Making the Journey Together

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Today I find my heart in reflection mode. Looking back. Remembering. Reaching back so that I can propel forward.

Another academic year has arrived and for most families that brings a time of planning and new beginnings.

To plan well, we first must reflect and take stock of what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. Sometimes we can just look back to yesterday and sometimes we have to go all the way back to where it began. That’s where my heart is today.

Recalling this now 7-year journey of homeschooling and wondering how I got here and how that first day of bringing Emma home from public school has become so many days of doing life together with some very dear friends: moms who go against the grain, swim upstream, and live outside of the box of societal norms.

My heart remembers the night I stood in our church hallway and poured out my insecurities to a veteran homeschooling mom who told me, “I was enough.” When I tried to convince her I was out of my league, she gently reminded me that if God gave me children, then I was the perfect choice for them and them for me. In her mind, her words may have just been noise from her lips but for me they were fuel to the kindling of the fire God was stirring in my soul.

Motherhood was always my dream yet not completely my vision. It hadn’t happened easily. Too many negative tests that disappointed, too many miscarriages had added bricks to the walls around my heart. Too many baby showers for other people had left me empty of vision for a family of my own. Too many glimpses into other families to believe my mess of a life could be a place of haven and harbor for little souls to flourish.

And like a crash landing, Emma Grace slammed into our lives at 27 weeks gestation. This two-pound medical mess with insurmountable odds had given me the title: mommy. Educating her was not even on the radar. Simply keeping her alive one day at a time was consuming. After watching God’s miracles over and over again in her little body, somehow those days added up and it was time for kindergarten. What now?

Seeking counsel and doing our research, we decided to place her in the public school system’s special education environment. God had already lined up the teacher and assistant who would love her and care for her while my body went through even more pregnancies and loss and then finally our last child was born, completing God’s vision for our family.

Four years later, through a series of events that God allowed and used to prepare my heart, we brought her home and began our journey and life style of home schooling. It is the journey I most enjoy in life. I had never known what title to give this “style” of life…this way of living as a family. It isn’t about the curriculum, the books, the meetings, the field trips…it’s about our belief that God put us together in a family for a reason and we are to fulfill His plan of touching the world for eternity through our home. We Parris-people are to be a team that becomes the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting and empty world. We are to love God supremely, serve others diligently, live intentionally, and laugh loudly and often!

This crazy, unpredictable life isn’t just for those who educate at home. Where our children receive their education is far less important than how we live and function as a family…inside the walls of shelter God provides. This life, this intentional, on-purpose pursuit of truth and seeking ways to live fully and following Godly principles…this is the journey worth taking.

And on this journey, an amazing byproduct of living life hard and well is the journey-mates we meet along the way. Kindred spirits who get why we do life the way we do. Friends who fall in step and love us in our mess. People who understand that we are at best…frail, human sinners who happen to love God and try each day to just be a bit better than yesterday.

These people…they make the journey fun. They make the trip bearable when the road has potholes that threaten to pull us under. They hold our arms up when we grow weary. They celebrate our success, cheer our achievements, shelter our failures and soften our heartaches.

How blessed my journey is because of these journey-mates. These amazing people are MINE…friends who I don’t deserve, iron-sharpening souls who I couldn’t have imagined would do life with me, and deep, abiding kindred spirits that I don’t want to live without!

Who are the journey-mates God has placed on your path. Love them well, serve them fully, and hold their hearts securely. We only get this life journey once!

 

A Prayer for a Daughter

Father who breathed into this daughter…

I pray for this girl being formed into eternity….

May the wind always be in her hair

May the sky always be wide with hope above her

And may all the hills be an exhilaration

the trials but a trail,

all the stones but stairs to God.

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God, clothe this girl in a gown of grace
Grace, the only dress that makes beautiful,
the style of Your spirit.

Nourish her on the comfort food of the Word,
Word, that makes her crave more of Christ,
have hunger pangs for Him.

Enclose her in communion with You
You, Love who makes her love, who folds her heart into a roof
that absorbs storms for souls,
that makes her tongue speak only the words that make souls stronger.

May her vocation in this world simply be translation

Translating every enemy into esteemed guest
Translating every countenance into the face of Christ
Translating every burden into blessing

When it’s hard to be patient… make her willing to suffer
When it’s ridiculous to be thankful … make her see all is grace
When it’s radical to forgive … make her live the foundation of our faith
And when it’s time to work… make her a holy wonder.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokeness and knit hearts
May she be dead to all ladders & never go higher , only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing
Her led of the Spirit to lead many to the Cross
that leads to the tomb wildly empty.

Oh, and raise me, Lord, from the deadness of my own sins to love this beautiful girl like You do…

In the name of Christ who rose

and appeared first

to one of His daughters…

Amen…

Building Foundations of Belonging

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We were made to belong. First to God—He made us to belong to Him and to be in intimate relationship with Him. Then, by His design, He set us in families as a place to belong and live in community—in relationship with each other, in order to know Him and ourselves more fully. Because it is how we were made, each of us has this need to belong deep in our hearts. Though this is God’s design, this is not what many of us experience. Sin corrupts relationships and so many—like myself—grow up in broken homes. This can leave children feeling very lonely, neglected, with a confused sense of identity, rejection in place of belonging—and at a time when this need is most acute. Because it is a real need, kids will go to great, and often unhealthy lengths, to find that need met.

But I think it is not only broken homes that can leave children feeling neglected and rejected. I wonder if many practices of our modern lives have the same implications. I’ve been asking myself—what do my actions and the ways in which I spend my time communicate to my children about my priorities and where they fall in line? If we as moms are more in the habit of staring at our screens, busy agendas, and to-do lists than our children in the eyes, I wonder if they are not feeling rejection —that they are not interesting enough, deserving enough, fun enough, important enough, to have our attention?

I’ve also been asking myself—what DOES build a family identity and sense of belonging? Here are some ideas:

Study your children. Get to know who they are, how they are wired, their love languages, interests, desires. Then…

Experience them. I read a passage by Henri Nouwen once that said something along the lines of this: hospitality is putting yourself aside and allowing another person to be fully experienced. Our kids want to be fully experienced. They want us to come alongside them in their interests, bents, developmental stages, and desires, to be championed, encouraged, developed, nurtured, mentored, listened to, and cheered on.

Create family traditions and rhythms that build beautiful memories and captivate hearts. We learn through our environment and experiences. Simply telling a person they belong yet acting otherwise will not convince them. What we do speaks volumes and the environment of our family culture matters. Here are some ideas for building a family culture.

  • Feasting—like a big Sunday breakfast or dinner that you do each week.
  •  Family rituals—like our friend Ruth whose crew debriefs at the end of each day by serving one another with back rubs. For my family a favorite ritual is getting cozy under blankets and reading aloud together each day.
  •  Taking trips or extended time to be together. We love to go camping. Someone recently asked my seven-year-old daughter “what is one of your favorite things?” and her answer was our family camping trips. (I thought she’d say something like her doll or bike or some material thing.) I loved that glimpse into how important such experiences are to children and how they shape them. A stay-cation or camping in your backyard would be just as memorable to them. If you have the opportunity, mission trips are another wonderful thing to do together. Teenagers especially have a need to know that they are apart of something—a story—bigger than themselves. A family mission trip or serving together will give them purpose and help them find their identity and place in God’s story at a time where they are sorting out their identity— who they are and what they are here for.
  • Have fun together! God wired us in such a way that we need to rest and play together. Our responsibilities as adults can be overwhelming and sometimes we find ourselves so overcome that we forget to have fun. In these moments we need to entrust what burdens us to God so that we can exhale and enjoy one another. I recently read a translation of Psalm 46:10 which said, “Be at leisure and know that I am God.”
  • Cultivate a home environment of grace and unconditional love instead of criticism and perfectionism. Perfectionism pushes God out of the equation. Our kids need us to model for them apologizing, forgiveness, and a deep dependence on God. God’s love for us is unwavering in the midst of our ugliest sins and our kids need us to represent that reality to them. In a home where kids are constantly criticized, they will feel rejected, like they are never good enough, that love is somehow earned, and that they don’t belong.
  • Be intentional. I know this is a bit of a buzzword. But the word literally means “aimed at”—which implies that we have a target. What are you aiming at? What family culture do you want to create in order to shape your kids? What do you want your family to be about? What do you want to direct your kids toward and how will you integrate that into the way you do life as a family? What experiences do you want to incorporate? What shaping practices would you like to have in your home?

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are already doing OR, what God might be prompting you to do differently or to begin doing—to shape your family culture and nurture a sense of belonging in your own children.

Teaching children to think by Raising Children Who Read!

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Statistics have shown that in a class of 20 students, few, if any, teachers can find even 5 minutes of time in a day to devote to reading with each student. These studies have also come to find that the majority of children in our generation will stop reading as soon as they no longer have to. This absolutely breaks my heart for a number of reasons. Children are no longer delighting in reading, getting swept away in a captivating story, or enjoying the wonder and fun that comes from learning.

As parents, God has trusted us with a very important job. We are here to not only be mothers, but to be teachers and instructors in all that is good and lovely in the world. In my sweet Sarah’s book, Read for the Heart, she quotes:

The first thing that a young heart needs is an education in all that is good.”

The main reason behind why children won’t find joy and excitement in reading is the fact that they are not being exposed to great books. We don’t live in a culture that is filled with very much excellence. While we may not be able to control the media of our generation, we must take on the responsibility of exposing our children to excellent books that will encourage, inspire, and help them flourish into adults who have a love of literature.

In our home, each child has his or her own book shelf. Every Christmas everyone gets their own books!

Book baskets are all over the house–with picture books, magazines, art books, and piled with all sorts of genre’s of interesting tales.

In our library, we have overstuffed recliners so anyone can go read in comfort at any time.

At bedtime we kept baskets of short stories and picture books and chapter books to keep going one more chapter each night. (and of course we always followed with cd’s of favorite music that placed beauty in their little heads as they drifted off.)

Mediocrity is natural. There are a lot of time wasters out there. However, as mothers, God has called us to the supernatural–the above and beyond of ideals that Jesus wants us to understand. We must rise above what our culture views as normal  activity and cultivate minds and hearts in our children that are excellent, joyous, and full of wonder. What we feed our children’s minds will in many ways determine what they will have in their soul to respond to when they are adults.

3 Excellent Picture Books to Introduce to Your Family This Month:

1- Tuesday by David Weisner
2- Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
3- Song And Dance Man by Karen Ackerman

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When Motherhood Includes Grief

 

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Motherhood.  The word conjures up a host of emotions and experiences that we long for and dream of for years.

Planning.  Expectations.  Anticipation.  Celebration.  Embracing.

Millions of women have experienced the miracle of motherhood.  The transition from a woman with a whole heart into a woman with a capacity to have her heart live both inside and outside of her body is a beautiful and miraculous process.

A woman’s heart is never again whole once she has children.  For each of her children carry a piece of her heart with them through life.  Our capacity for love grows with each new child.  We may think our hearts are full to capacity and yet with each new baby emotions shift and unexplainable reserves of love make their way into our hearts.

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Yet, because we live in a broken world suspended between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and Heaven, we understand that life is not always carefree.  Sometimes, life brings events that shake our foundation for a season.

Infertility.  Miscarriage.  Stillborn.  Pre-maturity.  Death.

Harsh, ugly words that no one wants to say much less experience as part of their journey in life.

Yet…too many of us do have one or more of those words as part of our life’s resume.  Known as grief, there is a process that we go through when our hearts are disappointed and we lose people or dreams that we had loved and held onto in our souls.

And when babies we carried beneath our breasts, those who lived and breathed and whose heart beat to its’ own cadence closer to ours than any other human being will ever be, leave us…part of our heart goes to Heaven with them and never resides again here on earth.

  • When we miscarry, hormones rage.  Ovaries and uterus contract and try to find their rhythm again leaving us with emotions that are often hard to control.
  • When death comes to a child, the word sorrow takes on a depth of unexplainable meaning.
  • When we long for a child and fertility alludes us, empty wombs and arms seem to betray our femininity.
  • Grief includes waves of sadness that suffocate us making breathing seem a difficult chore.
  • In our valley, words spoken by well-meaning and good intentioned friends seem shallow.
  • Maybe most painful of all is that human comfort is lost for a season.

But then…God

The One who created life and orders our steps, reaches through the clouds of grief and reminds us that He alone understands our pain and offers comfort that carries us through the storm.  Slowly, often painfully slowly, He shows us grace and strength and the only true comfort that exists that can penetrate the human soul.

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When healing begins, and it will, the next season is to find a way to remember and celebrate the life we embraced even if just in our dreams and in our womb for a few days or weeks.  The danger with grief is that it is so easy to get stuck somewhere in the process instead of moving through each phase toward healing.  We can get stuck in the stage of denial, anger, etc.  It will be that one season of life that becomes so commonly focused on that it emerges as that for which we are remembered if we are not careful.

All of those harsh, ugly words that we fear most about motherhood are just a few of the issues that the winds of life have blown my way.  And, while each event rocked me for a season (or more sometimes), no one event is the sum total of who I am.  I don’t want to be defined only as the mom of a premature baby, special needs child, mom of a stillborn son, the lady who lost four babies, or a number of other things.  While all of those statements are true, they are not the only part of the legacy I want to leave behind.  My goal for a legacy is to be remembered as a woman who loved God with all her heart and though she failed so many times, she claimed the grace of God and loved her family and friends with all her heart.

So, if that is my goal, then that must be the thing on which I focus every day.  I am not minimizing grief.  Please know that.  It is real, painful, and a life-altering process.  But it doesn’t have to define us.  Grief doesn’t have to overshadow everything else good and wonderful in our lives.  Oh, it will for a season, for sure, and that is healthy and wise.  Grief is painful, intense, hard, difficult, and sometimes the very act of taking the next breath is physically painful.  I understand that completely.

I also understand that God is bigger than grief.  His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) and His grace is abundant and sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).  But please know that if you feel “stuck” in the grief process, there is help available.  Seek out Godly counsel and ask God to help you move “through” the stages of grief so that your legacy will not be that one traumatic experience.

There are some benefits when motherhood includes grief.  We are given a unique perspective on the true miracle of life.  We can celebrate on a grander stage those who call us mom.  We can embrace a little longer and relish the presence of those children who grace our homes.  And we can reach out to others who are newer to the journey of grief than we are and assure them that even when despair is fresh and pain is great, behind the clouds the sun truly is shining and it will break forth again in their lives.

Motherhood is a celebration.  An amazing gift God has granted the females of the human race.  It is an opportunity to nurture, embrace, train, love, disciple the next generation of human beings.  How blessed we are to be in that group of women who have held motherhood in our hearts and life in our arms.

Photo Credit: Terri King (Timberlake, NC) and Laurie Whitehouse (Lexington, KY)