The home school year is in full swing once again.
I managed the annual culling of coverless markers and broken crayons.
Everyone in the house was invited to participate in the ceremonial end-of-summer cleansing of the Yukon (we finally found a missing sneaker – and some very old cheese).
The chalkboard wall was repainted (by inexhaustible grandma) and the first white scribble (by the also inexhaustible three year old) christened it.
New ergonomically child friendly scissors had their inaugural test run giving a koosh ball a hair cut (also by the three year old).
Dusty curriculum totes were dragged out of the basement and the contents given places of honor on the school shelves.
The mailman groaned under regular deliveries of new boxes of books and odd supplies (I’m curious what sort of loud muddy school commune does he think we run?)
New printer ink was installed.
A new year’s chore chart was painstakingly applied to the wall.
The three hole puncher was given lots of (unnecessary) practice.
The correct children were signed up with the appropriate sports teams and music lessons.
I spent many (very) late nights trying to organize a day on paper so that every child would get both their physical needs and scholarly requirements covered.
Sticky notes floated everywhere, reminding me old school of everything I was forgetting.
Finally, it was time. We opened the books and dove in.
We live in an amazing day and age. Dishwashers wash lasagna pans. Toilet paper comes in convenient perforated rolls. Washing machines scrub blood, sweat, and baby’s explosions out of laundry. Microwaves can reheat long forgotten coffee. Clocks show us we’re running late. Phones have numbers automatically set on voice command. Electric lights allow us to stay up way past sunset. Even the homeschool world is rising out of the dark ages with pre-made planners and programmed curriculum. We can do school on-line. We have access to volumes of knowledge within a few clicks. It’s truly a remarkable moment in history.
With all the prep and provision, it took me a solid week to have a mental breakdown. I’m sure that’s much longer than it would have taken a mom in the dark ages before there was access to such a wealth of time-saving devices and available knowledge. She would probably have fallen apart within hours. Probably.
So it was with some surprise that I found myself melting into fetal position on my (unmade) bed when I walked into my bedroom the Thursday after we began the school year. I had come in looking for an elusive sticky note that could have reminded me (another) thing I was forgetting, but instead of finding it, I ran into the heap of (unwashed) laundry that had been neglected in the organized… in the chaos. In the utter chaos.
I stared at it for a moment. It was someone’s chore on the new chore chart. But it obviously hadn’t been touched. I knew I could have scooped up a pile of it and thrown it into the machine. But I was already rushing because the baby was waking from her nap and I hadn’t done the spelling tests that I wanted to do while she was sleeping. I hadn’t gotten to them because the table wasn’t cleaned off from lunch (also someone’s chore), so we hadn’t pulled the books out again to do it. I hadn’t gone over the afternoon chores because it had been so busy in the morning that we never discussed who was supposed to do what. It had been busy because I had gotten up too late to do my own pre-kid-waking routine and had tried to jam that in when I should have been already working on school. So I hadn’t showered, or looked at my lesson plans, menu plan, or to-do list; I hadn’t even read my Bible or sat still for a moment to pray.
The thing is, if that happens occasionally, its ok. We deal. It’s life. Sometimes the baby is going to wake up at night because she’s going through a growth spurt and hungry. Sometimes those are the same nights the back-slidden potty trainer wets the bed. So sometimes I will sleep like the dead for that last hour of the night when I should naturally be waking up after a decent night’s sleep, but instead don’t gain consciousness till the three year old stands next to my sleeping face and shrilly bugles a morning request for chocolate milk. Sometimes. So we roll with the punches. There’s grace.
But this wasn’t that. This was becoming my new normal. It had something to do with taking on some evening cleaning work, which made my nightly prep and planning time non-existent. It had something to do with the fact that I am not by nature all that organized. It had something to do with the fact that I do, in fact, have seven kids (one being a hungry baby, another a sometimes back-slidden potty trainer who is overly fascinated with hole punchers, ergonomically correct scissors, and perforated toilet paper). And it had something to do with how social media can remind us that we’re completely inept compared to every other organized, technologically astute, frugal, domestic, well-read, healthy, energetic, hospitable, and patient homeschooling mother in the known world. Obviously.
So if you came here to read an inspiring back-to-school blog about how a homeschool mom manages to teach her many children while keeping them well fed and clothed and socially adept, I am sorry. This isn’t that. This is a confession.
There’s a guy in the Bible, Gehazi. He’s relatively insignificant. He was the prophet Elisha’s right hand helper. He was a servant. Not many servants are mentioned by name in Scripture, but Gehazi shows up several times in the book of II Kings. He was a very practical guy. He was the one who noticed that the one thing the woman of Shunem didn’t have (but wanted more than anything) was a son (2 Kings 4:14). God granted her one through Elisha’s prayer. He was the one who reasonably questioned the command to feed 100 men with only a handful of food (2 Kings 4:43). God made it stretch abundantly through Elisha’s prayer. He was the one who panicked when he saw the enemy army surrounding their city (2 Kings 6:15). But God, through Elisha’s prayer, opened his eyes to see the much more imposing heavenly fire army that surrounded them.
I get Gehazi. He saw the practical. He was very good at noticing the needs, and it was his job on a daily basis to meet the needs. That was his work as servant. Sure, he lived with a prophet of God and saw miracles on a regular basis. He knew God’s power. But in the mundane, daily grind, he often forgot to use the heavenly vision he’d been granted. It cost him.
One day, God used Elisha to tell a rich soldier he would be healed from leprosy by taking seven dunks in the Jordan River. The soldier was dubious at first, but finally went for a swim, and was healed. He returned to Elisha offering silver, gold, and expensive clothing as a thank you gift. Elisha refused the gifts, knowing probably that the guy would attribute the miracle to him rather than to God. The prophet wanted no such confusion. But it pained Gehazi, the practical servant, to watch that gift be rejected. Propheting wasn’t exactly a profitable career (ha, see what I did there?) That gift would have gone a long way in that humble household. So Gehazi ran after the soldier and lied saying the prophet did actually want a gift. It wasn’t worth it in the long run. He couldn’t hide it from God – who showed the truth to Elisha. The prophet confronted Gehazi. For his lack of trust and misrepresentation, Gehazi contracted leprosy. He had become so focused on the mundane practical needs that he missed the big picture. Provision is God’s business. Not his. Gehazi had a front row seat to the work of God. Daily. But he had forgotten to look.
It was a sobering reminder.
I sat on my rumpled bedspread, a crumpled, sniffly, exhausted mess. In the middle of more mess. I could commiserate with Ghazi. There was much that practically needed to be done. But there was a lesson there. I’m a servant with a similar view. I get a front row seat to the work of God on a daily basis. This work of raising kids, of making the men of Rudyard Kipling’s If poem, of fulfilling Jesus’ command to “go out and make disciples” by starting in my living room, this is mostly mundane and practical. It mostly means getting up and repeating myself ad nauseum about how to do a chore (don’t put the forks in the spoon section; start the laundry with soap; yes, the cat wants to eat again today), doing yet another round of multiplication flash cards, teaching a fifth child to read and write, changing another diaper, cooking another meal, making another appointment, encouraging, disciplining, hugging, rebuking, crying, and laughing. But I was missing something. It was only a few days into the school year and I was already overwhelmed, overworked, and over committed. Forget leprosy, I was headed for a stress induced mid life crisis.
Homeschooling and homemaking are mostly mundane and practical. But what makes them work at all is the small space in the margins where God whispers “Go and see”. That means I wake up, I roll out of bed, grab my Bible and look for what He wants to show me. At breakfast, I see that (brief) interlude when every boy is quietly chewing, and carpe diem the moment to tell a story of God’s past faithfulness and pray over our day. When a child has a melt down over grammar, I notice the frustration and give us both a moment to breathe (and maybe run a couple laps around the house) before we return to the finer points of the English language. When I hit the pillow (finally) at night, my last sight is one of the verses posted on the walls of my bedroom. The view reminds me – this is God’s work.
So the next week, I made sure to leave space for the margins.
Good thing. The next day, the three year old pulled at my yoga pants and choked out in high falsetto, “Mooom, wook!” I saw his mouth bubbling over with the Tide pod he just decided to bite (he’s fine.) The baby learned to roll under furniture and get stuck. The cat brought a (live) bird into the kitchen and promptly lost her grip. The new online math program wouldn’t load (oh technology.) And the house and homework were still unbalanced. It all threatened my outlook. But as I glanced around, panic mounting, I remembered the words of Elisha to his servant, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are them.” Oh Lord, open my eyes that I may see what You are doing and not just me!
(And if You don’t want to send chariots of fire, Lord, I’d be fine with just seeing a clean kitchen.) Miracles can still happen.