an uncommon core

as we wrap up our school year, i look at our unfinished math books and remaining spelling lessons and i can’t help but ask myself, “did we learn anything this year?”

it has obviously been the hardest season of my life. i think back to late august and of all the ideas I had for the school year… all the field trips and unit studies and planned projects we never began.

that was a lifetime ago. and this year ended up being far from ideal.

but sometimes, we don’t get ideal.

because sometimes your little brother dies unexpectedly on a sunday morning in september. and some days, your mom can barely breathe, let alone drill math facts or diagram sentences. and sometimes you don’t get to learn state history from an organized textbook. and unfortunately, you maybe won’t get to complete all the fun geography projects or science experiments your mom planned out in the lazy days of summer, back before unexpected tragedy hit us like a freight train and changed our perceived ideal into a much different and harsh reality.

and yet, in spite of the unmet expectations, i can see how God was with us every painful moment. and i can see that we learned.

sometime in the haze of late fall, my sister gave me the best advice (she often does). she told me of a homeschooling mom, going through a difficult season, who decided she would spend the year reading aloud to her kids and how she saw incredible benefits from doing so.

so… read aloud i did.

there were many days, and still are, when there isn’t a chance I’m getting out of my sweats or even brushing my hair. and so, we are often found gathered in our living room, with our blankies, coloring books, legos, or knitting… and I am reading. literary classics, missionary biographies, historical fiction…

i don’t think i’ve opened a history textbook in the last 7 months. but i’ve journeyed with my children through the pages of the biographies of some amazing people…

we’ve lived through the legacy of corrie ten boom and imagined the courage and bravery it takes to hide the hunted in your home and face the fear of encroaching evil in WW2 europe. we traveled in a cattle car and cringed over the flea ridden beds and inhumane conditions of concentration camps. and mostly, we were struck by a woman’s commitment to be thankful no matter her circumstances and her testimony in the epitome of despair brought hundreds of fellow captives into the knowledge of a gracious savior. and then, we learned about forgiveness. how corrie could watch her family members be tortured and killed and then ultimately forgive the very people who did it. what we learned, was the power of an almighty God at work in the willing hearts of his people.

we learned about the doolittle raid and horror of Japanese POW camps. again, the atrocities committed here made the contrast of forgiveness all the more powerful.

snuggled in our blankets on the couch, we read about other missionaries. and remote tribes of south america. and for a nice change from the standard history stories, we read how foreigners went to tribes without a desire to conquer and dominate or even control with superiority, but love and serve. and we saw how people groups were transformed for the better. how they stopped killing and started thriving.

we enjoyed thrilling accounts of sir francis drake and william wallace. we learned about courage and integrity and bravery.

and we experienced many magical adventures. we traveled all through narnia and middle earth and experienced true literature and the beauty of the written word. we enjoyed great symbolism and observed powerful depictions of the subtleties and deceptiveness of evil. and the courage and beauty of good. and we soaked in the beautiful allegory of heaven and tried to imagine through tears the inconceivable brilliance Mason is enjoying at this very moment.

we read God’s word. every year, i try to find some sort of bible curriculum, or devotional guide that will keep the interest of my kids and that we can enjoy as a family. after mason died, i just opened up my bible to matthew and started reading aloud from chapter 1. and my kids LOVE it. we spend our mornings reading the word of God and we’ll talk about what it would be like to spend time with Jesus and how impulsive peter is and how funny james and john are and then we fight back a little jealousy as we realize that mason is hanging out with these very men right now. and we had a little laugh when we pictured mason meeting the man who hung on the cross next to Jesus and imagined him saying, “woah, dude. that was a close one…”

this year has taught me that i don’t need to figure out the best way to make the word of God appealing to my kids. this is the work of the Holy Spirit and these last months I have learned his unfathomable power over and over again.

and while we didn’t study the geography of our great state in a textbook, we journeyed in a motorhome for 11 days, a beautiful gift to us in honor of mason and his obsession of motorhomes, and we explored california. we saw the majesty of Yosemite and stood in the mist of the tallest waterfall in the United States. we experienced the diversity and beauty of san francisco, the breathtaking splendor of big sur and serenity of the central coast.

and while i still feel i failed greatly at my responsibility of educating my 4th grader, i overheard my shy daughter, who prefers to never talk to people, asking the librarian if he could show her where the books on california’s history are found. and she came home with a large stack that i find her reading in the early morning or long after her brothers are asleep for the night. and i am reminded that the Lord answers prayer because my early request in our homeschooling adventure was that my children would develop a desire to learn. a desire to always obtain information is far more important than the need to check off a list of things to learn every year that may or may not ever be retained. at the end of our homeschooling years, i pray not that my kids know everything there is to know but that they desire to always continue learning, seek answers, and obtain wisdom.

sure, we missed many things on the state standard checklist, but I believe we checked off some pretty significant things that can’t be measured…

we learned the importance of community. because it takes a village to educate your child. and we couldn’t have made it through this year without an amazing classical conversations family who taught my kids the states and capitals and the periodic table of elements and encouraged them through grammar and writing skills. because most days, i don’t wanna leave my house. and even if i was physically in the room with everyone, my mind was preoccupied with the fact that in that same building is an empty seat that was once filled with my rambunctious little six year old and truthfully, the reality of that is so incredibly painful. so in the many moments i couldn’t function, there were loving, amazing moms around me who poured into me and poured into my kids and redeemed a year that at times felt shattered and impossible.

we learned how to love people. how to come alongside hurting and suffering people and just love them… because so many people did that for us. meals, trips, unexpected packages, goodie bags on the front porch… we learned that nothing could bring our brother back but a gift card in the mail for baskin robbins can sure put a smile on our face for the night. and that after a rough Christmas eve service where your mom has to leave because she’s crying too hard when we start singing the song that she and mason screamed for fun every night at bedtime, we can come home to a house that was mysteriously filled with gifts in our absence. filled! and we are reminded we aren’t alone and sometimes God brings comfort in the form of santa.

we have learned that there is no escaping pain, but there is also no escaping God’s love. he has been so, so good to us. he has never failed us. we are not promised a life of ease or free from suffering. and boy, have we felt the pain. but we’ve also seen the hope.

we have glimpsed the world beyond ourselves. and while we are broken over the little boy that our family is missing, we are made aware of those broken little boys missing a family and we pray with hope for the home being established in honor of mason for the orphans of india. and through tears we thank Jesus for making beauty out of our hideous ashes.

and maybe, years from now, my kids will look back at this time they spent with me every day, and realize they learned other things too. that sometimes, you just have to fake it. that sometimes, you don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. that going to yet another end of the year ceremony is so difficult you feel physically ill. but you just have to, so you put on a smile and take a deep breath to force the tears down deep, and you just go. and you can be thrilled for your children’s accomplishments and so proud of how they weathered the storm this year and completed awana books and school projects all while at the same time feeling a rumbling crushing earthquake in your soul as you watch mason’s class get their awards. and he’s not there. you can smile for honest joy at the accomplishments and at the same time you want to weep and crumble under the pain of this nightmare that never ends.

but along with learning to fake it, I hope they also learned that its ok to say no. they watched their mom say no to many, many things this year. sometimes for their sake, sometimes for her own sake. and its ok to not be at every church event or socialize with every wonderful person who asks. and its ok to skip family gatherings because sometimes, it’s just too hard to show up as a family of 5. and the weight of the hurt of every other family member who is still processing the sudden death of mason is just too much to pile on an already fragile heart.

i hope my kids will realize someday that bravery isn’t found only in the stories of warriors and missionaries and people who do the profound that makes the headlines and fills the history books. Sometimes, your greatest acts of courage in life can be getting out of bed in the morning and facing another day without your son. washing the breakfast dishes and folding the laundry and trying to keep life as normal as possible for your kids… hugging a crying child and not knowing any answers to the whys… and doing it day after day demands more courage than you ever thought possible. and it takes more bravery than any person has on her own.

bravery isn’t not being afraid. bravery is doing what you fear, moving forward when you don’t want to. trusting God and knowing he will provide the strength to take your next breath.

so ultimately, I pray that my kids have learned that we really can do nothing on our own. that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. and that our only hope in this life, and especially eternity, is in him.

we learned that there aren’t answers to every question. and that our many “whys?” asked through tears and deep pain may only be answered when the world has been redeemed and Jesus himself wipes every tear from our eye and takes away all the pain in our heart. we learned we can hope for this day with certainty.

my kids haven’t just learned. they have experienced. and that is more valuable than common core or ivy league acceptance or a lifetime of comfort and ease and straight A’s. my children have learned, i hope, wisdom to navigate the fire of life. and I pray, that above all else, they have truly experienced a God who will never fail them.

so, this year has been far from ideal. but ideal keeps us comfortable. it has an element of self reliance in it. when I can rely on my pinterest page, or my own skills, predictability, or my own perceived wisdom, I’m much less likely to cry out in desperation for the strength that comes only from a Creator who loves me.

this year was a lot of crying out.

and it was also a lot of answering.

we learned that we’ll never have enough strength for the suffering of this life, but we have a God who gives abundantly and loves extravagantly and his grace is sufficient for us.

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