Parenting the Bumpy Teen Years

Several years ago,  Joy and I were laying on her bed, talking. She said, "I am determined not to become a teenager who is controlled by hormones or attitudes! It seems so silly. I don't think I will go through the phases the older kids did!"

Having lived through the ups and downs of her older siblings,  Joy, who is very even-keeled by natural temperament, wanted to try to skip the bumpiness of the teen years. But, try though we or they might, there just is a passage from little child, dependent on Mom and Dad, to the place where our teens begin to own their own convictions, exercise their own authority and will, and grow up--and it comes with bumps!  All teens experience the growth process a little differently, but all must go through the growing pains inherent with moving from dependence to independence. Tension is natural when children pull away from childhood to become strong, mature adults.

Joy  officially entered this phase, as did all of her siblings. and had to go through her own story of ups, downs, and high emotions. I am very blessed because Joy has a great heart and is patient with her not-so-perfect-or-patient mom. All of my children, somewhere in the teen years (and sometimes a little earlier) suddenly, out of nowhere,  started having issues with normal life moments like emptying the dishwasher, or picking up their room.  Suddenly there was fussing and tears over even minor things like who washed the dishes last or who had done more chores.

Little attitudes of anger and frustration began bubbling up out of the blue. I am not talking about immorality or rebellion--those are serious issues that many teens experience, too. But, out of experience, I have learned a lot from my other three after years of not understanding what was going on or how to bear with the ups and downs.  The truth is, hormones are present in boys and girls. And boys can be moody, too!

One of my strongest memories was of a time I asked my easy-going child to empty the dishwasher. All of a sudden, this gentle-spirited young man became a lion--you would have thought I had asked him to give his life as a ransom for the other kids! He went ballistic. "Why does everyone eat so much? They all make messes every day and there is no end to dirty dishes around here--everyone needs to become responsible for their own messes!" 

Of course, I couldn't have agreed with him more--but this was just about a five minute job of emptying one dishwasher!  When a usually gracious child turns into a teen and shows a cranky side even occasionally, it seems even more of a big deal, somehow, than when a child who's always been more outgoing and perhaps noisy does the exact same thing!

But the mood swings and teen issues and choices make for some bumpy roads. Seems to me that this season of life with teens is when parents get weary of their ideals and begin to compromise on issues. Then there are the added pressures of social media issues we're all dealing with, trying to balance Facebook, cell phones, gaming, and media. Most kids this age have a lot of pressure to conform and want so much to have friends and community. Often it seems the potential community of good companions grows smaller than in the elementary years, because it is a time when teens start going off into dangerous areas.

I think it is difficult for moms to remember that their children have good attributes during a hormonal explosion and the wide varieties of volatile emotional discussions we get wrapped up in. Talking things through can take hours and hours.

Relationship, relationship, relationship, and investing time--even when you don't think they want it--is very important.

Though Sarah tells me she is glad that I kept on her about "attitudes" and didn't let her get away with much, she also says it was the times we went walking every morning, the personal times of reading a magazine together, the coffee times that she believes truly helped keep her heart close to mine and to the Lord. For the boys, I focused on taking them to breakfast, loving them, talking, lots of chocolate chip cookies, back scratches, and pursuing them no matter how they behaved.

My favorite verse for the teen years  is, "A gentle answer turns away wrath," followed closely by, "It is the kindness and mercy of the Lord that leads to repentance."  In other words, we are supposed to be the mature, loving constant ones--even though we have given our lifeblood and time for so many years. I am here to say they do come out of it eventually and learn to see Mom as the anchor that held their lives together with the grace of God.

Parenting in the bumpy teen years requires deep breathing. Depending on God's grace again and again, seeking to walk in it constantly. And much courage. It is worth the cost of all the time and emotional investment and prayer. Helping your children find community is important, as is spending time together joyfully! Praying God encourages you today, and especially if you are the mama of a teenager!

Did you know you can find me on Twitter? Follow here: Sally Clarkson

Good & Hard (Lifegiving Home Series

Can a guest post be a repost too? Sure it can (right, Mom?!), especially if what is posted afresh is still true with a quick, living, muscled strength. When I sat down this week to write this post, I knew that what I wanted to write about was the way that life lived well, life lived creatively, in love, in beauty, is just darn hard. In this gorgeous and broken world, wholeness and home and love must be fought for with grit and work and a total givenness of self. The good life is a great life, and a hard one too. 

I wrote about this three years ago, and when I recently reread that post, I was struck by the way that I wouldn't change one thing that I wrote then. Marriage, moving, Oxford, new joys, new griefs, they've all transpired in the past three years, but they've all happened in the same hard work, the same stubborn love, in which the whole of my history has been forged. This week, in the midst of papers, and a visit from my beloved Joy, and work and challenge I've lived afresh in the good, hard work I learned from childhood. May the story encourage you as well:

I write this from 35,000 feet up in the free blue air. A grey quilt of clouds obscures the earth below, but sometimes the cloud down frays and the earth winks up, a brown, wry face patterned with laughter lines and the rutted gullies of old tears. I never get tired of having the window seat on an airplane. My awe at technology is usually spoiled by my suspicion that it might be ruining my imagination, but I still have a tiny girl’s wonder at the fact that we humans can fly. Airplanes feel a little like magic to me. I could sit here, nose pressed against my window, reveling in my rare, eagle’s eye view for hours.

At the moment though, I’m also just glad to be sitting. I can feel the dark circles under my eyes. For the third time in four weeks, I have gotten up far too early to lug a half dozen suitcases and crates to various airplane counters. I have packed and unpacked, washed (and, well, “unwashed”) more loads of laundry in the past months than I care to mention, changed time zones, chased rental car shuttles, and stumbled up, hair awry and eyes slightly wild to quite a few hotel desks. I have a bag of cherry tomatoes in the bottom of my bag, because I couldn’t stand to throw out good produce one more time, but they sit next to a bar of chocolate because travel season wrecks my healthy intentions. My carryon is stuffed with the speech I haven’t yet gotten by heart, the insurance papers I haven’t figured out, and the manuscript I still haven’t edited though the deadline is this weekend. In order even to write this, I must ignore the ten, urgent, unanswered emails sitting on the next tab over.

I tell you all this because in this rare moment of (literally) suspended calm, I find myself contemplating the worth of doing hard things.

Everything in my life of late seems hard. Conference season is hard. It comes as a mix of marathon, disaster, and holiday. Writing is hard. My brain at the end of a working day feels like a mental sponge squeezed dry of every word, and my heart rate spikes at thought of all the work I have yet to do. Integrity is hard. To write about beauty is one thing, to make it amidst exhaustion and laundry with nerves frayed and tongue sharp is harder. Health is hard. To eat good food, to walk long miles, to seek out natural instead of processed food takes time, and thought, and a mighty dose of discipline. (Especially amidst travel.) Even loving God is hard. Turning my mind away from the many lists of things I need to do, the countless desires, the endless distractions in order to sit with my Bible and listen, listen to his whisper in the silence is one of the most difficult habits I have ever undertaken.

Hard, every bit of it. Hard every single day of my life.

Yet undeniably, unequivocally… good.

In the past months I have watched myself complete a manuscript I never thought I could manage, and impossible deadlines were the grace that helped me to do it. I finally managed to articulate my convictions about story because I was forced to spit them out in the last-minute, white heat of speech-writing the hour before I was due on stage. The countless vegetables I’ve chopped, and lettuce I’ve washed for daily salads has paid off in a health I haven’t known for years. The friendships found and renewed in these conference weekends have kindled my heart, deepened my conviction, set me on my feet to work for yet another year. Life burgeons around me, good work flourishes, the soil of my heart is rich with new ideas and I know that the endless work of writing, of health, of love to which I have given myself with freshened vigor this year is worth every bit of what it costs me.

The truth I find is that every good thing I know requires hard work. It requires, not just a dose of effort to get it started, but the grit to hold fast and keep on when the inspiration fails. Day in and day out, a life that is in any way good requires steady labor, something I don’t always factor in when I am dreaming about the lovely things I’ll make and the heroic deeds I’ll accomplish. The good life – here in a fallen world where what was meant to be good was broken – is a hard life. We fight fallenness in every atom of existence. But every bit of the goodness we we make proclaims the someday new heaven and earth. And somehow, brings the kingdom come, even amidst the shadows.

I write this to remind myself to endure, because my idealist self often lags in the midst of all the effort. When I’m tired, as I am today with the hum of the plane around me, I wonder if its all worth it. I write this to shore up my will to endure, to strengthen the conviction that grows feeble when all I really want to do is lounge in my chair and drink five cups of tea.

But I also write this because I’ve been thinking of late about one of the hardest but best creations I have ever experienced: my family.

In conference season, I am always made keenly aware that many people watch my family. The parenting ministry that my mom and dad carry out means that we Clarksons are somewhat in the public eye. We are a family marked by our ideals, and our ministry is, in large part, to hold those ideals forth to the world and challenge others to follow them as well. But I wonder sometimes if the strength with which we state our ideals leads people to the mistaken assumption that we live an ideal life. That goodness comes easily to us, and hard to others. That somehow we were born with harmonious hearts and quiet tempers and curious intellects.

By the time we show up at conferences, feet padding the plush carpet of yet another hotel, we strive to look grown up in our Sunday clothes and polite (if not well-rested) faces. We do, of course, try to have good things to say. We strive to articulate all we believe and present a gracious face to the world. But a whirlwind of hard work and sore shoulders, heartache and heart-searching lies behind us. Imperfect attitudes, impatient words, and discouragement are the shadow side of the inspiration that propels us forward. We struggle, we grapple, we cry. We also laugh and cook and sing. We wash a thousand dishes and cook a thousand good meals and light the candles every evening and play our classical music. Behind every conference we throw or speech we give are countless quiet days of hard work and hard choices. I’m not saying that we live differently than the ideals we hold forth. I’m saying that we fight like wild men to attain them and we have been fighting for as long as I can remember.

These thoughts all began two nights ago when my Mom and I strode out to walk off our adrenaline in a purple and windy dusk. Our talk was of family, that hardest and best of works, and my talk was of the struggle I find to love. We spoke of old  frustrations and the grief they still cause. Of quirks and personalities that tax and bless us all at once. We spoke of the arduous decisions required by faith, the tough endurance required by real love, the never-ending forgiveness it demands and the ever-fresh friendship it brings. And when I had finally spit all the struggle out of my mouth in a torrent of irritation, I took a deep breath and listened to my mother teach me once again to love. To open my hands. To open my heart. To endure. And to do it all over again the next time.

As we pounded the last road home, I realized that we Clarksons are who we are – idealistic, fiercely loyal, writers, musicians, tied to each other at the hip and convinced we can help to bring God’s kingdom to bear on earth – because we stayed in the fight when the fight got hard.

Our fantastic relationships were formed in part by fantastic fights and spectacular disagreements, but we endured them all, rode the high, hard winds of strife into the safe harbor of affection. We did not turn back and we did not let go. We did not withdraw from loving when loving got hard, but neither did we let hard things make a large and silent wedge between us. We took issues head on whatever they were and argued them out until they were gone. Jesus said of the woman who washed his feet that “she who is forgiven much, loves much.” And I think that principle is part of what forms the fellowship and ideals of my family. They who fight much, who endure each other’s quirks, who ride out the tempests of difficult circumstances and personalities, who laugh and weep and watch each other’s creation know a comradeship that can only come from the brotherhood of battle. The victory we have, the love that knits us close was only to be forged in struggle.

The truth is that we have wrestled with God over and over again, every one of us, just like Jacob in the wilderness grappling with sin and pain and the strange presence of the Almighty. In striving to create new things, to live our ideals, to keep communion, we wrestled with God in our hearts and we wrestled with God in each other. Every inch of ground we gained in love came with years of hard battle. But we fought forward, knowing that to fight was to hope and even to love, because it was a kind of journey. We were fighting our way back to each other and not away. We were grappling toward beauty and we wrestled until we were blessed. We strove until we overcame.

That, I suppose, it at heart of what I am striving to understand, to tell myself here and as I do, tell you too. If love is to be formed, if families are to stay close, if  stories or songs are to be made, if ideals are ever to be kept, hard work is the high and never-ending cost. In a fallen world, where the good that was meant to be was broken, we have to wrestle every day to love God, to do justice, to love mercy, to make beauty. But God wrestles with us. His Spirit incites us to the fight with visions of the good that was meant to be. His Son joins us in the battle, brother and lover who suffers so that we may overcome. And the Father waits at the end of our battle, the “great rewarder of those who seek Him.” In him we live and move and have our being, and in him we fight the great fight, and in him we trust that the good we make here is just the beginning of the kingdom come and a beauty that will never end.

So courage, dear hearts, as Aslan whispered to Lucy. Courage, I whisper to myself as the plane dips its nose under the quilt of clouds and the earth reaches up to grasp me once more. The work is about to begin again, good and hard. I’m ready.

Reading: Daily snippets of Madeleine L'Engle's Genesis Trilogy. She restores my tired wonder at the lovely world. 

Listening: Have you heard the soundtrack to The King's Speech? It's lovely and mellow and expressive. It's been my atmospheric music for the week. 

Making: A Sour Cream Coffee Cake that was, apparently, a great success with the men of Thomas' small group. It was also very easy. 

Practical Ideas for Developing Friendships For You and Your Children!

Family, I am convinced, was designed by God so that we could have our emotional needs met. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, parents were to make up a natural, large community of people who could, together, be a testimony of what it looked like to be a community where God's presence dwelt. Family was designed to provide help, comfort, wisdom, sharing of traditions, history, purpose, morality, and celebration through relationships throughout the seasons of life. 

That is why the breakdown of the family is such a strategic move on Satan's part. If he can rob us of support systems, accountability, encouragement, and tangible love of God, which was to be expressed through the loving relationships with the many people we belonged to in our families, then he can break down the foundations upon which we are supposed to be building righteousness and godly purpose. People tend to drift and wander when they don't have connection and responsibility of relationships to a family. Then loneliness sets in as we long for what we were made to have --fellowship and intimacy. We become an easy target for Satan when we isolate ourselves and are alone. 

Because I am a lover of people and I have really ached, at times, for closer relationships, I feel it is an area the Lord has taught me much about. It is a very important Biblical priority. When Jesus told us the most important commandments, to love God and to love people, He was elevating that which is really important in life--relationship. Relationship to God is His most important priority and should be ours--to love Him, then to love others.

For this reason, the Lord has taught Clay and me, over the years, that we have to make relationships a priority, if we are going to stay tender to the Lord and have the strength to keep going. In light of this, we continue to seek to build groups of people into our lives, so that we may continue to have relationship.

Consider some of these ideas for building relationship, yourself!

Tea and talk times--let your friends know that once a week, or once a month, you will open your home for friendship and fellowship. You light the candles, everyone else brings a snack to share. Then, pick one or two verses or biblical principles to talk about and just have a time of fellowship for a couple of hours--letting everyone know that they can look forward to more times like these. Share prayer requests at the end, praying together or having everyone break up into twos or threes and pray for each other.

Family potluck-- We started a family potluck group, where we take turns meeting at each others' houses just to eat and have fun together, and then close with sharing and prayer. It has given my children a close inner circle of people who they know care for them. We've even made lots of plans for the year ahead--4th of July together, grilling and shooting off fireworks; in the fall, we will hire a caller who teaches the old English dances to groups and we will have a pot luck and invite many families and do these fun dances as families. We have planned to join our church's adopt-a-neighborhood ministry and work together in that. At Christmas time we will once again have a progressive dinner, where we go to each others' homes in turn, visiting one for each portion of the meal, and sing carols and read the Christmas story together. 

Girl's group for your daughters once a month--gather friends, moms and daughters, and plan something to do once a month; you could even go through a book together.

Start a Mom Heart Group--Really, do! Use one of my books as a base, meet regularly to discuss maybe one chapter a week or even once a month, enjoy prayer and fellowship, and develop friendships with those who are like minded. I have had a once a month group at my home for years, though it's gotten more difficult and we had to move to the church when the police showed up to inform us we were breaking rules with all the cars in the cul-de-sac!  We always share treats, fellowship, have a time in the Word and then just hang around and talk.

Host an "I appreciate you" tea-- for your closest friends or special people you appreciate.

Schedule regular park days-- invite friends to pack a lunch and meet somewhere local for an easy fellowship time.

Do ministry alongside other families--volunteer at a retirement center or a homeless shelter. Our closest friends are those who travel with us and work side by side at our conferences--all the parents and children work hard and play hard, together. 

When you create venues for fellowship, you are providing relationships for yourself and for your children--and you are providing close friendships, and support systems that Satan cannot easily tear apart. 

Join me At a Renew Your Heart Conference!

So fun to be home sweet home--Darcy wants in on the fun, too.

So fun to be home sweet home--Darcy wants in on the fun, too.

I just returned home from a whirlwind of speaking engagements and visits to loved ones. Nashville (Hutchmoot), then to New York to work with Nathan on "release and marketing" issues of our new book. Finally a wonderful get away in Virginia with hundreds of sweet women. I loved meeting so many of you and getting your heart-felt notes and encouragement, This trip convinced me more than ever, that women need other women to walk beside them, a place to deepen friendships and make new friends. Hearing stories from every age, background, I was so touched by the time with you. 

In this crazy time of confusion, darkness in international places, a lack of strong moral leadership and loneliness felt by so many, gatherings with like-minded women are more important than ever. We need to hold fast to Biblical ideals, together! I am so excited about what God has been putting on my heart to share at our conferences this year. Foundations that give hope and stability, how to create a sustainable life, cultivating community for you and your family, dealing with the issues of babies to teens and wisdom to help make decisions along the way. 

If you’ve followed me and my ministry to mothers, you already know that 2016 was a pivotal year for our conferences. It was a year of embracing God’s ministry to moms with two hands–celebrating 20 years of WholeHearted Mother and Mom Heart Conferences on the one hand, and accepting that it was time to let them go on the other. I strongly felt God saying it was time for something new. Something fresh. Not just for me, but for you. As I enter a new season of ministry to moms, perhaps the final lap in my race with God, I have an even deeper desire to mentor, teach, and encourage women in their profoundly important roles as moms and life-givers. I want to help women from every role in life understand more deeply what it means to have faith in Christ and grow in that faith as His follower.

I find my heart focused on what so many precious women I have ministered to through the years have shared with me about the challenges of motherhood and life, and their need to be constantly renewed by God. And that is what I hope to do this year, and for as many years as God allows me to continue speaking, through the new Renew My Heart GetawayIt is on my heart to renew your heart. I hope you will join me as we start a new journey with God in 2017.

The new Renew My Heart Getaway will be a different kind of event. Many women through the years have told me they would like more of me, more time for interaction with other moms, and more time for reflection. After the final Mom Heart Conference in February 2016, I thought and prayed about “what’s next?” and discussed it with Clay and my Mom Heart leaders. It became clear to all of us that the next season of events needs to be slower, more personal, and more interactive, focusing less on topics such as how to be a “good mother” and more on how to be “God’s mother.” We want to strengthen and renew the spiritual life of all women. After 32 years of parenting, I’m convinced that being God’s mom is the most important factor in being a good mom, spouse, and friend. And to be God’s woman means you need to continually renew your heart by His Spirit. That’s the vision and purpose of the Renew My Heart Getaway.

WooHoo! I am so pumped about our new book and will  be telling you more about it soon. Hoping it will encourage many and help them not feel alone, whatever their circumstances. 

WooHoo! I am so pumped about our new book and will  be telling you more about it soon. Hoping it will encourage many and help them not feel alone, whatever their circumstances. 

The theme this first year is Hope Changes Everything: Think Different. Live Different. Make a Difference. In all my years of ministering to and mentoring Christian mothers and women, a common thread of comments has been, “This is so hard. I don’t know if I can keep going. I am so discouraged.” I understand those feelings. There were many difficult years when I, too, was tempted to give up, not just on motherhood but on getting through life itself with all its challenges, changes, and choices. My faith in God was always my strong foundation, but the thing that energized my faith was hope–biblical hope, our “anchor of the soul.” Hope renewed my heart so I could move forward in faith. And that’s what I want to share with you in this first year of the Renew My Heart Getaway–that no matter where you are in life, if you have hope it will make all the difference.

My newest book Different (2017), co-authored with my 27 year-old Nathan, is the catalyst for my thinking about heart renewal for the 2017 messages. On the surface our book is about what it was like to be an “outside-the-box” kid, and the mother of one. Underneath, though, it is the message that no matter what curves, potholes, and speed bumps you encounter on the road of life with God, there is always redemption and hope. I will also be drawing on my other recent books, Own Your Life and The Lifegiving Home, to explore the hope that we all need as moms and women after God’s heart.
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After well over two decades of ministering to Christian moms, my heart still beats with a passion to give them hope and help for their strategic role in God’s plan. My mind is alive with vision for how to reach and help more women—the Internet; Mom Heart groups; Spanish language materials; “Mum Heart” in the UK, Canada, and AUS/NZ,Mexico; ministry in China; and more. Every time I’m with special friends like you it is what fuels and helps to fund that vision, but even more it is what fuels me to continue in ministry.

What can you expect from the new Renew My Heart Getaway?

It will be both familiar and also new. As always, I will share my heart with you in several key messages (just me this year; the kids are all out in their worlds). Clay and I have partnered for all these years, and he will still lead us in worship. Our book table will be smaller, but we’ll still offer the best of our best personal recommendations. We’ll share a lovely meal on Saturday, and have plenty of time for warm fellowship and friendship. It will be a getaway and get-together to get renewed. I hope you can be a part of this new event as we take hold of the hope that changes everything so we can make a difference. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what we’re all here for.

I hope you can join me.

Last year, all of our conferences filled up and we had to close them early. Be sure to register soon so you can be sure to get a place. To encourage women to encourage, for everyone who signs up by Nov. 18, we will enter you in a drawing for two of those people to receive their conference for free. 

Go HERE to Register and Find out more.




Woven: Baskets and Legacies with Sarah (The Lifegiving Home Series)

The first engagement gift I received was a basket. A deep oval basket with a sturdy, warm brown weave and a strong, arched handle. 'Do you go to a weekly market in Oxford?' asked Phyllis, the giver of the gift. When I said that I did, heading down on Wednesdays to the open air market near my home to cart home paper bags crammed with vivid stacks of fresh fruit and 'veg' (as they like to call vegetables here), she smiled in happy satisfaction and leaned toward me, putting her aged, gentle hand over mine.

'This was my market basket through all the years we lived in Europe. I brought all sorts of good things home in it, fed friends and family. I'm so glad it will go to you. I hope you use it to do the same.'

I worked hard to get that basket tucked in amidst the sweaters and scarves of the boxes I packed for England. It survived the trip beautifully intact, a sturdy, weathered, finely aged gift that sits by the door in my new house. I have indeed used it to cart home apples for warm, spiced desserts, greens for autumn salads, potatoes and carrots for Sunday roasts. It has borne the sweet load of hospitality with me, and companioned my work as I've prepared for guests and opened our home to friends.

As I've gone, feeling the smoothed wicker of the handle in my palm, I've also felt Phyllis' loved and gentle hand over mine. I've walked the cobbles home with the beam of her smile in my mind, her presence around me as I set the table, write a note, cook, arts in which she has been my mentor, my teacher, my friend. The gift of her basket wasn't merely the gift of a household tool, it was the gift of her own history as a missionary and hostess, her own crafted legacy. That basket was her gift of heritage to me, a token by which I was woven into the fine companionship of hospitable, home-loving women. By giving me that symbol of her long work, she rooted my work in her own story and gave me fresh courage and help in making my own tale of house and hospitality, of meals served as acts of love, of tea poured to balm both soul and bone. 

One of the dearest parts of my wedding were gifts like these. My own sweet mom gave me (among countless other gifts of hand and heart) her mother's set of blue Lenox china, the one with the fruit baskets that so fascinated me as a child, and a silver teapot with a dark wooden handle that sat on the sideboard of my father's mother throughout my childhood. These gifts of heritage and memory, linking my new home to my childhood memories of Thanksgiving tables and teatimes with Mama, are a tangible history, living gifts that are more than mere things. Every time I reach for that teapot or pour something hot into a Lenox cup, I can hear my mom's voice saying: 'drink the cup the Lord has given you, pour out your life for others...' Her gifts, like Phyllis' basket, will shape the story my home will tell.

For home is a place of history. Home is a lived narrative, one we receive as well as create. Home is never an isolated outpost in a human story, it is always linked to those before us, the place where we live out the spiritual and physical inheritance of those whose words, actions, and gifts have formed us. Home is also, always, something we give as well, the story we offer to the guests, children, and beloveds who dwell with us. One of Phyllis' maxims is that hospitality communicates something to a guest about their worth. Every aspect of home is an ongoing narrative about what we believe, who God is, and how we see the people who visit us.  

In beginning my marriage and first home, I have realised afresh the extent to which the way I see life and the way I make home are legacies I received from the wise and generous women in my life. Their wedding gifts are tools placed in my hands, but I must now choose wisely how to use them as they must have also chosen in beginning their marriages and homes. I must now plan, work, and dream. In the companionship, then, of these wedding gifts, I am driven to sit down and evaluate : what do I want the heritage of my life and home to be? What gift of legacy will I someday give a new bride? If I have a daughter, what kind of story do I want my home to tell? These are the questions that every maker of home must ask. 

Breathe In :: What's your story?

If you could choose an object, an image, or gift to symbolise the story you were given, what would it be? How have you been taught to see the world? How have you been taught to think about home and the people who dwell there? 

One of my final year courses at Wycliffe is a paper on pastoral care in which we are examining what it means to be human, what it means to develop spiritually and emotionally throughout the different phases of life, and what it means to care. One of the first things we learned was that the relational successes, or conversely, the failures, of every phase carry over into the next, affecting our capacity to love, give, and be known. Of course, I recognise the grace of heritage in this reality, but what also deeply struck me was that if the broken and failed parts of our stories are not named and faced, they bear a brooding power to undermine our confidence, discourage us from effort, and destroy our attempts to love. 

 Not all stories are beautiful. Not all legacies are good. And in speaking of home as a golden gift to be received, I also want to acknowledge that in a fallen world, no gift comes free of pain or imperfection. There are profoundly difficult legacies in my family as well as beautiful. The bright is woven inextricably with the dark and painful. And for many others, I know that there is little brightness at all. For some, there was no story of home, no gifts to offer hope or beauty, no vision of life or personal worth. There is only absence. Or darkness. But that is not the end of the story. 

What the Incarnation means is that God is now with us, and where our legacy is of pain or our story is one of absence, he comes with the creative power that spoke all things into being in the first place. The whole concept of home begins with the reality of a Creator God who made humans beings to be placed, relational, and known. In Christ, our stories are always beginning afresh, and if you have no history of home, then 'do not be afraid' as the angels were so often saying at the coming of Christ. The Holy Spirit, whispering within your heart and imagination will be the one to form your legacy. 

One of my favorite stories is a short one by Wendell Berry called 'A Jonquil for Mary Penn' (in Fidelity). Mary is a young farm wife who has absolutely no experience in her new strenuous life of farm work, one close to poverty. Early in her marriage, she wakes up sick one day. Her husband sees this, and quietly leaves for his work, but he manages to tell one old matron in the area. Throughout the day, and the story, Mary is then visited by a bevy of generous, laughing, motherly women who help her with chores, cook, tease, clean, and put her to bed. In the void of her discouragement and inexperience, the love of others comes to create, renew, and begin her story afresh. I loves this story because it is an image of the way that God, in his life and in the love of others, begins our story afresh in a way we could not have made on our own. 

To love Christ is to be caught in the forward motion of his incarnate life. There is nothing static, dead, stagnant, or lost in him. As you name the gifts and shape of your legacy, whether bright or dark, the first thing to remember is that we, in the lilting words of Andrew Peterson's song, are called to 'look into the darkness and speak'. The story can always begin again.

Breathe Out :: In the beginning...

Let there be light. Let there be love. Let there be music. Those are the concluding lines to the chorus of Andrew's lovely song, and they are a perfect soundtrack to what we are called to do in creating home. If there is a redemptive, freeing power in naming what is dark or hard in our heritage, there's wildly creative one when we sit down in the space of life, spirit, and home to bring form, color, growth, and beauty.

The question now becomes... just what do you want to create? This too must be named, must be recognised and chosen because nothing in this world just happens effort free. I'm pretty sure that every good thing I've ever done was teeth-grittingly hard (and yes, that includes the countless dishes I learned to wash at the end of Clarkson parties) and wouldn't have happened if not chosen with iron will and conscious foresight. 

What legacy do you want to leave? What story do you want your guests to enter? What is the heritage of your one place on earth? What is the gift you'd give to the bride if you could? I'm just beginning to answer these questions myself. (I'm pretty sure I'd give a set of novels if I could! - Books are definitely one of my legacies.) Thomas and I are just forming the shape of our story. But something I have loved in beginning this task is sitting down to make myself answer these questions of identity and purpose because the answers to those questions will begin to form the story of my home. And I want it to be a good one. 

Reading this week: A 'Brother Cadfael' mystery by Ellis Peters called The Devil's Novice. I always keep a story of some sort going even amidst academics, and these mysteries are lively stories with well-crafted prose by an author whose historical fiction and masterful narrative I adored in The Heaventree Trilogy.

Listening this week: Bach's Requiem. Courtesy of my sister who is a source of all wondrous things. 

(If you're interested in more in the Incarnational theology and how it relates to home, its in Chapter Two of The Lifegiving Home.)



Avoiding The Comparison Trap



Years ago, when Joy and I attended a mother-daughter tea at the home of a lovely, accomplished Christian friend, I found myself tempted all afternoon to compare the shortcomings of our own family with the apparent strengths of the family at hand.As I walked through the front door with its welcoming wreath, I observed a lovely environment with perfectly placed knickknacks from all over the world. But all I could think was, How does she keep her house so beautiful with all of these children around? Six is a lot of kids to keep under control!

The food for the tea was decoratively arranged on beautiful china dishes, but I was thinking, She sure went to a lot of trouble for us. I need to try harder to do special things in my home!

The food was served by the immaculately clad children of our hostess. (I've got to get some new shirts for the kids; ours all look stained and faded.) Each child appeared to be quite gracious. (Boy do I need to go home and work on my kids' manners!) Each boy had a perfect haircut, and each hair was in place. (I hope they don't see my boys' hair, especially not their fingernails!) The mothers present discussed what their children had been doing recently. This child was head of the soccer team; the other child was almost fluent in French and German (at age fourteen!) Another had won a ballet competition. Yet another was teaching piano classes at age fifteen and making hundreds of dollars each month! (I've got a long way to go with my children! I'd better get to work!)

The mother who hosted the tea party, in reality, was just a sweet woman who wanted to make her friends feel special. And I admit I've exaggerated my response just a bit to make a point—though I really did wonder where that mother went for her boys' haircuts! But this is typical of some of the conversations that sometimes go on in my mind. It is so easy to get caught up in petty comparisons and unimportant issues and lose sight of what we are really aiming for as parents!  And of course, in all these areas, I'd put the focus on myself!

I have had people from time to time say, "Oh, you must be so perfect and your children were just always so much easier to train than mine."

I guess since I write from ideals to inspire and encourage, it can feel as though I present a perfect scenario. (No one will ever think that again after they read Nathan's and my new book.) But, I choose to practice and hold fast to ideals with the reality of imperfections and challenging seasons every season along the way. Perfect performance was not my goal, but moving along the direction of ideals one day at a time was what led me forward--a belief that growing and maturing mattered.

Comparing ourselves to others robs us from the joy of being unique.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped comparing myself to people. As a dear friend said, it leads you to sin, no matter what comparison you make. If you think you come out better than them then you become haughty and have an issue with pride and criticism. If you count yourself as less than others, then you are living by works, and will feel inadequate instead of happy with who you are. There is no grace in comparison. 

So living into your own puzzle--warts and all--is the only way you will find peace. Acceptance with grace is how God desires us to live.

Jeremiah 9 gives us a different view of life than that of measuring ourselves by the external performances of life.  This has helped me refocus the priorities of my life and my parenting efforts so many times:

"Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. ~Jeremiah 9:23-24

Though this passage was written twenty-six hundred years ago, it is still applicable to us today. Our culture still seeks success through three main areas— the intellect; power and status; and riches. As women, we will be tempted to measure our success by the performance of our own lives, our marriage and our children in these areas as well.

But to step out of the comparison game means learning to like yourself and your family as they are, with holes and scars. Freedom to rest in Christ for who we are brings peace.

According to this passage in Jeremiah, where should our efforts primarily be focused? How can knowing God help us combat the comparison trap we so often fall into as moms? 



The Work of Walking in the Light

The people who are sitting in darkness have seen a great light: Jesus came!

Matthew 4:16

Almost 40 years ago, I found myself in a dilemma that seemed insurmountable.  Living in Poland while it was still under the grips of a Communist regime was very challenging to all of us who worked there. Food was scarce, life was rigid and Christian ministries were not legally allowed. We worked with people under the radar and hosted Bible studies in our home, hoping we would not be discovered by the secret police.

One Christmas season, my roommate, Gwen, and I, decided to go visit our friends in Vienna over the holidays to have a break from the austere life of that particular season. But when we were ready to come back, and we had to come back by a certain date or we would lose our visas and ability to live there anymore, there was an unprecedented series of storms and freezing weather. Many told us it would be dangerous to drive our car in such weather.

However, we had no choice. Either we made it back by midnight or we would be kicked out of the country for good. Our visas would be invalid and we would not be able to enter without valid visas. Our ministry was at stake.

Wrapping ourselves in the warmest clothes, and storing food, water, flashlights, candles and blankets, near us, we began our journey home. The drive through security borders, guards checking our car for contraband, (Bibles or drugs), and the dogs sniffing all around our luggage, provided a very slow trip. Combined with frigid weather, we barely imagined we would make it into the Polish border in time. We literally got through the final set of border guards with only minutes to spare.(There was a little miracle story I tell about in the podcast!)

Now, we had to drive a couple more hours to the city where we lived. When we finally drove into Krakow, where we lived in a small apartment, we had such difficulty finding our way. The electricity had been blown by the storm throughout the whole city. Struggling through shadowy streets with no traffic lights, street lights or house lights, we struggled along in blindness, guessing our way through the fog. 

Finally, we had inched our way to our street and there in the window of an apartment in our building was a single candle, but that light showed us the way home. In the deep darkness and fog, it beamed brightly as a lighthouse to welcome us. Because it was surrounded by such deep darkness, its light was even more exceptional and magnificent. 

Jesus is that kind of light.

Surrounded by darkness in thought, morals, politics, values, every arena of the world, He shines brightly to show us His sure way. And when we are filled with the light of God in the midst of such darkness, people will be attracted to His light in us. And our homes can also be that lighthouse in our world, as we lift up His reality among people who live by performance, fear, bitterness, insecurity, or rebellion.

What does it mean, to walk in the light of God? Walking in His light amidst the deep darkness means we have to look for the light, we have to strain for God's direction. While walking in darkness, we will stumble and fall if we do not keep our eyes on the light.

I have always engaged and embraced this verse:

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until the full day, but the way of the wicked is like deep darkness: they do not even know over what they stumble. Proverbs 4:18

Walking in the light doesn't mean getting all of our desires met or having a perfect life. Walking in His light means that we will look for his light, seek the answers to life from His perspective and to enter into His design and purposes.

Walking in His light means we are given the insight and grace to endure all of life's pathways , the grace to look back and see that God has produced maturity and contentment through the circumstances of my life. We see that He has given us real internal joy and freedom and self-confidence that isn't dependent on what others think about us--as we walk in different ways than the world.

After many years and difficulties, and living through some very dark corridors of life, I can see that the light of Christ was my sure guide and led me to spiritual strengthening, deeper understanding of His Kingdom, of His "laid down life."  I find today I am so much more the person I always wanted to be, but I had no idea what He would have to do to empty my life from darkness of my grasp on this world, in order to fill it with His light.  His light shines on my deepest desires and I know joy because He is leading my life—and I'm thankful I don't always get everything I want or request.

Walking in His light is not simply a means of self-satisfaction, though. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking this. When we are weary and exhausted from the sheer amount of physical labor and energy expended in the service of our families, we become deeply stressed because we thought life would be easier.

We didn't know how much work our children would take or how imperfect our husbands could be. What happened to the Prince Charming whose sole purpose in life was to meet my needs and make me feel beautiful? I once read that depression is the result of unresolved anger. If this is true, I think that the anger stemming from "not having life work as we thought it should" is one that causes many precious women to live with depressed feelings, all the time.

But that is why walking in the true, sustaining light of God is so vital. It is truly only by His grace that we can live in a redemptive way, trusting all the disappointments to Him, gaining strength to make it one more day. His light doesn't make life perfect; His light redeems every circumstance and ushers us into the reality of the kingdom lived out on earth, which basically means God's perfection is working within a very sinful world.

The amazing truth I have come to see, though, is that when I walk in His light and choose His ways, my home becomes a light house. Not only do my children learn from me how to choose light, to follow after His light, but our home becomes a light house--a place where others can look and find guidance, love, forgiveness, truth, righteousness, wisdom.

Are you building your home into a lighthouse--that is shines forth as a haven where others can come out of the darkness to experience the comfort of light?

So what does it look like to walk in the light? I personally think that walking in the light requires me to take time to be in God's presence in quietness every day so I can refuel from the one source of true light.

Seeking to walk in God's light means ...

  • taking the Sabbath as a time each week to put aside work and to enjoy a day of rest and restoring
  • building specific times into my life where I can regain an eternal perspective
  • taking time in relationships to fellowship with others—my husband and my friends—who love me and encourage me and build into my life, so that I have something to give back to all those who would tax my life. Good company is essential to growing as a person of light. The company you keep will often determine a part of the person you become. (He who walks with the wise will be wise, a companion of fools suffers harm.)

Interestingly, walking in the light is not something I can attain by a teeth-gritted effort; rather, it is a choice I make to pull away from the world for moments, so I can be refilled, seek light, and choose to walk in it when I return to the world waiting just beyond my quiet time chair. And it is in those times that I am filled up for living my days well. In those times I seek to see my life through God's eyes, learning what He wants me to learn and knowing that His desire is for me to enjoy life and to celebrate His light every moment. I am refilling my soul's bucket so there will be more insightful nuggets from which my family can draw.

Walking in the light of Christ and His ways requires a decision, a commitment to subdue my schedule so that I can take time to refuel and restore. An intentional building of light into the habits, rituals and rhythms of my days so that my family, my children, my friends are with me in His light ways. 

It is also recognizing the truth that if, as Romans 12:2 says, God's will is "good and acceptable and perfect," then God has not given me more than I can do. If I am living beyond my means, feeling stretched, dry, and dark, then I need to simplify my life so that I can find time to be sure that I am walking in His light—holding on to His perspective, being refreshed in His energy, resting in His wisdom, restoring in the relationships that He designed to be a blessing to me.

More traditions on the podcast of how to make your home a light place.

Do you walk in the light?  How can you experience more of the light and life of God, and carry it to your own world?

Light Verses for this week--read at least one a day and ponder it in light of your stewardship to both recognize His light and to be a light to others and to cultivate light in your home.


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

Matthew 4:16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

John 8:12 Then spoke Jesus again to them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 12:35 Then Jesus said to them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come on you: for he that walks in darkness knows not where he goes.

Ephesians 5:14 Why he said, Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no ficklenss, neither shadow of turning.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;

1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin.

Revelation 21:23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

    (I just had to include more light verses because it should be the light of Christ that illumines every part of our lives.

    *A tradition: Pick favorite scriptures and put them up in your home in prominent places. But be sure to take them down from the walls each year to talk about what these verses really mean to your family. (We use meal times to discuss the verses we have in our home.)

    *Read a great book like God's Smuggler to show a man who reflected God's light, (or a biography about Hudson Taylor or Amy Carmichael, who brought the light of Christ to China

    *This week, I invited a 10 year old girl over to have tea with me. As a beautiful little one who was lonely, I wanted to be the friend she needed at this time in her life. We had a grand time.

    *Memorize at least three of these verses with hour family this month.

    *Take a plate of cookies to a neighbor and give them a kind "Autumn Greetings" note to begin opening up a relationship with someone in your immediate life. (My children loved to make cookie plates and then prayed for the people we delivered them to--sometimes 10-12 people in our lives who needed some special attention. They helped me bake, wrap the plates with ribbon and write the cards.)

    Tea & Avonlea, with Sarah (Lifegiving Home Series)

    A few of the goodies I keep on hand for any friend who happens by...

    A few of the goodies I keep on hand for any friend who happens by...

    In Oxford you never have to be alone. But then, you might never be known either. Oxford can be a profoundly lonely place. This is a river-fast, rush to talk and write and do a thousand things city. Night or morning, there is always a talk or a group to be attended, a debate to be had, a dinner to savor, a person to be seen, a task to be done. What is harder to come by is that safe place of friendship where the hurry fades, that quiet space where the worries can emerge, or grief be shared, or where you can simply be tired and seen for the bundle of hopes and fears and delights that human beings always are.

    I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day and got downright tickled at the suppressed but obvious need of every person there to be seen, to smile, to know. The chill of the day had driven a dozen of us to the blue-walled, richly scented refuge of that little café where we hunched over books and pretended to be deaf to all distraction. None of us really needed to be there – the plethora of free libraries in Oxford means no one ever needs to study in a coffee shop and I knew very well that I was there because I was feeling lonely, with Thomas at orientations all week and my old friends mostly moved away and that feeling of there being no one to call. I found myself wanting desperately to strike up a conversation with the girl next to me, or the English lit. student across the table. But the hush was self-conscious and stubborn.

    Until the door opened and a new girl arrived, a sturdy pile of books in her arms. I scanned the titles and found them surprisingly familiar and without thinking, glanced at her face. She smiled and my eye was caught and I gave her what was, I’m sure, a shy, sheepish grin. Unaware of the unspoken law of shy silence, she sat with noisy ease of movement, complimented the barista on her necklace, plopped her book on the table, and apologized to her seatmate for jostling his chair. He looked up and, wonder of wonders, smiled too. And I watched that whole room crackle and thrill with friendliness. People loosened their muscles, smiled, jostled their books, even laughed. It was remarkable. That one girl, in her ease and joy allowed the rest of us to look up, out of our loneliness, to smile, to see and be seen in a remarkably powerful way. The atmosphere changed because of her presence.

    That’s exactly the kind of warm, heart-quickening, life-renewing atmosphere I want my little house here in Oxford to have. Something I have learned quickly here, something I have also remembered afresh from many years of struggle is that it takes only one person to break the silence of loneliness. We live in such a hurried, impersonal world, in which isolation increases by the day. That most people are on the deep side of lonely, that they yearn to be seen and heartily known is a fact I am convinced of from top to toe. I think most people are waiting, even if they barely know it, for someone to ask them a question about their life or hope or struggles or need, a fact which makes me a little bolder every day in reaching out. It takes only a word, a smile, the offer of a cup of tea together to invite another soul into the circle of shelter in which one can be known and loved.

    My favorite blue-walled coffee shop.

    My favorite blue-walled coffee shop.

    Home is the place where we are seen. Home - be it student flat, cottage, bungalow, closet, or mansion - is meant to be a place where people come to be deeply known, to rest, to belong. Whatever small space you possess, it is the kingdom in which your love can create an air that is the oxygen of peace for those who enter it. By the meals you craft, by the candles you light (I do love my candles), by the words you speak, and the door you open, you are the maker of a world in which friendship becomes possible. In this new season, as I revel in my own first home, I'm challenging myself to reach out, to move beyond my loneliness at old friends being gone and to use this space of mine as a place where friendships can grow, where strangers come to be companions, where bosom friendships (as Anne of Green Gables would say) begin. 

    Breathe In: Companionship of Words

    I suppose, having talked about opening your home, it's a bit counter-intuitive to start by talking about the companionship, not of people, but of minds and words. But good books, and the souls behind them, have companioned and nourished my heart through many seasons. And I think when we speak of loneliness, and of overcoming isolation, a first step to take can be into the communion of other active, loving minds whose life and excitement make you ready to share your own. 

    Novels accomplish this for me. In my moments of crisis, when the landscape of my own mind and soul were fogged and dim with confusion or loneliness, there have been several stories that stepped into my imagination as friends. The worlds they had made and the people they presented were a refuge to me. Wendell Berry’s Port William and his warm-hearted Hannah Coulter. The Eliot family and their home of Damerosehay in Elizabeth Goudge’s Pilgrim’s Inn. The artistic grit of Thea in Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark. Nouwen’s story of God’s mercy traced through his contemplations on Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal returned.

    They sheltered me. When I was blinded by doubt, I journeyed on by the vibrant light of their created worlds. As I struggled toward courage, as I worked toward new hope in times of exhaustion, those stories were my refuge. I was nourished by the power of what they presented as possible. I sheltered within their scenes, stood beside their characters, then stood back on my own two feet to reclaim my own vision and walk the long road required to bring it to life. Friendship, companionship, community; these were some of the most vivid realities those stories helped me to grasp afresh and begin to create once more in my own life. 

    Breathe Out: The Tea & Avonlea Club

    Anne of Avonlea was also one of those books. I grew up reading the Anne books and watching the 'Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea' miniseries once a year. It was tradition. Come fall, come the first turning of the leaves, we kids would help my mom peel apples for applesauce, or we girls would sip a fresh-made cup of hot chocolate and watch the charming tale of Anne - her friendships, her wonder at the world - all over again. In England now, far from my family, I ache for those old traditions and stories to shape my days, I yearn for the friendship reflected in the innocence and wonder of the Anne books. 

    So, I'm going to start a 'Tea and Avonlea' Club. It will consist of simply a baked autumnal treat, a pot of tea, an hour of reminiscent movie-watching, and time for conversation after. I'm inviting my new women friends as I find them, hoping to create a place where we can relax and enjoy, savouring the friendship of Anne and Diana (if you don't know this story, get thee forth and read!) and letting it inspire us to our own camaraderie. It's a small step, a light-hearted opening of possibility, but it's the first on the road to new friendship.

    Will deeper things come? I hope so. I hope that this open door of good food and fellowship will become the ground for longer conversations, for small disasters shared, for meals offered, for prayers said, for new traditions formed. What I do know is that if I don't begin, none of it will happen. If I sit behind my closed doors, looking out my windows with lonely eyes, life will never grow. But if I bake a cake and open the door instead... that first step is the tilled ground of friendship. I'll open my door, sweeten the deal with tea and Avonlea, and see what good things grow...

    This week's treat? A Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake. It was delicious. And so incredibly easy. It went so fast I didn't even get a picture... 

    Reading: Well, I'm currently up to my eyeballs in academic preparation, which includes a good biography of George MacDonald (by William Raeper), the author whose imaginative novel Phantastes 'baptised' the imagination of C.S. Lewis. With his deep, deep grasp of the fatherly love of God, and his belief in beauty as a force of God's goodness, MacDonald has become a beloved voice in my spiritual formation. His At the Back of the North Wind, and Lillith are strange and wondrous favorite tales. 

    Listening: A friend recently sent me the album Ghost of a King by The Grey Havens, and I am so enjoying the redemptive lyrics and hopeful, golden, acoustically-toned music. 

    Join us next week for the continuing series on The Lifegiving Home.

    Surprised by Joy in Family Life


    When I first had children, I did not know what children were like. I had not changed a diaper, had rarely babysat and didn't know what to do with children. But because I am an idealist about everything else, when I had children, I approached parenting as an idealist, and  pondered a whole variety of choices regarding their discipline, education, and nurture, so choosing to homeschool was a logical choice for us at the time. I thought a lot about education, books, curriculum.

    But what surprised me was, the longer I pursued this "every day, all the time" lifestyle, I began to find heart and soul satisfaction more than I ever dreamed as our family grew so close as friends. We shared probably the most satisfying times in my life being a little "gang" together. We belonged to each other and loved being together, reading the same stories, doing life in every way together. I was surprised by the joy I felt at times about how right it was to be together and to grow in life together. It was a gift I never expected.

    Of course there were many days that messes got to me, the kids bickering drove me batty and I longed for a moment alone. But there were so many more times I felt deeply that my investment in them was so meaningful and I so enjoyed teaching and watching them grow in my home. It was a miracle to me, really. I never knew I would love it so much--this being a family together!

    In light of this, the following memory seems so long ago, and I'm so grateful to have taken notes on such a simple, everyday day in our lives.  Otherwise, I might have lost it!  How often we rush through all that must be done, and how sad to reach milestones in life when our children move on and away from us--if we find not only have we forgotten special moments, but neglected to carve time for them to happen in the first place ...

    The end of summer was near and the promise of autumn drew us irresistibly out of the house on a delightful afternoon. The air was unusually cool, the sun shining full force, and the skies were a stunning blue. It was a perfect day to explore the hike-and-bike trails in the sprawling nature center behind our house which seemed like an extension of our backyard. The girls were content to follow at a slower pace, while Clay and the boys donned biking helmets, jumped on their trail bikes, and took off in the lead for our grand adventure.

    Sarah decided she would walk and talk with me as I pushed baby Joy in her stroller. As we leisurely strolled along the trail atop the river levy, we talked about everyday life, casually sharing ideas, feelings, and plans about our week. It seemed such a luxury to have this relaxed time outdoors. Joy demanded that we stop every few minutes while she picked up another leaf to add to the growing collection she was clutching in her chubby little hands. She seemed happy just to shout out her new word to anyone who would listen, "Lee! Lee!" As if to say, I realize you don't know what I am saying, she would hold up her leaf bouquet to be sure we caught her meaning.

    The boys, meanwhile, biked energetically up and down the trails, frequently huffing and puffing their way back to us to tell about the people they had seen, the dogs they had met, or some other interesting observation from a boy's point-of-view. As they rode away at high speed, pumping the pedals as hard as they could, there would always be some trick jump attempted, or a tall hill scaled, or a kid-sized wheelie, followed by a, "Hey, Mom, did you see that?!"

    Dad, all the while, was taking his time and enjoying the trail at a more "mature" pace. (We had built him an office in the back yard during this period of time, so occasionally he could join us in our adventuresome daily antics. 

    Sarah and I waved our admiration to our three talented men, smiling with feminine wonder at the budding masculinity on display before us. Sarah then turned to me with a look of contentedness and said,

    "I feel so good when we are all together and close. I'll bet it must be lonely to be in school and not be able to be together all the time."

    I knew just what she meant. I loved it when we are all together as a family, feeling like we were an integral part of each others' lives. It feels so natural and normal; the way it should be.

    I believe God meant us to feel fulfilled in family because it satisfies our need for a place to belong, a place where you know you fit in. In our family, there was always someone around to admire a new car that Joel has designed, or to enjoy a new piano arrangement that Sarah has mastered, or to be impressed at the new Civil War outfit Nathan had put together, or just to clap for Joy when she takes her medicine without spitting it out on Mom or Dad. (It was her habit!)  Everything was a group activity in our home.

    These kinds of joyful moments caught me by surprise. I'm wasn't looking for them or expecting them, but all of a sudden my eyes were opened and I discovered another of the joys that God meant for me to know.

    It was there all along, but I had missed it. The joys get lost in the blur of too many activities, dimmed by a nearsightedness that sees only the housework that must be done, the educational goals that must be achieved, and the practical demands that must be met. It shouldn't be a surprise to me that there would be all kinds of joys just waiting to blossom out of the family and home-centered lifestyle of homeschooling. If that is how God meant us to live, then he wants to bless us through it. Nevertheless, I often find myself delightfully surprised by the joy of the life God has given me.

    When they were young, I would long for time away, for myself. And sometimes when I was gone for them an hour, I would miss them and feel guilty, at times, that I wanted to be away from them. The load of motherhood is great, and so our feelings fluctuate. But now, as I experience empty nest for the first time in over 32 years, I miss my pack. There is a Clarkson-child shaped hole in my heart. :)

    Now, that all are adults, this shaping of our souls together, has manifested itself in such a close-knit friendship amongst us all, that though far away in our work/living situations, we communicate with one another almost every day--often group texts are flying about amongst each other.

    We will do anything to congregate together as "friends" and I delight to see each child in constant contact with the others. I love having us all be best friends. But I just didn't know what I was missing as a child until I experienced it as a parent--and homeschooling had a lot to do with all of us being each others peers and best friends. Just something I was thinking about. (Part of this story was taken from Seasons of a Mother's heart. The rest from me today, in my home.)

    For more encouragement specifically for homeschool moms, you might enjoy Seasons of a Mother's Heart, here on Amazon.