Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On how I've been learning to thrive in the midst of a hard season- it includes lots of books ;)

2016, it's been straight up hard. The New Year seemed to ring in non stop stress, tensions, sickness, death and difficulties. I don't hesitate to say it's been the hardest year of our lives, to date.  We've had some challenging seasons, to be sure, but they were always short lived enough to be remedied by a good family vacation or just some quiet time of respite. But this time the conflicts just keep piling up, there is no clear resolution to so many of the circumstances. It feels like there is a burden weighing down my heart, my days with all that has gone awry in my little (and the whole) world.  

So many of my people are going thru debilitating trials and reoccurring struggles and I feel powerless to do a thing about it.I don't have the resources or the answers to fix it all, even if I do have the heartfelt desire. But I know I won't leave the people I care for to go it alone, so I come up alongside them and do what I can to carry the weight of all that life throws their way. It is a privilege to be able to be in the trenches of life with people that I love but I have to admit, it's also incredibly draining and discouraging some days. This introvert seems to literally shut down when enough social stimuli is stacked against me. On a good day, I have an appreciation for my need for introspective quiet time but when needs are high and life is at a breakneck speed, I have dreams of being a self sufficient extrovert. But thankfully, I've found that God and those people closest to me have more grace with me than I have for myself. 

I guess all this to say, I feel I haven't had a lot to offer in the fresh insights and creative beauty department here lately. It's been a lot of survival mode and trying to remind others (and mostly myself) that God works all things for the good of those who love Him.  I feel like a bit of hypocrite to throw an Instagram filter on a couple of bright spots in an otherwise bleak season and call it "My Life". But honestly, looking at life thru rose colored glasses has proven to actually be a healthy coping mechanism of sorts for me. I won't deny the hard and ugly stuff but I have to keep looking for lovely moments too. The stark contrast between the beauty this world has to offer and the hard, horrible realities that make up such a large majority of this life are so very hard for me to reconcile. I don't want to be living with my head in the clouds and avoid calling hardships what they are, but I can not lose focus from the little miracles that I have fought hard to find in even the mundane of this life either. I don't need an easy life- less needs, more leisure- because I know I'm better for the hard, but I thrive off of the little bright spots- whether they come naturally or I have to create them.

Summer hasn't brought the otherworldly, magical respite that I have come to count on it for. Here we are half way thru July and we've had longer, sunshiny days but I haven't felt the anticipated shift into summer vacation mode. My garden beds are neglected yet all that green continues to grow. The calendar days just keep ticking away even if I don't fill them with days on the river bank or nights around the campfire. I've come to find myself frequently telling my oldest, "Time doesn't pause to wait for you." Ok, it's definitely not a very catchy maxim but it gets the point across to him that while he mopes around his room trying to put off the dreaded job of cleaning it he is also wasting away his opportunities for what he does want to do. Time doesn't wait for me to feel ready for it, it just keeps on. So I do have to grab ahold of the chances for the seasons' joy, but I need to be able to realize what is worth sacrificing some of my "wants" for this season-people. Dear, hurting fellow human beings are worth it. 

 Maintaining some semblance of intellectual forward movement is an important factor in keeping me sane and grounded in the midst of the continuous chaos. while official "school" hasn't been a big priority during these summer months making some intentional time at least reading books with my boys has been a sure way to maintain some good bonding time with them. We are working our way thru the My Father's Dragon series and Chronicles of Narnia as our core read alouds and thoroughly enjoying them.  The Read Around The World Book Club has been a true blessing to our summer! It is the perfect structured, yet low fuss "plan" to read some truly wonderful living books and introduce your children to the world at the same time. I feel confident that while we are reading beautiful stories about lives around the world my boys will come away from this summer with fun memories and a foundation in world geography. We're currently enjoying reading our way around Europe. So far, we have touched on the idea of "multicultural"-we got used to the idea of the different continents on the globe and time zones. I found the perfect supplemental project from the Barefoot Books website- a read around the world passport. It has been the perfect way to keep track of where we have "been" and our favorite books along the journey.

Then we moved on to read thru Africa; what a collection of fun and educational books! For You are a Kenyan Child and Papa do You love Me? were two of of the boys favorite picks. Anna Hibiscus is an adorable and quick to read chapter book that we ate up in a couple of days! Mama's top read was Mama Panya's Pancakes. I love Barefoot Books, they combine wonderful stories with so much extra educational content. This book even had a recipe for "Kenyan Pancakes" (pancakes with red chili pepper flakes and cardamom) that piqued our interest. The boys were brave enough to give it a try and declared it surprisingly good and I thought they were delicious!

I enjoy keeping my eyes open for and continually researching homeschool philosophies and curriculum for the new year and beyond. My oldest will most likely be starting his first "official" school year that will require through planning and some record keeping- not my strong point! I like the idea of Pam Barnhill's  Plan Your Homeschool Year or Raising Clovers Ultimate Homeschool Organization Course.  Maybe August will mean the back to school motivation to take on one of these helpful courses to set up my personalized school year agenda. I have come to realize I love so many aspects of so many different programs and styles that I will most likely just be piecing together my own curriculum. Hopefully this fall I can share with you all what exactly that looks like for this coming year! I also took an afternoon to read thru and plan with Pam Barnhill's Your Morning Basket guide this spring. I set up a template that worked really well for us until summer hit us hard, but I'm excited to implement a "morning time" again in the fall. We all- Mama and little boys- really relished that daily dose of truth and yes, even beauty ;) 

  During their Independence Day sale, I finally picked up a Preschool program I've been eyeing for awhile now for my Middle Boy, A Year of Playing Skillfully. I am pretty excited about this open ended, yet well rounded "wonder based" preschool curriculum. I really appreciate the approach of intentional play to develop kids'  skills across the board. My Middle Boy is such a hands on explorer of a learner-I really think this will be a great fit for him! And this mama is not so great naturally at coming up with or making those sensory type learning opportunities happen on my own so I think having a gently scheduled plan will be great for me as well! I hope to be sharing about this new preschool venture as we go as well.

 As for my personal goals and simple pleasures for this summer, it's mostly comprised of my ever growing "to read" book pile. I wish I could say I was doing some super deep and mind stretching challenge such as this book list from Summit at Oxford. Whoa, what a broad and rich feast of theological and worldview stud they are offering there? Some day, some day... For now, my stack may not be quite as impressive content wise as these, but it is fairly varied and pretty darn thick. My books offer me the stimulation to keep my mind growing and my perspective above the drama and energy draining busyness of the day to day. So, in the coming weeks of summer you will most likely find me working my way thru my summer reading list and sharing some of the highlights with you all. I have a bible study I feel will be a true help to my spiritual state this summer and hopefully yours as well! A fun and quirky fiction read that I got sucked right into. An informative, yet harrowing account of ISIS's effect on our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. 

I think (I hope) my boys will remember this summer as a season of warm, unstructured days full of squirt gun fights, a trampoline for acrobatics, and lots of time for imaginative play. I will remember the heart aches and struggles and feeling like I was surely letting my kids down while trying to be an available and present help to others. But I hope they remember Fourth of July fireworks, blueberry picking and lots of living room camp outs. I hope they remember parents who saw the importance of some sacrifice to walk through trials with friends, yet tried their hardest to find intentional moments to share some simple joys with their children too. Maybe there will never be a true balance to be found in this life, but I'm going to keep trying my hardest to walk through the hard and stop to notice the good along the way.

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