A Better Burden

I’m on my second cup of coffee and it’s well before 7 a.m.  I’ve woken up at 5 without an alarm for the second morning in a row.  This is unusual.  My stomach flirts with the idea of rejecting the scalding black liquid I keep sending down into it because it wants to be asleep like my teenagers are, but I keep on sipping.

Being awake turns out to be what I need.  Now I can think in straight lines.  The breath of the box fan tethers my brain to the real, though, if I’m honest, the real isn’t strictly better than the dreams.

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The world has lost its mind, like I’m sometimes sure I’m losing mine, and this forces me to ponder Things That Matter. Should I have had another baby, I wonder, now that the kids are stretching toward adulthood like the potted ivy on my side table?  (There is nothing like housing a human in one’s core to realign everything).  But there’s the self-destructing world–that giant live coal that blisters our souls as we walk on it.  There’s us.

And that’s when I realize I’ve been tired for a long, long time.

I reach for my coffee mug, but this time my stomach is not playing around.  I need more than caffeine can offer anyway.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he says to me, to us.

I fill up my lungs, let the air out slow.  I close my rusted eyes and choose to believe Him again.

(This).

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Rest on Labor Day

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It’s Labor Day.  We’re a homeschool family, so technically we don’t have to take this day off.  But you know what?

We are.

Some things we love to do around here when we aren’t working are

  • singing karaoke to the laptop (YouTube)
  • watching television shows from the seventies (Netflix)
  • shooting basketballs in the driveway (OK, I don’t do this one but the kids and husband do)
  • eating pancakes any time during the day we want (just add peanut butter!).

Breaks from the norm are important, as everyone knows, but sometimes we don’t take them seriously enough or set aside down time with intention.  I plan to help our family do that today.  Hopefully you can do something fun today, too, even if it’s just hitting Sonic at Happy Hour.

Labor is important, but so is rest.  How do you make time to switch gears?

Letting Kids Be Kids

My kids are getting older, and this means things are changing around our house.  This Fall marks the first in which all three of mine will be involved in sports practices, music lessons, co-op classes, various church activities, and more–every, single week.

I know that, for a lot of people, that’s nothing new.  But up to this point, we’ve led a slow-paced–and a tad unconventional–life, both here and abroad.  Since I’ll soon have two teenagers, though, I feel our pace of life naturally accelerating.  And it should, I remind myself, even if it makes me a little uncomfortable.

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But what I want to keep remembering in this new parenting season is, childhood is (still) fleeting, each day (still) has only 24 hours in it, and a few activities (still) go a long way in enriching a kid’s life–even a teenager’s.  There’s a tendency in our culture to do too much, and I don’t want to join the ranks of the worn out and stressed just because everyone else is doing it.

On that note, I found this article on letting kids have time to be kids to be both encouraging and informative.  Maybe you will, too.  In the end, our kids only get one childhood.  We should try to protect it for as long as we can.

Why It’s Good To Be Bored

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We finished up our math curriculum for this year, and our co-op ended for the season.   We’re still here, though, and it isn’t summer.  It’s no surprise that the kids (and I) are feeling a little–do I say it?–bored.

The weather is mostly beautiful so we go outside a lot, several times a day, at least.  And we’re still reading together in the morning, a Psalm, a few Wendell Berry poems, a chapter of a novel (Les Miserables, the story that never, ever ends).

We’re still making it to jujitsu a couple of days a week.

But the only writing the kids are doing is in their journals, and here I’m going to admit something:  I don’t check that writing.  My excuse to myself is that it’s private, and I shouldn’t.  I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that at least one of my kids is doing nothing but cartooning in his.  Well, cartooning and writing one word over and over to fill up space.

So, to sum up:  we aren’t doing math at the moment, we’re shamming with writing, and our co-op classes aren’t meeting so we’ve lost steam in memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution. (Yeah. We did that. It was kind of like this.)

And now we’re bluh.

Every last one of us.

What I’m going to say, though, is that I think it’s good.  I think it’s good to be bored for a little while, as a palate cleanse, as a way to sort through old thoughts and usher in new ones.  And, yes, boredom feels a little stretchy, like a Pilates burn up the backs of our legs.  But it eventually settles our brains and allows them to do something wonderful–to deal with things we’ve shoved into our dusty mental attics.

Boredom brings up things we need to face.

So, at least in the short term, I’m OK with my kids dinging around, picking weeds out of the backyard, mixing them with water from the hose, and crushing them into “potions.”  It’s good to have nothing to do but to look for perfect sticks and leftover mouse bones.

Because that’s when a different kind of work begins.

Don’t Just Do Something. Stand There!

Margin.  It’s a word that gets bounced around a lot these days.  Webster defines it as

the part of a page that is above, below, or to the side of the printed part

: the place where something (such as a piece of land) stops : the edge of something

: an extra amount of something (such as time or space) that can be used if it is needed

I used to care about the first definition of the word (all through high school, into college, and, to be perfectly frank, as I turned in research papers for a class I took this semester.  We all know that margins can take a person’s paper from not-quite-long enough to technically-OK).  And I still write in the margins of books I own, so I think about margins along those lines too, naturally.

I don’t own land so I’ve never cared about the second definition.

But I care about the third definition now more than I ever have–because I need it.  It’s  having a cushion of downtime, monetary resources, or other safety net that allows one to thrive when times get tough or stress levels sky-rocket. It’s what people wish they had when they talk about being exhausted, living beyond their means, running the rat race, etc.  In this context, margin is a hot commodity, and a person only achieves it when they purposefully schedule their time so that there are extra minutes in the day to simply ‘be,’ or when they choose not to spend every last cent of their paycheck each month.

People have written books about incorporating margin into our lives.  I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion.  I just know that we all need it.dontjustdosomething2

I also know that Americans don’t believe in margin.  They say they do but they live like they don’t.  Now I’m not here to judge another person’s work schedule, homeschool schedule, class schedule, or bank statements.  I’m still working on that log in my own eye, you know?

But I will say that since returning to the US after three years of living in India, my family and I have felt pressured (sometimes very subtly, sometimes not) to engage in more and more activities–more fun, more sports, more music, more service projects, more field trips, more work and money-making opportunities, more everything.

We’ve largely resisted the urge to fill in every blank space on the calendar.  But we’ve sometimes felt like we have two heads when we tell people that we stay home almost every evening of the work week (though usually we go to Wednesday night supper at church).

I am not condemning kids’ sports programs, music lessons, outings, educational enrichments, date nights (I love me some date nights), or anything else people do with their time.  All I’m saying is, if you have kids, and you’re really tired, or if you feel like there must be more to life, or if you never, ever sit quietly in a room and think or pray–not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t have time–I want you to know, it’s OK to start saying no to things.

Not only is it OK, but it might just save your (family) life.  I promise your kids will survive if they don’t do 1,000 activities, and that it’s not lazy to come home at the end of a long day and just stay there until your eyes close for bed.  ‘No’ can be one of the most life-giving words in our vocabulary.

Because when you say ‘no’ to hurried, overwhelmed living, you say ‘yes’ to margin.  And that is a beautiful thing.