Thursday, February 4, 2016

Back-to-Eden Garden (My Story)

After learning about Back-to-Eden gardening, I was sold on the idea.  (I'm not going to go into the details of what it is and how to do it, because it's explained far better at this link.  And big bonus...there's a wonderful video that explains it all.)  But, suffice it to say that the first time I saw the video, I was ready to buy the supplies and get started.  A no-fuss, very-little-watering-required garden that was based on how God Himself gardens in nature was exactly my kind of thing.  I had to see if it really worked as well as they claimed it did.  

And, as is so often the case, God was working spiritually in my life what was manifesting itself physically in my garden.  He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and here He is thousands of years later, talking to me in my Back-to-Eden garden.  This intrigues me.  

So, we live in Texas Hill Country, which means beautiful rolling hills.  And lots and lots of ROCKS.  Just try planting a simple seed, and your little shovel will shriek in agony against rocks below the dirt (imagine the nails-on-chalkboard sensation, and you're pretty close to understanding my gardening scenario!).  So, if a Back-to-Eden garden really works, it was going to have a challenge in this place!

A Bobcat came in to clear a 25x50' space for our garden.  Watching him ripping out trees and removing large surface rocks, I already knew this garden was going to be symbolic of my life.  I had experienced God speaking clearly through other things like butterflies, fungus-infected tree limbs, hawks circling high above.  I knew that my eyes and ears had a spiritual vein, and if I was quiet and tuned in, I'd see and hear God speaking through the most ordinary of life experiences.  And this Bobcat was prepping the barren, rocky land for a God-inspired garden. 

Allergy-inducing cedars were removed.  Ask anyone in Hill Country about these, and you'll hear the same story...misery in the spring!  So, good riddance, cedars! 

And all the cleared trees and weeds were burned.  I watched from the window as the fire raged.  Sometimes we have to be leveled.  Sometimes the only way to get to fertile ground is to let God come in with His consuming fire.  I remembered a prayer I had prayed in 2008 that changed my life: "God, level me.  Knock me down to nothing and then rebuild me the way You want me."  (Little did I know that 8 years later I'd still be in the sometimes insanely painful knocking-down process!  But God is good...really good.  He is faithful to also rebuild.  And my garden was reflecting the very changes He was bringing about in me.)  

I watched the flames consume all they touched.  Is it truly sacrifice to burn the very things that are keeping the land from being a fertile garden?  

Painful.  Gut-wrenching.  But necessary.

The land was leveled as best as the Bobcat could manage.

Then we hit a lull.  For various reasons, the supplies for the garden (soil, mulch, manure) weren't trucked in for many months.  In that delay time, tall weeds grew back.  And, like God orchestrating a painting right before my eyes, I found that each stage of my garden mimicked my own life.  Things in my life had hit a point where change was necessary, and yet I was numb.  Paralyzed.  And the weeds grew to terrific heights, taking over the spaces I had cleared out.

With sweat and muscles, the weeds had to be removed.  Sometimes we simply have to do what we have to do.

And more rocks were removed. 

Stakes were set in the ground to mark off the boundaries of the soon-to-be-planted garden, and we began to envision things as they would be.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.  Faith drills down stakes and says, "THIS barren spot is going to be teeming with life soon.  Right now it looks like dry, desolate, rocky ground.  Right now, weeds threaten again and again.  But soon...very, very soon, this land will breathe and generate and rejoice."  This is faith.

Stones were trucked in to provide a border for our garden.  Most Back-to-Eden gardens that I had seen online didn't have a border.  But we live on a hill, and when it rains, it washes rocks and dirt downhill.  So, we opted for a stone-stacked border.

For those of you familiar with Back-to-Eden gardening, you'll recognize the layering: newspaper and then soil.  (Later we put mulch and manure, which I didn't get pictures of.)  This represents hours and hours of work.  

Among the stacks of newspapers that we used were several blank white pages.  Writers see all manner of possibilities when we see blank pages!  I used these to write promises.  Because sometimes all we have are God's promises.  His promises are for us, and we have to grab ahold of them, claim them as ours, and believe He will be faithful. Faith is having nothing but a promise and hanging onto it for dear life.  Saying, "Remember, God, You promised.  And I believe You."  There are general promises given to everyone and specific promises that He's divinely highlighted personally for one of His children at a specific point in her life.

And for His daughter who was as desolate and dry as the rocky soil under her feet, He had said He would comfort all her waste places.  That He would make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord.   He promised that her wilderness and dry land would be glad, and that her desert would rejoice and blossom like the crocus.  And all she could do was grab ahold of those promises and simply believe.  

Those promises became the foundation of the garden.  All throughout the newspaper layer, we placed these promises.  Everyone hoping for a fertile garden.  And I trusting for so much more...fertile soil of ground and life...for His promises to go down deep and come up as beauty for my ashes, joy for my mourning.  

I failed to get many garden photos.  But I did take these two.  You cannot mistake the size and health of this zucchini plant!  And the zucchini  The Back-to-Eden video had talked about the moisture inside the vegetables.  And no kidding.  Our garden had very little water over the summer, and yet the vegetables were bursting due to the mulch layer keeping the moisture locked in where the plants were growing.  After cutting into my first veggie and seeing this for myself, I completely bought into the Back-to-Eden garden concept. Yes, it really works. 

Sometime after the summer harvest had been brought in, the plants that had given everything in them, turned a crispy brown and curled in upon themselves.  They were finished.  I, too, found myself struggling.  Sometimes we've given all we can give.  Sometimes we are simply finished.

I had always wanted to try planting a fall garden, so, even though my energy was low, I planted lettuce and spinach.  With a Back-to-Eden garden, I knew that I needed to keep it watered until the little leaves popped out.  But, this small step was all-of-a-sudden too much.  I felt gutted.  I was literally at the end of my proverbial rope.  

I. Was. Finished.  

And my garden and my newly planted seeds?  I waved my hand, saying, "Never mind.  I'll give it a try next season.  I don't have a single ounce of energy to tend to plants."  

Ever hit that point?  The garden I loved lay untended.  The bird feeders hung empty.  The wheat grinder collected dust in the cabinet.   

This was a turning point.  A breaking point.  And God, who had never for once let go of His daughter, was, in fact, heading up the knocking-down-and-rebuilding process.  Every detail was in His hands.

Remember Joseph who had been sold into slavery by his brothers and then later put into prison for a crime he didn't commit?  Even what his brothers had intended for his harm God had actually used for the good of Joseph and ultimately for God's glory.  We can look back and see how obvious it was that God's hand was moving things, but Joseph didn't have the luxury of being able to read the end of his story to know it would all turn out well.  He only had a promise that God had given to him, and I can imagine him in a desolate prison clinging to that promise.

Fall and winter brought with them life events that mirrored the seasons.  A season when the leaves are stripped away, and the bare limbs are exposed.  But in that stripping, there is the simplicity of truth.  Sometimes we simply have to walk into the truth, even if it hurts.  Sometimes we have to dare to strip off the pretense, the plastic I'm-fine-how-are-you syndrome.  Sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is to let our true selves be...well, true...even if that truth means pain.  And during this season of facing truth head-on and with immense support from people God placed in my life, I realized that He really is holding me.  Cultivating me.  And underneath the surface, great roots of faith are growing.  Newborn leaves poke out above the surface, and I begin to see tiniest glimpses of that fertile land He promised me.  

So, I had walked away from my garden in November after planting some lettuce and spinach seeds and never even finishing to water them during their crucial germination period.  I didn't step foot in my garden for two whole months.  No watering, no doting.  Didn't even think about it.  I literally channeled every ounce of energy into the healing and self-care God was guiding me into.  My garden was just going to wait until spring when I might be whole and healthy enough to work it.  

But God is full of surprises!  Last week I looked out the window and saw several green weeds in the garden, so I walked down the hill to see just how bad it was.  And in the midst of some weeds, there I found 3 rows of lettuce and one row of spinach!  Somehow, without my help, almost every seed I had planted had taken root and had been growing during those 2 months when I was absent. God's attention to detail is significant.  I marveled at how He had somehow (seriously, how??!) rooted my plants, even without my own faithfulness to water the new seeds...even without my own ability to go tend my garden for 2 solid months.  And, again, He timed this garden to reflect what was going on in my own life.  During those 2 months, He was working on my own personal root system.  He is faithful...seriously faithful.  

And the tide has begun to turn.  The bird feeders are filled once more.  The garden is greening up.  The wheat grinder is still dusty, but I'm at complete peace with that, because it's where I am right now.  I'm utterly amazed at the tending He does in His garden...the wise counsel He brings in, the self-care He gently teaches, the healing He generously gives...all in ways I hadn't expected.  I'm growing and getting rooted, and He hasn't forgotten me for one second during the knocking-down process.  During what appeared to be a barren season, He was really just working a root system that I could not see with my human eyes (or feel with any emotion).  He has been meticulously laying the foundation for rebuilding me.  Eyes of faith see the lush garden that will one day very soon come up out of that rocky, barren place.  He's promised, and I trust Him.  And I feel a crescendo in His promises...a growing clarity that soon, very soon the foundation will stand firm, and this Temple will be built.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kids Cleaning Rooms

I have another big writing adventure I'm pursuing, so my blogging time is very scarce these days. I haven't quite made the decision to abandon the blog, but it's experiencing some intense and unrepentant neglect.  This blog post was birthed out of hearing many moms (myself included) talking about how in the world to get the kids' rooms cleaned.  I don't have an end-all solution, and if you rang our doorbell now, you'd find one of the bedrooms sporting a million blankets that remain from an apparent fort explosion.

Soooo, take this for what it is worth...just one mama who discovered a little way to get messes under control.  I'm not writing a blog post about how to keep all things mess-free...because, well, I have no idea how to do that.  But once there IS a BIG MESS, I got ya covered.  

Several months ago, I stumbled upon this idea.  Okay, I didn't actually stumble.  I was desperate.  Moms, you know what I mean.  (ENTER PHOTO ILLUSTRATION ---->)  

Sometimes children's rooms get to that state where you know that one of two things can happen.  1) You send Junior into his room to clean it up, OR 2) YOU go into Junior's room to just do the job yourself.  Option #1 means you don't have to do the work (yay for you!), but it also means that the job gets "finished" in 7 minutes by angelic ones who then fly out the door while you pour yourself a cup of tea and weep.  Option #2 means the job gets done (thoroughly, I might add), but it takes YOU three 12-hour shifts (and then you pour yourself some tea and weep)!

I know I'm not the only one this happens to, because I've heard y'all at Starbucks talking about what to do about this predicament (right before you ask the barista to give you 12 more shots of espresso).  Yep, I've heard you.  So, I'm willing to come out in the open and show you our messes and share with you this sweet little compromise I made between Option #1 and Option #2.  (And it actually WORKS!)  

God must have given me this idea, because it's simply brilliant, and it just came to me one day.  In bold colors I wrote the names of different objects that needed to find "homes" in the boys' room.  I then placed these papers in sheet protectors so that I can reuse these at least a hundred times in future cleaning expeditions.  Every single category I can think of goes onto separate papers.  Hats, Trains and Tracks, Cars and Planes, Soldiers, Stuffed Animals, etc etc etc...whatever toys and various things are in their rooms and needing to be put away.

I then lay these papers (in sheet protectors) around the edges of the room.  And the children begin tackling a mess in one area of the room and simply place the toys onto the corresponding paper.  They find a big Lego, so it goes to the "Big Lego" pile.  They find small Legos, and they put them on the "Small Lego" pile.  So and an so forth.  And, while this is work, they always have energy and get the job done fairly quickly and with very little complaining.  Perhaps it's because the papers are colorful...or because it involves a game of sorting...or because they can see the progress quickly as things start to move into do-able piles.  I'm not sure WHY it works, but for whatever reason, it works for my children.  We've done this multiple times, and it's always a good experience.  

And you know how you're cleaning in a bedroom, and you suddenly run across the missing garlic press or a stocking that never made it into the Christmas box or the movie that has been missing for months??  Well, I created papers for those things.  I simply label one page: "To Downstairs" for all the items that need to be taken downstairs.  Another is "To Bathroom" (yep, toothpaste finds it way under the bed).  We have a pile for things going outside, to different bedrooms, to the Learning Loft, etc.  

They can pretty quickly tackle the areas of out-of-control things and place them into the corresponding piles.  Once the papers are in place, the rest is a simple sorting game.

And ummmmm, some occasional breaks to climb the walls and such....

 And all trash goes into the trash bag.

After the room has been combed through, and all the items are in their organized piles, the put-away process begins.  One child is in charge of getting the big Legos into the Big Lego Box.  Another is in charge of getting the outside toys taken outside to the outside toy bin.  ETC.  Each time, they do this quickly and make comments like, "Look!  We're almost finished!  Only 5 more piles to go!"  They run to and fro getting it all put away...seems almost like a race or something.  

And what is mom's job?  Really...whatever you want it to be.  Sometimes I pitch in and help sort for awhile to get them going.  And when they are finished sorting, I sometimes help them get the piles put away.  Other times, I have been surprised to see them take out the papers and do this whole process on their own with no help from me.  But, whether I help a bit or whether I just check in on them periodically, the big point is that I am no longer weeping in my tea over this issue!  I no longer find myself on my knees in their closet saying under my breath that I'm just going to throw all the toys away and why can't they have just one toy each like they did on Little House on the Prairie!  (I do love simplicity myself, but until they get on board with the one-toy-per-child thing, I think I'll just stick to the sorting game to help them clean it up).

And the same can be applied to homeschooling issues.  You homeschool mamas know what I'm talking about.  While some houses are vacant for 8 hours per day while children are at school, homeschooling homes are a hub of activity 24/7.  Okay, they DO sleep...but you get my point.  And learning means activity, and activity means messes.  I adore the learning process, and I thrill at the sight of 4 children all working on their own amazing projects all across the room(s).  It's beautiful and so full of life!  But, when we come back to the Learning Loft the next day, I don't like STARTING with the remnants of the tornado still strewn across the room!  

For illustration purposes, here's what it looked like today when we finished...

And here's the table.  Yes, there's toothpaste and various other treasures that made their way to this space.

And the most incredible Lego architecture feats were carried out with gusto behind the couch while Mama read aloud today.  And looks like chore stuff (dusting spray!) has found its way to the science table.

Simple solution...  Each child has their name on a paper (inserted into a sheet protector), and anything we find that is theirs is placed on the paper.  Each child is responsible for putting their stuff away.  Voila...a quickly straightened room...without breaking Mama's back.  Not to mention some healthy competition of "Hey, look...I put most of my stuff away today, so my pile isn't too big!"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homeschooling: Embracing the Uniqueness

We've been back in Texas for 18 months now.  It hasn't been at all what I expected.  Don't get me wrong: I LOVE TEXAS!  I'm a Texas girl through to my backbone.  I could write a whole blog post on this blessed renegade state.  Hmmm...maybe I will....  But, these 18 months have been some of the most difficult of my life.  Again, a whole blog post could be dedicated to that subject too...but I'll spare you...for now anyway.

One small part of the bigger difficulties has been that for this season of life, we have not had another homeschool family to walk alongside.  It's not that we aren't living in the very best homeschooling state (thank you, Lone Star State, for your amazing homeschool laws!  I love you!), and it's not that we aren't involved in a homeschool group (because we are).  But, for some reason, God has not yet opened the door for us to do life with another homeschool family in that one-on-one, messy but wonderful sort of way.

And I miss that.  WE miss that.

I'm not at all advocating that we only stay with "our kind."  Lord knows that the homeschooling community is sometimes accused of this, and it's time to move out of that.  Whether it's about race or socio-economic status or education...we truly need to intermingle more with those who are different than we are.  It stretches us and makes us grow in ways we'd never be able to grow if we only stayed in our comfortable box.  But, just as a person who speaks English as a second language sometimes needs to speak to another person who shares their first language (their heart language), so I have found that as a homeschool mom, I need to speak my educational heart language with those who share that bond (which is what I'm doing here in this blog post...hello, homeschool community!).  There's just something about doing life with people who truly understand your beliefs, goals, parenting, education, family dynamics.  We had such a great circle of homeschooling friends in Georgia, and I suppose I took it for granted.  I don't even think I realized how supportive that circle was for me as a person and for my children as homeschoolers.  There's something very nice in being surrounded by people who "get" you. 

And a good homeschooling community can provide immense support in a world that otherwise may not quite get us.  I mean, we homeschoolers are well aware of the general public's views about us, and I haven't met a homeschooling family yet who doesn't take it with a grain of salt.  We once saw a bumper sticker on a van that said, "Warning: Unsocialized Homeschool Kids On Board!!!"  We all laughed the we-so-get-you laughs and made plans to find one of those bumper stickers for our own van someday.  Come's tongue-in-cheek hysterically funny!  Because we know the truth (as we drive our brood home from the umpteenth social event of the month).  We can laugh at ourselves, and we can laugh at the outsiders' ignorance of who we are and what we're really all about.  

Homeschoolers are the first to admit that we can be a bit....ummmm, what's the word??               ODD.  
Yep...absolutely...and we love every single second of it (okay, not EVERY when the baby throws up right in the middle of the 5th grader's math lesson...nope, not enjoying that...but you get my point).  We have chosen this crazy lifestyle, and it's super wonderful when others who have also chosen that lifestyle come alongside us and share in this very unique walk.

Of all the things I miss about being plugged into our homeschooling community in Georgia, the thing I most miss are the random moments when 2 or more homeschooling families would come together for a meal or a book club or a parade or whatever "unsocialized" <grin> event we had planned.  And all the children, like interlocking fingers, would all mesh together...everyone having at least one other child to play with or talk to.  Girls, boys, big, little, teenagers, toddlers...all meshing together...sometimes as a whole group, other times breaking off into little pods...all "getting" each other, because they were part of the same community of imperfect homeschoolers who were comfortable with their own quirks.  I suppose I never thought about it then, but because we haven't had that in 18 months, I see now how very special it is.  

God's plans for us are good.  He moved us out of our comfort zone, which is never...well, comfortable.  The antonyms of comfortable are "tense, vulnerable."  Our move came with losing our bearings, as well as all things familiar...friends, landmarks, culture, foods, home.  And yes, "vulnerable" is an accurate description of how I have felt.

And THAT is exactly the place God has wanted me in this season.  Why?  Perhaps so that I can identify with the marginalized, the misunderstood, the hurt, the broken, the vulnerable.  To embrace this DIScomfort is sometimes like hugging a cactus, but in order to compassionately minister to others, sometimes we have to sit where they sit and walk in their feel what they feel and find ourselves desperate to be heard and understood.

This season of not having a supportive circle of homeschooling friends has also made me look with new eyes on this lifestyle.  I've been a homeschooling mom for 12 years, and I've never questioned it...ever.  God led us to this lifestyle, and that was that.  Plus the fact that we thoroughly ENJOY it and cannot imagine learning in any other format.  But with the human props pulled out from under us and with the occasional well-meaning comment or question about our educational choices, I did stop to think it through.  I'm not sure why we do this as humans.  I mean, if God says to do something, we should just step onto the water and do the thing, never mind the wind and waves.  Or maybe it is good from time to time to discover again the very reason we do the things we do.  This is what I have done, and as I emerge out the other side of that time of reevaluating, I find myself more passionate about this homeschooling lifestyle than ever before.

I find myself embracing this uniqueness.   

Take our breakfast routine, for instance...  Each day as we eat breakfast, I read a series of books with my children.  We start with the Bible (we're reading one Psalm each day right now), then the children's Bible story book, then a different blessing that I read over them each day, and then a chapter from a Christian Heroes biography.  When they finish eating, they push their dishes aside, and the table starts to fill up with interesting projects that each child is working on while they listen to me read.  The other day, I looked up to see all their interesting activities and had to snap these photos...because I really do love that there's probably not another breakfast table on the planet that is looking exactly like this one right now.  Unique children, unique pursuits. 

And lunch?  Well, here was our oldest daughter making lunch one day last week.  She had sewn this replica of a dress from the movie Last of the Mohicans, complete with corset.  So, she spent the day seeing what it felt like to actually live and work in time-period-accurate clothing.  Unusual, right?  Oh how I love the fact that she would think to do this in the first place!  (Not to mention being in awe at the sweet gift God has given her to be able to design and sew complicated clothing and costumes without using patterns).  This is so refreshingly far outside the box!   And none of it was my idea.  This is where things gel for me...  If she were not on this very customized, individual educational path, she would have likely no interest and definitely no time to explore things like this.  How could I not embrace the shear loveliness of this? 

Yes, homeschooling can be downright weird at least in our home.  Even among homeschoolers, we tend to be really weird odd crazy unique.  Case in point...  Just yesterday when I headed up to the loft to pull out the books that we were going to read together (currently a historical fiction book about D.L. Moody that we are all enjoying), I see what looks like the gnarled fur of some unfortunate animal spread out on the table in front of HB.  Now, in a home where education is given wide and vast boundaries, I'm never surprised to see that at least one child (and often ALL of them) have some intriguing project going on.  But this one did cause me to do a double-take.  There she sat with intense concentration on this black, furry, unidentified thing in front of her.  And her supplies lay out: scissors, hair conditioner, brush.  I didn't even have to ask...I just stared with eyebrows lifted.  And she explains, "This is a wig that my friend wants to use in the Mohican movie we are making.  It's tangled, and I'm going to untangle it."  Oh, okay.  So, the rest of us take this in stride and move into our reading if everyone in the world straightens tangled wig hair while they listen to a book about D.L. if everyone on the planet attempts to make movies out of books they have if this is NORMAL.  Because this crazy, odd, unusual stuff really IS normal for us.  It's learning at its most unadulterated, unedited form.  And we all embrace it like the first butterfly of spring...awed again and again while we push into the vastness of learning for the pure joy of learning.

And when she asks her brother to please put the wig on so that she can trim it, we again act as if this is normal, and we miss only a small beat as we continue to read.  (What a good brother to put up with this, I might add!)

The brother who is not involved in the Native American wig undertaking is busy with his own project.  He spreads out an old moving blanket on the floor and begins cutting and sewing and trying his hand at creating his own costume.  These vibrant minds who do not yet know that some things are "impossible" continue each day to venture into areas that intrigue and amaze me.  And the delight inside them is evident.  I could write a blog post about all the brain stuff going on here, but that would start to sound way too much like education <shhhh!> I'll just leave you with some photos...  

And let's not forget the princess.  She's the baby caboose that is bringing up our train of little learners.  After 12 years of homeschooling her older siblings, I am giving her the cream that has risen to the top.  Look at this fun alphabet board...way more fun than the sheets of lined paper that her older sister and brothers had to endure when they began to learn how to write their letters!  Each letter has little metallic balls that are pulled up as she traces the letters with the magnetic pen.  Super fun, right?  Unique with a metallic capital "U."  

And all this weirdness is completely, imperfectly beautiful to me.  It's a lifestyle that can so often be misunderstood by outsiders, but to my heart in tune with all that God has unfolded in all these layers, there's something divine at its very core.  Perhaps that is because the way a person learns is tied directly to how he/she was created in the very image of God.  This outside-the-box lifestyle echoes what my sweet friend shared with me recently:  We have to realize that there really is NO BOX.  How freeing is that??!  God created each child uniquely, and in this lifestyle of homeschooling, we are free to follow Him in custom-making each child's box necessary.  HE becomes our curriculum advisory board.  If I had it to do over, I'd do it all again (except I'd skip those boring letter worksheets altogether and go for the metallic letter board from the get go).