dig deeper into what he's passionate about (currently: animals). I love that he can practice his memory verses while scaling up the doorframe. We tromp through wetlands near our hours, identifying birds and trees and tiny fish from our field guide and count it as "science." Liam looks at the moon each night and identifies its lunar phase. Learning isn't confined to 45-minute blocks. We go on deep tangents (usually involving endangered animals) that we can use to learn math, develop our vocabulary, and deepen our love for our wildly imaginative Creator.

It's a dream come true for this 6-year-old boy with an insatiable curiosity, a hunger for learning, and a huge ball of pent-up energy. To be honest, it's a dream come true for me, too. A dream I never would have known or followed if the Lord hadn't led us to this place.

Happy 6th birthday, Liam!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dear Liam Worth,

You are six years old today! You've been patiently awaiting this day for months, and we are thrilled to celebrate you and what God is doing in your life this year.

Your biggest request for your birthday was a guided nature walk at the nature preserve near our house. (You also asked for a metronome and a camouflage watch.) You are delightfully quirky and loving nothing more than to pack your field guide and magnifying glass on a nature walk in hopes of discovering wild creatures. Your current favorites to spot are five-lined skinks. You're also a homebody. If we run more than one errand, you beg to return home to your nature encyclopedias and climbing tree.

Liam, you are a gifted and passionate learner. I knew you'd be an eager student when we started homeschooling in August, but I had no idea how your mind would come alive this year. Here was a recent conversation:

You: What animal do you want me to draw?
Me: How about an antelope?
You: What kind of antelope? An ibex? An oryx? A springbok? A deer?
Me: An ibex. (Not having a clue what that looks like.)
You: Ok. I'll draw an Alpine Ibex at the base of the European Alps.

You're a walking animal encyclopedia, and that is no exaggeration. You told me at the beginning of the school year, "I can teach you about animals. You can teach me about everything else." That's 100% true. You also love talking about ancient Greece, doing science experiments, practicing piano, learning Spanish, and reading through Exodus in your ESV Bible.

Your name means "protector" and it couldn't be truer of you. I've watched as you've stood outside the bathtub dripping wet with goosebumps covering your body, holding a towel for Lanie so she wouldn't be cold. I've seen you wedge your body against the crack under Brooks' door so that he doesn't wake up from his nap when I have to use the hair dryer. You sacrifice so much for those sweet,  mischievous siblings of yours and it baffles me. Sacrifice isn't a quality I readily see in other kids your age (or even in myself).

Most importantly, your heart for Jesus and your love for his Word is what I am most thankful for. A few weeks ago, we let you participate in the community group that meets every week at our house. I had a feeling you'd want to read the Scripture passage aloud and then get bored and head back downstairs to play with the other kids. Instead, you engaged in every bit of the discussion. You'd raise your hand and ask probing questions like, "Why does Jesus say, 'Let the dead bury their dead'?" and then share insights. You've told me multiple times since that you cannot wait for Tuesday nights so you can talk about Jesus with our group again. I often catch you reading from your Bible during rest time and you interject your dozens of memory verses into conversations.

You are truly evangelistic and your heart breaks for kids around the world who have never heard the gospel. Through your homeschool program, we've been focusing on India this month and the work God is doing there among kids. We decided to sponsor 4 kids to be able to attend Bible clubs and hear about Jesus, then Sonlight matched our gift so that 8 kids could attend. When I told you the news, you very confidently said, "Well, I don't know if we'll get to meet those kids in India, but we'll meet them in Heaven!"

Liam Worth, you are of great worth to us. I could go on for days about how our family wouldn't be what it is without you. A buddy of yours recently said of you, "You know why Liam is my favorite? Because he is kind and he knows cool things." I think that sums you up perfectly.

I love you dearly, son. Happiest birthday!


The juror's seat.

Friday, October 5, 2018

For six days, I found myself in the most unexpected place: a juror's seat.

I'd known about my summons to jury duty for a few weeks. But when I reported to the Wake County Justice Center that day, I thought my chances of actually sitting in a trial were slim. Hundreds of us had reported for duty, waiting to be called and either sent to a court room or dismissed. A couple hours in, my name was called and I was led to a courtroom on the 7th floor. There, I and other potential jurors were asked hours-worth of questions. What did we do for a living? What did our spouses do? Did we have children? Would we believe or not believe a child's testimony simply because it was a child testifying? Tragically, the case involved a child victim and a litany of sexual offenses committed against her. I was convinced I'd be dismissed for having young children, for being a pastor's wife, or for working with sexual abuse victims as a nurse. To my bewilderment, I watched juror after juror be dismissed while I stayed seated. I was staying on this jury.

For the next six days, I listened to the testimony of a little girl who was violated again and again and felt powerless to tell. She'd been threatened by her abuser (who lived in her home) and believed that he would destroy her family if she spoke up. This young girl was robbed of her childhood and traumatized to the point of needing years of therapy. We also heard the testimonies of her therapist, her social worker, the pediatrician who examined her, and the detective working on the case. It felt exhaustive, emotionally draining, and agonizingly slow... nothing like the courtroom dramas you see on TV that cross-examine a witness for 30 minutes, get to the bottom line, and deliver a verdict.

After all witnesses were presented, the jury was sent to deliberate. It was immediately apparent that we agreed: if we believed the victim, then the defendant was guilty on all counts. There was no physical evidence - and often, there is not - so we based our decision fully on what we believed. This is obviously such a hot topic right now, especially in the case of Brett Kavanaugh and the FBI investigation. Do I believe that all victims who come forward must be believed? No. That isn't just. Both sides must be weighed and examined equitably. In this case, though, we had every reason to believe the victim. Not because she was a child, but because if this had all been manipulated or concocted, she should have been nominated for an Academy Award for being able to dupe an entire team of therapists and professionals into believing the trauma she had endured. And without going into details of the case, it was clear to all of us she had no motive for that.

After a few hours, the jury returned to the courtroom to deliver our verdicts. I watched the unmoving expression on the defendant's face as each of the five "guilty" verdicts were read. My heart pounded visibly through my shirt. It wasn't that I second-guessed our decision. It was that our decision had sealed a man's fate: in this case, up to 40 years in prison. The weight of that made my knees buckle.

I will undoubtedly process this experience for the rest of my life. Shawn asked me if witnessing these testimonies was more traumatic than the stories I hear in the hospital, and I'd have to say yes. Because instead of just providing a listening ear, I was expected to discern and act.

As soon as I knew I'd be kept on the jury for the duration of the trial, I can't begin to tell you just how many people - specifically Christians - told me, "Why didn't you write a letter to get out of jury duty in the first place? You care for small kids and work as a nurse. They would've let you go." While I understand that they were just trying to help, I was bothered by this response. To give a bit of background, the case was truly awful timing for us: a record-breaking hurricane was on its way, Shawn was flying to Germany for the week, and I was piecing together childcare through friends and other pastors' wives all week long. Ultimately, though, I firmly believe Christians should be on the forefront of the cause of justice. I believe - now more than ever - it should be Christians who lean in to hear a victim's testimony, praying that Christ would redeem her life from this point forward. It should be Christians asking themselves what can be done to prevent this kind of abuse from happening to others. It should be Christians who fight passionately on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. It should be Christians in the deliberation room, praying for wisdom as weighty, life-altering decisions are made. And for those of us who aren't lawyers or law enforcement or judges, what better opportunity than to serve on a jury?

Finally, sitting in a courtroom for a week helped me to understand the concept of substitutionary atonement more clearly than I ever had. As believers, we acknowledge that Jesus stepped in and took our place and took on the full punishment for our sins. He died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. I pictured myself in the seat of the defendant, hearing "guilty" read over me over and over again, not only for my known sins but those that had never been exposed. Then, in a radical turn of events that no one could have seen coming, Jesus stepped into my place and bore the full consequence for my sin. And my punishment should have been far worse than 40 years in prison: it was a lifetime separated from God. Instead, I was given full rights as God's child and heir while Jesus hung on a cross in my place. If you're a believer, that's your story, too. If you're not, I invite you to consider that stunning picture and contemplate the true and eternal life Jesus died for you to have.

The hope of eternity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

I glanced at the clock: 10:35 pm. Time of death, 10:35. I'd heard doctors declare the time of a patient's death a dozen times before in my work as a nurse. It's always a somber moment, whether death was expected or not, and there's always a hush of silence as medical personnel step away from the patient's lifeless body.

But this was different. This time, I wasn't standing beside a hospital bed. I was crouched on my bathroom floor. The bleeding began and I knew it was over. In the haze of hormones that pulsed through my veins, I thought that if this child didn't have a name and would never celebrate a birthday, at least I should know the time that marked his end.

It was in June that we suffered a third miscarriage. This pregnancy had been a complete surprise and it had taken Shawn and me a couple weeks to wrap our minds around a coming fourth child. But we had. And it seemed as soon as we did, I had the strange sense that we wouldn't get to meet this baby on this side of eternity. I called my doctor and reported no other symptoms besides a nagging feeling that something was "off." He brought me to the office for labs and, a few hours later, delivered grim news. My hormone levels were far from where they should be at this point in pregnancy and I would probably miscarry within 3 to 5 days. Mercifully, it came much sooner: at 10:35pm that night.

Miscarriages don't get easier the more you have. But this third time, I did feel more emotionally prepared to handle the process. Much of that I owe to this book: Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb by Jessalyn Hutto. A friend recommended it to me and, even as I miscarried, it was as though the author was spoon-feeding me gospel truth that I needed in those weak moments. She doesn't shy away from the toughest questions ("Where is my baby now?" "Is my miscarriage a punishment from God?") and builds a strong theological framework for suffering in the setting of miscarriage.

I wanted to share a few things I've gleaned as I've walked through these three miscarriages. I know I will always process these losses and probably feel differently as time goes on and the Lord continues to heal broken places in my heart. But I hope these truths are an encouragement to you or to someone you know who is struggling through a painful loss.

I won't fully understand God's sovereign ways this side of heaven. Do I believe I will see my three lost babies when I get there? I do. They aren't lost to God. Psalm 22:9-10 says, "Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God." I know from 25 years of walking with him that God is my wise, loving Father and that I can deeply trust him, even in the midst of pain. What I trust is God's character, and that His actions toward me (and my babies) are for our good and his glory.

Jesus grieves alongside me. Has he himself experienced the loss of a baby? No. He has experienced far worse. He experienced the loss of his Father as he was separated from him in our place. And he has experienced every emotion that accompanies miscarriage: loneliness, isolation, grief, pain. Hebrews 2:17-18 reminds us, "For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." This Jesus who understands our pain offers fellowship to us in our miscarriages. Run to him.

"For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." - 2 Corinthians 1:5

For believers, death is not the final word. Our glorious, eternal future with God is the hope we cling to, and I yearn like never before for Christ to return and obliterate death forever. Heaven has become more tangible when I think of three perfectly joyful, perfectly whole children waiting for us there. They are, even now, experiencing more contentment, peace, and love than this world could ever give.

I love this quote from Inheritance of Tears: "Imagine the multitude of souls - babies who have died in the womb - who have been chosen by God for the glorious light of heaven before they had the chance to see the light of our sin-darkened world. Does this knowledge of their resurrection not lessen the grief we experience at our loss?" For me, the answer is a resounding yes.

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Hutto also writes, "The incarnation offers beautiful hope for the woman who has miscarried. The death of a baby within the womb is a painful reminder - if not one of the most fundamental expressions - of death's curse over humanity. The good news is that Jesus came to reverse exactly that curse." What incredible hope we have!

If you're interested, you can read about Miscarriage 1 here: Immanuel. 
and Miscarriage 2 here: With Hope.

Oils for dummies.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dear Mamas,

If we were having a cup of coffee today, I'd mention these. I've loved oils for a while, but haven't had the time or energy to learn allllll their uses or make my own blends. So I was excited to find Earthoilsco.com through a friend. These blends, made with DoTERRA oils, are for oil newbies like me who need instructions right on the bottle and a convenient rollerball to actually put them to use. "Milk Mama" helped me maintain my milk supply while I was nursing, "Tiny Teeth" has been invaluable for our teething Brooksie (and makes him smell woodsy and divine), and "Sleepy Baby" has become a nightly ritual. I love that Mandy is making oils accessible for busy moms like me.

*This is not a paid ad and I don't sell oils... I just love these and thought you should know!

An encouraging addendum.

Friday, September 7, 2018

If you read my last post on reading, this video could not be more pertinent. I'm a big Gloria Furman fan and have read nearly all of her books and been so encouraged by them. I couldn't love this more.

"God made us to live on the Bread of Life. . . so in your limited, very precious time, focus on the good stuff. . . Take big chunks of Scripture and just work hard. Don't settle for little sound bites that aren't going to give you very much hope."
How Can a Busy Mom Become a Better Theologian? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Moms who read.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I've recently stopped asking this question at play dates with other moms:

"What are you reading?"

Because too often, I'm met with blank stares and vague descriptions of "that one book on my night stand... I can't remember who it's by." What was meant to be a friendly conversation starter ends awkwardly and I feel badly for asking (though I'd really love to know).

It leads me to believe that many young moms aren't reading, and let me say, I completely understand. Our days are packed to the brim and often by the end, I'm falling into bed and asleep within minutes. Our lives with little ones are demanding and often overstimulating, and we don't have one more brain cell open for input. So our conversations as moms revolve around little else than who's potty training, who got the least amount of sleep last night, and which playgrounds are most stroller-friendly. And, to be honest, I think we can do better. We can have deeper, more meaningful, more edifying conversations as mothers. And I believe it starts with something as simple as reading.

I'll admit up front, I'm a bit of a bibliophile. I spend much of my free time and extra money on great books, simply because I love them. I love the more well-rounded person I am after reading them. When feeding myself with great words, I am apt to use them in conversation. I'm more likely to think deeply. I feel fulfilled outside of my all-consuming role as a mother, and that's healthy - especially for my kids. I'm finding as a homeschool mom who is around her children 24/7 (unless I'm working at the hospital, which is obviously not a break), it's imperative that I invest in myself. More than just for me, it takes pressure off of my kids that my entire world revolves around them. No one should bear that kind of weight. (For more on this topic, see this really helpful article on Charlotte Mason's concept of "Mother Culture".) Reading for myself also models to my children that learning and growing as a person is important to me even though I'm not in school anymore. I pray they develop a lifelong love of learning. There's little more powerful in this world than a passionate curiosity.

The homeschool curriculum we've chosen for this year includes dozens of books that we read aloud as a family, and I'm beginning to believe that our time spent reading together will be one of my very favorite memories of young motherhood. Just in the past 5 weeks, we've hidden in a boxcar with orphaned children. We've dived into the deep waters off of coastal Florida and swam with dolphins. And right now, we're on a ship with Doctor Doolittle and his host of talking animals, sailing back to England. These adventures - all while cozied up on the couch together - are priceless to us. But beyond reading just for our kids, we should be reading for ourselves.

So in honor of National Read a Book Day today, where do we begin? When can we possibly have time or space for reading?

I'd like to make a few suggestions:

Get up early. I know, I know. You've already heard this but it's just so hard, especially with kids who still don't sleep through the night. But setting my alarm for just 45 minutes before I expect my earliest risers makes all the difference in my day. I'm able to shower, get ready, and spend time in the Word. Even if it's only 10 minutes (but hopefully longer) of praying and journaling and meditating on a verse or two, by the time my kids come bouncing down the stairs, I've filled my mind with truth that I can hold onto for the rest of the day. Or at least until nap time when I can pick it back up.

Read during rest time. There are always things we can be doing during kids' naps (laundry, dinner prep, scrolling through social media). But many of those things can wait or be done better if we take time for ourselves first. When I feel overwhelmed, it's easy to think, "I just need a day off." But not only is that not very realistic, it may not be as refreshing as I'd hoped. I might get a mani/pedi and head back home, only to re-enter chaos just as unprepared and overwhelmed as I left it. Instead, choosing to fill your mind by reading for just 20 minutes (without other auditory input from little ones) may be just as refreshing. For me, it's more effective self-care than just about anything else. Don't take my word for it. Give it a try.

Try audio books. I love listening to audio books or podcasts while I'm in the shower or getting ready in the morning or folding laundry, or even on my way home from work. Even 15 minutes can be such a delight.

Reserve books from the library. I know when I take all 3 kids to the library, it's nearly impossible to scan the shelves for a book for myself without someone having a meltdown. So reserve them in advance and have them ready to pick up. It's probably easier than you think.

Here are a few favorite books that I've read this year and would recommend:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence - Short and packed with practical wisdom. A perfect companion to devotional time.

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult - A fascinating fictional story that deals with race relations in modern America. It is painful to read at times, but has a redemptive ending.

Seated with Christ by Heather Holleman - I read this one with a group of pastors' wives at our church and I have referenced it so many times in my personal Bible study. So encouraging and insightful.

Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie - Encouragement for the homeschooling mom - especially helpful for those just starting out (like me).

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins - More encouragement from the homeschooling mom from a believer's perspective (and mom of 9 who has been there, done all of it!). Loved this.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - It had been 20 years or more since I'd read this, and my sister suggested it. How powerful! The story tells of God's faithfulness in the deepest imaginable suffering and also how beautifully He used a Dutch watchmaker and his family for His glory.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance - A fascinating story of a "hillbilly" who goes on to pursue higher education. Very well written.

Educated by Tara Westover - I'm currently in the middle of this - the story of a girl who grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon family that not only keeps her out of public school, but doesn't homeschool her either. Amazingly, she ends up with a PhD from Cambridge. Beautifully written and an incredible story.

Photography: The A family.

Monday, August 27, 2018

I had the privilege of photographing the most precious family from our church. We have known Cole & Hope since before the birth of their oldest, and it's been such a privilege to watch their family grow. We had a sunny (and hot) day to capture a few family pics, and I think their joy comes through beautifully.

I don't have a lot of opportunities these days to take photos, but I'm always reminded when I do how much FUN it is! Thanks for a really sweet afternoon, A family!

The Art Cart

Saturday, August 18, 2018

When it comes to reading aloud to the kids, I've found a secret weapon. Enter: the art cart. I purchased this one from Target and added lots of art supplies that I would be comfortable with them using without supervision (i.e. no paints at this point). We keep the cart tucked away in our storage room, but as soon as I pull out our read-aloud book (currently The Mouse and the Motorcycle), one of the kids excitedly rolls it out. It contains everything they need to work quietly with their hands while I read.
I will probably switch things around as the year goes on, but for now, a list of our favorite supplies. Many of these had been purchased a while ago (and you could probably find them cheaper at a dollar store), but I'll link to something similar on Amazon for each. Just click on the item to take you to a direct link. 

Top shelf: 
Paint brushes (these can be used with the watercolor pencils, which are very low mess. I don't mind if they grab some water and work with these unsupervised)

Middle shelf: 

Bottom shelf:
"Found" materials for collage (scraps of paper and empty egg cartons, which make perfect paint palettes if we pull out the tempera paint)

Our homeschool adventure!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Alphabet Chalkboard from Chalk Full of Design
For those who may not know, we decided to homeschool Liam this year for Kindergarten! It was a prayerful decision, as we wanted to make sure I felt up to the task and that it would be a good fit for Liam. At this point, we hold this very loosely and don't know if I'll homeschool for just this year or for the next 20 years. But for this year, for this child, we feel 100% sure that this is the right decision. We are nearly a month in and Liam is absolutely thriving - and honestly, so am I! It's been a sweet, smooth transition for our family.

Because I'm often curious what other families are using, I wanted to share what curriculum we've chosen and some other great resources I've found in the process. And please hear me say this: I am no expert. I homeschooled Liam for preschool last year using The Peaceful Preschool and that is the extent of my experience. I'm sure I'll look back at this a year or five from now and see so many changes, but for now, this is what we've chosen and it's working! So if you're thinking about homeschooling, perhaps this will point you in a good direction.
The majority of curriculum we are using comes from Sonlight. We chose Sonlight through strong recommendations from friends and family (my sister included) that we really trust. Sonlight is Christian, missions-oriented, literature-based, and has been around for a long time. It's based on using real books - not textbooks - which I especially love. The Instructor's Guide gives us a roadmap to our days and is so helpful.

For "Morning Time" (the most important first hour of our homeschool day), we are following Sonlight's recommendation and reading from a storybook Bible and practicing that week's memory verse. Liam loves writing it on the chalkboard and reciting it each morning. I also just started reading from Long Story Short, which includes 10-minute family devotionals that are gospel-centered and point back to Jesus (even in the Old Testament). I love it so far. I just ordered the Church History ABCs to add in an introduction to key figures in our church's history throughout the year. And on a weekly basis, we practice the catechism using New City Catechism (the free app is wonderful!). Eventually, I'd love to incorporate some hymn singing during this time.

After that, we move into History and we are using Sonlight Core A (with the level 2 readers). After History, we move on to reading aloud. Liam and Lanie have quickly learned our routine: as soon as I pull out a book that I'm going to read to them, they pull out the art cart (more on that in another post soon). I've filled a small rolling cart with art supplies that I feel comfortable with them using unsupervised. So while I read, they create and work with their hands. They might cut and glue paper, draw a picture with crayons, or glue feathers onto paper. It keeps them quiet and occupied while I read from our stack of read-alouds. This is probably all of our favorite part of the day.

We then grab a snack and move onto science. We are using Sonlight Science A and love it so far. We just completed a unit on weather and I learned so much! I feel like homeschooling is a selfish endeavor (in the best way) because I get to go back to school, too!

Depending on Brooks' nap schedule, we usually take a break for playing outside and prepping lunch. After lunch, while Lanie and Brooks go back down for naps, Liam and I work on Horizons K Math (we also ordered the math manipulatives which Lanie also enjoys using to learn shapes and numbers).

For handwriting, I have him practice for 10 to 15 minutes a day using Handwriting Without Tears K. I ordered the level 1 book as well, knowing he will blaze through this one but still need more practice this year.

For phonics, we have the Explode the Code workbooks 1, 2, and 3. Liam worked his way through the first workbook in about 2 days (oops), but he thinks it's a game and enjoys working through them.

I also encourage Liam to read on his own quite a bit, but I usually don't even need to remind him. He is the most self-motivated learner I've ever met. He reads encyclopedias for fun. He was already reading very well prior to starting Kindergarten, so I feel ahead of the curve and very thankful in that regard. As long as I provide him with plenty of nature books (he's currently obsessed with animals), he could spend hours reading. (For those who are curious, we used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for Liam to learn to read. It worked beautifully!)

For art, I have these art cards (I've yet to incorporate them). I also love these two books for art project ideas:

The Artful Parent by Jean Van't Hul
Art Workshop for Children by Barbara Rucci

Art is something we do regularly anyway so I don't have a set schedule or curriculum. I really just want them to create and explore using good materials and enjoy the process. I'm often reminding myself this is Kindergarten, which takes a lot of pressure off.

For geography, we do very little formally (although the history curriculum does take us around the world to many cultures). I have this 50 States book which has so many fun facts, and we also have a blow-up globe from Dollar Tree that Liam loves. I call out a country and he finds it. Geography... done!

Whew. That sounds like a LOT. But in our day-to-day, it typically takes 2-3 hours or less. We have a lot of free play time, meet up with friends quite a bit, and snuggle up and read for hours. We also do normal house things like cooking and cleaning and laundry. I thought homeschooling would be such a drain on me, but honestly, it's been just the opposite. Having a routine with Liam and Lanie has been life-giving. An answer to prayer.

I've found that one of the most important things is for me to stay filled up and motivated. I've read several books written by homeschool moms that have been so encouraging:

Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
Better Together by Pam Barnhill
Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins
The Unhurried Homeschooler by Durenda Wilson

And two books I'm currently reading:

The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Creating our homeschool space was a labor of love. We put it all together in about a week and it's now our favorite spot in the whole house! I knew it would be so important for me to love being downstairs - we live in a split-level house and the downstairs has not always been my favorite place because it doesn't have a ton of light. We worked on the lighting, found bookshelves from Craigslist and got organized and it is truly an inspiring place now.

I hope this has been helpful! I am happy to answer any questions or to hear other recommendations more experienced homeschool parents might have. Feel free to leave both in the comments!

Lanie Lou.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The first few months of Lanie's life were my hardest as a mom. She wasn't sleeping, didn't nurse well, and rarely smiled... and I took it personally. I told Shawn, "I don't think she likes me" when she'd light up around complete strangers after staring me down all day.

Fast forward through three years and a corrected tongue tie and Lanie and I have a bond I couldn't have dreamed of. She prances around the house just steps behind me and often reminds me, "We're the only girls, Mom... we gotta stick together." We do, my Lou. We sometimes ask her if she's our Prickly Pear, when she's choosy about when and to whom she shows affection. But more and more often, she'll cuddle up in my lap just after she wakes up, her face covered in wavy blonde hair, and nestle into my neck.

Lanie loves makeup and nail polish and wrestling with her brother. The color pink and the most ferocious dinosaurs. Playing tea party and climbing trees. She fills the tiny space between two brothers with brightness and spunk and easily holds her own. She's constantly singing a song and we think she may be our most creative kid.
I knew I'd adore her (and did even when she cried all night long), but had no idea that at three, she'd be just so easy to love. 
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