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This space has been so quiet lately, allowing some much needed room to sort out bits of my heart and home. Time feels so tenuous, doesn’t it––the practical substance of our days, yet impossible to grasp. Yet I have been grasping still.

It seems our home is always moving these day, balls bouncing, doors swinging, water boiling. Our home rhythms have shifted drastically in the last few months, and honestly, I have felt generally overwhelmed accommodating it all. Perhaps it’s the weight of all Mark and I are trying to accomplish raising and educating children. Maybe it’s the context of building our own businesses from home or the lingering home projects waiting to be finished. Maybe it’s more simply that delicate crossroad of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Most likely, it’s a bit of everything, but the fight for a peaceful spirit in the midst of it is real.

I recently woke up in the middle of the night, crying, my chest heavy and cheeks wet. I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, so when tears come, I know they are a little note delivered from deep within me whispering, pay attention. For all I understand about our human need to pause and listen to those around us, I find it sometimes hardest to prioritize this sort of nurturing for my own person. My heart is prone to hiding beneath accomplishment and TO DOs, so when I wake up in the night, heavy with emotion, I know my heart is searching for connection, searching to be heard.

Bluntly put, I haven’t felt happy with this school year from the start. In spite of much prayer and thought on the front end, I didn’t really have clear vision for the year ahead. So many factors have changed for our home, leaving our routine hurried and task-oriented this fall, a constant shifting of roles, expectations, and places to be. I love lists, but I don’t love when life feels reduced to one. Sometimes when I am unhappy with life circumstances, I need to intentionally iterate gratitudes to shift my heart/thought focus. Other times, I need to shift the circumstance altogether. This moment required the latter.

That night, I left my warm bed and headed for the sofa, a pen and paper in hand. I flipped on a lamp, folded the paper in half, and titled two single columns: What I Love in our Homeschool Day and What is Needed in our Homeschool Day. I needed to see our day in simpler terms, written more concretely on paper. I reserved the first column for activities, moments, and studies that connect me with our children and our experience at home together. It’s vital for me to preserve those things. The second list are needs I’ve noticed in our home or in my children, activities necessary to our day regardless of my affection for them. This list acknowledges the parts of this journey that are less fun for me (or them); it doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Looking at the two lists side-by-side, I began to see more clearly ways to simplify our days again, even if just temporarily. I noticed there were tasks or studies or activities occupying our time that weren’t on either list at all. I immediately made notes to eliminate those things. I also realized there were too many things from our days on the need to do list consuming the things I love list. So I began to reevaluate the opportunity-cost, adjusting or removing again. My heart began lifting.

The next morning, the boys went to their weekly class, and the girls and I made tea together. We read aloud and sketched maps and looked at books of art. The girls spoke in their best British accents as we discussed our day and what we read. I was gaining simple vision for our home, and likewise, connection to it.

I know most circumstances will vary home to home or that the lifestyle or academic path that overwhelms me will be different for someone else. You may be feeling overwhelmed for different reasons altogether––with little ones or a new baby in the mix. You may be in your first year of homeschooling or dealing with children crying over math problems or reading lessons every day. You may be a single parent or feel like you’re in this journey alone. I hope you will find comfort here somehow in the very least knowing you’re not alone.

I hope you will also find solace that there’s no perfect way or timetable for accomplishment in homeschooling. There’s no magic moment when you arrive and it suddenly becomes easy or without effort. There will be moments of grace, where lessons––of books or the the heart––are delightful and light in spite of difficult circumstances. I am always humbled by how much my children learn even with my own shortcomings. These parts are a gift. But there are also the accompanying days that require effort, fortitude, and so much prayer. They require me to remember promises and speak light into darkness, and even at times to write lists in the middle of the night. Wink. I’m learning, even a decade on this path, to receive all of it as a part of our journey, our story. The sweet parts are savored because of the bitter ones, not in spite of them.

Still I don’t always have that perspective in the moment, and when I find myself weighted by emotion or heaviness in this journey, there are a few practices I return to again and again, practices good for healing broken rhythms and spirits alike, practices that lift an overwhelmed heart.


light a candle and make tea / There’s something about the warmth of a flickering candle and a drink in hand that massages the soul. When our days become frayed or fruitless, making tea (or hot chocolate) is a balm. I pull out art supplies and a book to read aloud. Sometimes we read something silly just to laugh. Either way, it is connecting and healing for broken rhythms and spirits.

head to the outdoors / Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting in the backyard or on the porch. Sometimes we need to move and head toward a local trail, park, or field. Either way, the divine order and beauty of nature always soothes heaviness and helps create perspective.

plan in 6 week increments / Sometimes an entire school year or even a semester can be too much to forecast. Even if you purchase a full-year curriculum, commit to working through just six weeks, and see how it fits within your home. Some homes that school year round, find it helpful to operate in six week blocks of time and take a week off.

make a list / I’m obviously a list maker; it’s how my brain begins to synthesize information. When I feel clouded by too many swirling thoughts or emotions, it helps bring clarity. Perhaps creating a list like the one I mentioned above may help. For those of you who aren’t list-makers, perhaps jotting down 2-3 small goals you have for the day may be enough to help keep you focused, and to let the rest of it go.

create mental space / Sometimes the root of overwhelming emotion for me is simply the way my brain toggles between diverse thoughts so spastically. We are managing so many things right now, between our own businesses and growing children, and at times it causes my brain to function a bit like the puppy in UP–– squirrel! When I recognize this, taking a moment to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and reminding myself to focus on the task at hand is so helpful.

meditate on simple, uplifting thoughts / Having good and noble words accessible is SO helpful. When my mind feels swirly, sometimes it can be hard to remember or change my thinking to uplifting and positive truths. Keeping a few favorite quotes and Scriptures on hand in my journal, on my phone, or around my computer is a helpful tool to read aloud and train my thinking toward good and true things again.

prioritize personal time / When I become overwhelmed, it helps to create so space for myself, specifically to connect with my thoughts. Although this step seems obvious, getting up early in the morning, while the world around me sleeps in quiet, always helps clarify noisy thinking. If you have younger children in bed early, maybe making space at the end of the day works better. Either way, make some time for yourself, to nurture and listen to your thinking patterns, to your emotion. Always remember to speak aloud something simple you know you always need to hear: you’re enough.

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Finding friendship as a mother can be challenging.  Our time is so often filled with taking care of our homes and children and work that we can simply forget to reach out to our existing friends, let alone form new ones. Some friendships are for specific seasons, connections to help us through a specific time or transition. Others, often the most surprising ones, linger longer and move with us through all stages of life. During my decade of motherhood, I’m so grateful for all of the women who have trickled in and out of my life, knowing even the briefest connections have left lasting impressions and impact.

This weekend, I spent time with a few friends who I began homeschooling alongside so many years ago. Due to our growing families and life circumstances, our paths do not always cross in the same consistent ways they once did, but the sporadic meet-ups where we hear and share the hard and sweet spots of our journey with one another are still so sweet for my soul. As I shared an image and thought of these women through social medias last night, I realized these sentiments might be hurtful for women who aren’t experiencing connection, women who long for at least one friend with whom to share the journey.  I am a fairly introverted person who also homeschools and works mostly from home, too, so I know this season can feel isolating. It is easy to see images on the internet and hear stories from other people and feel like we’re missing out, that somehow we are the only ones who are lonely or are caught up in the rote path of motherhood or home-education. It is simply not true.

Occasionally in life, we are fortunate enough to stumble into an already existing community of friendship, and other times, we have to go out and discover it ourselves. Either way, friendship and community always require work and initiative, but as most anyone will tell you, the reward is worth the effort. For any of you feeling isolated or struggling to find relationships, here’s a few different ways I’ve made friends over the years. They are simple thoughts, but I hope at least one will resonate with you and encourage you to keep searching for community.

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take a look around, right where you are / Is there someone casually in your life who you want to spend more time with? Have you noticed a mother at your library, park, gym, or church who you naturally gravitate toward? If your children are in school or take dance, music, or art lessons, play on a sport team or participate in a nature club–look around at the other mothers. Are there any you might connect with? Who do your children naturally gravitate toward? Be bold: ask for a play date or meet-up.

initiate the invite / Don’t wait for someone else to invite you. For various reasons ranging from moving to a new town or country to the fact that we are deeply introverted, it can be difficult for anyone to work up the courage to initiate friendship. Be courageous.  If you’re wanting friendship or needing community, reach out to another mom, even if it’s just one and invite her over for coffee and/or for her kids to play. If you live in a small home or apartment, find a public place to meet: park, local children’s museum, or local eatery with a play space for kids.

search for local play groups / Sometimes larger homeschool or play groups post meeting times and places on websites and blogs. A simple online search with keywords, such as play group, homeschool group, nature club, with your city and state, can turn up several options for you to try. Like anything, if you’re wanting to connect with smaller, more specific niches, use more specific key words, such as waldorf, unschool, montessori, classical, charlotte mason, instead of simply searching homeschool group. Although these groups don’t necessarily mean you’ll find your best friend, you just might, and at the very least, you’ve begun your journey for community.

find online community / Sometimes our life circumstances or locale make it more difficult to connect with mothers in person. Everyday beautiful online communities of women are forming and growing. Instagram has been one of my favorite (and easiest) places to connect or be inspired by other mothers regularly. If you’re needing a place to start, Wild+ Free and Childhood Unplugged are my favorite collaborative accounts for encouragement, inspiration, and laughter as a mother and home-educator.  They always tag the mothers who capture the moments, so don’t be afraid to follow bunny trails or send an email or direct message to one of the mothers who resonates with you.

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Sometimes it is easy to look at other people’s pictures or lives and feel that I am somehow missing out. That I don’t have enough. Sometimes things don’t go as I plan, even when I plan well. Sometimes I have to choose to give thanks when I least expect it–even  possibly on the day we commemorate it. For instance, I may have actually taken more time to get dressed for dinner this evening, paying attention to details in a way I wouldn’t typically, only to find myself later wearing a child’s vomit. I arranged candles across the table, preparing the space where the meal my parents lovingly labored over would sit, only to realize that special meals are still meals to children–consumed quickly enough to have dessert with little care for mealtime conversation or decor. Yet still–although perhaps more humbly–I am to give thanks. Not only when everything is perfect or goes as planned, but also when it doesn’t. Maybe in the latter, on these sort of days, the giving of thanks actually feels like a gift. A precious gift. Something hidden within me that I have to retrieve. This evening, I spent a little time this evening remembering, retrieving.  I remembered how thanksgiving restores us, rather than depleting us, how the recounting of gratitude changes our heart. A noble reminder for the day, I think.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

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“I love cooking in nature,” Liam tells me. He tosses the scrambled eggs around the pan gently with a fork. He’s carefully improvising the spatula I have forgotten. Nearby, two trees cradle Olive and her blankie. She has climbed into the high hammock by herself and smiles at us as if to say, Look at me! Look what I can do. And the trees echo her as they release a torrent of color into the air, swirling deliberately, gathering at our feet. The fire pops another acorn where Burke and Blythe sit flipping cards and planning our day: a long hike? explore a cave? play in the river? S’mores? Yes. All of it. Knowingly, Mark hands me a cup of hot coffee as he does most mornings, only today he doesn’t need to rush off to work. This morning he stands with me between the fire and the fog lying over the hills.

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We camped on the Frio River last weekend–a little belated celebration for my birthday. There were no candles or wrapping paper. Still, it was the best of gifts.

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When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. — Marcus Aurelius

I’ve been thinking on these words since a friend on Instagram shared them a few days ago. As you can imagine, life has not slowed down for us–and with ten people under one roof, it’s not all that hard to imagine really. It can be noisy and messy and — did I say noisy? It’s easier to see and focus on those things now because they demand my immediate attention and they are antithetical to adulthood and maturity. However, in the midst of the clutter and various routines and chatter is life–childhood and parenthood and this relatively brief interval of time when they overlap. That’s the perspective I want everyday, the lesson I’ve been learning lately (and possibly always): today is a gift. Life (breath, thought, love, laughter, sharing, etc.) is a gift.

I’m currently slowing down the days by giving thanks (as mentioned in the previous post), finding the everyday somethings, the everyday “privileges,” no matter how small. I’ve hardly been able to pick up my real camera, but here’s a few snippets of our happenings lately: the gifts of life. (Find more of our daily happenings by following me on Instagram @cloisteredaway) Happy Friday everyone.

 

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I’m thrilled (and honored and any other exciting adjective) to announce my invitation to collaborate on this beautiful project, Spilled Milk.  “Spilled Milk is a collaborative photography blog, featuring a collection of photographs from 19 talented mothers from around the world. We are prompted by a weekly theme reflecting some aspect of parenthood and the complexity and beauty that comes with raising our kids.”

This week we shared images of Mess, something personified in my home. It always surfaces at will, appearing in random corners of the floors or transposing onto our walls. Sometimes Mess spreads before us smothering our countertops and beds, and sometimes I find the sly Mess peaking from dresser drawers waiting to escape.

To see other images of Mess this week, hop over to Spilled Milk.

artwork: oana befort

Toss it up to my naiveté or young idealism that this never dawned on me before having children, but let me just say, parenting is HARD. (Yes, I can hear your laughter mocking me.) When I say this, I’m not whining because I don’t get to sleep in on the weekends any longer; although is it wrong to look forward to the day I get to pounce on my children, shouting “It’s breakfast time!” before the sun comes up? I guess that’s another conversation. Being a parent is hard because we are laying our life down. Always. Not in the child-gets-to-dictate-while-we-smile-and comply sort of way, but in the having to say, show, correct, discuss ALMOST EVERYTHING over and over and over and over and over with patience and hugs and encouraging words, when frankly, at times, I would rather throw myself on the floor, kicking and screaming. Ahem. I’m sorry, were you looking for an adult here? Parenting is hard because our CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE, who have personalities, perspectives, and emotions without the filter of maturity to hold them back. It’s hard because no matter how many books you read feeding you polarized parenting styles, WE have to ultimately decide how to love them and lead them into maturity. Even when your parenting looks different from others. It’s hard because, in the event you have more than one child, each of them will need, listen, respond, learn, love and challenge you differently. And that’s just how it’s suppose to be. It’s hard because everyone has an opinion on how you should parent (even the creepy stranger who wants to rub your belly). And since blogs are indeed mostly about unsolicited opinions, let me say if I were to write a parenting manual, well, it wouldn’t be a manual at all, but it would say something like this: There are few true absolutes in parenting: Be patient, kind, and quick to forgive, be mindful of your humanity and that you too were once a child and carved your name with a rock into your parent’s friend’s car (I’m sorry, who are we talking about here?), give lots of hugs and kisses, give yourself “time-outs” when you’re exasperated/angry, play, pray, ask for help when you (or your spouse) think you need it, and most importantly, if you ever think you’ve got it all figured out as a parent (you know, readily giving un/solicited advice to others without receiving any yourself), then you’d best pull your head out of your a** before you find yourself in a prideful pit of poo.

But, seriously, how can I begin to describe the blessing, laughter, and immeasurable delight I receive as a mother in return for what may appear to onlookers as utter insanity? Well, I just don’t know. But I do know somewhere in this process–in this laying down beneath blankets of legos, dress-up, laundry, meal preparation, potty training, lesson plans, and other miscellaneous clutter–I’m learning more about Jesus, about Love.

(this one’s for you, Tif.)