All I Want for Christmas is… (Part V)

All_I_Want_For_Christmas_IsAs far as I’m concerned I don’t need a single present under the tree or even a piece of coal in my stocking. While both are appreciated, my soul is set on a few other goodies. Not necessarily things to be wrapped, but much-needed gifts. Join us during the month of December as we explore several blessings we’d love to receive this Christmas.

…..

Never mind the holiday madness, my life is busy. Your life is busy. Our lives are packed to the gills with wonderful things. Perhaps overly stuffed. We have filled our days to the point that taking on one more task feels overwhelming and impossible. But what if that one more thing is an incredible opportunity to be used by God?

This Christmas, I’d love to be gifted with a heart to serve the Lord. In truth, He is using me right now, where I am. But if I’m honest, I’m not always as gracious about it as I’d like to be. And definitely not as gracious as I ought to be. I lose sight of His vision and replace it with my own warped image of what I think I ought to be doing. My eagerness to serve can sometimes find me adding more to my plate than the Lord is asking of me. Thus when He does bring ministry my way, I make excuses. I don’t have the time, I can’t possibly go where He is leading, or I find myself incapable. Excuses of the first order.

Please don’t think I take this lightly. Being willing to serve the Lord no matter where He leads is a leap of faith and obedience. While we might have visions of television opportunities, grand book deals, or concerts which amaze thousands, God might have better use for us in a remote jungle or in the slums of big cities. Humbler still; He might not ask us to move at all, but to remain quietly where we are because this is where we are needed. This, too, can be hard. Serving is not meant to bring us glory or fame, but to draw others close to the Father. In addition, serving whole-heartedly might also cost. Our lives, our security, and our comfort are all surrendered in order to carry out His mission.

Before I ask the Lord to bless me with ministry, I would do well to ask for a heart to serve and a willingness to follow wherever He leads. I would ask for wisdom, both in knowing when to say “yes” and “no”. I pray for courage to step out in faith; obedience to stand no matter the call; and an overwhelming desire to do what is right. My I serve the Lord with all that is in me, holding nothing back.

“How can you tell if you have a servant attitude? By the way you react when you are treated like one.”
~ Unknown

Your Turn!: Do you have a least favorite chore? Mine is coming up with what’s on the week’s menu. I love the cooking, but hate figuring out what everyone is willing to eat!

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All I Want for Christmas is… (Part IV)

All_I_Want_For_Christmas_IsAs far as I’m concerned I don’t need a single present under the tree or even a piece of coal in my stocking. While both are appreciated, my soul is set on a few other goodies. Not necessarily things to be wrapped, but much-needed gifts. Join us during the month of December as we explore several blessings we’d love to receive this Christmas.

…..

It’s happened again. That moment when I realize I’ve not only stopped listening to what my friend is saying, but have been rude enough to interrupt in order to express my own opinion on the matter at hand. I wish I could say this doesn’t happen often. But it occurs more than I’d like to admit. Thus, the fourth gift on my Christmas Wish List is the ability to listen better.

I want to see people as Christ sees them, and I want them to leave my presence feeling as if they matter. One of simplest ways to do this – though not always the easiest – is to listen. To hear not only when they speak, but the volumes communicated when they remain silent. There is restorative power and edification in being given the opportunity to bare our burdens and joys with someone who is willing to hear us out. I want to be that person.

Unfortunately while I may start off with the intention of listening, open to this person sharing with me, I often end up trying to “fix” the problem with words of advice or wisdom. Perhaps an example of having gone through the same thing so my friend understands I relate. It took me some years to realize this was not always desired. In fact, sometimes it can be a turn-off for the person trying to communicate. They aren’t looking to hear from me. They are looking for a listening ear.

Thankfully I seem to have gracious friends who overlook my fault, or at the very least have never confronted me on the matter. I’ll be completely honest and say it doesn’t bother me when I’ve been interrupted. I understand. However, for the sake of those who are offended and out of a desire to be considerate, I should make an attempt at being self-aware of this issue.

What I’d like to do is approach conversation with the intent to only listen. I want to ask questions, and seek to know the other person better. My desire is to wait upon the Lord and His wisdom when is the right time to speak. Then pray the Lord would give me the right words, in the right moment.

As we gather with friends and family this Christmas season, my desire is that each person I come into contact with would feel the love of Christ, and understand their importance in my life. I pray I would have the heart to listen and the wisdom to speak only in the right moment. May this holiday, and all the days to come be less about what I have to say and more about leading people to God; the only one worth listening to.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”
~ James 1:19

Your Turn!: What are you listening to right now; perhaps music, a podcast, or a Christmas movie running in the background?

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All I Want for Christmas is… (Part III)

All_I_Want_For_Christmas_IsAs far as I’m concerned I don’t need a single present under the tree or even a piece of coal in my stocking. While both are appreciated, my soul is set on a few other goodies. Not necessarily things to be wrapped, but much-needed gifts. Join us during the month of December as we explore several blessings we’d love to receive this Christmas.

…..

As I bustle along the busy streets, a man is standing on the corner hoping for a meal. A friend just lost her house to a local fire. Being a single mother, another friend could use a babysitter so she can catch up on housework and take a moment to breathe. Everywhere we turn there is someone who could use a helping hand. You guessed it, the third item on our Christmas Wish List is to see those in need.

Now when we say “see those in need”, we’re not talking about my eyes literally noticing a person. I am generally not that blind. Seeing goes beyond the physical and touches upon the heart. I desire to see people as God sees them. I want to recognize a need when it is presented to me, and have a heart to do something about it.

This can be a challenge to be sure. In the first place, my heart has to open to seeing people. My own critical nature can get in the way, passing judgement on people I don’t even know; making assumptions about why there is a need in the first place. Second, selfishness wants to sweep in telling me I don’t have time – money, experience, ability, etc. – to meet this need. Third, truthfully, previous hurts make me hesitant to help. No one likes being taken advantage of.

It’s funny. I’ve noticed the closer I draw to the Lord, the less these things matter. Instead of allowing these issues to weigh on my mind, I give them over to God and simply ask what He wants me to do. I seek wisdom. In some cases, He leads me to be the lending hand. In others, my part is to pray or lead them to the person who can help. I cannot do all things, but God can help those in need.

God isn’t asking me to overextend myself, but He often will ask me to step out of my comfort zone in order to be useful. As we hustle through this Christmas season, I ask the Lord to give me eyes to see people as He sees them; with love. I desire that He gift me with a heart to serve those in need; this Christmas and always.

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
~ Proverbs 20:35

Your Turn!: Which does your palate prefer: white, milk, semi-sweet, or dark chocolate?

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All I Want for Christmas Is… (Part II)

All_I_Want_For_Christmas_IsAs far as I’m concerned I don’t need a single present under the tree or even a piece of coal in my stocking. While both are appreciated, my soul is set on a few other goodies. Not necessarily things to be wrapped, but much-needed gifts. Join us during the month of December as we explore several blessings we’d love to receive this Christmas.

…..

It’s there on the tip of my tongue. My internal critic has made an appearance, and she has a desire to express her displeasure with this particular moment. The lights are not as grand as last year; the weather is not crisp enough for her seasonal pleasure; and perhaps that cocoa wasn’t quite as rich as she prefers. Following my desire for a grateful heart, the second item on my Christmas Wish List is a tongue which speaks kindness.

I’m all for expressing opinions and sharing ideas. But there comes a point when “expressing myself” has now launched into complaining. I think, if we’re honest with one another, we all know when we’ve crossed this line. Observation becomes finding fault. I am not speaking with the intent of edification, sharing in the moment, or even learning a lesson. I am unhappy with something – or someone – and I am using this as an opportunity to unleash my inner critic.

Outside of the fact that this does literally no good, it is actually causing harm. I am allowing a root of bitterness to have a place in my heart which will bond to other areas of displeasure already allowed to find a foothold, and before I know it I am a sharp-tongued mama who has nothing pleasant to say. Speaking of this mom, what is this teaching my children? If I am being critical, my children will mimic this trait and develop into adults who have formed this bad habit.

Often it is not what we say, but how we say it. Thus, I might point out that the hot cocoa could use a tad more chocolate, but it in a manner which expresses thanks for what I have been given while playfully addressing my addiction to the cocoa bean. And in those moments when there is absolutely no way to make what I feel like saying palatable for other people’s ears, this is the perfect moment to say a prayer and ask the Lord to minister to the condition of my heart.

As we move quickly through this Christmas season, my desire is to not only be grateful for what I have, but to purposefully choose kindness. I want my tone to be kind, my words to be sweet, and the intention of my heart pure. While we move through the hustle and bustle of the season, these “gifts” will only enhance our celebrations. They also bring the added benefit of remaining with us throughout the year to come as we continue on in our homeschooling and parenting adventures.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
~ Proverbs 31:26

Your Turn!: Which does your palate prefer: white, milk, semi-sweet, or dark chocolate?

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All I Want For Christmas Is…

All_I_Want_For_Christmas_IsAs far as I’m concerned I don’t need a single present under the tree or even a piece of coal in my stocking. While both are appreciated, my soul is set on a few other goodies. Not necessarily things to be wrapped, but much-needed gifts. Join us during the month of December as we explore several blessings we’d love to receive this Christmas.

…..

There is so much about this season which is wonderful. Cheerful music follows us wherever we go. Sweets and goodies are everywhere. Twinkling lights and trees are magical. Family comes together, and friends make a point of reconnecting. But, let’s face it, underneath all the glamour and sparkle lies a subtle message. You need this to be happy. You must have this to make Christmas complete. How can we call this Christmas if we aren’t participating in said activity? While none of these things are wrong, I want to be careful that my desire to have does not outweigh a heart of thanks for what is already received. This Christmas, the first item on my wish list is simply a grateful heart.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. But it’s not magical because of the multitude of reasons listed above or the many I could have overwhelmed you with. Christmas is a miracle because of why we celebrate. The birth of our Savior. If we sift through all the shimmer floating on top and get to the gem inside, there lies our reason for the season. Jesus Christ. When I put aside what I see, hear, and smell – lovely as they might be – and focus on the real value of Christmas, I cannot help but be grateful. I am so loved by the Creator of the world that He sent His Son. I am cared for, redeemed, and have a place in heaven. I have been given health, family, friends, and a home. There is much to be thankful for.

Perhaps you might be thinking, “Of course you can be content with gratefulness, Cristina. I’ve seen your Instagram posts, after all. You can’t possibly know what I’m going through.” Oh, my friend, hear me out. While I do not know the details, I truly understand. My mother struggled as the only provider and single parent for years. Some Christmases the only reason we had a tree is because one was given; our presents were cute pencils and pads of paper. Even as an adult there have been years when the Dollar Tree has been my best friend and putting a roof over our children’s heads stretched us to almost breaking. Now, not every year was that rough; true. But one thing I’ve learned, both through my incredible mother and adulthood, is that how we choose to view our circumstances is a matter of the heart. Even when it might have seemed like we had “nothing”, we had everything. We learned to be content and grateful wherever the Lord had us because we had what we needed. Jesus Christ.

This Christmas, while enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds, my greatest desire is be filled with gratefulness. My heart is for the Lord to remove anything which prevents me from seeing His beauty and provision; leaving room only for Himself. May my life be overflowing with gratefulness so I may pour out His love to the world around me, continually singing His praise.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
~ Philippians 4:11-13

Your Turn!: What are you most thankful for this season?

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Our November Reads

Our_November_Reads

November is over and we still can’t believe Christmas is just around the corner. Where has this year gone? It has been a fantastic adventure of reading, learning, and increasing in wisdom. Before we finish dusting off the ornaments and immerse ourselves in holiday cheer, we’re taking a few moments to share our list of reads during this past month. November’s list has a few reads which were recommended for personal development, and others which added to our learning fun.

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie) – Learn the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and the nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.
    It would seem generations of people grew up reading this book. I was not one of them. In fact, I had never heard of it. That said, I found the book enjoyable if a simple read. Most of the tips included seem common knowledge, but perhaps at one point in time they were revolutionary?
  2. The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) – Award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed.
    This was another interesting read I was referred to from an online “friend”. I found it fascinating to read, and enjoyed it tremendously. 
  3. What Is… (Series by Penguin Random House) – Covering everything from revolutionary battles to natural disasters, social movements to witch trials, Penguin’s What Was? series dives into our world’s most important historical events.
    A favorite series in our home and learning. As we’re currently studying the American Revolution, this was our current focus. This series makes learning fun for the younger of our children and yet gives them plenty to think on.
  4. Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words: How to Work Smart, Play Well, and Make Real Friends (KM Kistyal) – This book presents 50 of Benjamin Franklin’s famous “wise words” from Poor Richard’s Almanack, his personal letters, and other writings, with sage advice on everything… Sayings are paired with hilarious illustrations and witty translations for modern audiences.
    I’ll be honest, yet again it was the illustrations which caught my eye. However the pages within are gems. I see us returning to it repeatedly.
  5. Brave Red, Smart Frog (Emily Jenkins) – Step into a wintry forest where seven iconic fairy tales unfold, retold with keen insight and touches of humor.
    Our family is a fan of fairy tales; we can’t get enough of them. This book was charming; filled with lovely illustrations and quaint stories. I might have to purchase this one.
  6. The Book of Dragons (E. Nesbit) – Dragons — of all sorts — make for marvelous fun, and this collection of madcap tales is filled with them. Some of the legendary monsters are funny and mischievous, others are downright frightening, and a number of them are wild and unpredictable.
    More fairy tales! This book is a classic, and entirely fun.
  7. The Earth Book (Jonathan Litton) – Explore the incredible place we call home! Marvel at the physical planet, learn how the weather works, meet some of the most influential people from the past and present, and much more.
    In this circumstance I will again confess the illustrations caught me. And while I still stand by the beauty of the visuals within, I will admit the worldview dimmed the loveliness of the book. Skip over the nonsense, if you would – detailing man’s evolving from monkies, and more – and partake in the fabulous other lessons included. 

While we gather our books from the local library, the bulk of our month’s list came from readers like you and acquaintances from online forums. We’ve enjoyed hearing and seeing new books being discovered; encouraging us to do a little searching of our own.

We’ll be taking a break from our regularly scheduled book list during the month of December in order to fully enjoy the Christmas holiday, and to share a special new series the Lord has placed on our hearts! Be sure to join us, and then check back here again in January as we share another round of fabulous, and sometimes not so fabulous, reads.

Your Turn!: How do you feel about self-help books?

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Loosing the Reins

Loosing_the_ReinsWhen our children were little, they required a lot more guidance in their learning. They needed me to walk them through a daily and weekly routine. They thrived on knowing what to expect next, what each day brought to them. As my littles have grown, however, I’ve come to realize they are wanting a little more control over their learning routine.

I like routine. With all of life’s responsibilities, good planning removes a lot of the stress and headache of trying to get everything done. The danger in too much control is that our children can sometimes feel boxed in, forced to follow a pattern which they had no say in making. As our children get older, it helps to include their input and loosen the reigns.

We started out our learning year just as we have the previous few. We had our routine in place and our electives chosen. Our ‘rotation’ spots were all picked out and mommy had the perfect plan in mind. Somewhere around the beginning of second quarter, my kids started to voice new-found opinions. Would it really be that life altering if they got to choose when they did electives?

It seems instead of doing electives at an appointed time they wanted the freedom to work on these learning areas at will. If they chose to rise earlier than everyone else, they could practice their Spanish then. Free time between learning subjects might be the perfect opportunity to sit at the piano. It wasn’t a matter of avoiding these topics, they simply wanted the freedom to choose the appropriate time themselves. In other words, they wanted a little control.

This didn’t seem like such a far-fetched request. They are getting older and have solid reasons for wanting the bulk of their afternoons free; it’s not like they are pushing off electives only to sit around doing nothing. They still plan to get things done, but in their own time. Afternoons could now be free to bake, sew, play together, and even just rest.

Part of me had doubts, but I wanted to give them a chance. So, we compromised. I would allow them the freedom to choose when they did their electives. If they couldn’t stick with it, and I was having to remind them too often, we would return to our normal routine.

Thus far the plan has worked well. My girls are cruising through their lessons with me and finishing their electives in good time. While my son needs my input and assistance a little more than his sisters do, he too is doing very well. Unless the kids are learning a new piano piece or my son needs a reading partner, they are handling electives entirely on their own. Loosing the reigns and allowing them monitored freedom was a great decision for all of us. The kids are learning to structure their own time wisely and mommy has less to worry about. It’s been a win-win change.

Now, if only I could convince them that 25 minutes if not a half an hour. Cutting corners doesn’t count!

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time,…”
~ Ephesians 5:15-17

Your Turn!: How closely do you monitor your children’s electives? Is this something you work on together or allow them to manage on their own? Share your ideas with us!

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Making Room for Fun

Making_Room_For_FunI spend a great deal of time with my kids. We do all our learning together, we eat together, we clean together, we run errands together, and, on occasion, even sleep in the same room. Essentially, I spend almost twenty-four hours a day with my littles. Because we are together so often, I can mistake being together with having fun together. On occasion it might be beneficial to stop and reflect. Am I a fun mom?

There are times in life when it is important to be serious. Laughing at a funeral would be impolite, rude, and insensitive. There are also moments when you ought to be lighthearted and able to have fun. It’s important to find balance in all things. Raising kids and being a homeschooling parent is no cake walk. Sometimes I can become overwhelmed by responsibilities and needs. The moment a ‘break’ becomes available, my desire can often lean towards just wanting a moment to breathe… alone. While everyday won’t be a breeze, I do need to make a point of finding ways to be fun and silly; enjoying the sound of my children’s laughter and initiating a little joy into their lives.

Honestly, being at home and being ‘fun’ mom is hard for me. Everywhere I look, I see something which needs to be done: laundry, house keeping, dishes, cooking, yard work, home improvement, writing. You name it, I see it. Getting out of the house usually works best for me; this is where park days, Disneyland days, visits with friends, and more come into play. However, being out of the house every day just isn’t an option. This requires me to then be more creative in our home environment and make a conscious choice to overlook those things which keep catching my over-critical eye.  So we do chores, but we race to get them done. (Then have ice cream as a treat). We sing along with those playing the piano and have fun being silly. We take moments to stop and play card games, eat cookies, dance to fun songs, and plan upcoming events.

I am learning to look for ways to incorporate fun into their lives and be a source of fun, instead of standing by merely watching. It’s not enough for my children to grow up commending my parenting for its cleanliness and well-planned organization. – Although that would be nice. – I want my children to remember their youth fondly and be filled with awesome memories they can’t wait to recreate with their own family. While I won’t be a perfect parent, but then again who is, I would like to think they will look back and smile, remembering how much fun was stuffed into those all too short years we called childhood.

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,”
~ Ecclesiastes 2:24

Your Turn!: Are you purposeful in creating ‘fun time’, or do you wait for those moments to arise naturally?

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Just Give Me An Answer!

Just_Give_Me_An_Answer“Mom, what’s the answer to this question?” I could see it in her face. It wasn’t that she couldn’t find the answer herself, she just didn’t want to exert energy in reaching it. “Well, how would you go about solving the problem? What would be your first step?” I replied. “Really, mom? Can you please just give me an answer?” As a matter of fact, no; no, I won’t.

I admit it. There are times I am a little tough on my kids. I’m not mean. I just like challenging them and pushing them to the limits of what they think they can do. While at times I am sure this is frustrating for them, hopefully one day they will see the brilliance of my plan. In my humble opinion, I believe constantly giving our children the answers is not a good thing. There is a time and place, to be sure, but we need to be on the lookout for always providing solutions without allowing our children to find them on their own. Instead of handing over quick responses to their questions, there are a few better ways to go about reaching the same end.

Make Them Find the Answer – As children learn new skills, they will often come across vocabulary and terminology previously unheard of. Instead of immediately telling them what a word means, we encourage our children to look the word up for themselves. The same goes for facts about topics of which they have little knowledge. If they want more information on Timbuktu, they go look it up! This saves them the headache of having to wait for mom and encourages them to be proactive with their education. Being an independent learner is important.

Have Them Try For the Answer – Often our children know the right answer, but are just afraid of being wrong. At others, I simply want to hear their thought process to see where they’re going off track. In these cases, I have them make an educated guess and tell me what they think the answer is. Once I see which direction their mind is heading, I can redirect, correcting mistakes and reinforcing skills already learned which would have helped them find the correct answer.

Lead Them to the Answer –  When learning new skills, I try to lead our children to the truth instead of merely stating it. We walk them through the process of finding the solution and allow them to answer the question for themselves. Through this they not only gain a better understanding of how they reached the answer, but it lifts their spirits to know they could answer the question on their own.

Give Them the Answer (and a Short Lesson) – When we’ve exhausted every other avenue, I will finally give them a straight answer. Sometimes simply looking up a word doesn’t help a child understand its meaning. Sometimes they try, but can’t find the right solution. Times like this call for a straight answer, followed up with a quick lesson on how I went about finding the solution or just better explaining what something means.

Of course, there are those times when my hands (and mind) are so busy that mommy forgets all of the above and gives a quick answer. (You should see my kids’ faces when this happens! They feel they’ve pulled one over on me and gotten off easy.) However, whenever possible, I prefer to avoid the easy route and encourage them to discover the answer for themselves. It is more rewarding for them, and offers a world of learning.

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
~ I John 5:14

Your Turn!: What resources do you keep on hand to help your children find answers for themselves?

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Happy Anniversary to Us!

Happy_Anniversary

Forgive me for keeping it especially short and sweet, but I’m too busy enjoying this special day. Today, my husband and I are celebrating our eighteenth wedding anniversary!

Wow; I don’t know where all the years have gone. It seems like just yesterday we were getting married and then having our first baby. Eighteen years later, we have four kids and have been homeschooling for over fifteen. While the journey hasn’t always been a breeze, it has been rewarding and memorable.

For all the years we have been blessed, may we be truly thankful. For all the Lord continues to do in our marriage and through our family, may we be appreciative. The Lord has been good.

Your Turn!: How many years have you been married?

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