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Highs, Lows and Frozen Toes

Ahhh February… the month that always goes by the fastest but feels the longest. This month was a crazy one in our homeschooling family of seven. Commence photo journal!

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On the upside, we’ve had many pleasant days: quiet afternoons reading books, random coffee times with our wonderful neighbors, family days building extravagant snow forts (wood stove included) and playing “to bean to bean” with the kiddos (our youngests made up version of Bonanza), brunch outings with great friends, skating with Emerson for the very first time, movie nights, and a last minute surprise date that brought joy to my heart!

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Homeschool has relaxed quite a bit from our push in fall. We are on schedule and lazy about our days. My tight grip on what “needs” to get done has lightened. The complaints of the kids are met with grace and a lightened load. School often looks goofy and unprofessional, like this:

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We have also spent many extra hours in front of screens, which I plan to put an end to by the end of the month! (But they are so cute, huddled together, wasting all sorts of precious time…hey at least there’s no fighting!!)

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And another highlight, my BABY turned 4!!! Where has the time gone?!? I still remember having 2 in diapers while trying to homeschool and deal with a VERY demanding toddler! Now those sleepless nights and physically draining days are over!! But oh, I sometimes miss having a baby in the house!

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On the difficult side, we dealt with sickness (one kid had the flu and another had a intense case of food poisoning, which thankfully, no one else was affected by) two terrible migraines which lasted for days, a lot of boredom and kids out of sorts, terribly cold days, struggles with a dear friend, and just all around sadness for disappointments that have happened in the last few years.

There has been ALOT of time spent this month figuring out how to navigate through this unfamiliar situation we are in. This, of course, brought about a lot of self reflection, a lot of prayer and flipping through old, long forgotten journals.

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There is so much treasure there, in reading back about how God has worked in the past! There are so many trials that God brings about in our lives to shape us, so many people who come in and out of our lives at just the right time in different seasons, and looking back, EVERYTHING has God’s finger print all over it!

Its also quite humorous to me that I have a certain picture of who I am and who I used to be, and I often look back with fondness on those early years of motherhood and marriage, thinking that everything was easier, that I was probably a much better person back then.

And then I actually go and read in my journal about such times and the funny thing is I am shocked to read about the terrible mistakes I made…and, how yes, God is changing me after all! It’s just so slow a process, that I forget who I was a decade ago. A person who struggled intensely with anger and lying, with an unfaithful heart, with gossip, with self righteousness, with immaturity and outbursts. And I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief because God is in the business of shaping my heart. God is in fact, through the fights, the tears and the struggles, shaping all of us. Whether it’s letting go of my control, or whether it’s encouraging gentleness and patience with each other.

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Examples of this? Emerson wanted to help make his cupcake toppers, and this year I actually let him!!! Previously, I would’ve absolutely not even thought of allowing such thing, because I am the cake decorator. Bella wanted to do something in Language Arts other than going over the difference between nouns, pronouns, verbs and proverbs… which by this point in the year is getting dreadfully boring, so we simply shut the books and allowed room for creativity. She decided to make a horse encyclopedia. Perfect. Art, ELA, copywork and handwriting practice all done in one project that she loves. Jonas followed suit and made a cheetah encyclopedia.

I’m learning what matters, and what doesn’t. It hasn’t been easy, but the kids can be kids, without needing to feel anxious when they are less than perfect. They are free to live KNOWING that they are loved, flaws and all.

This February I have also been a part of a parenting course which is another step in shaping the way I view children and respond to them. And oh, if I could start Motherhood all over, knowing what I know now! How I regret how harsh I was during my first three children’s early years! But even in this, there is grace…children are so forgiving.

So that was my past month.

It was stressful, it was joyful, it was hard, it was fulfilling, it is LIFE. And I’m praying every day, “Oh God, help me to slow down and enjoy it. Help me to not take this chaos for granted. Help me to remember to love deeply through it all.

 

 

 

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Cut Down the Tree

There once stood, in Kentucky, an old magnificent tree. The tree was beautiful and lush, the pride of its owner. It stood tall in front of her house, a welcoming  piece of nature, a beautiful finishing touch to her homestead.

Much to the woman’s dismay, the strong tree was destroyed in Union artillery fire. After the war it still stood upright, but it’s limbs were bare, dark and twisted. It’s charred trunk was only a painful and sad reminder of the past. The woman who owned the place, would stare at the tree and weep for the injustice of all that had happened. When General Robert E. Lee visited the woman, she pointed out the tree to him, expecting sympathy and at the very least for him to condemn those responsible for what had happened. The wise general took one look at the tree and softly said, “Cut it down, dear madam and forget it.”

Lee knew something that few people come to grasp in life: The tree that once stood there would never be the same again and all the tears and bitterness in the world would not change that fact.

All the tree now held was a constant reminder of the injustice the woman had felt and until she would let it go, she would forever feel victimized.

This story, originally told in Charles Bracelen Flood’s book, “Lee: The Last Years”, gives me much to ponder today. For it is a true story, and a wise decision. And it has been proven very true in my own life. My own “trees” sometimes look quite different, maybe it’s a broken treasure, reminding me of the person who shattered it. Maybe it’s a hurtful email held onto for the very same reason as the woman held on to the tree: to point out the wrong that was done. Those texts held onto, serving as a reminder of what happened, as a means of pointing out the injustice. And ridding ourselves of these tokens of injustice that prove our unfair case is painful because it makes a bold statement: I’m not fighting anymore. But oh, the peace that statement brings!

Although the situation feels quite different when the reminders of the pain are not things, but people, doesn’t it? And exactly how does one move ahead when people can’t just be thrown away? It’s one thing to walk out of prison doors and never see your tormentors again, but it’s quite another to live among them. Is it right to flee when they enter the room? Is it good to ignore their presence, as if they don’t exist? Is it helpful to try to force their hand in making things right?

In reality, “Cutting down the tree” when pertaining to close relationships sometimes feels like a physical cutting off, but what it really is, is a recognition that all my human efforts have failed. And rather than continuing on a dangerous path of tearing each other down, there comes a resolve to live moving forward, instead of trying to regain something from the past.

This is the struggle I have been going through, learning to let those you love make painful and heart wrenching decisions and learning to not fight those decisions. Giving space out of safety and respect. Giving a gentle smile out of love. An encouraging word when appropriate. And always praying and staying soft.

Above all, learning that our hope is in God alone. Our hope is NOT in the actions or responses of others. He alone brings healing where it seems impossible. He alone can make the wrong things right. And in His timing all will be restored.

That burnt, ruined tree, will never be the same. It’s true! However I’ve discovered, that when a dead tree is cut down, often a new shoot springs out of that dead stump. Yes, it takes time to grow and no, it doesn’t look the same as the tree that was lost. But it’s ALIVE, it’s fresh, and it’s healing.

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The REAL Me

Have you ever felt a need to just stay hidden for a while? To wake up and just dawn the old sweatpants and cozy sweater? To not worry about the messy, unwashed hair and makeup free face? To just hide out in your home being YOU?

It’s pretty funny actually, when I think about it. Because around my family, I can do this with no second thought. I can be me. They see the uncovered zits and yesterdays smeared make-up remains. They see the bed head (and let me tell you, my bed head beats ANYONE’S!!) They smell my morning breath in all it’s glory and I don’t care one little bit.

Think about it: here I am, among the most important people who mean more to me than any king, president or celebrity on earth, yet I don’t care AT ALL about trying to put on a show, or to act a certain way.

Because they know me. And they still love me.

Yet the amazon delivery truck pulls up and I FREAK OUT.

Really I do, it’s hilarious.

I run frantically upstairs put some real clothes on, brush my teeth, wash the remains of breakfast of my face and I still feel self conscious answering the door. Why is this?!? Because I can honestly tell you that in reality, I don’t deeply care for the delivery man or woman. I don’t have a special connection with the person who delivers my homeschool books. I don’t know anything about them. They’re not the paparazzi coming to plaster my face over the front of tabloids across the world. They aren’t famous reporters that will humiliate me in their next piece in the New York Times.

They’re strangers, just doing their jobs… but for some odd reason I have just tried to impress them.

I see a unexpected vehicle pulling up in the driveway, and what do I do? I grab six pairs of dirty socks thrown about the living room and put them in the laundry bin. I dash to grab a wet rag to wipe the dirty counters. I quickly try to shove dishes in the dishwasher, hoping that somehow, in someway, I may look more put together, more presentable than I really actually am.

And on social media, I tell the stories that make me and my kids look just so perfect, so put together. Our selfies hash-tagged  #happy and #perfect, really are shot at just the right angle, with just the right filter on the one day a month that our skin has that natural clear glow and the flaws are minimal. And no wonder our friendships online are as deep as a kiddie pool… yet we spend more time in a day pouring into them than we do in an entire week with a friend face to face. And we ask ourselves, with heavy hearts, why we feel so disconnected with the world. Why so out of touch? Why do we feel alone in our struggles, when a quick post on Facebook will get me dozens of “likes”?

You want to know why?

Because when you turn off the Facebook account, and only about a dozen of the five hundred friends still care to talk to you, you realize that “community” on Facebook isn’t community at all. Ninety five percent of those friends don’t notice your absence, because the space that once had your witty posts, will now be filled with another’s cute new baby pictures.

Online presence isn’t real presence.

Our “likes” don’t actually matter. Our posts are forgotten in the time it takes for a person to scroll down the page.

And there’s something chillingly cold about liking a post about a the need to end world hunger and then two seconds later, laughing at a meme about a cute puppy.

The contrasts of serious and comedy put together on one page should completely shake us to the core, but we think nothing of it and barely bat an eye – unknowingly hardening our hearts to the news in the world that should be breaking them.

What generation before us has become so self absorbed? Which people group has become so uncaring and lazy that we can end a friendship or relationship over a two sentence text and think that’s acceptable or even normal? Who has lived before us who would tear down a friend in a single social media post and get hundreds of “amens” in the comments.

Sometimes it takes a break from the fiction in life, to grasp reality. And the reality is, that the people I should be doing my best for are right here in front of me. My house should be clean, for them. My face should be prettied up, for him. Not because I need to be someone else for the people I love, but because I want to be my best for them.

So, assuming you noticed that I left Facebook and Instagram, this is why. I’m choosing to pour into real friendships. I’m spending my time with people in person. Maybe it’s a temporary thing. Maybe lifelong. But one thing I know is that I don’t want to live for the “likes” of strangers, I want to live to love true friends. Friends who care to know the real me, the messy me: The one who makes dumb mistakes and has the most awkward and embarrassing moments. The one who hates wiping counters, and folding laundry, but who loves hosting and baking for guests. The one who sincerely cares about those around her and would give anything to someone in need, but who often forgets to look for them. The one who loves Jesus and imperfectly follows him with all the zeal her selfish heart can conjure up.

That’s the real Heather. And Facebook knows nothing about her.

 

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A Long Cold Winter

What do you do when you’re shut inside for almost half of the year? What do you do with five kiddos who have been shut inside for months on end?

We are loosing our minds here in this household. I know I can’t be the only one out there, right?!?

I know there are many of you reading this who have no clue what I’m talking about. But let me explain: This year in Manitoba, Canada, it has been a very, very long, cold winter. I don’t remember winter to be like this, but yet…it feels familiar because at about this time every year, the reality begins to set in – winter where I live is SO long.

For those of you from warmer climates, let me give you a picture: Winter in Manitoba officially only starts at the end of December, but it snows much, much sooner. By the end of October we usually  have snow. Now, November and December are very manageable months – the first snowfall brings excitement! The children jump into their snow gear to play in the sparkling, white snow. My excitement builds too, even though I’m turning 30 this year. My favourite snowfalls are when it’s close to 0°C and the snow clumps together in big beautiful clumps which seem to fall in slow motion from the sky. And the anticipation for Christmas usually stifles out any complaints about the weather. This is the favourite time of the winter season, it makes me happy to live here, full of joy that I live in a place that has such extreme seasons. It usually cools off after it snows, but it still feels quite manageable, maybe -15°C (approximately 4°F).

But then Christmas ends. The tree is packed up and put away. The cheerful decor is taken down. Enter January. The days feel so dark, so long, yet daylight hours are short by around 5 o’clock the sun sets. Those who work longer than 8 hour shifts often drive to and from work in the dark.

And then…the cold starts setting in. The cold that just doesn’t seem to leave no matter how cozy your house, no matter how warm your bed. The temperature drops to -20°C, then to -30°C, on really bad days it hits -45°C or lower (that’s -49 in Fahrenheit). The fun of the Holidays are gone, and screen time rules get stretched just a little bit longer.

By the time February hits, the children have completely lost their minds! They take longer to get dressed for the North Pole, then they actually stay out playing. Even after 15-20 minutes the youngest comes in with frost bitten cheeks. But winter isn’t over yet and I remind myself it will be another month before the days begin to warm and another two or three months until the snow completely melts.

Sigh.

Ok, this calls for some creativity. Let me think…The kids are tired of their books (they’ve been reading a chapter book a day for the last two weeks.) The activity books have all been filled up (except for the colouring pages, because what boy really wants to color?) The puzzles have been done. We’ve used our screen time and then some.

Well, what now? I need to think of something before someone loses an eye over here!

Ah, then I begin to have ideas, they’re messy, but they might just do the trick! Bring out the paper, the glue and the crafting supplies. Bring out the newspaper and globs of paint. It’s time to have a contest. It’s time to become world famous artists who are designing their own art gallery. Paintings, sculptures, artwork of all kind is welcomed…

“No, Emerson, you may not paint the kitty.”

He glues candy to a paper, but not before sneaking as many as he can into his cheeks before I stop him. Why not? We need the extra fat out here in this climate. Everyone works cheerfully side by side for the rest of the afternoon.

I was really having a bad day – but looking around this room of sticky hands and happy faces, my home, here in Snowy Manitoba, feels a little bit warmer.

And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Brokeness

When I was a teen, I read a paper that deeply impacted me. I kept it and to this day it convicts me.

I wish I knew who wrote it, but it has no name. There was a piece on lukewarm Christians in the book “Crazy Love” written by Francis Chan that sounded similar to it, but whether this was written by someone else entirely, or whether it was adapted from Francis Chan’s writings, I’m not sure. However, I still wanted to share it today, for there is something huge we can learn from it:

Pride Vs. Brokeness

  1. Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults. Broken people are more conscious of their spiritual needs than of anyone else’s.
  2. Proud people have a critical fault finding spirit. They look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but view their own with a telescope. Broken people are compassionate – they have the kind of love that over looks a multitude of sins; they can forgive because they know they have been forgiven much.
  3. Proud people are especially prone to criticize those in authority, they talk to others about the faults they see. Broken people encourage and lift up those that God has placed into authority and they talk to God, rather than gossiping about the faults they find in others.
  4. Proud people are self righteous; they think highly of themselves and look down on others. Broken people think the best of others; they esteem others as better as themselves.
  5. Proud people have to prove that they are right…They always get the last word. Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.
  6. Proud people claim rights and have a demanding spirit. Broken people yield their rights and have a meek spirit.
  7. Proud people are self protective. Broken people are self-sacrificing and protect others.
  8. Proud people desire to be served, they want life to revolve around them. Broken people are motivated to serve others and to meet their needs before their own.
  9. Proud people desire to be known as a success. Broken people are motivated to be faithful and make others succeed.
  10. Proud people have a feeling that “This ministry is privileged to have me and my gifts.” Broken people know that all gifts come from God and on their own they can do nothing.
  11. Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked. Broken people rejoice when others are recognized and lifted up.
  12. Proud people feel confident in how much they know. Broken people are humbled by how much they have to learn.
  13. Proud people are driven to protect their own reputation. Broken people are concerned with being real; they care less about what others may think than about what God knows.
  14. Proud people can’t bear to fail. Broken people can recognize and live within their limitations.
  15. Proud people are quick to blame others. Broken people can acknowledge where they were wrong.
  16. Proud people wait for others to come and ask forgiveness. Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled no matter how wrong the other party may be.
  17. Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when corrected. Broken people receive correction with a humble, open spirit.
  18. Proud people try to control the people and the circumstances around them. Broken people trust in God – they rest in him and are able to wait for him to act on their behalf.
  19. Proud people carry grudges and keep a record of those who have wronged them. Broken people are quick to chose forgiveness.
  20. Proud people want no one to find out when they have sinned; they cover it up. Broken people aren’t concerned about who finds out their sin, they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.
  21. Proud people tend to deal in generalities when expressing their sin to God (“Dear Lord, please forgive me for my sins.”) Broken people acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.
  22. Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.                         Broken people are grieve over the cause, the root of their sin. They are more concerned with how their sin has grieved God than the problem it has created in their lives.
  23. Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of respect. Broken people compare themselves with the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for his mercy.
  24. Proud people don’t think they need to repent of anything. Broken people realize the need to maintain a continual heart attitude of repentance.       
  25. The proud people reading this will be mostly thinking of others this may apply to and of who else should be reading this list, while broken people realize it applies to themselves.

 

This list forever changed me. In fact, it completely reshaped the way I viewed Christianity.

Because the truth is, every time I read this list, my thoughts can’t help but turning to others that should be reading it. And those thoughts testify against me: I am proud.

This way of thinking goes completely against popular culture, even popular church culture which says: “Look out for yourself!”

“Take care of your own needs first!”

“Make sure you get your rights!”

“Don’t waste your time on people who aren’t going to lift you up!”

And I wonder, what if Jesus would’ve used these attractive one liners? Where would we be then?

Where would I be then?

The God of “Look out for Yourself” is not in the Bible. The God of “Look what I can do!” isn’t there either. The God of “success and promotion” isn’t isn’t found in the ancient living word of God. The God that speaks, the God that lives, the God that we read about is humble, self sacrificing and absolutely broken for you and me. There is no limit to his love, there is no selfishness in him. He is gentle, he is meek, he is pure.

Don’t fall for the biggest idol out there: The man-made, self-serving Jesus, who benefits me NOW… who is like a church accepted ‘genie in a bottle’. God isn’t a doormat for you to use for your wishes when you please. He’s not a fairy godmother, waiting to make all your dreams come true.

He is a humble, serving, gracious and holy God who is ever searching for lives that will say yes to walking a very different road.

One that gives up my rights.

One that unconditionally loves those who mistreat them.

One that pours out their life as a living sacrifice.

One that puts others above themselves.

One that is humble and broken.

 

Oh, God, may I say yes to this strange, unpopular road you travelled. Help me to walk in your humble, self-sacrificing way.