Saturday, December 28, 2013

Boredom is a Boy's Best Friend

We are on our winter break ... savoring the twelve days of Christmas; purging our home of all things that are not purposeful, meaningful or beautiful; spending time with friends; wrapping up the old year, looking forward to the new.  All around us friends have commitments to spend time with family in various seasonal visits and celebrations.  Others are sick with winter colds and flu.  We are finding ourselves with more time alone as a family than we have, say, during summer break.  My son woke up anticipating playing with one friend in the morning and another in the afternoon.  He had plans.

We allow the boys a bit of time watching a movie or doing something on "a screen" many Saturdays at some point in the morning hours.  My eldest wanted to spend time watching tutorial videos about how to make a server on a computer.  He spent two hours with me overseeing him doing this.  When he finished it was time to be off the screen for the day.

Life needs balance.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One Word ... One Verse ... for 2014

Over the past 15 years I have had a tradition of considering and praying over a verse as I cooperate with God in His plans for growth in that coming year.  I've had various verses come to mind and they always seem to come from nowhere and then grab a hold of me saying, "I'm the one.  Pick me!  Pick me!"  I then memorize the verse (or section of scripture -- as was in the case of John 15: 1-15 one year) and over the coming year God and I dwell in the verse and the principles behind the verse together.  I spend quiet time regularly pondering the verse and seeking God in connection to the verse. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Hallelujah

I missed my "Sabbath" reflection post yesterday, so I'm making up for it today. 

Pause. Sit. Reflect.  Say Hallelujah in your own heart as you reflect on the sweet story of Jesus come to earth for the purpose of the cross and your own redeemed relationship with Him. 

 
and watch This.

God bless you as you slow and remember the heart of this season ... the heart of life and love. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

When You've Just Blown It at the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year.
The song tells of all kinds of good Advent experiences, like marshmallow toasting, parties for hosting, kids jingle belling and everyone telling you "Be of good cheer." 

Reflecting on the past few weeks I feel like I have blown it.  We hosted a birthday party early this month and then scurried around getting outfitted for our trip north for a week.  Then we took off and had a winter vacation which included me returning to skiing after a 16-year hiatus and other great memories. All that busyness seemed to derail my very good intentions about Advent for this year. 

I was pondering my own loss of focus today.  I have held Advent in my heart, but throughout this December, I have felt, somehow, that I was not keeping Christmas well.  Truth be told, it hasn't always just been a feeling.  I have let stress eat away at the edges of the season.  I have raised my voice at my boys more than once.  I have acted in ways that made me feel lousy.  I have scrambled to "do" the Advent activities and forgotten to be present in those moments.  Those failures haven't been the totality of our Advent.  We shared many sweet traditions and certainly have had fellowship with one another and with Jesus.  It is the "failures" that haunt me, though.  So, I rolled those over in my mind this morning.  Then it dawned on me.  I may have this Advent thing all wrong.  I started pondering the original Advent -- His coming -- and what I could learn, what we all could glean, from the original telling of Christmas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reclaiming What Was Lost - The Little Girl In Me

Childhood.  
The thoughts and emotions flood at just one word.  
Childhood rings of freedom, exploring, creativity, safety.  
For me, childhood also echoes with unmet expectations, unthinkable loss, unimaginable fear, horrible grief and lasting pain.  
The imprint of damage overshadows the archetype of carefree images and nestling into what is safe and true.

The little girl in me longed for provision, protection, affirmation, acceptance.  
I lived in precarious stability, like one on a balance beam, never leaning too far to the left or right so as not to fall and receive what would inevitably come anyway -- the fall and the accompanying pain.  

I learned.  I learned to cover that little girl -- to self-protect and suffocate.  
I learned.  I learned to distrust people because they turn on a dime. 
I learned.  I learned that nothing is as good as it seems.  
The locusts ate year after year.  There were burnt places devastated by flames of adult rage and immaturity and then such loss that words can't contain the reality. 
And in burnt places there is no welcome for new life.  Barren, I tried to bear fruit.  I longed for the green springs of living and yet I was one scarred from the burning. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Reflections for Your Sabbath

If nothing else today, step back from all your holiday activity.  Sit down with a cup of something warm and savor the lyrics of some beautiful hymns and allow yourself to reflect on the truth and love behind this season.  We can lose sight of the heart behind Christmas - God's heart of love for each of us.  But, in an instant, like the man in the pool, like the man who begged at the gates, like the woman who dared touch the edge of his cloak, we can touch Him and remember, and even, like them, receive healing, joy and peace. 

After attending our local Chorale's performance which included selections from Handel's Messiah, I was reminded of this beautiful happening:


And, if you haven't seen this yet, you must watch it (with your kids if they are nearby)

 
No hymn touches my heart like O Holy Night.  Pause and reflect on the lyrics and let them reach you in untouched places today.  


"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth."
Praying your soul will feel its worth in light of His coming for you this Sabbath. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reflect

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. ~ 2 Cor 3:18

What a promise - that we will behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.  As in a mirror - that my life and heart would be a mirror of this glory, this showing off of His goodness and greatness and humility and stillness.  I pause to consider the reality and overwhelming promise that I am being transformed into the same image -- from glory to glory.  

I picture a little girl skipping from stepping stone to stepping stone over a creek.  From glory to glory we skip along.  What a life!  What a promise!  We are going from abundance to abundance, from splendor to splendor, from honor to honor



Giving Myself Permission to Experience the Miracle

"My Mamma always told me that miracles happen every day.  Some people don't think so, but they do."  Forrest Gump, a great philosopher on a bus bench, rambles out these platitudes seemingly unaware of the depth at which he is encompassing the meaning of life.

Some people don't think so.  But they do.  Miracles -- they happen every day.


In this season of Advent we are all waiting.  Can you feel it in your bones?  You can't shake this feeling.  It is under the surface, behind the decorating and the activities and even beyond the religious goings on.  There is the yearning, an unsettled rumble that wants an answer, and all the shopping and giving and singing and decking just won't fill this place of longing. And we are not alone in our groaning.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gentle Parenting Isn't Always Smooth and Easy

I have written here and in other posts here about some of my parenting ideals and approaches.  The approach my husband and I take to parenting has grown in us over the years.  We sure don't do a perfect job, but we have a more consistent and concrete view of what the primary principles of parenting are for our family.  God has led us and we have learned through some orientation by fire -- parenting is like that.

Remember getting on a bike, without training wheels?  It quickly veers one way, then another, and then back the other way, but not in the same way as before, and all the while you, this new rider, are trying to manage to just stay up and not topple.  That's how it is.  I think it is why we are given infants first as new parents.  Newborns are challenging in their own way -- providing us with sleep-deprivation and self-sacrifice at never before experienced levels -- but then they grow into toddlers.


I remember thinking about my toddler, "Oh, how I wish you would just sit in that swing or come up to me and let me carry you in the Ergo Carrier again."  He had to tear out the Tupperware from the cabinet every five minutes, attempt to climb the entertainment center, rip up papers, taste-test every fuzzy dustball off the floor and keep me on my constant toes.  The bicycle of parenting swerved again and I was hanging on for dear life, learning to lean with the change in direction.  I love this wild ride, and I get my bearings and soar and I catch my breath with every turn. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

He Comes Even Here

As I was talking with my friend about the flurry of our season, she mentioned the word "stress" several times.  It seems so out of place to be living a harried life and associating that pressure with the celebration of Jesus and His gift of love to us.  I wonder about what we have done to this holy season.  We have drifted into a place where we drive ourselves busy and we fill ourselves so full that we can't sit still and just be.  Nothing in His Word calls us to this kind of living, and yet, collectively we take a deep breath after Thanksgiving, shut our eyes and plow forward through December allowing much of what is essential blur by us.

It is a season, the season of Advent, which is the season of awaiting a coming.  We remember His first coming.  We long for His second coming.  Personally I often remember His intimate coming -- into my heart and life.  And yet, in this season of longing and seeking His coming, we are so prone to rush about.  We even go overboard for meaningful things.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

When God Entered my Manger Heart

So, it was Thanksgiving weekend and externally all the trimmings were as should be.  We went to my mother-in-law's home in another town and brought the well-prepared side dish and our cheery holiday faces.  We were calm enough getting ready to go and had an uneventful and pleasant time with the extended family all Thanksgiving day.  Something else was rumbling in my heart.

We came home late that night after two hours on the road, boys already in PJs, teeth brushed and completely asleep in the back seat.  We carried them to their beds and promptly went to sleep ourselves.  The following day most of the world is off work -- Black Friday is what we call it now, where we shift from gratitude for all we have to a frenzied rush to get more just in time for Christmas.  We didn't go that route.  My husband went to work and I was home with the boys catching up on our work and preparing for Advent.  We met friends at the park mid-day.  By Friday evening I was surely out of sorts despite the externally uneventful and pleasant enough day.

Something had been nibbling at my heart since Thanksgiving.  Something was disturbing me and I just couldn't wrap my mind around it.  I couldn't get my unsettled heart to agree with my thankful mind.  I felt a sense of sadness and even some loss of hope -- all this in the face of a perfectly wonderful holiday weekend.

Abiding in Him this Sabbath

Jesus said, " I am the vine, you are the branches; 
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, 
for apart from Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15:5)

Let us set aside whatever hinders our abiding today and find the place of connection -- where we are in Him and He is in us and we are at home together.  Let us cling as a branch to a vine.  Let us not know where He ends and we begin.  Let us be still enough to abide.  Fruit is not something that comes from effort, but from this vital, abiding, nourishing attachment to Him.  Let nothing come ahead of finding that place today. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Longing is the Gift

Longing is the gift -- that we might be filled.

We feel it acutely when we are alone or lost or when grief sideswipes into our lives.  Longing: The ache for something more comes haunting into our hearts and we crave to fill this space.  On a sweet morning walk, a friend confides that she is lonely much of the time.  Her heart longs for friendship -- connection with other moms -- but she is in that season when kids are sick more often than they are healthy, when naptime trumps all connecting possibilities, when other moms are committed to education with the children in hours she has free.  It is a lonely season.  She is longing.

Another friend is in the straddle of a home sale.  Hers is in escrow and the home she wanted is off the market now.  The dreams she had of moving and building a nest with all her personal touches that say, "home," are temporarily stalled.  A fog replaces the clear vision she thought she had.  She is longing.

A friend and I meet for supper at a diner and amidst the seniors and the special which includes liver and onions we share stories and tears about a broken relationship.  Heart broken and unsure of what can heal a gaping pain when the other person is unwilling to make a bridge, we pray and we console and we seek.  She is longing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How to Take a Breath when the World is Spinning

I went to a super-store yesterday in the middle of the afternoon.  Granted, Thursday is Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is "late" this year so we are all aware how quickly Christmas is approaching.  It took us five minutes to find a parking spot -- at the back of the lot.  Why does it seem like the population of our city doubles at this time of year?  Everyone is out and about.  My youngest son, holding my hand as we walked out of the crowded store, filled with many impatient shoppers (whew! we made it!) simply said, "Mom, everyone is going crazy for the holidays, but we're not."  Amen.  I looked through his eyes and saw from waist level what it must be like to see all these adults filling their carts, somewhat irritated and rushing around.  Is THIS what it is all about?  In his little mind, forming meaning about the world, is THIS Thanksgiving?  Is THIS Christmas? 

I am not a tinsel-hater.  I love to deck the halls like any other person.  I love parties; I love giving gifts; I love beauty.  What I don't love is the feelings of rush and hurry and the obvious irritations that seem so prevalent all around us during a season which gave birth to songs like, "Silent Night, Holy Night."  I want to swim upstream of this chaos.  I want to reclaim Advent and the Giving of Thanks.  I want to make a stand in my own little corner of the world and say, "No. We aren't giving in to this hijack of the holy."  All around us signs will say, "Joy" and "Peace on Earth."  Can we claim those gifts in our hearts and homes?  I think we can.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homeschooling through Thanksgiving and Advent

I bumped into another mom at the grocery today.  She homeschools her children as well.  I mentioned to her my wild-hair idea ... "I just want to take December off as far as anything majorly academic and just focus on Advent and being a blessing to others."  Instead of nodding at me and saying, "We all feel that way," which actually means, "You really shouldn't do that because it is irresponsible," she said, "You know, I read a blog post by Elizabeth Foss years ago about her doing just that and it motivated me and we did the same thing.  We still read rich literature, but it was all related to Advent.  We just shifted our focus and slowed down to make memories that matter in this season."

Memories that matter.

How often do we rush ahead with our agenda, fearing we'll miss some crucial piece of necessary educational input and forget to make memories that matter?  Our children will become more of what we imagine they can be when they are grounded in a family that slows down, cultivates a loving atmosphere and makes memories that matter.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sabbath: Rest for Your Soul

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 
and I will give you rest.  
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, 
for I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls.   
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”


I pray today that you are able to slow.  
Slow, to set aside the roles which demand your attention and activity.   
Slow to experience just being loved as you are.
Slow to know it is not your doing, but your being that He calls "beloved."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fly


My little son loves all things fantasy.  He loves dragons and mermaids and elves and fairies.  Especially fairies.  Now, this all-boy child of mine is enamored with flying.  He prays for God to give him wings and he says, "Mom, why doesn't God answer my prayer?"  Oh how I wish I could answer those hard questions in easy ways.  I say to him, "Well, sweetie, if I asked God to make me into a sweet potato, He just wouldn't.  He knows what prayers to say 'yes' and 'no' to and which ones to say, 'wait' as well."  We both giggle at the thought of me becoming a sweet potato.  But, I know in my heart that I have only given the best answer I can and it is a half-answer because it can not answer the longing of his heart and the many times from here after he will have to ask "why" about an amazingly good and loving God and our experience of Him in our brokenness and this sin-stained world. 

Giving Thanks and Coming Home for the Holidays

It's that time of year again when the fall closes in around us and opens up mellow smooth.  Leaves fall from the trees, days shorten and all nature slows.  It is the season of transition and memories, when thoughts turn homeward and expectations can soar.  All around we see store decorations prematurely reminding us to hurry and get all the festivities and happenings and purchasing underway.  Pintrest pins remind us of all the crafts and recipes and activities we mean to try to pour more meaning and beauty into this season.  It can feel as though the weeks are speeding by and we are barely catching a breath.  We can be reminded of hopes and dreams of holidays as they "should" be and we compare those thoughts to the imperfect life around us.  As beautiful and precious and sentimental as this season is, it is also a season with all sorts of mingled emotions.


My father died in early November when I was twelve years old.  Fall always brings some grief in its many shades.  Some years the grief comes like an unexpected thunderstorm and sometimes it just drizzles light on my heart.  I love autumn for snuggling in blankets, drinking warm drinks and taking walks in cool misty morning air.  Still, I feel the hurt of loss more keenly as families around me talk about gathering together for the Courier & Ives, picture-perfect celebrations of the season.  Even when my family was all together, our holidays rarely were the stuff of which romantic stories are made. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Are Loved - Open Your Arms to Receive the Gift

How many times do we hear that we are loved?  I know there are lives where this isn't said often enough.  But, the saying it may not matter as much as the seeing it.  As I was growing up, my family would shout, "I love you" as any of us were leaving the home.  It was like a tradition and almost became a rote way of saying, "Goodbye."  But the living it out was a challenge for us.  My dad was ill and my mom was frazzled.  Beyond that my dad came from a traditional German family and he basically had two emotions: Happy and Angry.  There was this sort of neutral emotion he had as well.  My mom covered the rest of the emotional spectrum that my dad did not seem to touch.  Lopsided.  Through years of perfectionistic expectations and harsh parenting approaches and the unavoidable distance which occurred when my dad was extremely ill, I didn't feel the words that were shouted as loudly as I felt something was missing -- in me.  My parents loved me.  They did.  They just had very broken ways of expressing love because of the denied brokenness inside of each of them.  A child can't see these truths.  A child thinks something is wrong with me.

But God, He already knows something is wrong.  He knew it when He formed the earth from shapeless nothing.  He knew it when angels rebelled and longed for power and position instead of peace and provision.  He knew about me then.  He knew about you.  It is a mind boggling process to imagine and wrestle with the knowing of God.  It is too lofty for us, but it is important not to shrink away from the imagining.  We must stretch up as a child stretches towards a father and try to glimpse the before time began love of God.  Back in the void when no thing was yet He loved enough to plan sacrifice.  Love is sacrifice.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Thought for Your Sabbath

Cease Striving

Be still and know that I am God.  (Psalm 46:10)

Hoping that in this day of hurrying to get ready for church, fellowship with other believers and feeling the pressures of your to-do list which is still looming over your head, that you find some time to be still, to tell your heart to be still -- to cease striving --
to let go of the burdens you lay so easily upon yourself --
and to find rest in His love. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What to Count on When You Can't Count on Your Husband

There are some stories that are yours alone.  Others are shared and those remain only partly told because the other part of the story belongs to someone else and it just isn't for you to tell it.  That's how marriage is.  I have friends who have heard those stories -- because my husband knows I need to share them with trusted people and he has opened to that for my sake.  I will share here that my marriage, like most marriages, has  had its hills and valleys.  We have endured trials together and we have regrettably imposed trials upon one another in various seasons.

You see, years ago, people took the idea of a vow seriously.  The committed spoken words of, "I do" meant forever until death and it meant riding out serious highs and lows.  It meant the lows.  It meant sickness, poverty, brokenness, distance, growing pains, bad days, bad moods, PMS, stress, grief, house repairs, car repairs, crises with the children, long work hours and all other sorts of ills which beset marriages everywhere.  God knows what fickle hearts we have and He knows we need a covenant to make us bound together.  We marry and it is one of two covenant relationships in the whole known universe.  The first is the covenant God makes with us.  The second is marriage.  I'm not sure if that knocks the wind out of you as it does me, but it gives me pause to be sure.  In the marriage relationship a spiritually mysterious reality occurs: the two become one.  Have you thought about that lately?  Your husband is one with you.  He's not that guy who is on your nerves or not doing what you want or failing your expectations (though he may be any and all of those too).  He is one with you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tree

I grew up in the places where trees are not afraid to touch one another.  Woods and forests and glens were my homeland.  And trees were for climbing and swinging free.  The willow on campus with its long beckoning branches became my rope swing and my fort.  The choke cherry made paint for sidewalks.  The maples were for climbing and sneaking behind during hide and seek.


Be Yourself

This post is part of the Faith Barista - Faith Jam Thursdays
where Bonnie encourages us to write on a prompt and join in sharing our hearts in community.  This experience is different from the spontaneous, unrehearsed writing for Five-Minute-Friday.  Bonnie gives us a week to write on her prompt and no time limit for our writing.  It's all about being real and healing togehter.  You can join by clicking the link above.  

Today we are writing on "Be Yourself" so buckle up, this one has some hairpin turns:

I sit here pondering all the different people I have met in my life:  Different.  Unique.  Not one like another.  So many variations flutter in my memory like snowflakes past a windowsill.  God has made each of us to be unlike any other.  There will never be another me -- another you.  I have been pondering this special "self-ness" of each of us.  Created, Crafted, Chosen.  You could spend a silent day going around looking at each person and thinking, "God made you just as you are because you can reflect Him as only you can and you can experience Him as only you can."  Granted, not one of us is either reflecting Him nor experiencing Him to our full capacity and some are falling woefully short, but consider how each of us are like points in a diamond, created to reflect the light in the way that only we can.  That is self.  Uniquely made and loved in that uniqueness.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fear Not

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

No one wants to be afraid.  When I was growing up, other kids occasionally teased me with names like "Scaredy-Cat" or "Chicken" and I was bound and determined not to live up to those labels.  But if we are honest with ourselves and we pause and look behind the curtain, we see fear in our own hearts.  Fear can run our lives.  It is silent and subtle, but it is often a determining factor in many choices we make and in how we relate to others. 

God knows we are prone to fear.  In His Word He says "Fear not" or "Be Anxious in Nothing" many times over.  He tells us that He hasn't given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.  Yet, we can still experience fear, and He knows we will.  That is why He spent so much time telling us not to be afraid.  But He doesn't just say, "Don't be afraid," He also says what to do instead.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Truth

Truth.

The Truth will set you free.  Free.  No one knows what free tastes like until they have lived in bondage and suffered the suffocating lack of freedom which comes from a lost and broken life.  Freedom.  Jesus said it was for freedom that He set me free.  And He won't stop His relentless pursuit of that freedom.  You see, I'll settle for less.  I'm fine with good enough if I get comfortable.  But, not Jesus.  He's just not willing to let me settle -- not when He has a wide open meadow of goodness and I could run unabandoned into His wide open love.  That's Truth.  The Truth is that He bent low and came to this earth for each one of us and He lived the normal life of an inconspicuous boy in a carpenter's home in a backwards little town and then He started to move into ministry.  All this to seek and save lost and broken people like me.  But then He went to my cross.  And He bore my sin.  That's the Truth.  And for what?  For the joy set before Him.  What joy?  The joy of my freedom in Him.  Can we wrap our brains around this gift?  Can we fathom the Truth of this unfathomable love?  He has freedom in mind -- in heart and soul -- for each of us.  The way is the way of the cross.  He endured the cross.  We go to the cross with Him and we nail our sin-filled hearts and allow Him to touch them with His loving care and we become transformed into increasing freedom.  The cross is the place of unavoidable pain.  The cross is the place of forgiveness, healing, resurrection, transformation.  Truth.  Truth sets us free.  Unearth the hidden places and allow the breezes of His love to move through for the freedom He died to bring to you. 

Stop. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

So You Think You Want to Homeschool ... But what if your kids are wierd? (Part 7 - last in series)

We've been going through a series addressing concerns that face many families as they consider home education.  We've addressed issues like adjusting to your first year, picking curriculum, juggling the demands of multiple children, overcoming perfectionism, coming to an agreement with your husband, social opportunities for homeschoolers, preparing your child for college as a homeschooler, teaching subjects which are not your forte and learning to work in time alone when you are around your children all the time.  The last concern I will address in this series is
#10: Are my kids going to be weird?  (I'm just sayin') ...

You may want to watch this humorous video to hear seven lies people believe about homeschoolers and some of what the reality is like for most of us.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Some Encouragement for Those Moms New to Home Educating

I just finished a series on "So You Think You Want to Homeschool ..." and that got me to thinking about our first year of home education.  While it had so many high points and a lot of growing (which didn't come without the proverbial growing pains!), we also had some really hard times that first year.  I was such a perfectionist and I wanted to do this homeschooling thing well -- really well.  I was really afraid of letting my child down, of failing, of being the very reason he didn't succeed in life.  It seemed his entire future rested on my shoulders.  And, I was learning about curriculum and how to get my son to take education in his home setting seriously (children naturally want to play and relax at home and it is something else trying to teach them to shift gears sometimes).

Saturday, November 2, 2013

When Homeschool Burn Out Hits Hard

Do you sometimes feel like a big failure as a homeschool mom?  We put so much of ourselves into this process of teaching our children at home and we sometimes just hit the wall.  Hard.  I've sure been there. 
We all feel this way at different times. I was recently thinking of the difference between this year (which has been really fantastic for us so far) and last year (which was full of stress and many tears and often a feeling of not being able to ever get it together). We were spread so thin with my oldest son participating in a very demanding extracurricular along with his once-a-week Enrichment classes and other commitments.  We ended up trying to pack all our formal learning into 3 1/2 days and it just felt so frenetic and crazy most of the time.  I was frazzled.  We had way too much going on and I was plain-and-simple burnt out. 

I happened to bump into a dear friend one day and we got to talking in a parking lot and she said, "Take 10 days off." Oh my word. Are you kidding me? She said, "You would tell me to do that." (I would? oh, yeah, I guess I would.)  You see, somehow I have this standard for me that is different from my standard for all the rest of you.  But, desperate times call for desperate measures.  So, this perfectionistic, driven homeschooler considered a friend's wise encouragement. 

I ended up taking my friend's advice. I took off for two whole weeks. At first I was crazy neurotic about "falling behind" and all that, but I just couldn't go forward.   During our two weeks off, we did read aloud a bit and my son still did some math (because I didn't tell him we were officially off till later in the two weeks just in case!).  I started to breathe. And, you know what? When we got back in the swing of things we were all refreshed and I had revived my sense of "Oh I know why I do this home educating thing" and we were able to get things learned much more quickly because we were revitalized. It wasn't perfect. The whole year was a hard one in some ways -- at least through March with our over-commitment -- but we did much better after that break. 

Through that experience I learned a big lesson about taking breaks.  They aren't optional.  We nailed down a six-weeks-on, one-week-off rotation for our homeschool which gives us enough undivided time for learning and then that glorious seventh week of rest -- it's a sabbath week.  And we always seem to need it just when it comes around.  I also used the summer months after that crazy year to take a hard look at what we were trying to do with our time.  We all have heard the wisdom -- add in something new, take out something you were already doing.  Well, I just thought that was for "other people."  Humble pie.  I realized we had to cut things out and we had to say, "no."  If you have not yet done this excruciating practice, let me just forewarn you it is tough stuff.  I mean, there are so many wonderful things we can say "yes" to.  But, a dear friend reminded me that just because something is good doesn't mean it is good for me and my family.  So we backed out of that really big commitment, which just so happened to be my son's very favorite thing he had ever done in his life (quoting here).  And we backed out of taking enrichment classes -- which means we don't as easily or as often see our good friends who go there.  And we said, "no" to formally being on a soccer team and "no" to taking on gymnastics and a myriad of other opportunities.  And even now, we have to keep up this practice of "no, thanks."  We get invites to park dates and classes and field trips.  We don't say, "no" to all of them, but we are super-choosey.  It means missing out on a lot of things, but it also means we are home enough to get things done educationally and we are not running like mad hens from one thing to the next.  And, you know, my dear friend saw us the other day and she commented on how very content my son seems this year.  It's paying off. 

There will be seasons of really being productive and seasons when life hits us with a blindside and for one reason or another we have to slow or stop.  When you give birth, when your infant starts to toddle (aka tear apart the house like a team of demolition specialists), when you add in a child to the number you are formally "schooling," when you move, your spouse changes a job, your car breaks down, you get ill, your children get ill, you have houseguests ... it goes on and on.  Life has disruptions and they do impact our ability to educate for a time.  Give yourself the same grace you would extend to a friend in your shoes.  You will get back to educating in some organized manner in due time.  Find out what works in the season you find yourself.  Stop pining away for the ideal and live in what is real.  We are in this for the long haul with our children and we have to know that there will be times of big-impact learning and times of learning other not-so-measurable, but oh-so-valuable skills like how to get along with others, how to entertain yourself when you are bored, how to sacrifice for the needs of others and how to give yourself grace (which they will learn as they watch you extend it to yourself now). 

When we look honestly at the wall, it is often our own expectations of ourselves that cause us to just want to quit.  We just don't let ourselves off the hook. We can be so hard on ourselves and set such high expectations that we just feel worn out before we even begin.  Our children are learning all the time.  We have to remember that. I remember sweating it out that my oldest son couldn't keep his parts of speech straight in second grade. I went to the resource center downtown and made this fancy chart with pockets labeled for each part of speech.  It took me longer to make the chart than it did for him to learn the parts of speech. Once we sat down and went over it a few times, he got it. That experience was an "ah-ha" for me. We can stress over our children's learning and we forget that they will learn in time.  And we will never teach them everything they need to know.  Is that what any school is doing?  Why do we expect it of ourselves?  Think about all you learned in life.  Did you retain all you learned in elementary school?  Jr. High?  High School?  So much of what I know now, I have learned while I was teaching my children.  We can go on learning forever and so can our children.  They have time.  You have time.  We feel like we fall behind, but so much can be caught easily later. I'm not talking about just eating bon bons year after year and hoping the kids turn out okay.  What I am talking about is being realistic about what you are able to do in each season for each child and then letting go of what is beyond a realistic expectation.  You see, God already knows your limits and He has chosen you to educate these children -- knowing what seasons you will pass through and what challenges you will face, and even knowing about this time of burn-out right now.  I'm pretty sure He has a plan and the resources to fill in the blanks. Trust Him more than you trust yourself. 

Sometimes in the burn-out we lose sight of why we are doing what we do.  It can help to step back and remember why you chose to educate at home.  Just take time to enjoy your kids for a bit. Read some good books together. Give them some projects to do on their own. Take some breaks and enjoy lovely areas around where you live. Just reading great literature to your child is one of the best educational experiences you can give them. They learn the cadence of language, grammar, good writing skills and they learn about whatever you are reading.  It can be a great way to bridge from burn out just to spend a little time each day reading great books together.  Keep your lessons short and then go outdoors and enjoy one another.

As you lighten your own expectations and start to enjoy exploring books and the outdoors together, you are bound to feel a bit lighter.  So much more will come from your change in spirit than ever would come from getting through your curriculum. Charlotte Mason says "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life." You help create the atmosphere through your own emotional state as a mom and that means you have to do what it takes to give yourself grace and rest so that you can be all you need to be to your kids. Don't give up. We ALL go through this stage of burn-out. It is a stage and you will look back on it from a different place in a few months. 

Our own expectations aren't the only thing that can weigh us down.  We can get bogged down comparing ourselves to the public school (our fantasy of what our kids would get if they went there instead) or to other homeschool moms who obviously have it all together and pin it on Pintrest to show it.  It is so hard to block out what others think, isn't it? It just hits on all our fears and gets us rolling and gives Satan a Rolodex of things to hold over our heads. We have to remind one another to block out those voices (of the public school, of family who don't support homeschooling, of our own fears) and to just take our children from A to B to C. No child is the same as another. There are developmental stages and milestones, but they hit them differently. So, we just build on what they know and add to it bit by bit without (hopefully) worrying about "should." That "should" is such a trap for us. If you just ask yourself where your child is today and where you want to go, you just take the next logical step towards that end. If they don't know their letters, start with one letter. Once they know it, move forward.

Charlotte Mason thought formal education should only begin at age six. Most of the younger years should be spent hearing wonderful literature read aloud to them and playing out doors and exploring the world. There were a few more things she did with small children, but so much of it was relational, gentle and within the natural course of the day.  Our problems can come when we model ourselves after the broken system we now have in the US and we feel we aren't doing what we ought.  That system is pushing children into academics way too early and there is fallout.  The method used is teaching to the test and that is not conducive to a life long love of learning -- or even to long term retention of facts.  If you can, try to put on blinders and just think of this process as giving your child building blocks.  What "blocks" do they have (knowledge in a given subject)? Add the next block. Don't worry about who says how many blocks they should already have. That's not important. What is important is moving along with them bit by bit.  Later you'll look back and they'll have a lot of accumulated knowledge and it will have come over time.  Children naturally learn.  We don't have to predigest knowledge for them.  They are wired by God to learn and grow.  Even children with learning challenges will learn and grow.  You can relax, and as you do, you will facilitate their learning far better than when you are tightly wound up with anxiety.  


To have some peace of mind you have to take breaks -- daily, weekly and seasonally.  By the way, that break you may have thought you had ... the one where you berated yourself and expected too much and felt disappointed and discouraged because the kids weren't doing enough and surely you were going to be the cause of their demise, that wasn't a break.  So take one now.  A real one -- an internal one -- and relax for a few days or a week and enjoy your children and dwell in Jesus and His real love for you.  Then take a half-day or a day and decide what you must do that coming week for them.  And do it -- from the renewed place you find after giving yourself a real, legitimate break.
And, you may, as we did, start having to say, "no" to things you really, really want to say, "yes" to.  And your kids may get mad at you for a time, or they may have to grieve the adjustment period.  But, if it is best for them, in the long run you have to make the decision regardless.  And you will all adjust -- and even thrive -- as a result.  More importantly than the practical aspects of making more margin in your life, you have to let go of the "shoulds."  Put on those blinders and focus on the day at hand, the children in your midst and the reserves you have to give from today.  Let go of the expectations of others and of yourself and focus on what your child knows and what they need to know.  

We get to be the educators of our children, but, please never let that calling trump your first place in their lives and hearts.  You are their mom.  They will have many educators in their lives.  They will only have one mom.  Be mom first.  This season will pass you by all too quickly.  Do what you need to in order to recharge your own battery and then do what you are able to enjoy and love your children while they are with you.  

And know you are not alone.  I'll say it again: we all experience burn-out.  Expect it as a part of the cycle of home education and don't see it as the end of the world.  God is with you.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  You know it is your own self-imposed burden if it is feeling too heavy.  You can cast this care on Him because He cares for you.  His strength is made perfect in your weakness.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

So You Are Thinking About Homeschooling ... But I'm not sure I can be with my kids ALL day (Part 6)

I'm in the process of answering some common concerns which face families who are considering home education.  You can catch up on the previous posts in this series here.  One of the perks of learning at home is that you get to spend a lot of time with your children.  A  lot of time.  Yes, you will be with your children all day.  Every day.  Now, before I scare you away from a beautiful thing, I just want to address a fear you may have: (Concern #9) "Will I get sick of my kids being around me all the time?  How will I get time to do anything alone?"

The answer to whether you will get sick of your children, overwhelmed or burnt-out is yes, sometimes you will.  You will occasionally have enough of being constantly together.  If you are going straight into home education without ever having put your children into any outside school setting, you will be ahead of the game as you never had the breather of having your children gone for extended periods of time five days a week.  It will be less of a shock to your system if you are going straight from the toddler and pre-school years into home education for early elementary as you are already used to the constant sacrifices and you probably have worked in some self-care skills along the way (I hope).

If you are taking your children out of private or public school and bringing them home to educate, you have a transition on your hands.  When my son was going to go into second grade, my husband gave the green light for home educating.  Now, up until this time, my son had been in kindergarten for one year (which, at the time meant he was gone at school from 7:30am until 11:30am).  While he was at school I got to take a run, take a shower and send some emails or run errands.  A few days a week I worked in the classroom, and one morning a week I attended Bible Study.  Still, I did get to do those few things for myself and then he would be at home.  He was an only child at the time so I had gotten used to my freedom.  In his first grade year I got pregnant, but he was gone from 7:30am til 1:30pm!  I had six whole hours to myself.  I can't really tell you what meaningful activities filled those hours in retrospect, but I did have some freedom.  The trade-off was that from 1:30pm - 5:30pm he was a bit burnt out and we had some homework to do and it was hard to tell what had gone on with him in the preceding six hours -- I never knew all that was going on in his life and my lack of influence was showing in his personality.

When we pulled him home my second born was already six months old.  It was a huge transition anyway, having an infant again, but then I was educating my son at home for the first year as well.  I had no time to myself between homeschooling by day and nursing our infant through the night.  That season did pass us by and we all survived (even sometimes thrived) through it.

I want to encourage you that the investment you make in your children by bringing them home usually (over time) makes them more settled in themselves and they end up being more likeable people (that happened with my son -- his best traits came out and we saw the change in his character even within the first few months of home educating).  Inner contentment makes your child more of a joy to be around.  In addition, being around one another constantly makes us more "real" with one another and we truly understand one another.  We really know each other well and we see through one another.  As a result we are able to be less sensitive and more gracious to one another.  I enjoy my boys and I love time with them.  I am glad they are home (most days).

Some days, like one this last week, my boys have an abundance of energy and I have a need for a calm environment.  This week, when they were super-energetic, I knew that they were just being boys and I had to do something to help them (before I went crazy from them bouncing off the walls).  I decided to change our plans so they could get out and burn off some of that wildness.  We set-aside the book-learning, I put on running clothes, they got on their bikes and we went for a run through the park.  I felt much calmer and they did too.  When we are home together non-stop, we need to learn how to get out of the home sometimes to break up the monotony.

Every day that we are home (sometimes we are out for external classes or lessons right after lunch), we have a "quiet room time."  I want to help my boys cultivate the habit of rest and to learn to be alone.  Both of these habits will bless them as they develop a growing relationship with God.  So, each day, after lunch, we retreat to our rooms and spend time quietly alone.  My youngest may have a book on tape or some music on in his room.  My older son will usually read.  If either of them has shown signs of needing a nap, I make it a rest time instead of a quiet play time.  Most days during quiet room time I either read something or take my own nap.  It is really hard for a person like me to nap.  There are always more pressing things to accomplish, but I have learned to force myself to rest so that I can enter the second half of the day with more energy.  Even if I only rest 20 minutes, I am the better for it.  

I have also learned to leave the situation when I am getting frustrated.  Sometimes my spirit feels like a little tea kettle and I can feel a boiling rise up in me -- call it my Irish temper if you will.  I have learned to step out of the main room, go to my "Green Chair" (an oversized chair in my bedroom) and collapse into God's presence.  It only takes a few minutes, but when I regroup with the Lord, I can return with a calm spirit.  I used to resist leaving my boys alone.  I feared they would tear the house down or harm one another or take advantage of my absence.  I have learned to set clear boundaries and expectations when I go away from them so that I can truly rest and pray peacefully.  Sometimes I need a longer breather.  I can tell the boys to do something productive in their own rooms -- or I can call "break time" and then I can read my Bible, my devotional or call my prayer partner and get refreshed.  It has taken time for me to develop this habit.  In our early years of homeschooling I would sometimes blow it and yell before I would even realize I needed to get out of the situation and calm myself down.  I have learned to retreat instead of exploding now.  My older son even recently mentioned that he notices the difference.  

You do need to get away sometimes.  I have a deal with my husband that I can take off when needed -- he has graciously offered this to me.  Some evenings when he comes home, I have supper ready and I just head out to a local coffee shop, get a cup of tea and sit.  I used to resist this too -- not wanting to miss out on "family time" but then family time would go south because I was burnt out.  It is good to get away and recharge when needed.  Sometimes I call a friend to join me.  Every six to eight weeks I host a women's meeting called "Mom's Night of Refreshment" where a bunch of homeschool moms come over and listen to a conference CD, share with one another, encourage one another and then pray together.  We all need that time of being together with other women and it never fails to rejuvenate all of us.  The group varies each time, but it is always a blessing to host other moms and I get so filled through these evenings too.  And, you know, when we set up play dates for our kids, they aren't just for the kids -- us moms thrive on the time we get to hang out together while our little ones are having fun with each other.  It never fails to recalibrate my perspective when I hang out with some good friends who also home educate.  I have recently revived a few passions of mine.  I have been writing (this blog!) and I have been sewing.  It is important to be present for our children, but it is important, too, to have refreshing and energizing facets of our lives which have nothing to do with parenting or home educating.

So, as you look into home education, remember to work times of separation or quiet into your regular daily rhythm.  Children can learn to enjoy this bit by bit and the amount of time can be increased incrementally as they adapt.  Know that sometimes you just have to get out of the house.  A break in the monotony and cabin-fever can be a great cure for feelings of being cooped up together.  Also remember to take breaks throughout the day when you feel overwhelmed, burnt out or frustrated.  Be sure to cultivate opportunities to go out of your home on your own or with friends to recharge your battery.  Having hobbies and interests of your own will fill your tank and ensure that your whole life doesn't center around being a mom and a homeschooler.  You will be able to enjoy your children more as you balance your own needs into your life each week.  In time I am sure you will be able to say you enjoy being with your children all day and you wouldn't have it any other way. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grace

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Go.  
 
Grace.

It happened a year ago August.  I had left a sweet meeting with my dear mentor and I was unglued in the best sense of the word.  We had gone into the depths of some painful memories and I had wept and been freed up even more.  Jesus is relentlessly, yet patiently excavating my heart and digging out the remnants of old hurts and bringing up the wounds so that He can breathe healing all over them.  Each time I meet with my mentor in this way more and more of that old gets sloughed off and there is a fresh wind of peace and joy blowing through the open spaces.  But the wounds are often fresh when I leave her and I feel more vulnerable and tender for a time.  Healing is like that. 

This meeting was no different and on the way home -- my long two-hour drive back to my life and family -- I was looking for something to listen to as I drove.  I finally turned on my laptop on the passenger seat and pulled up my audiobooks file.  I have this habit of downloading free audiobooks whenever they are available so I quickly scanned the list.  Not knowing who wrote what, a title struck me: "All of Grace."  I hit play.  As the author's name was spoken, I thought, "hmmm ... maybe not."  I know this author, C. H. Spurgeon.  I have his devotional, "Morning and Evening."  I do respect him and gain so much from his writings, but he is also a person who was very exacting at times and I knew I was a bit tender and needed kid gloves that night.  I reluctantly continued to listen and bit by bit the message sunk in.  When we are vulnerable, there is not much to defend us.  What is heard sinks in without a wall to keep it out.  I can't find words to explain what happened as I listened, but it was as though the very voice of God were speaking these words of grace to me, personally.  I drove those two hours, hearing from God through the most unlikely and unsolicited source. 

I heard God say that He justifies the ungodly.  It comes into all our minds -- and it surely had come into mine -- that somehow we need to be good enough for God to want to have anything to do with us.  And I have spent years doubting the true love of God for me.  But, there, in the dark of my car, alone on the freeway home I heard it:  God does not come because we are just, but to make us so.  This old truth was made new to me that night.  It is simply impossible to convey the miracle of an awakening.  I had knowledge of this truth, of course, but in this unexpected moment, grace broke through.  And it broke through like a dam breaking.  I felt the rush of newness and the freedom of Jesus' forgiveness.  In the same book Spurgeon says that we can have a recumbant relationship with God.  I think of that often now.  How I can lean back as in a chez lounge and find rest.  It is because of grace that I can relax into God.  Dallas Willard used to say grace isn't just for the sinner -- the godly burn it up like a jet burns up fuel.  We need that grace and we have it in abundance.  Can't you just feel the wind of freedom and joy?  It is not just wishful thinking, it is the ground on which I now firmly stand.  I've had a grace awakening, and I just can't be the same again. 

Stop.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Boundaries, Consequences and Relationship in Parenting

I have done a lot of thinking of late about the role of consequences in a child's life.  I thought I was going to write about consequences in the series I did on character development in children, but then God led me to focus much more on His role and our role as parents instead.  So, I have had to wait for an entirely different post to consider this topic out loud.

I have been thinking about what we, as parents, often think consequences will do for our children.  And I have realized that sometimes we are under the misguided impression that using consequences will influence our children so that they will make good choices and those good choices will turn them into good people.  Of course this is errant thinking on so many levels.  I discussed this in my series on character and in a post called "Parenting by Heart" as well.

Consider this situation which happened in my home:
We had been having "screen days" and "no screen days" for some time (screen days were days when my boys could watch something or use the computer and no-screen-days were, well, when they couldn't).  The problem became that I was always still asked if it were a screen day or not and if they could watch screens.  The focus (in their hearts) on screen use was not diminishing and fading into the background.  We have a limited number of total hours a week screens could be used (7 hours a week maximum) and they kept a tally on the white board.  Again, this seemed to make them think about using screens a lot.  In some weird course of events, my oldest preteen son and I simultaneously had this thought that we should do away with screen days and no-screen-days and we should just see how it goes.  When the boys want to watch something, they ask.  I can say "yes" or "no" based on what I feel is appropriate.  Granted this takes their self-control and internal monitoring out of the picture (which is our ultimate parental goal) but it helps build in something else that I think is a precursor to self-control and that is a diminished interest in the screen altogether.

Well, we have been going along in the new way of screen-use in our home and we are bumping up against a new issue as we do.  My eldest will probably make a good lawyer some day.  When he or his brother would ask to use screens and I would say, "no," he would start asking about "what if," and "when" and "could we just ..."  He wasn't trying to be defiant or undermine me.  He just is persistent and doesn't always agree with my decision about things.  So, he respectfully asks to change that decision.  We have had this come up in several areas lately -- this second-guessing or need to push the edges a bit.  It's totally appropriate for his age, so I get it.  But, nonetheless, it wasn't helping the whole "let's minimize the emphasis on screens around here" goal.  So, I sat down with him and said, "You know, lately when I say, 'no' about screens, you push and prod trying to change my mind.  You ask about other times and you make it more of a focus when the whole goal is to make this less of a focus.  I have decided something.  If you can't take my 'no' answer, we will go to Saturday only screen day.  We won't have screen use six days a week.  That will take all questions out of the question and it will eliminate this struggle we keep going through.  I want to address this deeper issue of you needing to buck up against my "no" answers, okay?"  He totally understood what I was saying and he said, "Yeah, you are right, Mom, I was pushing too much." 

Now, here's the kicker.  His character will develop from this interaction.  He will become more self-controlled.  But, it wasn't the pending threat of a consequence that was the change agent.  What happened was that he was engaged relationally and respected and he was told an outcome (and saw that even though the outcome was undesirable, it would be implemented for his good) and he was given the open room to choose to agree and work along with the situation or not.  Ultimately it is up to him.  I have a boundary in place: I won't be argued with about my "no" answers about screen use.  I stated what would happen if the boundary is crossed: We'll go to Saturday only screens.  I communicated in love and with his interest at heart: I want to help you grow in this area because it isn't good for you.  I gave him the power to choose: You can honor the boundary, or choose the consequence.

Now, this could have gone another way.  I could have said, when he started in with the bartering and pushing limits, "You have pushed my limits too many times.  When I say 'no' I mean it and you will listen to my 'no' and obey and you will do that with a cheerful look on your face and a cheerful heart behind that look.  From now on if you ever say anything but, 'yes ma'am' when I say 'no' to you, you will lose your screens and only have Saturday screen time."  The approaches are the same with regards to facts: When I say no, I mean it; You need to go along with that; If you don't you lose something. 

The two approaches are actually worlds apart.  In the first example, I am not forcing my son's hand.  I am not dictating what he should or shouldn't feel while he does or doesn't choose to obey me.  The choice is his.  He gets to exercise his will (which will build his character) and he gets to hear my heart about how I want to help him grow (which encouraged him enough that he actually willingly joined my efforts by cooperating). My parenting isn't all touchy-feely, loosey-goosey without boundaries or consequences, but I don't demand behavior nor do I demand a certain emotion (cheerfulness) in response to my authoritative statements.

We can give our children the impression that the only acceptable emotion is "cheerfulness."  A thorough study of the perfect life of Jesus will show that a cheerful response is not always even the godly and perfect response to life.  He exhibited righteous anger, weeping and many other emotions.  God also encourages us to express all emotions to Him in the examples of the Psalmist.  We need to allow our children the internal space to process emotions.  I surely am not instantly cheerful when something doesn't go my way.  I can feel a range of emotions and even act on them sometimes.  Eventually my feelings do line up with my thoughts and what is right in God's sight -- but that can take a     l   o   n  g     time, even at my age.  It is not fair for me to ask my children to express cheerfulness at all times.  It is far better for me to reflect God to them -- He loves us whether we are cheerful or fretful or angry or depressed.  His love is not contingent on our cheerfulness and if we ask our children to be cheerful all the time, we aren't keeping them from feeling other feelings, we are just teaching them that only certain feelings are acceptable and the rest are not -- which may even make them feel at least partially unacceptable altogether over time. 

Consequences come naturally in life.  We all know -- touch a hot stove, get a burn -- there is cause and effect in so much of life.  And those "natural" (God-given and inescapable) consequences are very excellent tools for showing us what choices are good and bad.  If we, as parents, as often as possible let those consequences come as they are (not diminishing them to protect our children from pain -- unless they are in danger -- and not enhancing them to make a point) our children will learn much.  And, then there are times when we must impose consequences, such as, "If you don't go to bed now, you will have to stay in during play time tomorrow to take a nap."  Those are good too.  They are tools of instruction and they help children learn to do what is right and to develop good habits and to make choices which they would not innately do.

But, consequences will only produce certain things: behaviors.  They will not produce changed hearts.  We can become a person who knows how to say "please," "thank you," "yes ma'am" and "no sir," and still have a hateful, unsubmissive heart under the behavior.  Consequences will not make a person good.  Most consequences lead to mere behavior control which will lead to acceptable conduct.  This isn’t all bad as we need to have some order in society and in our homes.  But, we just can’t legislate morality and that truth is applicable at both the macro (governmental) and micro (familial) levels. Though good behavior is important, without a noble heart behind the behavior we miss the mark.  If we are not careful, we can fool ourselves into thinking that our very compliant children have pure hearts when they have merely learned to avoid the shock of punishment. 

Part of why consequences work when they do is when they are used as a part of discipline (instruction) rather than punishment.  God has said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future, ….”  That verse is very familiar to most of us.  We can wear a verse out to familiarity by putting it on bookmarks and picture frames and gifting it to our nephew when he graduates.  Sometimes we have to step back and revisit the familiar and well-worn verses and see them with fresh eyes.  Though this verse (in context) relays God’s message to His people while they are in exile, it holds a truth that is echoed throughout Scripture.  God has a will for us and it is focused upon a hopeful future.  He disciplines with an eye for the future.  Punishment is focused on what was done and a price to be paid.  Discipline (paideuĊ in Hebrew) is for instruction which has an eye towards the future.  Our goal in discipline is to look towards the future and instruct our children in ways they should walk.

Charlotte Mason said that behavior ought not be forced out of a desire to please someone we love, to avoid a negative consequence or as a response to the art of manipulation.  She referred to that as "suggestion."  What she meant was that a person with power in a relationship should not use that power to make someone else do their will.  The other person with less power should be free to use their will.  They should not feel external constraint to make a given choice because of the more powerful person.  So, as parents, we have to be so careful not to set our children up in a "choice" that really leaves them no choice whatsoever.  The will is strengthened (in the good sense) when it is exercised.  We want our children to exercise their will and choose.  So we don't force their hand by way of excessive use of consequences.  

Boundaries are the lines we draw or the lines that naturally exist that should not be crossed.  When we pair a boundary with a consequence we let our child know what the outcome will be if the boundary is crossed.  We don't do this by means of a threat, but by way of information.  It helps a person make an informed choice when they know what will or could happen if they choose one way or the other.  Of course we know how we want them to choose, but we need to back off a bit and let them choose and let them experience the results of their choosing.  When they choose well, they can feel the goodness of that internally.  When they choose poorly, they will learn from that too.  And this process of internal choicemaking does actually help build character in ways that the imposition of consequences in a more authoritarian way does not.

So, consequences are good.  The ones that come naturally are the best -- we don't need to exaggerate those nor diminish them.  Sometimes we need to state a consequence with a boundary.  We can do this in love, with an eye towards the future and the growth of our child while we stay on their side and in their corner.  Our children need to exercise their will and make choices -- this is how they grow.  We can allow them experiences including all the emotions and outcomes that come with making either good or poor choices.  Over time this process will have a building and strengthening effect on our children.  Our role can be one of a loving guide, coach and ally as we help them grow in maturity.