Tests Do Not Tell All…

Next week the boys will go to their umbrella school (the school where we report our grades and attendance) to take part in the standardized testing. They are familiar with the process, especially the older boys who have been through it many times. The boys attended this school until we began home school two years ago, so they know the drill.

 

For the most part they are not intimidated by the testing. We have talked about the need for the testing, but also that we are not defined by these tests. Last year I wrote a bit more about testing, and as I read through the post again this morning I thought it was worth sharing again:

 

The boys are testing this week. Testing to see not only what they know, but how well they have been taught. Those in the schools…well, the teachers are being tested as well. I know in some areas these tests bring stress and anxiety and frustration; there is pressure to do well.

I told the boys not to worry and to have fun. I told them I’m not worried a bit…I know they are bright and I know they are learning, and I know this year will be a bit different since we began homeschool. We are using a different curriculum, and I know that will show, especially in math.

They are relaxed and they are not worried about the results, although they know I expect them to do their best.

Yesterday I saw a video and it has been on my mind since. See, I know there are loads of opinions on education, and I know that not one way is necessarily the correct way for everyone. We’ve chosen homeschool for this season, and we have done so for a number of reasons. I am excited about this venture, and I am hopeful. I truly think this is the best option for us, and I think there are some opportunities in the homeschool arena that simply can’t happen in the classroom.  Opportunities to pause the syllabus and explore.

That is a touchy issue because some people feel judged just by my saying that…my choice for our family can frustrate others who have not made the same choice. Some think that I am making a statement about public education or private education…and I am,  to some degree. Still, because I have found our niche and am celebrating that does not mean that another’s choice is worse. I have friends who have children flourishing in public school and friends with children flourishing in private school.

Here is the real thrust of my thinking, though, and here is where this video comes into the discussion.

My kids, all boys at this point for the discussion of education, get bored easily. They are not avid readers or avid ‘learners’ and there are many days in the classroom or at home where they just want to get through the material so they can get on to something fun.

That bothers me.

I love to learn, and I love education. I know I didn’t always…but I have found that I love learning about people and about places…I love reading and I love learning new things.

I want them to catch that. I want them to see learning as something vital and alive and filled with wonder and imagination and truth…and not drudgery.  It can be drudgery in the classroom, in the home, wherever. The same education can be exciting and grab our attention…in the home or in the classroom.

I am not completely sure how this will play out, but I know that something is stirring in me about how I approach teaching the children. There are still facts they have to learn, and sometimes those facts are drudgery. There will, however, be things that will grab their attention and spark something…and those things need to be given the room to grow and the space to breathe.

When something makes them sit up and makes their eyes sparkle and makes them talk excitedly, I need to pay attention. I need to be listening for that moment, and I need to breathe life into that spark. 

That doesn’t happen in testing. That doesn’t happen in drudgery. That requires attention and the flexibility to give room to that interest. The hope is that as that interest sparks learning, the enjoyment of learning will spread to the other subjects.

There has to be room for imagination and for experiments.

And for failure.

And for play.

Space to find out that actually, I don’t care at all about this subject.

Testing doesn’t make that room.  I am not saying that testing is meaningless; we do need to know that our kids are learning the necessities. I am saying that our kids are so much more than the testing reveals.  I love this video because the young man is obviously bright and intelligent and creative and passionate. He is not saying education is meaningless…he is saying to pay attention to that spark and not just learn because you have to learn a set of facts.

Give room for that love of learning without suffocating it with facts that become drudgery.  

I am not good at this yet…I still make it drudgery sometimes. I can remember my teachers who were able to grab my attention and I can remember when the realization began to take hold that learning is really amazing. This is an amazing world filled with some pretty incredibly stories and people and facts and wonders…that is what I want to convey.

 Here is the real kicker…I can lose sight of that wonder just as easily in the home school setting as the teacher can in the classroom. I need this reminder as we near testing. 

Check out this video, and thanks to my friend Tina Hunter for posting it, and then watch the one after as well. I want my boys to think like this…I want them to think and to challenge and to explore, not just to prepare for tests.

 

Update: I have to add something, as I’ve been thinking about this through the day. I have to add that I have so much respect for my friends who are teachers…who are able to create an atmosphere of creativity and individuality in the classroom. Those teachers who make our children feel special, who truly care about the children they teach…those are some special teachers! I know that there are many who have made an impact on my kids…and on our family as a result. There are many teachers who are simply tired, and many who are restricted and find themselves in a difficult position to try and create a unique environment. So, I wanted to add that I know there are not simple answers to how we inspire our children…and whether we homeschool or have kids in school, we have to continue the learning throughout our family life.

Stop. Listen.

The last month has been a blur.  Lesson plans, teaching through the day with the kids and shuffling off to sports practices in the evenings. This has been our life for the last year, yet for some reason this last month it has felt more demanding.

 

I find that I am just a step behind the laundry and the dishes and the to-do-list. There is always more to be done than there is energy and time.

Always.

 

And yet, I find that the words from my last point carry with me, and there is still an underlying contentment. Is it possible to be content and want change at the same time? To be content and yet to hope for things to expand and for growth to happen? I think so. I think it is okay to say that we hope for, and work for and look forward to change even while we are fully aware of the blessings we enjoy.

 

Still. There are days where I am just flat-out tired. There are days where I wake up tired. My blood pressure has been up and the allergies are flying. The kids are together almost all the time, and they get on each other’s nerves. And mine.

 

We bicker.

 

The house gets messy.

 

Stuff happens.

 

I get irritable.

 

I forget the blessings. I forget the hope for a moment. I forget how incredibly rich this life is. And then….suddenly I realize there is this one constant that has begun to happen. This makes everything stop. Maybe just for a few seconds. Maybe for a minute or two.

 

This forces me to stop. Physically forces me. Looks me in the eye and says I love you.

 

Physically.

 

Every morning, and after every nap…

 

I wake Maddie up, I carry her downstairs and she lays down on the floor.

 

She grabs hold of my neck and bear hugs me.

 

She grabs on and will not let go. I will pull back and tell her I need to go do whatever…and she will look at me with a gleam in her eye and say:

 

“No. I hug you. I love you.”

Bayfield

And then she will pull me back in to a hug.

 

Another minute.

 

The first time I thought it was cute. The second time I giggled and laughed and told her she was silly.

 

The fifth time I started to think God was trying to get my attention.  This little one is deeper than she lets on.

thoughtful

 

Now I don’t fight it. Or giggle.

 

I expect it. I know one of these days she won’t hold on, and I’ll miss it terribly.  This littlest one was sent to stop me in my tracks from time to time.

 

She was sent to remind me…to look me in the eye, to hold on tight and to make sure I was listening.

wintercoat

“I love you.”

Boy, it changes the tone of the moment.  If we could all hear that. When we are stressed. When we are tired. When we are hopeless. When we are weary.

 

Sometimes, honestly, she hugs so tight that it hurts.

 

Sometimes we need that. We need someone who is willing to stop and look us in the eye and make sure we are paying attention and truly listening…and someone willing to make us stop and hear.

 

We are loved. 

 

Man, it changes the tone of everything when we truly hear it, though. Then we want to hear it again every morning. We look forward to it and we are eager to hear it. There is something incredibly pure in hearing it from a child.

 

God knew what He was doing when He plopped this little one in my midst…and yet I know that there are so many around me that need to hear that as well. I know that there are so many who need to simply know that they are loved, who need to know that they matter. They need to have someone look them in the eye and speak truth to them.

 

Someone to simply care.

 

I know that I spend much of my time lately distracted. Much of my time half-listening. And in these moments when Maddie grabs me and looks at me and speaks I have this larger sense of what it is to be seen. I want to learn to be like that…to listen and to see and to love like a child. What kind of impact could we have?

 

 

 

Arduous Contentment on a Monday

Contentment. 

You know those days when things feel too busy? When the house is a mess because you had to get the kids to change clothes on the fly, and all the dirty clothes are still in a pile and the dishes are still piled up in the sinks. The groceries are slightly depleted because the trip the store had to be postponed since, well, you were just too tired to go.

 

Or is this just me today?

 

We have just finished up a crazy busy weekend, complete with hockey games where we screamed until we lost our voices, and we ushered the Oldest to an all-nighter event between his games. Funny, I think he skates better at 2am than during his regular games!

By Sunday morning Miss Maddie, looked like this:

 

sleepymaddie

 

This morning, though, I woke up thoroughly happy about all the craziness.
I woke up content, and I remembered some words from G.K. Chesterton about being content…

 

 In some accounts of contentment it seems to be little more than a meek despair.

But this is not the true meaning of the term; it should stand for the idea of a positive and thorough appreciation of the content of anything; for feeling the substance and not merely the surface of experience. “Content” ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased; placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being contented with bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring what you eat. It ought to mean caring for bread and cheese; handling and enjoying the cubic content of the bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being content with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a position; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. And in this sense contentment is a real and even an active virtue; it is not only affirmative, but creative. 

This season, I know, will pass too quickly. I know that there will be many days ahead when i can sit quietly and enjoy a book and a cup of coffee without having to reheat the coffee three times.  The sports days, and the play, and the activity, will eventually be done. There are frustrations in this season, and I have my days when I wish we had less on our list…but

 

As Chesterton says, I want to be content in the true sense…not content in a sense of resignation, but content in the sense of creativity and of embracing all of the moment.

 

That takes effort. It is not a passive resignation, but an immersion into the season and walking through this time with eyes wide-open…taking it all in.

 

“True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare. The absence of this digestive talent is what makes so cold and incredible the tales of so many people who say they have been “through” things; when it is evident that they have come out on the other side quite unchanged. A man might have gone “through” a plum pudding as a bullet might go through a plum pudding; it depends on the size of the pudding – and the man. But the awful and sacred question is “Has the pudding been through him?” Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three thousand tastes and smells? Can he offer himself to the eyes of men as one who has cubically conquered and contained a pudding?” - G.K. Chesterton

(You can read the rest of the essay from Chesterton, called The Contented Man, here.)

Paul said this about contentment:

Philippians 4:11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

There are times it is easier to be content. When we are struggling to pay the bills, or when we are facing health issues…it is hard. When we don’t understand why the ones we love diminish before our eyes, or why others are facing enormous struggles…it is hard.

That is when we realize that the true heart of contentment is from trusting that God who strengthens us can help us to be content even then. Not resigned…but content with the knowledge that there is One who holds us in the moment, and One who is sovereign and has a plan.   I don’t think  Chesterton would argue that it is easy, but he would argue it is necessary.

So, this morning has been a breather for me. I needed to catch my breath and to realize how full my life is. Mondays can sometimes be good for bringing perspective and attention, especially after over-the-top full weekends. I think that is a key of contentment…finding those moments that are breathers and allow us the space to reflect and take it all in.

To be thankful. In the busyness, and the crazy schedules, and the frustrations…to have “the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.”  

Celebrating today this season and this life.

Content. On a Monday.

The Party Wouldn’t Have Been Complete Without You….

There are significant moments in the lives of those we love which call for us to stop and pay attention.

Marriages.

Births.

Deaths.

And 80th Birthdays seem rather appropriate as well. If you have followed this little blog very long you will know it is the time of year for my Dad’s birthday, and this year marks the 80th. He has now lived longer than his father, and has entered yet another decade.

What on earth do you do to celebrate? Well, when you are part of a family that is not terribly crafty, and when there is not really a gift you could give that would be more than a mere gesture…you simply come together.

All of my siblings are in Albuquerque for the present time, and I am the only one no longer living in the home town. So, our “gift” was a surprise dinner, including my flying in from TN just for the dinner.

Dadentrance

Our gift, though is really just recognition of the gift we have received. We have this tremendous blessing of growing up in this family. This legacy is the real gift, and the dinner was just a simple way of recognizing that this is important to us.

MomDadMe
Recognizing that we were blessed to have a rather tremendous man as a Father.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” -Buechner

MomDadGrant

I have written much about my Dad in the past, but it is worth saying again that he inspires us as he cares for Mom. He examples selfless love on a daily basis, but more than that…he has always made us feel special as his children. He has always pushed us to do more with our talents, and to be thankful in the simple things.

He is one of the constants in my life, and along with Mom has created a family that truly enjoys being with one another. We were thankful that Mom was content for nearly three hours as we laughed and told stories. That is a gift in itself…and she was not only content, she seemed to enjoy being with us.

Family

When I think about memories and about thinking well about our lives, I do turn to Buechner often. He does not fail to have the words I need to express this importance of family…

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Buechner

Tableside

I would not have missed out on my Dad’s 80th birthday, but the reality is part of the gift he has given us is simply who we are. Hopefully we give that back to him as well. He has given us a foundation to be a family where there is strength and laughter, where stories flow quickly when we are together. He has raised up children who are eager to bless him, and that is part of the gift.  We didn’t have to say that…sometimes flying a few states over makes the point.

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Happy Birthday, Dad. 

Flat Tires Lead to Thankful Hearts.

I have to tell you that generally our life is fairly boring.  We homeschool, so three days of the week we rarely leave the house. We like it that way. We have our challenges with life like anyone, but for the most part we just make it through the days and life is pretty normal.

That is not to say that it has always been that way. I do not consider myself incompetent or boring. I have lived in several places, including short stints in Amsterdam and Hungary, even a summer in a commune in Chicago. I love road trips, ride motorcycles and horses. Shoot guns. Yep. I can handle myself.

So, last night when the little bitty light came on in the truck notifying me that the air pressure was off in one of my tires I was not terribly worried.

However.

Steve had just left for Munich.  I had four kids in the car, which is normal…but I was a little more on guard since, you know…Steve had just left for Munich.

So I pulled over.  I could literally (yes, appropriate usage) hear the air hissing out of the tire when I opened my door. Huge bolt, meet back passenger tire.

Competent girl, meet match.

photo 1

I have changed a few of tires. This truck though, has a beast of a spare tire to get off. You have to manipulate the pole from the jack through an opening on the bumper, blindly, and find a catch and then you can turn it and lower the the tire from under the truck. Sounds simple. I watched the AAA guy work on it for over an hour one time and just about cry before he got it down. Um, I don’t have AAA anymore because we never used it…dumb me.

So, here is where the story is worthy of a blog post.

We live in a small town in the south. I am forever grateful for this. We were 10 minutes from home, we were in a parking lot where I knew we would find help. I went in one place but there was no one who could help. I went in the next place and a very kind man said he would come change the tire.

45 minutes later he still didn’t have the spare lowered. I told you…I hate this spare. However, he tried and kept trying.

Oh, and it was 20 degrees outside.

Then I thought of a man who owns a coffee shop in town who has a similar truck and I wondered if he had ever changed the tire. I called. He not only took my call, he came from the grocery on his way to the shop.

Took him 30 minutes to lower the tire.

Then.

The flat was stuck to the truck.

Seriously.

Stuck.

We kicked it. We stared at it. We hit it with a mallet. He went to a tire shop and asked. He went and got wood to lower the truck onto.

We told the kids to pray.

They prayed, and rummaged through the groceries in the truck.  And they never whined…which made me want to kiss them all.

We lowered the truck truck and I rocked it back and forth on the wood and finally…finally, after 2 hours…the tire came loose. After that it was the simple changing of a tire. We were home within twenty minutes.

All of this happened twenty minutes after Steve’s plane took off toward Munich. That makes me want to laugh. I haven’t had a flat tire in ages…other than one in our driveway. It could have happened on the interestate, it could have happened a multitude of other ways.

Instead it happened in our little small town where two very kind men took two hours out of their evening to help. I know they probably took it as a challenge at some point, but they didn’t have to do it, and it makes me terribly thankful. I had a list of other friends I could have made my way through, but something made me call this acquaintance..and I’m thankful I did.

Worthy of a blog post? Yeah. Just a thank-you.  A moment to say that although there are so many moments that frustrate us…so many moments in the blogosphere where we say the things that are wrong…there are so many things that are right.

There are moments where we see the character come out and we are thankful. My kids saw that people are kind. My kids also saw that we figure stuff out.

Sometimes it is worth simply saying that.

Oh, and for my local friends…it was Jeff from Authentic…so if you need coffee, go by and tell him he’s a great guy.

In the darkness….rely on God.

Facebook greeted me this morning. I usually take a few minutes and speedily scan updates as I sip my coffee. I rejoiced at birthdays and people getting over colds. Liked pictures of friend’s kids doing, well, kid things.

Then I read this on Ann Voskamp’s page:

Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.

Isaiah 50:10

And I paused. I thought of one very dear to me who is now walking through the darkness of divorce. Suddenly. Starting all over. Packing things up and moving.

I thought of another who has struggled to find work and deals with burdens that are nearly overwhelming.

I thought of another who is in the midst of a confusing and heartbreaking situation, where there are glimpses of hope and yet much darkness.

I thought of many who walk in darkness…not evil, not lives encompassed in sin…but darkness that hides the light of hope and of direction. They are faithful to keep walking, to keep pressing in and squinting and looking for that glimmer of light.

This verse struck me…that in those moments, when we are stumbling and cannot find the light, that is when we most need to trust. We simply have no other choice. As Ann says on her Facebook page, we want clarity, but God wants us to press in more closely to him in those moments.

Don’t look for another light…wait. Trust that he is going to guide you through.

Trust, and rely on God.

Great thoughts. Yes.

Sip of coffee.

Next status.

Friends, who we have cheered our sons together as they played hockey. Friends who we know the sound of their voices and the way their eyes look when they laugh, and how the boy’s shoulders shrug when they laugh…those friends…their son was diagnosed with leukemia. Last night.

Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.

Isaiah 50:10

Still?

Yes. Still.  Trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God.

This is the messiness of our broken lives. The heartbreakingly real reality.

I will tell the boys during our morning devotionals. That moment when we go around the room and ask what we are going to focus on this week for prayer. Each boy picks a person they want to be focused on during that week. The choice will be simple today. This will be the closest they have come to cancer…these friends are sports friends. They are close enough that the boys will feel the punch in the gut.

We do not turn away in these moments, though. We listen. We pay attention. We reach out and we offer any help we can…and we pray.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Buechner

We realize that life is so much deeper and wider, and more fragile, than we think. We realize in these moments that there is holiness in our midst, and we realize our deep, deep need in our brokenness. We are awakened from our laziness of being entertained by the world to realize how fragile and broken, and yet amazing and wonder-filled this world is.

These moments stop us. For this family everything has changed.

The darkness is thick at times. In those moments, short or long as they may be…trust in the name of the Lord and rely on him.

“In honesty you have to admit to a wise man that prayer is not for the wise, not for the prudent, not for the sophisticated. Instead it is for those who recognize that in face of their deepest needs, all their wisdom is quite helpless. It is for those who are willing to persist in doing something that is both childish and crucial.”  - Buechner

We pray. We trust in the name of the Lord and rely on him.

 

Yep. Momma is Reading.

This little blog has been silent for 2014.

Ten days of neglect.

It is not that I haven’t thought about coming over and writing some grand thoughts. It is not that I haven’t thought some thoughts.

I’ve been reading, though, and I’ve been aware that I need to listen. My hunch was right. I have a need to press in and read and to do so without the need to turn around and present my findings. I have wanted a year of more silence for awhile, but my soul has been been antsy and unsettled most years, and I just couldn’t get there…this year feels different.

Maybe I’m finally growing up a little.

Maybe I’m just more tired this year.

No…I’m just a little more ready to listen.  My stack of books is ready. Old friends I have wanted to revisit: Buechner and Chesterton and Lewis and L’Engle and Merton and Packer and Wangerin, Peterson and Berry. New finds…The Book Thief and  Elie Wiesel, Annie Dillard (because I really haven’t read her enough) and a whole stack of fiction.

I have my challenge set for 2014 on Goodreads.

My real goal, though? To feed my soul. To enliven my mind. To quiet and slowdown and remember what it is to sit long with a book and immerse myself in story. To remember what it is to fall in love with reading and story and authors…and to have my children see that again.

It happened for a moment the other day. My oldest and I were alone for a bit. I was reading G. K Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and I became excited as I remembered how much I was moved by the section on man being marked by creativity. I read the section to him. Then I began telling him about Chesterton. Then I read him some more.

He turned off his iPod. He came over and engaged and laughed and listened.

He got it.

He listened.  And I told him he would be reading Chesterton in just a year or two. And many others…and soon he would have favorite authors as well, and he would be reading me sections of his favorites.

He smiled.

This year his Momma is going to remember that she is a reader. He is going to see her reading and is going to hear passages quoted. He is going to be aware that books are not just to adorn the bookshelves…we have hundreds of books around. He, and the other kids, are going to be aware that life is not driven by Instagram and FaceBook updates, by texts and emails. Life is going to slow down this year.

I am not sure what that will mean for The Small Rain…maybe more biographies and introductions to what I am reading. Maybe longer gaps between articles. We will see as we go. All I know right now is I am drawn back to books and that is a good thing.

The confirmation? Yesterday Maddie, 2 1/2, walked by and noted that I had a book in my hands. “You reading, Momma?”

“Yep, Maddie, Momma is reading”