To Create a Home {and a giveaway}

I sat in a college town coffee shop early in January, waiting out the time while Patrick was in surgery, and spent some fortifying hours reading the reviewer's copy of a gem of a book. In the past few years, I've given a lot of thought to the role of women, particularly the role of women in a family. My own motherhood has been influenced more by one woman than any other. That woman is strong believer in home and a great encourager of women to invest their hearts and their time and their talent into the creation of a lifegiving home. She has mentored me and cheered me on since I was a very young mother. Her words, her voice, and her company are treasures of my heart.

That heart is battered these days--weary, worried, wondering. Did I invest too much here at home? Is the pervasive culture the one which will prevail? Will it mock me with the lofty dreams and the careful intentions standing stark against the brokenness of our realities as children grow into young adults? All families have cracked and broken places. I think, perhaps, I thought I could craft a home that would not. 

I believe in home.

Some days, I need to be affirmed in that belief.

My lovely mentor, wise and gentle, has done that so beautifully in her new book. With this book, in carefully crafted prose, Sally Clarkson has taken all the teachings of all these years and said, Yes, I know, this is going to be rough in spots and you will even stumble and fall, but keep going. Keep keeping on. This is worth doing. This matters for eternity.  And when she tells me to keep on, I find myself fortified to tell my children to keep on.

 

What makes this book really special is the voices of two generations. Sally shares her mothering experiences and all the love she invested in her home, and her daughter Sarah, now grown, offers her perspective. There, in the exquisite language of Sarah's heart, we hear the fruits of Sally's labors. We hear the richness of a young woman raised in an extraordinary home of love and grace. Want to know why this all matters so much? Ask Sarah. She'll tell you. 

 

During my time in the coffee shop with The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming, I put ink to paper and copied quotes worth keeping so that I can read them again and again. Today, I'm sharing them with you. I think these quotes will give you a glimpse of the true treasure that is this book. Brew yourself a cup of something warm and read slowly. When you're finished, leave a comment and let me know what you're thinking. You'll be entered to win a free copy of the book. I have THREE to give away. Isn't that very kind?

 


SALLY SAYS:

I reach hearts by cooking meals, by washing sheets and fluffing pillows, by reading a favorite book one more time even though I have it memorized.

It is not the indoctrination of theology forced down daily that crafts a soul who believes; it is the serving and loving and giving that surround the messages where souls are reached.

Food is the universal language that eases hearts to open, tying secure knots of intimacy while satisfying bodily hunger, weaving tiny threads of kindred needs into friendship, camaraderie, and truth.  

When we choose to feast together—take the trouble to make each meal, however humble, an occasion for mindfulness and gratitude—we acknowledge God’s artistry and provision and draw closer to Him as well.

“This is why I came home. I knew you all would fill me back up…” –Sally quoting Joel

 Love can heal so many wounds, and that healing often happens best in a protected environment.

 We never allowed our less-than-perfect house to keep us from inviting people in.

 It’s never quite the way we imagine it will be.

 The lives of most people I know have become increasingly fast paced, and our habits are increasingly drawn into the trivial. We read less and use Facebook more. We spend more time inside than out. We have access to more information than we’ve ever had, and yet we understand less and less. We allow the habit of busyness to replace our habits of prayer and Scripture reading. It is only natural that in the hustle and bustle of family life, craziness easily overwhelms the calm we need so badly. In our modern, consumerist culture, sometimes it seems nearly impossible to find that center.

 Wilderness experiences leave us parched, and through them God teaches us patience, trust, and compassion for others

 The more we practice remembering the story of God’s goodness, the better we can remember that, in Him, all will eventually be well.

 Our home culture has become richer because of the people we have folded into it.

 When I focus not on performance or perfection but on joy, gratitude, and service, everything seems to fall into place.

SARAH SAYS:

The goodwill of mothers is like the goodwill of God.

Home is the shelter where the lonely find rest and the sorrowing come to be comforted.

…home isn’t a place where loneliness never happens, but a place where loneliness is transformed.

Gratitude, in its very essence, yearns to give.

Through technology we have the ever-present hurry of the unsleeping modern world, and if we do not forge strong rhythms of rest and spaces of sacred quiet, that...frenzy will invade our homes and steal the life within.

The point of home is to be a refuge for the soul, a place where beauty can be encountered, truth told, goodness touched and known.

…home is the place where love makes us welcome, a shelter from which we will not be expelled.

…the cultivation of quiet spaces allows the souls within a home to take refuge in silence.

If you want to hear God speak, you need to have quiet time with Scripture. If you want to write a song, a novel, or a poem, you need to draw away and listen to all that echoes in your soul.

… it is only in the hushed spaces that we can clearly hear all that echoes in quiet skies, in the eyes of children, in our own inner voices.

…the sharing of a story accelerates the comradeship of souls.

When people inhabit a realm of imagination together, it’s inevitable that a bit of each person’s imagination and spirit is revealed to the others who sojourn in that marvelous placeA well-stocked kitchen is life for the body, but a library stocked with stories to share is eternal nourishment for the soul.

How joyous a thing it is to then arrive on the doorstep of a home whose windows are golden with waiting light, where soup is on the stove and the cupboard is stocked against any number of unexpected storms.

God grant that my home be such a shelter, a refuge whose windows are alight in welcome, drawing the lonely and wandering in from the cold.

Imagination is the first step to creation, the instigating spark that drives the actions of a hero. 

{{And if you want some more encouragement to restore your heart and home this Lent, please join us here.}}

What I Learned in February

In case you haven't noticed, I've been struggling to find my voice here lately outside of #morningrun. I'm not sure why, though I do have some hunches. I love my blog, so I'm tying to push through and find my voice again, or perhaps, to find a new voice. Emily, at Chatting at the Sky, has invited readers to share what they learned in February.

That seems like a great way to begin chatting again.

1. I learned that I am happier when I begin my day outdoors. (Apparently this is a lesson I need to learn over and over again.) I really, really  miss my summer walks and runs. I've tried to be good about getting to the gym, but it's a lot more complicated than rolling out of bed and hitting the trails right outside my door. It's trickier when I need to figure in transit time and traffic and such and it's also not nearly as motivating to run on a treadmill. I love the outdoors and I thought that I could walk or run outside as much as I had in the summer. But ice. And subzero wind chills. So, no. When I do get out there, I've been listening to The Fringe Hours. It's good to be given permission for self-care and this book definitely does that! I hope to chat with you more about it when the needle & thREAD feature makes its return. 

2. Mike has been traveling a lot lately. We sat down Sunday afternoon, as the ice did its thing outside and we mapped out the spring. I learned it looks daunting.  I think I heard him hyperventilating. We have lots of kids at an active stage of life and he is highly sought after in Connecticut and DC and Florida. Much juggling of the calendar and some frequent flier miles to bank. Ours was a long distance relationship when we were in college. Little did I know that some of those relationship skills would be refined over the course of our lifetime. I'm still learning.

3. I have a real life friend who will sit with my girls while they throw up. That is one "for real" friend! Her presence in my very messy house with my very messy girls early on a Sunday was necessitated by the fact that I also have a friend who will scoop my son off a soccer field (which he has made a bloody mess) and hurry him to the ER so that a plastic surgeon can stitch his cheek back together. Thirty-seven stitches later, we learned that Stephen's soccer team is made of people who don't flinch and don't turn the other way; they gather and support. That was a hard, hard week. Mike was gone. All the girls were extremely sick. Stephen was a bit of a mess. I also learned that...

4. My orthodontist and pediatrician are pretty much the best. My orthodontist saw pictures of Stephen on social media and texted me immediately to tell me he wanted to see him. Upon close (and very gentle) inspection, we learned that the permanent retainer cemented to the back of his teeth saved his teeth. It's definitely taken a good knock but it held and though the teeth were knocked around, they were braced. So, yay! My pediatrician also wanted to see Stephen right away. He hung with us closely through the weeks of concussion evaluation, alternating between concern for Stephen and concern for Mary Beth, who has caught one nasty infection after another. Lesson there: the first year of teaching in an early childhood setting will yield all kinds of germ exposure, especially if you've never gone to school. Poor girl. When I'm flying solo, and everyone seems to be super needy at the same time, it's good to know that the people we've chosen for health care are invested in us. (<--absolutely NOT a paid promotion.)

5. One skill that Mike and I have gotten much better at in the last couple years is making time for focused attention with each other. We really, really benefit from one-on-one, totally uninterrupted time. And we are learning to look for the small pocket of time, call in our resources, and seize the opportunity. We launched February by practicing this strategy really well. Through some ridiculous logistical gymnastics, Mike and I were able to get away for about 24 hours. We went to Charlottesville to see the soccer team honored for their NCAA championship at a UVa basketball game. We stopped at JMU to pick up Christian on our way, so that he could hang out with Paddy. The game was so much fun--crazy electric atmosphere of ESPN Game Day in a place filled with students fired up about an unbeaten season. 

We left at halftime. It wasn't that we don't both love college basketball. It was more about the fact that we hadn't seen each other in over a week and we were staying at my folks' house and they weren't home. The thought of an entire evening with no interruptions and no obligations other than each other? Opportunity seized. Such a great night and so nice to wake early on Sunday, go to Mass alone together, and gather the boys so that we could prop them up and feed them breakfast. (They'd clearly enjoyed their Saturday night, too.)

6. I learned that Liberty University offers an excellent online education. Mary Beth is fully enrolled this semester. It's been a challenge for both of us as she learns to navigate the demands of college and the nuances of online education (and a couple of jobs). What she is being offered is so much better than the dual enrollment experiences the boys had at community college for their senior years in high school that I'm peaceful about the higher price tag. 

7. My teen boys have pretty good taste in music. I let them man the radio buttons to and from soccer and I've added to my repertoire lately. Upon their recommendation, I've become a fan of Ed Sheeran and Andy Grammer. It's a little disconcerting when my six-year-old belts out "Honey, I'm Good" on endless repeat, but I've learned that the the culture infiltrates the childhoods of kids #7, #8, and #9 and we kind of have to roll with that. The video is pretty darn cute, by the way.

8. Soccer can and will be played year 'round, regardless of the weather. I have now witnessed soccer when the real temperature is 7 degrees and the wind chill is hovering around zero. I've watched how the artificial turf reacts to an inch or so of sleet and how 14-year-old boys think playing in that is about the most fun you can have in February. And I've seriously considered one of these. And a space heater. 

~*~

I've talked about some of these things and some more significant life lessons over at Mercy Found Me. Jacque Watkins is such a good listener! And her blog is just so great--indulge in a little reading over there if you have a few moments. 

What have you learned lately?

 

I Didn't Win It

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On Monday, something extraordinary happened. My eldest son, Michael, was named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 list.  Quite an honor. For Michael.

I did what most moms do these days when our children do something interesting or exceptional. I posted it to Facebook. And then, I clicked it closed and went off to call my dad. And my mom. And to text with Michael's wife. When I returned to Facebook, I saw all the happy comments of congratulations. I also saw that homeschoolers were particularly thrilled.  What sort of surprised me was the flood of congratulations for me and the steady undercurrent of "homeschooling must work." When the private notes asking for homeschooling details began, I was better able to understand why the congratulations were making me squirm a little.

Claiming that Michael's award means homeschooling works makes me a little nervous. I mean, if one of my kids messes up (and they do), does that mean homeschooling doesn't work? And I really, really squirmed under the spotlight of it all. It's his honor, his hard work, his moment in the sun. Do I think I had a role to play in it? Well, sort of. What about homeschooling? Did that play a role? Well, yes. But..

Honestly, I am giddy with relief. With this child at least, I know that I will never hear how homeschooling ruined his life and wrecked his future. Safe to say, we've dodged that bullet. His life is lovely and the future looks pretty darn bright.

This is not my award, though.

On the one hand, he is my baby and I did manage to keep him alive long enough to do big things in the world. I also did that odd, and at the time, completely counter-cultural thing of educating him at home all the way through high school, no doubt contributing to the body of knowledge and experience he brings to the job he does now.

(I also sent him a grammatical Twitter edit the day after the award was announced. Some habits die hard;-)

People want to know what the "secret to success" was. What curriculum to use? How much freedom to offer? Where to go to college?

Y'all, I have no idea!

Every child is different. We tailor every education differently. 

I wrote a book on home education. My whole heart is poured into that book. I wrote it about 14 years ago, so, clearly, "The High School Education of Michael" is not a part of it. Remember? He's under thirty. He's well under thirty; he's twenty-six. Still, in the last four days, I have considered all the pieces that played into his success. They are too numerous to list and I'm sure I will miss something important, but I share with you my in-the-shower how-in-the-world-did-THAT-happen ponderings.

First, the easy, tangible "curriculum" question. We cobbled together Michael's curriculum every year. We had a beautiful co-op and he learned classics like Dante at someone else's house. His favorite subject was art--again at someone else's house. Studio Art and Art History and the most formative friendships of his childhood all happened in the bright studio of my friend Kate Kampa. It's kind of extraordinary the exceptional talent and skill that has burst forth from that group of kids. They still influence each other and they celebrate one another's successes.

At home, we struggled together to make it all work. He read voraciously and was a willing consumer of all things printed. It was his passion. He liked to write and was fairly happy to comply with whatever writing assignment he was given. When he was about fourteen (the year of hell with boys), he had a memorable meltdown and declared that I was ruining his life and he couldn't get anything done at home. Let's see. Fourteen. That means the other people in the house were 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. And I was pregnant. 

That was the year of Starbucks. We had no library in town, no real place to escape the commotion at home. So I let Michael fill his backpack and go to Starbucks to work on school things. I talked with the manager, explained the situation, and she warmly welcomed him a few hours a day. He's young, but he's old enough that this coffee shop educational venue was without a laptop or a smartphone. He got a lot done. And apparently, he absorbed a lot of cool, hipster vibes that would serve him well later.

It was kind of natural for Michael to grow up and think outside the box. He's lived his whole life outside the box. He "did high school at Starbucks," for goodness' sake! Homeschoolers are weird. But we'd like to think it's weird in an "in the world, not of the world" kind of way. 

The other thing of note in terms of "school," is that Michael was passionate about sportswriting. He inhaled it. Our primary writing textbook his last year two years of high school  was The Best American Sportswriting of the Century. (Amazon tells me I purchased it on November 23, 2005. Christmas when Michael had just turned 17. For some reason this brings tears to my eyes this morning.) He told me that one day, he would be listed among the best. Not even a decade later, there was this list. (Oh, but the pain that birthed that piece. I know we'd all gladly trade Michael's place on that list to have not lived the pain.)

Read good writing. Write good writing. We emphasized reading and writing and art. Please don't ask me about math. 

Michael developed a website. Michael has a ridiculously huge Twitter following. Michael traveled to Brazil and covered the World Cup.(And we haven't even begun to talk about the hours and hours of youth soccer.) Michael runs a non-profit foundation.

Michael learned his most important lessons at the dinner table. All I really did was cook the meal. His daily repartee on Twitter? Totally sounds like banter among my boys. His brothers are as much behind that award as I am. At least one of them is even funnier than he is. Iron sharpens iron.

His intensity? His work ethic? His inside track on the world of sports? His almost innate sense of how this all works out there? That's all his Daddy. That's being a tagalong at countless sporting events while his father worked hard. That's being a sponge in the environment of sports media since he was a toddler. That's having the best mentor in his father that a boy could hope to have. (Ahem--I'd even go so far as to say that that is the effect of having been nursed in nearly every college sports venue up and down the east coast.) We hung together. The lot of us. Every day. All the time. That's being educated by his real life.

And then, it's taking every opportunity, every learning experience, every chance and working his tail off to make something of it. That's Michael. That's quality.

But there's something far more important to note if we want to discuss home education and kids who rock the real world. If you ask Michael his proudest moment of the last year, he'd say it was this one, when he and his wife welcomed his first baby into the world. This moment is the one that says the most about Michael, about who he was, about what he learned, and about why he does what he does. His girls are his light. He's a husband. A father. A provider.

He's only just begun to answer God's call on his life.

~*~~*~

*Please note: There will likely be a lively debate today amongst my boys about which child it is whom I think is funnier than Michael.

He knows who he is;-). 

The First Day Never Goes as Planned

Good morning! Did you notice the proliferation of back-to-school ads popping up all over the place last weekend? Are you like me? You take comfort in the fact that you're homeschooling, so you don't have to join the crush to acquire necessary wardrobe and supplies, while simultaneously shaking in your shoes as you pull book after book off the shelves in the quest to finally get the plans just right?

Whatever ;-). 

I'm at my friend Sally's this morning, sharing about how the first day won't go as planned, anyway. 

In Praise of the Babymoon

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It was one of those days when I’d ventured out into the world and wondered, wished, really, for the seemingly impossible. It was an “in the world, but not of the world” kind of day, only the world was winning. If only the whole world operated on a Catholic mindset. If only everyone understood that the primary purpose of a marriage is to create and nurture a family. If only they understood that this work — this blessed, beautiful work of welcoming and raising precious souls entrusted to the care of parents — is the best, most important thing. If only they’d quit heaping assignment upon assignment and deadline upon deadline.

As I moved from one earthly demand to another, trying (and often failing) not to rush, not to stress, not to bend and break under the pressures of our culture, I wished that all those frayed edges could just be woven together into a simple weekend at home. I wanted to tell all the people, the ones who were pushing and pulling and tearing away at the fiber of peace and order at home, that this isn’t the way we are all created. This isn’t how it was meant to be. We are Sabbath people. We need rest. Further, we need time together as a family to learn all those important things that people in families teach one another. Things like prudence and temperance and justice and fortitude. It is my considered opinion that the world is sorely in need of more families committed to virtue, so that as we move in the world, the world is a little more sane.

I rushed through that day, from doctor to grocery to dance school to a hurried piling in the car of one young soccer player and a drive at sunset to goalie training. Just as we got there, the heavens opened up and lightning crackled overhead. “Go!” said his coach. “Go find shelter and sit out the storm for at least a half hour.” Nick and I looked at each other and grinned. Just seven minutes away was a shelter like no other in its warmth and light. As the lightning continued to crackle while we drove, Nick grinned victorious — he knew that the 30 minute clock reset with every latest lightning flash. Now we can stay until 7:37. Now 7:40. Now 7:44. If we get to 8:00, maybe they’ll just cancel the whole training.

We stepped into the pounding rain and ran up all 35 steps, and there, there in the warm, dry glow of evening at home, was Lucy. Nick didn’t even ask, but scooped her up into his damp arms and settled happily against the quilt-strewn couch. For the next hour and a half (practice was canceled after all), we were privileged to enter into the haven that is a newborn baby.

Lucy is my first granddaughter. I suppose I could gush at great length about how amazing she is and how wondrous the last week has been since she came into our world, but I think I’ll just mention instead, that a “babymoon” is a very good thing.

A babymoon is that time when a new mother and father wholeheartedly devote themselves to learning all about their baby and, even more, to dancing together as a family. It’s a sleep-deprived, hazy existence that centers around the very basics of a child’s eating and sleeping. It’s ridiculously simple and at the same time all-encompassing and uniquely demanding. It’s one of the few times in the life of a family that all the world stands a bit apart and affirms the need a family has for quiet and rest and understanding and unwavering support. A miracle happens in a home where there is a babymoon, and those of us who can stop, even for a few moments, and bask in the glow of the good are blessed beyond compare to even stand on the periphery.

Like every other family, this little family will one day juggle schedules and carpools and missing ballet slippers. They will worry about budget and books. They will seek that elusive “balance” between work and leisure. For now, though, they are granted the great gift of seeing clearly that the only important thing is right before them, that a baby sees most clearly the eyes of the person who loves her when she’s held at the lover’s heart. Close. There is no doubt that something happens to the one who beholds a child held there. He becomes a better version of himself.

The storm outside clears, and we must leave, going down all those steps and into the night, going out into traffic and faulty defoggers and cell phones that don’t stop ringing. The scent of the newborn still on our hands, we reach up and rub weary eyes. Inhale. We take her with us — the very essence of the best of us.

Perhaps a babymoon shouldn’t be reserved only for families with newborns. Perhaps, like second honeymoons, it would benefit families to revisit the babymoon on occasion. The art of raising holy children — the work of becoming our Creator’s best vision of ourselves — takes time and careful attention. It cannot happen in the constant rush to get somewhere else with maximum efficiency. It cannot happen when a smartphone screen is the first impulse in the morning and the last touch of the evening. Maybe it’s time to come in out of the storm and gather into our arms a precious soul — no matter how old — who longs to be held just for a while at only a heart’s distance.

 {All photos credited to Michael and Kristin Foss}