Congratulations! You made it through your first homeschool week and while you didn’t do it perfectly, you did it. The great news is the first week is always the hardest, and it only gets easier from here.
To help your second week go a little more smoothly, I thought of five more tips I’ve learned the past six years of homeschooling my kiddos. (To see last week’s post and my Top Ten Homeschooling Tips, click here.)
#1 – Preparation is Everything.
As I’m sure you learned from last week, preparing for the week while trying to teach at the same time is like trying to learn how to swim by being thrown in the deep end without wearing any floaties. It feels like drowning more than swimming and at some point, you will end up at the bottom of the pool. The key to a successful week of school at home is the preparation you do before your week starts.
Every weekend, I sit down for an 1 1/2-2 hours to read through lesson plans and on-line teacher notes, print out handouts I will need for the week, and make a list of supplies or materials my kids will need to get their work done. Each child has her own clipboard or notebook where I put all of her lesson plans and handouts she needs for the week. For their sake and my sake, everything is located in one place and saves us searching high and low for that one elusive piece of paper.
While I do all of the reading and printing for my two youngest girls (Kindergarten and 3rd grade), my two oldest girls (5th grade and 7th grade) are responsible to prepare for their week on their own. They read their teachers’ notes and print out all of their own lesson plans and handouts, but I read all of the notes as well and touch base with the girls to make sure we are on the same page about what work needs to be accomplished, projects finished, books read, etc, for the week. As much of a drag as it can be (after all, who wants to think about homeschool on a weekend?!), the time we set aside to prepare for our week helps all of us feel more prepared for the responsibilities ahead.
2. Establish a Morning Routine that Does Not Depend on You.
Trying to get everyone up, dressed, moving, fed, and ready to think deep, intellectual thoughts every morning can feel a little bit like trying to turn around the Titanic – it takes a lot of physical and emotional energy. A few years into homeschooling my girls, I realized I needed to establish a morning routine that did not depend on me to get my people moving. Everyone had to be responsible for herself if I was going to have enough stamina to make it through the day.
This means on homeschool mornings, I do not wake up anyone. My girls are responsible for setting their own alarm clock at night and getting up at a designated time. My little one sleeps in the same room as my big girls, so she wakes up at the same time as her sisters. They know that when their alarm goes off, they are responsible for getting dressed, making their beds, and having their own devotional time with the Lord. If there is still time before breakfast, they can begin their school day routine, which involves reading independently for thirty minutes and practicing the piano. They do not have to wait for me to give them instructions to know what they need to start working on.
This might sound too rigid or strict, but having time to myself in the mornings has absolutely saved my sanity. In a household with four kids, once everyone is awake and moving, any time I have to myself is pretty much null and void. If I want to have time to spend reading my Bible, writing, studying, or doing anything in the realm of being quiet and still, it has to be before I begin my day with the girls. And to their credit, my girls are respectful of this.
- Practically speaking, this meant I bought every child an alarm clock she could easily use. (To see one your child could easily use, click here.) Even for your older children who have cell phones they could use as their alarm, I would encourage them to keep their phones in the kitchen or a common area at night and set an old-fashioned alarm to wake them in the morning. This ensures a good night’s sleep without distracting texts or calls from friends and without the temptation of looking at a screen.
- This also means the first few years we homeschooled, I typed out our morning routine and taped it up in the kitchen where everyone could see it and have easy access to their responsibilities in the morning.
- For my younger children, I highlight on their weekly lesson plans the things they can work on without mom being right there to help them. Again, this ensures the start of their day does not depend on me. This also ensures that if something comes up in the morning I have to take of, they are not waiting around on me to begin their day.
3. Make One Meal a Day a YOYO Meal.
If you don’t want to feel like a cafeteria lady or short order cook in a diner, tell your kids one meal a day is a YOYO meal: You’re On Your Own (I will be eternally thankful to Susan Ertan for introducing me to this term).
In our house, my girls are responsible for making their own lunches (everyone except for Mia Grace; the older girls take turns preparing her meal). When I first implemented this, my two oldest girls were probably in 2nd and 4th grade, and I thought they would think I was introducing them to cruel and unusual punishment. But to my utter shock, they started jumping up and down in excitement: “You mean we get to fix our lunches by ourselves?!” Wow. I should have started that sooner. Fixing their own lunch gave them a sense of independence and helped them feel very grown up about their day. Certain rules applied: like you can only have one bag of chips and something green or carrot-like must be included on your plate. But one YOYO meal a day preserved sanity for me in the kitchen and a feeling of independence for them.
4. Turn Negative Complaining into Joy
Maybe it’s just my house, but with five women under one roof, negative complaints and comments abound. And I can be just as bad as my girls. Not only am I making negative remarks on my own, but I nagging everyone else about their negativity and only making matters worse. In January, I grew so tired of my own complaining, I made a jar and put it in the kitchen where everyone could see:
Philippians 2:14-15 is taped on the outside of the container: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”
Everyone has their own color pompom, and any time anyone makes a negative remark, she has to put a pompom in the jar. At the end of every month, whoever has the fewest number of pompoms gets cold hard cash. Say whatever you want to say about bribery, but the atmosphere in our home has changed dramatically. More than anything, the thought of putting a pompom in the jar catches us in our speech and helps to hold us accountable with our words.
A word of warning, though, to the wise: one of the rules of the jar has to be that you are responsible for your own negative comments. Siblings cannot put a pompom in the jar on behalf of another sibling. If they do, they have to put one in for themselves as well. This, too, is a YOYO-NC kind of jar: You’re On Your Own for Negative Comments.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Don’t be afraid to insert humor into your day.
Write your spelling words with a tiger mask on:
Have a pajama party and serve popcorn for lunch (or keep it a YOYO meal and have your kids serve themselves popcorn for lunch).
When your Kindergartner has a story in her reader like this one, go ahead and laugh and wonder out loud, “What the heck are we teaching are kids?!”
Practice phonograms in shaving cream on an outside table or while doing jumping jacks on the trampoline or in the yard.
But whatever you do, keep laughter an essential ingredient in your homeschool day.
Remember, just like last week, the goal is connection, not perfection. At the end of the day, if your kid sticks her finger in a light socket, has popcorn for lunch, and wears her pajamas and a tiger mask all day while laughing a lot and learning a few things along the way, you can rest assured the day has been a good one. In twenty years, they might not remember how to carry the one, but they will remember a momma who pressed in and held her home with love when the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart.
"The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms."
As you hold your home this week, may you feel God's arms underneath, holding you in His love.
Six years ago, my family and I decided to immerse ourselves in a homeschool model. My girls go to school on campus two days a week and are homeschooled the remaining three week days. But notice I said I “decided.” Homeschool was a choice my husband and I intentionally made together. But thanks to Corona (or “Rona” as we call it in our house), homeschool is now not a choice but a mandatory part of many families’ everyday routine. Can I just take a moment to rub my hands gleefully together and say, “Welcome to the jungle!!!” In the brave and immortal words of my next-door-neighbor who has two school-aged children, “If you need me before April 10th, just look for me at the bottom of my pool.” If this is how you are feeling, these tips are for you. I’ve learned a few things over the past six years that might help in your everyday routine over the next few weeks.
Two things you need to know up front before you start your Distance Learning Plan: yes, having your children home for school will be as hard as you think it will be. Go ahead and set aside funds for counseling for everyone in your household, for yourself first and foremost.
But having your children home for school will also be better and sweeter than you have imagined it to be. Not only will you learn things about yourself as a teacher and a mom, but you will learn things about your kids – good things, beautiful things, things that make them unique and individual – you would never know unless you had the opportunity to be home together and learn how to do this thing called “school.”
So here we go: ten tips to get your DLP off to a good start:
#1 – Make a plan and stick to it.
Decide what time you want to start school every day and finish school every day. I do NOT do well with dragging our homeschool routine into the late hours of the day and afternoon. Having clearly defined boundaries for everyone in your household will be extremely helpful and will keep your house a home first and a school room second. You can even say something like, “I will be available to you between the hours of 9am-3pm. If you choose not to get your work done during that time, then you are on your own.”
#2 – Create intentional homeschool space.
I learned early on I do not do well with books, papers, and supplies strewn all over my house, so gather the supplies you will most often need and store them in a basket – scissors, tape, glue, pencils, dry erase markers, etc. Then sit down at a designated table and do school together. If you have older kids who work independently, have them pick a space where they feel most comfortable working but that is also in earshot of you and the rest of the family. This creates family community (and the ability for you to make sure they are actually working and not on their phones all day) but also gives kids a sense of independence. Once school is over, pick up your supplies and books for the day and put them out of sight from where you do life as a family. Keeping the perspective that school work is part of your day but not all of your day is extremely helpful for you and your kids.
#3 – Start with school day together with a short, simple Bible reading and prayer.
I know this sounds crazy, but everything in you will resist doing this as a family together. Every morning you will think, “I don’t need to do this today,” or “We don’t have time to do this today.” But I have learned how you start together sets the trajectory for how you finish together. Don’t worry if you don’t feel equipped to lead your family in this way. You will learn how to do this as you do it. Pick a Psalm, Proverb, or chapter of Scripture to read together, and let your kids take turns reading out loud. They love to do this, and it helps them engage with God’s Word on a personal level. Then pick a few things from the chapter to discuss or talk about that have relevance for their lives or their day, or read from a short devotional book or online resource you trust. Then pray for your children’s day. Let them hear you pray out loud over them. They soak up your prayers like a sponge, whether they admit it or not. Starting your day this way does not guarantee a sin-free, frustration-free, argument-free household. Far from it. But it does remind them and you of who is in control and of whose words will remain when all other words fail, yours included.
#4 – Set up block scheduling with each child.
When homeschooling multiple children, it’s easy to feel more like a circus ring manager than an actual teacher. Create a schedule where each child gets your undivided attention to work on the subjects where she needs your help. Your other kids have to know that if they have a question for you during the time you are working with another child, they will have to wait. You will have to remind them of this about ten times a day, but they CAN actually wait for your attention without shriveling up and perishing on your living room floor. If their questions for you become a free for all, no one will get anything done and you won’t be able to remember simple facts like your name or what you ate for breakfast by the end of the day.
#5 – The subjects that make you want to cuss or punch a hole in your wall, hand off to someone else.
As my oldest daughter reminded me the other day, “Mom, please don’t try to help me with physics. We will end up in a cat fight and pull each other’s hair out.” Ahem, right. I hated math and physics in junior high and high school, and guess what? I still hate them now. Maybe now more than ever when I have to try to explain it to someone else. I have learned the hard way there are certain subjects I just cannot do with certain children. Sometimes it’s the subject; sometimes it’s the child. But if trying to explain algebra, physics, or composition causes you to see red and roar in anger like the Incredible Hulk, walk away. Your child can get help from someone else who has the patience of Job or actually likes the subject. This is what tutors, grandparents, aunts and uncles, math-savvy friends, and FaceTime is for.
#6 – Motivate through reward.
My natural bent is to motivate through discipline, not reward. We can analyze that later, but suffice it to say, telling your child, “If you can’t remember your phonograms, you are going to have a consequence” just doesn’t work very well. My oldest daughter snapped to it at the mere mention of a consequence, but my youngest daughter gagged. So there you have it. When gagging over phonograms ensued, I had to rethink my methods.
So I’ve learned to motivate through reward. This is where the large bag of M&M’s comes in handy, especially with younger children. For every phonogram, or math fact, or spelling word (or whatever it is they are working on) they can remember, they get to put a tally mark on a white board or sheet of paper. At the end of the subject, they get to count their tally marks and get the corresponding number of M&M’s, or pieces of popcorn, or whatever it is you have decided is a worthwhile motivator. It’s amazing how much my daughter learned and retained when candy was involved.
#7 – Use a timer.
Slow poke children can drive you to the point of insanity. Here’s what I learned: set a timer for certain subjects. If math is supposed to take them thirty or forty-five minutes, help them get started, set the timer for an appropriate amount of time, then walk away. It’s amazing how having a time limit can help motivate children to get through a subject. And if the subject is still taking them crazy amounts of time, this helps you know your child might be legitimately struggling with a certain concept or subject. This enables you to then get them the help they need or have a conversation with a teacher to see what adjustments can be made.
#8 – Determine consequences ahead of time.
This sounds negative, but it is actually super positive. With four children at home all day, I can quickly feel like my role as mom or teacher becomes referee or disciplinarian. At 9am, my responses to a bad mood or a snarky remark to a sibling can be pretty rational. But by 3pm, if someone looks at me the wrong way, I can hear myself yelling, “That’s it! You’re grounded for a month and have no screen privileges for the rest of your living days!” I’ve lost credibility in their eyes and in mine. So this year before school started, I tried something new. I thought through typical hot spots in our day and reasonable consequences that should follow them. I even typed them out and put them in a place in our kitchen that was easily accessible. So when it’s 3pm, and someone makes a rude comment to a sibling for the 100th time that day, instead of exploding like a nuclear reactor, I simply look at my sheet and give a calm response. (This is in theory, mind you. There are still times I have a nuclear reaction.) Consequences can be anything from a loss of screen time, to a lap around the block (it’s amazing what big body movements do to calm and refocus), to extra chore time. But the point is this: they are thoughtful, not reactive and helpful, not punitive. They are helpful in getting everyone’s hearts, attitudes, and spirits back to where they need to be, my own included.
#9 – Practice social distancing with your children.
Homeschooling your children takes a tremendous outpouring of mental, emotional, and creative energy, so after being together all day on a homeschool day, I have to take time for personal space. Sometimes this means I will go up to my room for forty minutes to read or take a nap. Sometimes this means I will go on a run or walk by myself. I don’t even take our dog; I need an hour of solitude where nothing is pulling on me. But my children have learned that during this time to let mom have her space so that she can come be a human being again for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
#10 – Your goal is relationship, not the grade.
The goal for these next few weeks is not for your children to make or maintain a certain grade. Your goal is deepened relationship with them. You are their mom first, then their teacher, and your children’s grade is a reflection of their work, not yours. I have to remind myself continually, “I have already done 7th grade, or 5th grade, or 3rd grade, or Kindergarten; this is my child’s work, my child’s life, my child’s responses and decisions, not mine.” The best learning happens as I learn how to release my own grip and watch my children learn how to use their own.
Just know this, Mommas – “You got this.” Not because you are so smart and so capable and so prepared to be a teacher but because God made you specifically to be your child’s mom. And through this time of uncertainty, at the end of the day, that’s what your kiddos need – their mom. They need your love, your prayers, your peace, your snuggles, your time – and that is precisely what you know how to give and what to do. Anyone can teach them physics or phonograms, but they only have one mom, and that’s you. So step into that role with confidence, and the rest will come.
Last week was our first week of starting back to school. (I know, I know – the rest of the world has been back in school since July. Trust me – I was counting down the days until I could wave good-bye to everyone at 8am. I tried not to look too gleeful as I dropped them off in their classrooms last Wednesday morning with the knowledge I wouldn’t see their knee-highed legs again until 3:30pm that afternoon.)
It was a “soft start” kind of a week since they were only in school for half the week. We go to a school where my kids attend school on campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I home school them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are “free days”, where good home school moms take their kids to places like museums, historical markers, and the original log cabin where Laura Ingalls grew up. By Friday, I am usually laying on the couch in a comatose state attempting to take a four hour nap while my kids are left to entertain themselves in the house with art projects left over from the summer. I am in full support of Jessica Trozzo’s statement, my friend and fellow homeschooling mom, that “our kids have really fun lives; I don’t feel the need to entertain them every Friday.” At least, that’s how I comfort myself when I lay down on the couch on Fridays.
Anywho, last Thursday was our first home school day and Friday was “free.”
So this week is official – we are really back in school. Yesterday was our first Tuesday home day, and I have to be honest, I had forgotten from last year what long days Tuesday are. Thursdays we have a little more breathing room. If we didn’t have time to fit Grammar in, or we forgot about Science, we can squeeze it in over the weekend. But there is no squeezing on a Tuesday; everything has to be crammed in to be turned in and ready to go for a campus school day on Wednesday. And by yesterday evening, when Jason walked in the door, I didn’t even have words left to tell him how the day was. All of my words had been used up by 3pm, and all that was left was silence or an occasional grunt.
I wish by the end of the day on Tuesdays I felt tired like I had run a really good race or completed a really good workout. But it’s not that kind of tired. It’s a tired like someone has taken me to a woodshed out in the backyard, laid me over their knees, and given me a good, sound spanking. I know that might sound strange, but to put it another way, at the end of a Tuesday, I never feel like, “Wow, that was a hard day but it was a GREAT day! I just excelled in my role as a mom; what a fabulous mom I must be!” It’s more like, “Wow, I can’t believe I blew it THAT MANY TIMES IN ONE DAY.” And if I have any words left, there are usually spent in saying “I’m sorry,” as in “I’m sorry for yelling when you dropped your peanut butter and jelly sandwich on our newly washed rug.” Or “I’m sorry for yelling when I was reading to you about the planets and you lunged for our cat so you could play with her and act like I wasn’t doing my best to educate your brain about Pluto (which isn’t even a planet anymore, by the way, according to a vote by some astronomical board! I felt robbed, cheated of my knowledge of the planet line ups when I was in third grade. I always felt like Pluto was nice little dot at the end.)” And “I’m sorry when you whined for the hundredth time about having to learn to write the letter “A”, I told you if you did that again, you would spent the rest of your life in time out because this is simply part of pre-K; I already finished pre-K and know how to write my letter A’s.”
Are you getting the picture? We’re not exactly the Brady Bunch over here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I feel more like a circus master running a four ring circus.
It doesn’t help, either, that I am teaching Sunday School for the first time on Sunday since getting back from China. Which means every morning at 5am I drag myself out of bed and stumble downstairs to sip on a cup of coffee while I try to put coherent thoughts about the Bible together in my brain and on paper. I love trying to put coherent thoughts about the Bible together; what’s tough about teaching, particularly this week, is that to teach a good lesson, you have to live a good lesson. You have to hold your own life up under the bright light of the Word of God and let it convict, challenge, and change you if you don’t want to be a hypocrite when you stand up there on Sunday morning.
All that to say, this week’s lesson has been particularly challenging because it’s on the parable of “The Great Banquet” that Jesus tells at a dinner party in Luke 14:16-24. I always find the toughest, most challenging lessons to teach are on the words of Jesus Himself. His words are just so – hard. And difficult to understand. And I always find myself so lacking underneath the weight of the words of this God-Man who came and flipped the world upside down with His justice, mercy, love, and grace. Particularly during a season when I am struggling to give grace to my kids, much less to a waiting, hurting, groaning world.
I won’t go into all the details of the parable, but what has given me hope this home school week are the three groups of people invited to the banquet Jesus outlines in Luke 14. The first group represent the religious elite, the people who sit in the pews, who know the Word of God backwards and forwards, who have grown up in church, but do not know Jesus Himself. They are hell-bent on making their own rules and regulations to the Great Feast and Table of the Lord, and Jesus, with all of His grace, is messing up their guest list. With tax collectors like Zaccheus. Prostitutes like Mary Magdelene. Blind beggars like Bartimaeus, truth seekers like Nicodemus, blue-collar, uneducated fisherman like Peter and demon-possessed Gentiles like the man from Gerasene.
Not only do they dislike Jesus, but they are doing everything in their power to completely stop the banquet from even taking place. So they refuse to come. No show at the last minute in a deliberate attempt to publicly humiliate the host and bring him shame and dishonor.
So how does the Host respond? Does He go out and wreak havoc on all of those who have rejected His invitation to His table? Quite the opposite. In the words of Kenneth Bailey, “The host reprocesses his anger into grace” and begins to invite to his banquet all those who could never pay him back. He tells his slave, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” This second group of invitees represented the lost sheep of Israel that Jesus came to seek and to save, but it also represents you and me. It represents all those who are outcasts and who have been on the outskirts their whole lives but now, according to the lavish mercy and grace of God, have been invited in. I know because I have one of these invitees who sits at my table on a daily basis. She has black hair and brown eyes and the cutest little dimple over her right cheek you have ever seen.
She is a daily reminder to me of GRACE. Of the grace that sits at our table and the grace that is the only ticket to sit at the table to come. And her story of being outcast, abandoned, forsaken, and then brought in to a family and to a table is a reminder to me of all of our stories. Sometimes, though, it’s easy for me to forget my story and my need for an invitation in. Because let me tell you, more times than not, I am in the first group. The religious group. The group that thinks I have no need of the Savior’s table or can make up my own rules and set my own table. And then Jesus’ grace undoes me and I move from outside the door to take my place at the table with all of the rest of the broken invitees. I know that once I yielded to Christ as Lord I have never lost my place at His table, but I sure do have the tendency to get up and move around at lot.
Yesterday, I took Mia Grace to a long time friend and gifted photographer to have her picture taken, an official portrait for the Baker Girl Wall of Fame. Cindy had never met Mia Grace but was well aware of her story and how long we had waited to bring her home. As soon as she saw her, she started to weep. And throughout the photo session she wept. After every few pictures, she had to put her camera down to wipe away her tears.
I have discovered that Mia Grace has this effect on people. In the midst of our everyday, day-to-day, rat race and craziness, Mia Grace is this burst of…grace. A reminder of our invitation to the table. A reminder that we, too, are invited in. To sit down. To pull up a chair. To be called family. To know and be known. And to feast. Not in spite of our brokenness, but because of our brokenness. And because of the Host who died to make us whole.
So today, whoever you are, whatever your brokenness looks like, whatever your past or present, and wherever you’ve been, keep the feast, accept the invitation, and sit down. You have a Savior who is waiting.
I work so hard to create perfect circumstances. In fact, if home school has taught me one thing about myself, it may be just that. I really like perfection and work hard to achieve perfection, whatever the circumstances. But funny thing: the harder I have worked the past six weeks to achieve perfection – the “perfect” home school schedule, the “perfect” tone of voice, the “perfect” home school day, free of distractions – the more chaos seems to ensue.
Last Tuesday, after staying up until midnight on Monday, tabbing all of my lessons, preparing all our books and supplies, re-thinking and re-writing all of schedules, I had the Worst. Day. Ever. Interruption after interruption occurred. I think four different workmen showed up at my house at varying points throughout the day. Everything took twice as long as it should have. And my patience was worn thin as a sheet because of all the chaos around me.
By the time I climbed into bed on Tuesday night, I not only ached in my body, but in soul as well.
“After all my attempts at perfection, Lord, home school is still hard; circumstances are still tough. I. Give. Up.”
And in His small, quiet, whisper of a way, the Lord responded: “Good. I’ve been waiting for you to say that. Because perfect circumstances are not the goal, but a quiet, contented heart is.”
The next morning I got up, went straight to the school room, and wrote on our chalkboard, “God is not looking for perfect circumstances; He is looking for a contented heart whatever the circumstances.”
Ever been there? Ever been knee deep in uncontrollable circumstances, and your immediate response is to try to control? To attempt to wrangle, enforce, and subdue perfection, while missing out on the joy of the holy journey all around you?
My husband is fond of reminding me of a sermon point from Tim Keller, one of our favorite pastors: To seek perfection is to seek an illusion. Because who, among those of us who actually do achieve perfection, even if it’s only for a moment, has the power to actually keep it there?
Accidents happen. Chaos happens. Life happens.
This side of heaven, perfection cannot be our goal. But a contented heart, no matter what uncontrollable circumstances arise, can be.
As the Lord would have it, last Friday I was scheduled to teach at a local Biblestudy for moms, and the passage I was asked to teach on was Luke 10:38-42, learning to have a Mary-type heart in a Martha-type world.
Martha was the ultimate perfection seeker. She sought the perfect meal, the perfect help, the perfect rhythm when Jesus came to dine at her house. But Mary. Mary chose the Perfect One over the perfect meal. Mary chose to sit at the Perfect Feet instead of setting the perfect table. Mary chose to calm the chaos inside of her rather than trying to take on the chaos surrounding her by focusing on the Only Non-Chaotic One.
And Jesus’ commentary on her will forever be burned on my heart: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
While Martha chose to allow things to hold her attention that were here one day and gone the next: the pot that boils over, the table that will need to cleared, the food that will have to be prepared tomorrow as well, Mary chose that which could never be taken away from her.
Anything I choose to spend my time on other than Christ Himself and a Christ-centered, contented heart among chaotic circumstances will be taken away from me. Meals have to be prepared again. The house will resort to chaos and messiness as soon as my children step foot in the door. The errands I run and things I check off my to do list will still be there tomorrow. My inbox will always be full.
But the time I spend at Jesus’ feet will reap eternal reward. It is a deposit for whatever is to come. Things I do not know in my finite, limited understanding, but He does.
So this week, while the quote isn’t on my chalkboard anymore, the principle is written on my heart. Perfect circumstances are not my goal (ok, let’s be honest – they sort of are, but I am working on it, really I am); but Christ is. A contented heart sitting quietly and attentively at His Feet is. No matter the circumstances. No matter the chaos. And at the end of the day, I will have chosen what cannot be taken away from me. Even if my perfect schedule was.
I’ve been doing a lot of sitting lately. I sit two days to three days a week in a chair at our home school table to teach my children. I sit in my car to drive them to and fro from after-school activities. I sit to eat meals with my family (we are together a lot these days), and I sit at sporadic moments throughout the week to visit with friends or family members.
But there’s another kind of sitting I’ve been doing, another kind of chair I’ve been sitting in. I’ve been sitting in the chair of confession.
Every morning as I make my way to sit in my chair in my study with my cup of coffee in one hand and my Bible in the other hand and I begin to settle in before the presence of the Lord, I begin to confess.
And there is quite a lot to confess to confess these days. Home school has a way of bringing out the very best sinner in me. The tone I use with my children. The impatience that edges in when certain subjects are taking too long. The self-pity that worms its way into my heart when days are tough and the road at home seems never-ending. The covetousness that creeps in of other people’s schedules, other people’s kids, other people’s seasons. The slander that slips through my lips under the guise of getting advice. The lies I tell to myself about myself to make myself feel better.
While sitting in my chair of confession, words like hypocrite, liar, slanderer, murderer, and idolater tumble from my lips to the listening ear of the Lord instead of my usual church words like holy, wise, patient, kind, humble, and sincere.
That’s what Home School has done for me so far this Fall. It has stripped away the outer veneer of “great mom, good wife, wise daughter, faithful friend” and showed me, instead, the true color of my heart. I have learned, to a greater degree, who I really am and not who I most often pretend or want to be.
But can I tell you something? I needed some stripping. I needed to take a good, honest look at myself and not the usual half-hearted, fingers crossed, wish-upon-a-star glance I usually take in the mirror.
And what I have found is that in the chair of confession, true freedom and liberation comes each and every morning. Because what I have found is the more honest I am about my sinful self, the more fully I can hold onto and believe my true self. The person God tells me I am in the pages of Scripture.
Just look at the character of Jacob in Genesis 32. The ultimate post-modern man stuck in ancient Hebrew sandals, Jacob wrestles with God, for a different kind of identity than the one he has been stuck with his entire life. Jacob was a deceiver, a liar, a cheat, a hypocrite, a spiritual failure in every sense of the word, and he spent his life on the run, looking for an identity and a blessing that went beyond what he actually deserved.
So when a stranger attacks him in the middle of the night and wrestles with him by the River Jabbok until the break of day, Jacob instinctively knows this wrestling match isn’t about getting new strength. This wrestling match is about getting a new name. And his opponent isn’t a mere man; it is God Himself.
“Then the stranger said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So the stranger said to Jacob, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ And the stranger said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:26-27).
Before the wrestling match ends and the blessing begins, the stranger, God Himself, asks Jacob a question: “What is your name?” God knew the answer to that question; He just wanted to make sure Jacob did as well.
The Hebrew word for “Jacob” means “heel-catcher, supplanter, deceiver.” So in giving his name, Jacob is not only naming himself, he is confessing, before the face of God, who he really is: heel-catcher, brother-betrayer, father-deceiver, liar, hypocrite, cowardly runner.
And this is the moment God says, “Now you are ready to hear who you really are: you have always been one man on the run, searching for a purpose, searching for significance, hungry for greatness. So say good-bye to Jacob. Your new name is Israel: a nation of many men, destined for greatness, primed for significance; a nation who will give the earth her Savior, One who will change the identity of all those who wrestle, confess, and believe that He is Lord.”
I looked up the definition of confess the other day, and it means this: “to agree together with God or one’s own conscience, and to externalize that which is inside of one’s self; to profess, express in agreement with, to confess as the truth.”
I don’t know how much sitting you’ve been doing lately. Maybe you spend most of your days on the run, on your feet, wishing you had a chair near by to collapse into more often.
I can’t necessarily recommend doing more sitting in the physical realm; personally, I think it’s good to be on one’s feet. But I can recommend doing some sitting in the spiritual realm.
Because it is only when I confess, it is only when I externalize that which is inside of myself, it is only when I come into agreement with God about who I really am and what I have really done that I am free to receive and accept who He tells me I am in His Word:
• Yes, I am a hypocrite, but when I confess, I am free to step into the truth and live in the light instead of cowering in the darkness.
• Yes, I am an idolater, but when I confess, I am free to hear the word and feel the embrace of “daughter,” one He died to save and who He will never let go.
• Yes, I am a slanderer, but when I confess, I am free to wash my lips clean and embrace the identity as “healer,” healing first my heart and then the one whom I hurt with my words.
So today, or tomorrow, get up a little earlier or stay up a little later and sit in the chair of confession before a good God who is waiting to trade the old identity for the new. All He is waiting to hear is…your confession.
Something has happened to our family. We haven’t boarded an airplane or stepped foot on foreign soil. But it darn sure feels like it. It feels like it when my girls come downstairs dressed for school, and they head to the Mud Room to put on their navy rubber soled shoes and knee high socks. It feels like it when I stuff every single text book known to man into their backpacks, and Lillian walks around with a bent over back in order to carry it all. It feels like it on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when instead of heading out the door for school, the girls are sitting in shorts and t-shirts at our kitchen island, waiting for me to orchestrate our school day. And it feels like it on “Fun Fridays” when the whole day looms before me, and instead of doing something “fun” like all the other home school parents promised, we catch up on Grammar and Bible, and I lay comatose on the couch in my study for several hours.
No, we haven’t stepped foot in a foreign country, but it certainly feels like it.
We have entered the country of Home School.
And I have to keep reminding myself what it feels like to step foot in an actual foreign country. When you make your airline reservations and plan your itinerary, everything sounds so romantic, so foreign, so different, so wonderfully other than.
And then you get there. The romantic aspect of foreign travel wears off quickly, and instead of enjoying your destination, you realize you’ve over packed after promising your husband you would never would do that again; you’re lugging all of your heavy bags from one place to another and spending all of your time sweating, unpacking, and re-packing, and you catch yourself thinking, “What in the world was I thinking bringing all five of us to this country? Next year, we aren’t going anywhere. All I want to do is go home.”
The language is different, and although you may both be speaking something called “English,” you realize after you told someone you really like their pants, what they heard you say is that you really like their underwear. The hotel rooms are inevitably way too small to comfortably fit a family of five. The food is untouchable, uneatable, and when you go to the grocery store to buy a pound of ground beef for something like tacos, they tell you, “No, we don’t have ground beef; but we do have minced mutton.” Gross.
And everything operates under a different set of rules. It so happens that there are rules for everything; except you don’t know what the rules are…until you break one of them. Don’t walk on the grass, don’t get too near the cliffs, don’t drive on the right side of the road, don’t talk in too loud of a voice, and don’t be overly friendly in public places. And to make matters worse, you have to learn all the rules and adjust to all the newness while under the influence of jet lag, which makes one feel the equivalent of a slug stuck in jello.
That pretty much sums up Home School.
The leggings are too tight, the confines of our home too small, math is done on an abacus (seriously?), I am so tired from staying up late to flag my lessons for the next day that I constantly feel like a slug in jello, we seem to learn the rules of the classroom only by breaking them (as in, trying to do math with Lillian and Science with Lizzie at the same time does not work), and I am having to learn a completely different language: a language that begins with the letter P and ends with the letter E: the language of PATIENCE. My kids are now so accustomed to me apologizing for something I said or the way in which I said it that they see me coming into our school room and simply say, “It’s ok, mom, I forgive you.”
Home School. What in the world was I thinking?
But I have to remind myself – travel to a foreign country doesn’t mean total ease; it means slow adjustment. It doesn’t mean jet lag lasts forever; it means every day is a little better than the day before it. It doesn’t mean you have to see every castle and historical landmark in the first few days you are there; it means slow down, enjoy the view, and trust there are enough days in the trip to see what you need to see. It doesn’t necessarily mean the tight boundaries or lines are going to disappear; it means you have to adjust and learn to live within the boundaries you have been given.
And it does mean, remember why you travelled here in the first place. It wasn’t for the food; it wasn’t for the plush accommodations; it certainly wasn’t for the extra sleep. It was for the extra time with your family; it was for the opportunity to learn things you never would have learned by staying in your native country; and it was to learn how to speak a new language, one that is good and necessary for your soul.
There always comes a moment during overseas travel when the hedges part, the skies clear, the cliffs and the sea come into view, your children laugh, and all the effort of the trip is tasted in the sweet bite of the fruit of that moment.
I am still waiting for that moment on our present journey, but I am believing it will come as I wait with patience, trusting a good God who does all things well, and has called us to this country called Home School. And on the days I don’t remember exactly why I booked the tickets, He definitely does.