dear mom who feels the darkness

It has not been a quiet week in our town.

Poulsbo, Washington sits on Liberty Bay 18 miles across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Our “Little Norway”is full of Scandinavian charm and actual Scandinavians.

On a clear day from various hills around town you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mt. Ranier to the southeast. Woods hide flaws here. And tides mark time.

But this week, our hearts are raw from shock, fear, alarm, and now grief over yet another young person in our little town overcome by darkness.

As parents, we are shaken, and moved to pray deeply, from broken hearts, for our kids. To love them more clearly, more vocally. To give them hope that darkness passes.

Honestly, sometimes, it feels like it never will. The world outside is war, and disease, and death. And school is fear. And tragedy hits home.

Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. Every day the headlines are worse.

They see it, too. They know. They can count. One every year, my son said.

* * * * *

Dear mom who feels the darkness,

I feel it, too. So heavy. A darkness consuming days, raining sorrow.

Inescapable dread, eclipsing joy.

It’s so hard to see in the dark. My eyes are old. And tired of seeing pain. I bet yours are, too.

But night does not last forever.

This is a promise we can trust. We have evidence every day as night passes into dawn.

Tell your children you love them and pray they will hear and embrace the truth that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord . . . Jeremiah 29:11-14

And tell stories of when you were nearly overcome by darkness, but you reached out to God for help and he helped you even when the situation looked impossible.

“Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful . . . . the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.” G.K. Chesterton

And pray always, dear mom who feels the darkness, because you are fighting a spiritual battle for your children’s lives.

* * * * *

The silver rectangle in my hand with the cut out flower was a gift from a teacher for working in my youngest son’s kindergarten classroom. She gave it to me for Christmas just weeks after my husband lost his job and we lost our home. It was the darkest time of my life.

Hope was the thing I needed most desperately. I needed to believe God had a future for me, for Dave, and for our family.

And He did.

But I could not see any of it for a very long time. Not just days, but weeks and months.

The walk through darkness does not have to end in despair. Cling to hope and pray through til the light dawns again.

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

* * * * *

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dear mom who wishes she could home school

I home schooled for a while.

While I did, we lived on one income. And my life was consumed with caring for four small children and making everything, including pudding, from scratch because it was cheaper. This family has eaten their fill of ham-less split pea soup and depression-era bread.

I know many families who choose to home school make sacrifices to make it happen.  I know it annoys them when people with professionally kept hair and nails who drive reliable and fairly nice cars and go out to movies and out to eat a lot comment, “It must be nice to be able to stay home.” Whether you home school or not, for any mom who makes financial sacrifices to stay at home the comment is equally grating. (Friends, if you home school or home schooled, please scroll down to the bottom of this letter past my signature right now and read a special note to you before you read any further.)**

And then again, mom who wishes she could home school, you know that it really must be nice. Because in spite of your home-schooling friends’ protestations that you can make it work you know there are reasons you cannot. Some are fairly obvious, and you wish your friends would just stop talking about how great home school is and how they’d never put their kids in school in a sort of way that makes you feel like somehow you’ve chosen a lower road and there is no hope for you ever of being a mom anyone would want to be like because not only are you not home-schooling but you put your kids in public school.

I know those reasons.

Because I home schooled for a while . . . and then I couldn’t.

And it wasn’t until I could and then I couldn’t that I noticed how much the Christian community often glorifies home schooling to a level of spirituality unattainable for a whole lot of women.

Dear mom who wishes she could home school and absolutely cannot, I know you’ve noticed this.

And I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like you were less than a wise, spiritual and sacrificial and mom. You are doing it all alone. All of it. With no one to earn even a small income to let you stay at home and spend exhausting days teaching little ones to read while feeding a baby, staying up late to prepare science experiments, learning advanced math to keep up with your high schooler, scrounging car change to buy a bag of split peas. Shame on us if we ever gracelessly rubbed home school in your face.

My reasons for not home schooling are different from yours. But we made a choice and you never had one.

Maybe you are like me. Maybe it’s not that you have no husband. Maybe at some point you had to choose between your marriage or home schooling.

Maybe you had to choose between health or home schooling. Maybe you had to choose between a healthy relationship with your child or home schooling. And maybe you will never, ever tell any of these reasons to anyone, so I will tell you mine just so you know you are not alone.

In my house, a raging battle with addiction elevated the stress level during the home school years to extremely unhealthy.

Our kids needed a break. I was unable to focus on anything but how on earth this marriage was going to make it. My strength was sapped by late nights arguing and worrying over how another unexpected debt would be resolved, and why I didn’t know about it yet again. My temper was short with the 5 year old who knew how to read and could not be taught the purpose of silent e because he already knew far better than me. Trying to teach math concepts to a variety of cognitive levels strained my patience and my brain to the point where there was no capacity to be both mom and teacher at the same time. No one learns math from a yeller. Or maybe they learn to hate math. We didn’t need the added stress of private school tuition — we couldn’t afford it. No. Really could not.

The answer for us was public school. And the school our boys landed in turned out to be the most amazing blessing we could ever have imagined. Sure, we had a couple of teacher struggles. Sure, as a former teacher, there were things I thought could have been done better. But our boys got the stability they did not have at home. Through losing a job, an amazing camp home, they went to a public school that wrapped their arms around our family in a way we never knew could come from anywhere but a community of believers.

For our oldest the transition from home school was harder. Middle school was not great time to jump into the system at all. But with the help and support of the district’s home school program for secondary students, some classes at the high school and some at a local community college, a very dear friend who generously folded her into her own daughter’s home school days to learn Latin and life, a few fantastic music teachers and a great base of support in local theatre, she managed to piece together a pretty incredible high school education.

Hear me, mom who wishes she could home school and cannot, God knows.

* * * * *

You would think that a person who had wanted to home school so badly would be really involved in their kids’ schools.

For a while I was. I was an art docent. I went on field trips. But I had to work, too (which is a topic for another post). I tried to get a job with the district, but there were no job openings for part-time English teachers (I will never teach high school English full time again — it’s actually TWO full time jobs), and the job I chose to stick with was consuming and not a good fit for moms trying to do it all who are not very adept at trying to do it all.

It wasn’t that I didn’t volunteer or go to my kids’ things. Just not a lot of school day things. I was at the theatre or soccer games or meets after school/after work. But it was hard to be at school. Hard because for a lot of years, being in a school reminded me of all I had given up.

And then I got to know you better, moms who wished they could and moms who home schooled until they couldn’tAnd moms who never did and never wanted to.  And I didn’t feel so bad anymore. In high school, there is a comfortable blend of all sorts of moms. As so many women around me who once home schooled are going to work, I’ve noticed that our lives are becoming more alike even as they have drifted away from the days of home school co-op.

* * * * *

I would be lying if I told you I don’t wish any more.

Still, the beautiful ideal to me is a hard but simple farm life and a dining room table school. But that’s not my life at all, and I think after kicking against the goads and wishing my life was something it wasn’t for too many years, I’ve finally accepted that it is what it is.

For the first time maybe ever, I waltzed in to the parent teacher conference arena last week in confidence that my parent/work/life/educator world was exactly what it should be. And I looked teachers in the eye as they told me some things I didn’t know about my kids, and I wasn’t ashamed that I didn’t know. I know plenty of good moms of teenagers — home-schooled or not — who don’t know them either.

* * * * *

If you made it this far in this very long letter, I’m guessing it’s because you’ve felt the same as me. Your wishes have been on my heart for so long, I just had to blurt it out all at once, as though you asked and I answered over coffee. I don’t want to go back and cut out words that might be important to you.

Dear mom who wishes, keep living the life you’ve been given and not the one you wish you had.

And please never feel like you’ve missed it all when you can’t do the thing you really cannot do. You know those things. You talk with God about them — a lot. And maybe you sometimes you yell at Him. Or maybe you yell at your husband. Or maybe you yell at the collection agent harassing you over your medical bills . . . . because it hurts.

God knows.

Give your wishes to God and pick up the now and embrace it. I wish I had done that a long time ago.

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** Dear mom who home schools her children, I respect so much what you do, and I know it isn’t easy. And I know some of you who keep on and kept on in spite of incredibly difficult things in your home. But this post is for women who sincerely wishes she could home school, but for one reason or other cannot. And by that I mean a mom who is a single mom who has to work outside her home to provide for her children. Or maybe there is someone in their home battling addiction to alcohol or drugs and school offers stability they don’t have at home. Or she has health issues or one of her children has issues that make it impossible to give them both love and an education. Or her husband lost his job and they are struggling to make it financially. Or her husband is not supportive of home schooling at all. So please, I admire you so much and would be grieved if you took offense at my post. It’s meant to encourage women like me.

 

dear mama who worries

Dear mama who worries,

I will admit it. I worry all year long. September to June. You, too?

I schooled, and home schooled and schooled again through various moves in the early days of my children’s education. But in the summer of 2006, I was too overwhelmed by all that was going on in our home to take on another year. My boys had so much energy. And I was struggling to get myself out of the house, let alone out of bed.

I needed help. So we sent our middle boys to school.

Just four weeks later, on October 2, I wanted to pull them out forever.

My heart has never stopped aching since that day. Maybe yours hasn’t either.

On that day, I learned that if evil can find it’s way into an Amish school, evil can find children anywhere. And the ache deepens day after day as I understand more fully, over years and releasing just  what that means.

No matter how hard I try to protect my child from harm, I can’t be there every moment. And even if I was? I am not a super hero. I’m not even an armed guard.

The ache is a longing now. A longing for things to be set to right. For wickedness to end.

* * * * *

It is an act of faith to let our children out the door every morning.

And every morning, we commit our precious children here and far into God’s care. Whether they are 5 or 11 or 14 or 20 or . . .

And after every tragedy, whether in a school, a theater, or mall, or car, there is a time of fear and we face the temptation to pull them in close and never let them leave our side ever again. Not ever.

I think every mama on this Monday morning will say a prayer. Whether she believes in God or not. Because someone has to watch them. Someone, please.

Watch over my babies. Keep them safe. Protect them from evil. 

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

* * * * *

I happened on a word of comfort tonight . . .

from a woman who reminded me that we begin to worry for our children before they ever leave our body.

I am a woman of prayer. It sounds bold-faced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit – perhaps it is because a former pastor of ours once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly. — Sarah Bessey

We carry our babies next to our hearts. We love them deep inside before we ever see them.

* * * * *

The world is broken, but evil is no part of God. And He sends His angels to protect. At every moment, they fight. And we pray

a Psalm of protection for our children . . .

Long ago, my favorite writer wrote a song for the children in his care:

This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
He is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday . . . .
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.

Psalm 91, a song of Moses

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

* * * * *

Dear mama who worries, I do, too.

But today can we breathe those worries into prayers? All day long.

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a season of sharing the work

I spent this rainy afternoon with women gathered around a table.

We watched and listened as our hostess demonstrated chopping and cooking techniques to create a soup meant to feed a crowd.

What is it about sitting in the presence of someone cooking a fresh meal that soothes? The steady rhythm of chopping, the steam from the pot, the aroma of onions and spices sauteed in butter? Is it that the cook does not skip a beat as she makes the meal just for you? While you watch. While you wait and listen. Comfort. This is comfort.

Thou preparest a table before me . . .

A hot bowl of red savory soup in the grayness of a stormy day, in a weekend of sadness. The world around is chaos. But here, in the corner of a dim sanctuary, we are breaking bread.

A scattered hum of words is spoken.

Just the sorts of conversations women who are grandmothers, great aunties, daughters, mothers of grown children have when they sit separated only by a full bowl, a full cup, a full plate. The stuff of life that fills novels and movies. Only real. Real people. Real tears. Real joys. Real life.

When the meal has ended and we prepare to go to our homes, we work together: washing dishes, collapsing and hauling away tables, setting the church to rights, loading the car with all the preparations and leftover food.

The motions are second nature. Each of us does exactly what we would alone, only there in harmony, in God’s house, working side by side.

We have been bonding over the work since time began.

Gathered at wells drawing water, gathered in fields harvesting grain, gathered at wine presses trampling grapes, gathered around rivers washing clothes.

In the common work of living and surviving we have always leaned on each other even as we do in this hour: Carrying heavy pots, folded tables, boxes of kitchen tools side by side by side. Wiping counter tops. Covering leftover food.

We are comforted, refreshed, encouraged. Ready to face the storm again.

Because of a simple bowl of soup, shared work, and living this season together.

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