Cool About School: 31 Daily Doses of Encouragement in Our Educational Choices

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Do you personally struggle with indecision and insecurity over the educational choices for your family? Are you seeking real-life insight for the future? Could you use a daily dose of hope and perspective, whatever educational path you may be traveling this season?

This series of 31 encouraging “mini posts” hopes to provide the grace and encouragement you need, whether you homeschool, private school, or public school.

There are many voices, many camps, many either / or places to land on this issue of school but they tend toward mutual exclusivity. Though there’s specific support and enthusiastic rallying for each and every educational option, there seems to be a vacuum on the topic of freedom and grace for parents struggling to know which road to travel or lacking confidence in the decisions they’ve made about school.

  • Whether newbie parent or veteran mom, how might we begin thinking differently about this issue of education before making decisions?
  • How can we call out the fear that bosses us around?
  • How do we know when our ideals have morphed into idols?
  • How can we educate our children one way but still be open to other ways — either for our family later on or for those who have chosen to do things differently?
  • How might we respond with grace when we feel judged for our personal choices?
  • How can we stop silently judging others?
  • How can we forge true community across the educational lines that so easily divide us?
  • How can we stop stress-eating oatmeal creme pies behind the sofa when we’re supposed to be doing homeschool math lesson? Or helping our middle schooler with algebra homework that we don’t understand because algebra is math with letters in it and why would anyone invent that?

 

Anyhow.

Resources and movements abound. But most of them espouse one option over another option. That’s normal. We certainly need specific support for our specific paths.

But I’d like to be among the voices who say, There’s no wrong. But there is wisdom for your personal journey and freedom no matter which path you choose. This isn’t about our perfect decision-making and it’s not about the perfection of the parents, teachers, and institutions that teach our children. Put down the box of Little Debbies. It’s going to be okay. 

I want to let you in on a little secret that can lead you to big freedom:

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I’m no expert. I’m just a mom who’s homeschooled and then public-schooled and experienced a lifetime’s worth of anxiety and indecision about the whole thing. We’ve had great success and messy failure and everything in between.

On my first child’s first day of school, I faked a smile as I walked her in and then cried the whole way to my full-time job. The next year I found myself as a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling my two big kids while nursing a baby.

I’ve peeled math pages from the kitchen floor christened with apple juice and stared in disbelief as I witnessed our puppy actually eating the homework. I cried during that first school season when I had to send them to school and cried in later seasons because I felt desperate for a big yellow bus to whisk them away for 7 hours.

Three years ago I thought we might homeschool for the long haul. Three months later my kids started public school. Last Friday I found myself in the canteen of the public middle school as one of the cheer-mom organizers for the dance.

It’s been quite a journey.

The next 31 days will hold out the hope and encouragement I wish someone had written for me fourteen years ago when I was an expectant new mom. And eight years ago when my oldest started school. And seven years ago when we decided to homeschool. And almost three years ago when we put our kids in public school. And two years ago when my daughter started middle school. And one year ago when my baby started kindergarten.

I don’t think we ever stop needing steady doses of hope and perspective when it comes to our families.

If you’re stuck in your own place of insecurity and indecision {or you know someone who is}, will you join me for 31 days of encouragement for the many ways we do school? I won’t overwhelm your brain with too much to consider for each day. Each post will be 500-ish words. But I pray that the 31 days’ cumulative effect helps set you on the path of freedom and grace in your own educational decisions.

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I welcome your questions and comments. What would you like to see in these 31 posts?

To read the other posts I’ve written on this topic, you can go here and find them all in one place. This series of 31 encouraging “mini posts” for the month of October will be different than the lengthier posts I’ve written in the past.

Oh and I’m linking up with The Nester and her tribe of 31 Dayers here.

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Why Checking “YES” to Interruption’s Invitation is Always the Best Choice

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My last post was September 10th. Today is September 26th. Days don’t always go as planned — and that is both hard and good. These many days without much writing has made me feel like I’m walking around with part of me missing.

I started this post days ago. And after revising it for an hour and a half this morning with a headache-tinged hopefulness, I lost all of my edits right before I went to publish. Like, really good edits that I could not possibly replicate. #writerproblems

So I began again, literally in tears as I tried to make a go of this post for the umpteenth time. The irony of the title isn’t lost on me. It’s like the WordPress gods played a cruel joke to see if I really believe my own words. Losing one’s best work can make a girl come close to losing her religion. I almost quit. But I’m so glad I didn’t. In the end I was able to grab hold of a truth far deeper than the one which almost got published.

It’s the story of my life, losing something I feel entitled to so that something better and truer can grow up in its place.

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But back to the last few writer-less weeks. Daily I’ve been reminded that I don’t have as much control as I think I do. I make my plans and then the day arrives and says Just kidding. 

I don’t know about you but I tend to think of the unplanned as either interruption or happy adventure, depending on what the unplanned thing is. But sometimes they’re not at either end of the pendulum.

When the unplanned comes knocking, I find that I hold my breath until “real life” resumes. It’s like I’m waiting for normalcy to return before I can exhale and really live.

I’m learning, however, that the unplanned life is precisely my real life. So why do I tend to think of it as interruption?

The additional tests.

The feverish kid.

The unexpected needs.

The big fat expense we didn’t budget.

The loved one I desperately want to help.

The stupid fight that came out of nowhere and has me wrecked.

The Walmart tire center. Two days in a row.

The last-minute text that my home is going to show in 96 minutes and I have an entire house to tidy and a curtain rod snapped clean in half and dangling by a screw and pee sheets to wash.

Who just wrote a series on “Grace in the New Rhythms?” Was it me? Because I don’t know anyone by the name of Rhythm or Routine right now. There hasn’t been any sustained days of normalcy in a few weeks.

But there have been many days of many graces and many gifts.

And in the midst of this grace {though we don’t like to think of it as grace}, I’m learning to receive the unplanned days of real life. I’m learning to let go of my big self and my big plans. It hurts a little. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

God is showing me the desires I hold too tightly and also teaching me that I can do hard things. He’s revealing that there are days when I’m privileged to do the work that makes me come alive and that there are days when I’m privileged to do the work that makes me doubt my worth altogether. I’ve questioned every ounce of my sufficiency as a mother, as a wife, and as a friend. I’ve cried out for a whole lot of help. I’ve been not enough in every way possible.

But here’s the thing. I keep showing up. I keep making the plans.

And I keep close the cup of grace and acceptance that allows me to drink deeply when different agendas come my way. I’m learning to say, This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. And it is good. 

Every day I have a choice. I can receive the unexpected as a gift to unwrap or a hardship to resent.

You’d be surprised at what a difference it makes, even for this glass-half-empty girl.

Just like optimism, service doesn’t come very naturally to me. As in, I once took an extensive personality test and being a “helper” is the furthest thing down on the list. It means that I don’t need to be needed. Some people thrive on being needed. I’m actually afraid of it. It means that I’d probably make a terrible nurse or mother. Oh wait, too late for that last one. {Though it does explain why the phrase, I need everyone to just stop needing me for an hour! has been uttered in our house five or a hundred times.}

But service isn’t necessarily about natural ability. Rather, it’s about availability. It’s about showing up and receiving the gift of giving.

I know what you may be thinking. I can’t say yes to everything. If I give every time there’s an opportunity, that’s not wise. God’s given me talents and gifts and limited resources and I’m to use them strategically. Don’t you always say that “Every yes is also a no?”

You’re right. All things being equal, you’re right. But there are times each day when things turn a bit upside down {from our perspective} and we throw plans and “no” out the window and say “yes” to living a bit beyond ourselves. It’s not about volunteerism or ministry necessarily. It’s a state of mind more than anything, a way that we approach and receive what we might not have chosen. It’s as simple as giving up my writing with peace and acceptance for a couple of weeks because there are people and needs that matter more. Or simply giving up my cherished plans for the evening because my child needs me. Often it’s small-scale but sometimes it’s major. I can’t give you a formula. I can’t tell you how you’ll know. I can only tell you that God is faithful to lead us.

Proverbs 16:9 says this:

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

{The New Living Marian Translation of that verse is this: Make your plans but hold them loosely. God is the boss of your life.}

And within the doubt, indecision, and imperfect choices, we are surely upheld by grace. There’s still trial and error, even within giving and service. And that’s okay. We learn by doing — by getting it right and getting it wrong and adjusting decisions accordingly the next time.

Maybe this season you’re in is all routine and predictability. Or maybe it’s all crazy. Perhaps it’s a mingling of both and you feel like you can’t get as sure and steady on your feet as you’d like. Maybe you’re “waiting to exhale.”

May I suggest that it’s time to go ahead and let it out? Yep. Right now. On this very day. You have nothing to lose but that furrowed brow and unnecessary tension.

Whether it’s a day that unfolds with precision and obvious beauty or a day that unfolds with devastation and an ash-covered, barely-there loveliness that you have to squint to see, you still have a choice. You’re still presented with possibility.

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Receive or resent?

Too often I’ve chosen the latter. Guess where that’s gotten me? Precisely nowhere. I’ve missed the gifts of hope, redemption, letting go, acceptance, waiting, and an opportunity to love and serve those right in front of me.

But it’s never too late to start choosing differently.

I’ve quoted these words before but they bear repeating. Emily Freeman says this about showing up in our everyday with eyes open and hearts willing.

Learning to live like an artist means opening your eyes to where you live right now, to see who stands around you, and to uncover how you might offer what is most alive in you today into the life of someone else–for their benefit and for God’s glory.

From the book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live

 

I really do long to see each and every day — whether I’m at my best or whether I’m wholly dependent on a strength and grace outside myself – as my real life.

I want to courageously walk the road of audacious gratitude instead of stumbling down the well-worn path of resentment.

I want to die to myself — to my big plans and my big needs and my big claims that I deserve “more” or different than what I currently have.

Do you want these things too? A life that learns to live the discipline of surrender, love, and acceptance?

Well, I found the secret.

You have to die.

{Raise your hand if you’re still glad you tuned in for this uplifting and encouraging post.}

Yesterday a friend reminded me that life can only come out of death. I can’t stop thinking about it. Because it’s true. Being a life-giving source to those around me requires certain death. I wish I could put in more palatable terms but I can’t.

A seed dies before it brings forth new life. A mother bleeds and suffers before the baby can be born. Our own selfishness has to be snuffed out before we can love and nurture with reckless abandon.

A perfect, innocent man had to die a cruel death on a cross in order to save the world. His death is my life — past, present, and future.

I don’t mean to be morbid but every interruption or disappointment hands us a personal invitation. And each answer is a death sentence in its own way.

Yes, I will receive this. I’ll die a small death today. Or even a big one. It’s the only way real life can spring forth.

No, I will resent this. My agenda matters more than this opportunity for redemption and beauty. And because I choose not to die to self, I’ll die a different death, a slow and painful one, poisoned by my own bitterness, ingratitude, and refusal. 

The yes or no makes it sound so simple. And it is. But simple is never to be confused with easy. We desperately need a strength outside of ourselves for this one. We need it every single day and for every single death, big or small.

Jesus said that his followers must take up their cross daily and follow him.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. {Luke 9:24}

For those who are in Christ, we have the strength already. It’s not a formula or a magical incantation. It’s a Person. It’s Jesus, the One who died so that we might live. The One who died so that we may also learn to die, many thousands of times, in order that we might live more fully and that we might be more fully alive for others.

This is redemption. And it comes around every day, asking to be seen and touched and tasted. It shows up in disappointment and in the unplanned. It shows up when we’re caught off guard and exhausted. It shows up in need and annoyance and downright beggary. It shows up in the fear and in the fights.

At first glance, it may not be pretty. Will you look for it anyway? Will you see the invitation that lies just beneath the frustration or even the devastation?

Will you say, Yes, I’ll die this death, that I might live full and free and flat-out shocked by the transformed beauty I almost missed?

Will you seek redemption along with me and bask in the unlikeliest surprise of what it just might yield?

 

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10 Favorite {Grace-Filled} Resources for Making Real Life Work in a New Season

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So, are you sinking or swimming as you’ve begun a new season? Or maybe you’re simply treading water and calling that a win?

Because on some days, not drowning is totally a win.

Most everyone has probably started back to school and is in the process of settling into new rhythms. We’re about a month in and I’m here to tell you, the eagerness and responsibility of new beginnings has already begun to wane.

Oh, I see you didn’t clean out your lunchbox yesterday and now that half-eaten apple has churned its own applesauce that’s settled nicely into the fabric piping and begun the fermentation process. Sure, just buy the cheeseburger plate today since the lunchbox that now smells like hard cider is actually the back-up lunchbox and your new lunchbox hasn’t turned up in the lost and found. Or so you claim.

True story and it’s only Tuesday.

Why do you think I needed to write this series? Because the Vischer family {and the mom who somehow got the this senior management position with no experience} is in serious need of grace as we settle into our own new rhythms.

In case you missed the series or some of the posts, here they are all together.

Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 1. 

Part 2. What’s Your Real Motivation for Wanting to Be Awesome?

Part 3. Know Your Own Life and Walk in Freedom.

Part 4. How to Manage Your Days When You’re “Type-ADD” Instead of Type A

Part 5. 4 Reasons Why Failure is Your Friend

I also thought it would be fun and helpful to provide some resources that may bring further encouragement as we order our days, manage our families, and keep the plates spinning. Here you go:

Books

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

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I mentioned this book last year in a series I did on busy-ness and priorities. I cannot recommend it enough. And it’s so short, which means you can definitely fit it into your crazy busy life. And if you can’t? Well, you might be too busy.

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Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life by Crystal Paine

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I received a review copy of this book when I attended the Allume Conference last year. When January rolled around and I was feeling all resolution-ish, I read the book from cover to cover in a day. I’m wary of “systems” and one-size-fits-all ways of doing life. But this book isn’t that at all. It’s straightforward inspiration and real-life hacks about doing life on purpose. For me, I finished the book feeling inspired and empowered rather than discouraged and guilty. Love it when that happens.

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And for those of you who homeschool, The Type B Homeschool Planner: The Planner for the Rest of Us by Sarah Mae.

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Can I get an “Amen” for the title of this book? Where was this planner when I homeschooled?

There’s no shortage of “how-to-run-your-homeschool-like-a-boss” products geared toward well-meaning parents. And they are fine and good if you are naturally wired with military DNA. I am not. And I always felt like a failure when I tried to do school the way someone else did school and it didn’t work for me. I haven’t actually purchased or used Sarah Mae’s Type B planner. I simply love the title and the concept. I’d totally buy it if I was still homeschooling.

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A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

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I’m sort of cheating by throwing this one in the mix because it’s not about organization or new rhythms. BUT…the Kindle version is only $1.99 right now! I’d be a fool to not let you know about it because it’s one of the favorite books on my bookshelf.

And it is actually a perfect book to read right now as we’re knee-deep in the routines of laundry and dinner, carpool and work. This book challenges the notion that only the painters and the poets are the real artists, that only the creatives can offer beauty into the world. The truth is, we’re all artists. We all have something lovely and unique to offer the world whether we’re folding the clothes or stirring the soup or teaching the students. Just writing these words makes me want to pick it up and read it again. {You can read my review of it here.}

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And finally, this book that inspired an entire post which gets at our real motivations for wanting to be awesome and then hating ourselves when we come up short. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Timothy Keller.

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It will take you 30-45 minutes to read. And then you’ll pick it up and read it again and again because it’s that important.

Meals

How to Make a Meal Plan That Will Save Your Life and Make You Pretty.

 

Kendra is hi-larious and an actual baker and I think this very real-life, you-be-you approach to meal planning is just perfect. Plus it makes you pretty so there’s that.

And then there’s this post I wrote about how I do groceries and meals. I am not an actual baker but it’s also very real-life and you-be-you. It works for us. And Shannan Martin told me she does groceries and meals almost the same way so there you go. I’ll count that as an unofficial testimonial.

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And if you’d like to follow my “What’s for Dinner?” or “Soup” pinboards, here you go.

Follow Marian’s board What’s for Dinner on Pinterest.

Follow Marian’s board Soup on Pinterest.

Most of the meals are things that I’d actually make and that my kids would hopefully eat, not to be confused with the stuff I would like to make in a perfect world with a limitless food budget for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and the organic farmer’s market and kids who will eat quinoa and sushi.

 

Tools

“The Calendar.” We’re now on our second school-year with this $5 gem of a lifesaver. It’s the only thing on the front of our fridge. Ours is from Staples in the Martha Stewart section. I write our meals for the week along the bottom and just that simple act makes me feel like I’ve got a plan.

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I found this one on amazon and I kind of like it better since it has more room. It’s half-price right now and $9.99. Seeing just one week at a time is helpful for me and I feel less overwhelmed than when I’ve tried a “month at a glance.” Seriously, how do you “glance” at a month. A month is 30 whole days. Call me a wimp but a month needs full fledged digestion. Like, sit down and study all of those many days with a cup of coffee. A week is glance-able.

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Posts

This series from last year here on the blog. It’s a series about time, margin, and opportunity cost.

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And finally, I loved this post by The Nester on rhythms and routines and why knowing the difference is important.

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I hope that maybe just one of these posts or books will provide help and encouragement in this new season. As always, I heartily welcome your ideas and resources that help your stay on track. Or at least adjacent to the track.

And now, a Seasonal Blessing:

May your fall bring fresh perspective. May your rhythms remain steady and grace-filled. And may your lunch-boxes not smell like beer.

 

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