Rather than passively reflecting back on the past year, I'm going to spend the coming year traveling through the last decade and then some, all the way to the founding of my family. Before I explain how my time machine will work, here's a little background:
I got married 12+ years ago, pregnant a month later, and then over the next five years, had three children, moved to five different houses, and relocated our business twice. A little over two years after we finally settled down and stopped having kids, we unexpectedly started homeschooling. That was five years ago this month.
Lots of other things happened during that time, but guess what didn't happen? Filing. As in papers didn't get sorted or purged. They piled up and got put into boxes. The only organization to those boxes is two categories: 1) the children's artwork 2) everything else. These boxes currently line our upstairs hallway. Partly because we don't have a garage and partly because I'm delusional - I have continued believing that if they're visible, I will deal with them. Instead, the collection keeps relocating, and on average, a new box is added to it every year (in each of the two categories).
I admit to having hoarding on one side of my family. Thankfully, there are minimalists on the other side. So I tend to collect papers and books, while frequently purging other stuff. In fairness to myself, I am continually giving away books, but new (used) ones seem to constantly replace them. So it's the papers that are the bane of my existence. And after that, it's the digital files, namely the visual souvenirs of our life stored in iPhoto, which also go unsorted, and therefore unprinted.
Back to the future...er, present, and how that relates to the past. Enter the phrase "reflect and project." I am a future oriented person and an idealist. Which has led to more delusions. Like believing that there's a pot of gold at the end of my boxes. That when I finally have discarded 80% of what's in them and organized the remainder, I can then begin to fully live. Order will bring me peace, out of which will flow creativity and harmony. It's actually rather similar to how many view a new year - as the opportunity for a clean slate. That if we can just put the past behind us and head out on the right path, it will lead us to the self and the life we've always dreamed of.
Well, I've decided that united, the above delusions can actually divide and conquer. To deconstruct my idol of idealism, I must deconstruct my piles. I'm calling it Reflect and Project. During one hour of the kids' afternoon rest time, I will alternate Reflect days with Project days (hereafter referred to as RD & PD). On RDs, I will sort and file one box (when I get through all of them, I will move on to organizing digital files). On PDs, I will create - write, make art, or work on my MMTIC certification. Reflect signifies both processing through the memories resurrected through finding old pieces of my life and the idea of reflecting God's image through implementing order. Project means both its noun form, as in creative project, and its verb form - projecting into the future, as in goal setting based on future vision.
...So an hour a day (five days a week) is devoted to the past and the future, which means I hope to be living in the present most of the other 23 hours a day. And how do I intend to do that? Well, I've got another hour a day goal, but this one is a limit. On my internet activity. That's right - one hour a day for reading articles and interacting on social media (doesn't include productivity stuff like renewing library books, banking, ordering household goods, etc.). I have a timer app on my browser that shows me how long I've been browsing and it's broken down into websites, so I can see the time spent on each one. The way that I'm hoping to accomplish this - gulp - is by giving myself that hour when the kids have their screen time, since that's their limit as well. That both keeps me accountable and ensures that the computer doesn't divert my attention from the kids. It will stay off until that hour, and since I rarely text and don't like typing on my mobile devices, I will just use them for checking email, writing brief responses when needed, and doing the "work" stuff I listed earlier.
Another reason for the limitation on my internet usage is because I really want to return to writing on a consistent basis. I had hoped to begin that last spring, but apparently I wasn't ready. So I'm planning to purchase a nifty word processor type keyboard which can send data to the computer. We bought our 11 year-old an electronic typewriter last year, which she loves, but the correction feature conked out, so she and I are going to both love using this new writing instrument. My goal is to blog once a week and to begin working on outlines for some book ideas I've been pondering.
Before I go on with my other goals, I should back up a bit to the theme that ties it all together. It actually relates to my previous post. Just as the the Sunday morning church service models a pattern for worship during the week, our days have a liturgy, guided by our priorities. We can think of Sundays as the feasts of the church year, and the rest of the week as ordinary time. It's easy to lose our spiritual focus during those warm, lazy days of summer and hectic weeks of fall when we're not following a pattern of seasonal worship. So, too can we drift from what really matters as we go about the business of our daily, routine lives.
To build a template (so to speak) of hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly living that adds up to a purposeful year, which year upon year creates a meaningful life, the foundation can only be one thing: It's what Jesus said was the greatest command: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. So "my" time must be based on activities that bring every part of me into worship (enjoying God and glorifying Him) - my intellect, my emotions, my body, and my spirit. When we are loving God (which we can only do by receiving his love), we can follow what Jesus said was the next greatest command: Love others as yourself.
I talked about a couple of the major ways I intend to love God with my mind in 2014 - there are more of them, as well as goals for my heart, body, and spirit (not that they're all neatly compartmentalized like that) that I will share in my next post...
Upon Advent Eve...
Life is a liturgy. We follow a pattern of worship not just on Sunday mornings and through the church year, but in our seven day week - in each day and each hour. We need structure and spontaneity, freedom and discipline, planned time and blank spaces. The liturgy of our lives should be purposeful and flexible - day by day, moment by moment. If we aren't intentional about ordering our time, then our pattern of worship (which is what every second of our lives is) will not be consistently meaningful or guiding us to grow. Repeated thoughts and actions are what make us who we are, so liturgy forms us. It's soil that roots us - do we want to be rooted in this earth or in Christ's kingdom? It is the rhythm of our lives - do we want to dance to the music of the world or the song of our Savior? I want to follow the Son, flourishing in the light, as I joyfully move in worship of my Creator.
The long and short of it is here. My first post (which started the thread), this post, and my last post tell most of the story, but you can also read the posts in between (by others and me), and I recommend that you do, since it was quite a lively and informative conversation, with various viewpoints regarding Classical Conversations (and classical education in general) well represented. Speaking of views, it got over 4000 of them! #homeschooling #CC #WTM
In homeschooling news, I lasted all of three weeks as a CC Essentials tutor. Long story short: too much prep and too little intuitiveness. A language program designed by engineering types didn't mesh with me at all, though my eleven year-old daughter, whose memory and technical thinking surpasses mine, was mastering it. So we're back to Writing with Skill and Rod & Staff grammar. Because I had signed the younger two up for a geometry art class during the first half of the Essentials time, I'm now using that hour to do logic with my oldest, which we both enjoy immensely - it comes pretty naturally to her and it's enlightening, as well as stimulating, to me. We also seem to laugh a lot. As for the Essentials class (all of two students), our CC director decided to take over teaching it.
Foundations is going well - the kids like it and I really don't have to do much, since it's just a supplement to our curriculum. They learn most of the memory work in class, and then review with the CD and tri-fold board on their own during the week. One thing that bugs me (okay, there are several) is that they use classical Latin rather than ecclesiastical, which is what Memoria Press uses, our Latin program for the past four years. I cringe whenever they say "muss" and "tiss" instead of "moose" and "teese". Another concern is that as the history sentences increase (we're up to five facts), some of the students are starting to jumble up the ones that sound alike, so names and dates are mismatched because of certain prepositional phrases at the beginning or in the middle of the sentence. I noticed this as I quizzed them at the end of class time (parents help the tutors as needed throughout class time - I rotate being in each of my three kids' classes). I'm hoping that with correction and repetition, this will iron itself out, but part of me thinks that this is the natural outcome of memorizing information without meaning/context. That was a hard pill for me to swallow initially, but I convinced myself that because we are going through the Story of the World (and have already done one complete four year cycle with my oldest), it would be okay. I'm trying to stay convinced of what hooked me - that going ahead in history is putting in the pegs upon which we will hang more knowledge in the future...but part of me worries...
This year is definitely an experiment - it's our first time not doing our homeschool group's co-op (we did it for the past three years since its inception, which was a grassroots effort), but they have adopted a programmed approach this year as well - doing the Odyssey of the Mind competition. I had already signed up for CC when I found out about that - I knew we couldn't do both and I wanted to stick with what seemed a better fit with our educational philosophy. The kids don't seem to care what the format is, as long as they get to be in a group learning setting once a week. Sometimes I think it would be better for us not to do any co-op (and in fact, Susan Wise Bauer said at the convention I attended last year that she doesn't recommend them), but hands-on stuff and memorization are some of my weaker areas, and CC covers those with a creative approach - songs and hand motions for the memory work (I would never do it that way), as well as science experiments and fine arts, but it's all pretty abbreviated, since it's only a three hour block of time, which also includes presentations and a few other elements. I like the variety and that they get to be with other kids, but I'm not sure yet about the content's enrichment value - hoping that will be clear by the end of the school year.
I'm on the fence about Challenge, which initially was what drew me to CC, but after reading more about it on the The Well Trained Mind forum, as well as seeing the curriculum on the CC site, I'm not sure it would be the best for my oldest. Ironically, it doesn't look challenging enough - she's definitely already ahead in Latin and literature, nor do I like the idea of abandoning the history and science cycles...it really would force me to choose between that and the WTM way. The monetary and time investment (it basically has to be your whole curriculum) is questionable to me...then again, it might be a good way to transition her into more independence during the middle school years (even if we didn't stay with it for high school), thus making less work for me, so I could focus more on our younger ones. We'll have to see...
I'm thinking about attempting to read through all the works in The Well Educated Mind over the next four years, starting with medieval times (where we are in our history studies this year), and concluding with ancients (the year that my oldest begins the rhetoric stage), so I was pleased to find this chronological list, and am posting (with a pic for pinterest) in case anyone else might want to follow the same reading plan. The Well Educated Mind organizes the reading lists by genre, and within that chronologically, but I would rather read different kinds of literature from the same time period, especially since that will flow with our homeschooling.
When I was a freshman at Westmont College (the only year I would spend there), second semester I found myself in the little white chapel next to the pond almost every night (even though it was quite a hike from my dorm), and at other times as well. I was homesick (okay, lovesick, too - pining for a good friend that I hoped would become more - he didn't), lonely, and grieving the absence of my roommate (and kindred spirit) who had left after our first semester (to be with the boyfriend she thought she would marry - she didn't).
I felt such an aching that I longed for God to soothe. I didn't want to be where I was, but I had to for a few more months, so I sought solace in that prayer chapel, a place free of distractions, quiet and peaceful, where I could be alone with my Creator and Savior. It had a prayer notebook where chapel comers could write to God, which is what I did. And I read what others wrote. In fact, I even made some friends that way, because we sometimes wrote encouraging responses, thus beginning a dialogue. But my main purpose for going to the prayer chapel was to seek God, to be consoled by his presence, and to hear him speak life to me through his Word.
I also liked the security in the ritual of "escaping" to this private place. I knew I could go there at any time and that I would be refreshed. That I had a secret space to pour out my heart and to come undone with no one but God watching, and holding me next to his heart, even if I couldn't always feel that with my emotions. I would come away with that peace that passes all understanding, which Jesus promised his followers. I might be romanticizing it a bit, but whatever happened during that season of my life, I always remember it as the time when I experienced the deepest intimacy with God.
When I left Westmont, I sorely missed that sacred place. The heartache of unrequited love (actually more of a crush but I still felt devastatingly disappointed), the confusion of navigating my educational and career path, and many more challenging circumstances made me pine this time not for a guy or even a friend, but for a special meeting place with God. Anytime I would go on a retreat, if there was a place of prayer - be it a chapel or garden - I would gravitate there. I even started a flickr group specifically for people to post pictures of such small sacred spaces. I made up my mind that one day when I was married and had my own home, my husband would build a prayer chapel in the backyard.
Fast forward twenty years from my twenty year-old self, and now this forty year-old has finally entered the promised land. It doesn't quite look the way I imagined. It's not even a building, but then again, I have no backyard to put one in. And no one built it for me - it started with a simple thought I had one day while freshening up in the bathroom (funny how my best ideas often originate there). Our closet is attached to the master bath, so I began thinking...wouldn't it be nice if instead of using this tiny room for clothing storage, I turned it into a little spa where I could give people facials? Then I remembered that I wasn't an aesthetician but a homeschooling mom who couldn't even wash her own face on a regular basis, let alone provide pampering to others.
Another idea emerged. It was true that if I moved the clothes out, the approximate four foot by (just under ) six foot closet could actually be converted to a room. And if not an actual spa, wouldn't it be nice to have a restful room, a sanctuary of sorts? Thus was began the project of repurposing our master bedroom closet into a prayer closet (alternate names: upper room, secret place, sabbath chamber, sacred space, rest spot, quiet nook, hidden sanctuary).
Once everything was cleared out (I moved our clothes into the kids' closets - we may eventually get a wardrobe, in which case this idea will have birthed two magical places!), it was just a question of what to put in it. When I thought about seating, I kept picturing a moon chair. That ended up being the one extravagance of our humble prayer closet, but it was totally worth the splurge, as it has turned out to be exactly the right chair - I feel hugged whenever I sit in it! After taking one child at a time into the prayer closet, I realized it was a space where two or less could gather, so I wanted comfy, inviting seating for a child as well. That turned out to be a makeshift "lounger" I created out of throw pillows and a comforter (our winter one right now). When I'm alone (which is most common), it serves as a foot rest.
I didn't want to clutter up the place with stuff, and it's tight quarters, so I decided on one small, narrow bookshelf we already had. The shelves are for the Bible, my journal, and books to aid in prayer and worship. I started with just the basics, so as not overcomplicate things, but gradually I will add others we have that are helpful for practicing liturgy, sabbath, and the contemplative life.
The top of the bookshelf is mainly for the oil lamp, which allows me to adjust the brightness, unlike the large overhead light. Its only drawbacks are a faint odor and that it gives off a fair amount of heat, especially with the door closed (I sometimes leave it ajar) and if I have it turned up, so I also bought an aromatherapy diffuser plug-in halogen nightlight that has a dimmer switch. I put a few drops of essential oil - usually lavender - in the glass dish and its fragrance fills the room. I also keep some strongly scented candles on the overhead shelf (where I store memorabilia - pictures, journals, etc.), so that the room always has a distinct, gently floral aroma. Sometimes when I come upstairs to go to the bathroom in the middle of our school day, I'll splash water on my face, a spritz of rosewater toner, and then open the prayer closet door, inhale the sweetness, reminding me that in a little while I'll be able to retreat here. Just a glimpse of the room and a breath of its scent is soothing and calming.
Walls. Not the emotional kind. I'm talking white space. I knew I wanted imagery to evoke beauty and serenity in this special space, so I finally put to good use those old calendar pages I had saved - of Greece, the Mediterranean, whimsical garden scenes, waterfalls, Scriptures - and put them up, but not too too many, mind you. It's kind of funny because we've lived in our house seven years and I've still not hung our pictures on the walls!
Another thing about the lighting and the windowless space that occurred to me is that it's similar to what it would have been like it the catacombs, those underground passageways in Rome where the early church met in secret to worship (we were just studying that in our homeschool history). Ironic that their light shone brighter in those dark caves than out in the sun where the worship of of Christ was forbidden.
For the past year, my husband and I have been reading books about Sabbath keeping, and we've been trying to practice that in our family. Keeping the sabbath is a tangible way of seeking the rest and peace of God. By setting aside one day each week to cease from labor, consumerism, social media, etc., and to actively pursue the things of the spirit - in body, mind, and heart - it trains and empowers us to live that way in the midst of whatever pressures might surround us during the week.
I had the epiphany that this prayer closet symbolizes, and actually is a vehicle for that sabbath rest. It's a tangible expression of stopping and breathing and focusing on what really matters, and giving all my cares over to Jesus, and receiving his love, grace, truth, and whatever "word" he might speak to me for encouragement and growth.
A place. A day. These are actual solid tools, props if you will, to take all our good intentions and actually apply them. Illuminating the candles to start the sabbath. Lighting the oil lamp to begin a "quiet time." Saying blessings over the bread and the wine to remind ourselves of why we're at the Lord's Table and what we're entering into. Opening the Word to feast on God's goodness as I come to him alone, hungry and thirsty. These spaces, these ceremonies, these objects - they are examples of how our senses can be a gateway into what we cannot physically touch or taste or smell or hear or see. Liturgy - patterns that are repeated - engage all parts of who God made us. Through repetition, we go deeper and deeper into the knowledge of our Lord, becoming more intimate with him, just as our routines and traditions build closeness and strengthen the bonds in families - between husband and wife, between parents and children.
I'm only just beginning to use the prayer closet, and not nearly as often or as consistently as I want to, but already it has affected me deeply, and not just me. I have had very special times in it with each of my children. Quiet cuddling. Heart to heart talks. Prayerful problem solving. And each of them feels special when they get their alone time in it with me. Even just a few minutes, because usually that's all it is. Our middle child (age 8) set up her own prayer space underneath her desk! I nearly cried when she showed me. It brought home the truth that we lead by example more than words.
One last thing - for now - about this special space. I find that spending private time with God enhances the my experience of him in community. When I come to church on Sunday morning, the worship is that much sweeter when I have prepared my heart for it...or rather, God has. It also helps fill me with his grace and love, so that I have more of that to give to others. I'm not just in church desperate to be ministered to, but instead, I can minister from a full heart. Admittedly, I'm not totally there yet, but just like having a place for church helps motivate us to gather with the Body of Christ, so does the presence of a prayer closet invite me to come and meet with my Lord.
Reading this article about a ninety-five year-old woman who was one of Hitler's food tasters, I was struck by the conclusion:
Now at the end of her life, she feels the need to purge the memories by talking about her story. "For decades, I tried to shake off those memories," she said. "But they always came back to haunt me at night."
The walking wounded among us are not just holocaust survivors. Now is the time to begin dealing (with the past) and healing. Not wallowing in it, but praying through it, and in some cases, getting counseling, maybe for a season...or seasons...and not just for yourself, but for those close to you, with whom you are most likely to perpetuate the cycle of pain, if you don't stop it in its tracks.
We are born broken from our inherited sinful nature, and then the broken people who raise us inflict more damage, but when we invite God into the pain of the past, he picks up the pieces and makes us into magnificent mosaics. Fragile but held together by the strength of his love and radiant with his beauty. We are still his image bearers, even with the marks of our brokenness. And he joins us in our scars, his pierced hands and feet reminding us of his limitless love for those who will receive it.
Enter the Buffet Lunch... (a kind of sociology experiment on my kids ;)
Most people (well, only the lucky few who get them) take a sabbatical every seven years, but in my case, I've taken a sabbatical for seven years. Not from a job, though, but from what I'm doing right now: blogging.
Seven years ago (maybe even to the day), I signed off what was then known as the God blogosphere. I was part of that first wave of Christian bloggers who started talking aloud and then to each other. We created a larger dialogue that manifested itself in posts and comments and blog carnivals and even a convention - GODBLOGCON. Despite different denominations, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more, there was a kinship between us. That's not to say there wasn't also controversy and tension, but it didn't dominate our interactions.
My first blog was called Proverbial Wife. I started it in late 2003 or early 2004 (I had my first baby at that time, so it's a bit hazy, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). The name was a reference to the Proverbs 31 woman, whom I aspired to be, and it was quite catchy, but despite its popularity, I eventually changed it (felt like to much to live up to), and that - changing blog names - was to become a pattern with me. I can't even remember all the names, but the main ones were Marla Swoffer (as in dot com) and Marla's Musings and Always Thirsty. I also had multiple blogs at various times - notably, Olive Cheeses (food blog), GodBlogRoll (a directory of blogs categorized by bloggers' Myers-Briggs personality types), and Intellectuelle, a group blog of Christian women who won a writing contest I dreamed up - it was hosted by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost.
I loved connecting with others who shared my faith and were deep thinkers, since it had rarely happened offline after I finished school. It was as close as I would get to being part of something like the Inklings - that group of Christian writers which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary (and in Lewis' case, spiritual as well) heroes. Speaking of the Inklings, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the way my blog got its wings was when it was noticed by Jared Wilson, ringleader of what was then The Thinklings, a group blog, which though all male, I considered kindred spirits. They were the first ones to spread "the conversation" to my fledgling blog. (mind you, when I use that phrase, it has nothing to do with anything "emergent")
After 2+ years of blogging daily (or more), I had a solid readership, but the nagging feeling (conviction) that I needed to change my priorities finally got through to me with the news that I was pregnant with my third (and last) child. I had sensed that I should quit blogging when I was about to have my second child, a year before, but when an amazing and generous couple who read my blog gifted me with my first apple computer (which totally converted me) - a macbook (after I joked that I would blog during my labor if I only had a laptop) - I felt that I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, that with this second baby perhaps I'd finally master time management.
That was not to be. And instead of writing from inspiration, it had become an obligation to perform fueled by my desire for acceptance/affirmation/admiration as well as a more pure motive of wanting to encourage and connect with others. But there I had trouble as well - I was too transparent and vulnerable. I didn't "overshare" by today's blogging standards, but it was too much for my personality type (we INFJs are extremely private) and there were other factors at the time (see I've learned to censor myself) that made keeping certain deep things offline even more important (hint: never work out stuff on the internet that you haven't worked out with people in real life first).
The other problem was that because of being a crusader for truth, I was attracted to controversy, or it to me, but whatever the case, it got ugly. The stuff I alluded to in the aforementioned paragraph got mingled in with the online drama, which caused me major distress...and did I mention I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy? That brings me back to the biggest reason I had to quit blogging: my family. I had three year-old and one year-old daughters, with a son on the way. I wanted my attention to be focused on them - after all, they were the reason I was staying home. I also wanted to guard their privacy. And of course there was my husband, too. My online life definitely detracted from my real life - I simply couldn't spread myself so thin, especially being the slow, methodical, non multi-tasking person that I am. I won't even mention how my daily hours online affected the housework...
So that is why I quietly exited my public writing life seven years ago, feeling both relief and grief, but believing I would one day return to my writing (since I have always known - well, since high school - that it's a calling/vocation) when the kids were all in school and I would have my mornings free. That was supposed to have happened this last fall, but three years after I quit blogging, we unexpectedly became a homeschooling family, and I knew things would never unfold the way I had planned, but I also didn't (and don't) regret being on this path...and adventure really...that God has marked out for us. I also know how much it will enrich my writing.
Somewhere in there, I started blogging again (what can I say, I couldn't stay away), but not with my real name and not with any consistency. Thus I had no readership until a couple of years ago when I adopted the Literary Mom pseudonym. I was already a regular Facebook customer (see, even quitting my day blog couldn't keep me offline...sigh...), so setting up a writerly page really couldn't be helped. Thus, instead of blogging, I was blurting out thoughts and curating information for others (i.e. amassing lots of interesting links that came into my massive news feed caused by an untold number of page likes). That continues to this day, though I have "unplugged" from Facebook for weeks and months at a time (fasting it from it for Advent or Lent usually) to sort of reset myself. The internet is paradoxically a perpetual source of angst and delight for me as a person and a writer. I have a love-hate relationship with it and its social media offspring.
This past Lent, I gave up white flour and sugar and alcohol (except on feast days of course), and found myself blogging a little more frequently, which was what I set out to do, albeit half-heartedly. It felt surprisingly right and good. That got me thinking about how long it had been since I had left the God blogosphere; I realized it was exactly seven years. Through the working out of various circumstances (including a reconciliation I consider miraculous) in recent months, I had felt a gentle nudging to come out of hiding, so to speak, but also a sense of trepidation. Nothing had changed for me to be able to suddenly devote myself to my writing - my kids aren't little, but they're still young - and homeschooling is very consuming. So I really wasn't sure what the point in using my real name now would be, yet I also started to feel bothered about my picture being a face behind a book. While it had been apt for a season, I sensed that keeping it (and continuing to not use my real name) began to reflect a kind of cowardice that didn't apply to me. In fact, overcoming fear continues to be a major theme in my life.
So the seven year timing (I'm big on patterns and symbols and rhythms), feeling free to be myself, and rediscovering the joy of writing all gave me the inspiration to throw off the anonymity that bound me and cautiously start a new chapter in my blogging life, going forward with the lessons learned from my previous one, as well as what I have learned during these past seven years of relative reclusivity.
Here are some of my blogging resolutions:
I will not market myself or network or have giveaways (not really my personality anyway).
I will not blog out of compulsion or obligation or on any kind of timetable.
I will steer clear of controversial subjects, especially pertaining to other bloggers and their views.
I will write to express what matters, not just to me, but to others, and most of all, to God.
I will keep my family my first priority and not let blogging distract me or steal time from them.
I will be careful about what I share, guarding my family's privacy and not getting too personal.
If I am ever unsure, I will pray about what to say. I will not impulsively blog.
I will not compare myself to other bloggers or compete with them.
I will not feel compelled to respond to every comment. In fact, responding to comments will be the exception rather than the rule.