Cultivating Curiosity

This is one of those memorable homeschool projects that always delighted me as a little girl, and I’m afraid it still delights me now as a woman. I remember going out into ditches along country roads, even as a teenager, and gingerly examining milkweed leaves in an eager search for monarch caterpillars. The process of watching the tiny creatures, no less one of God’s creatures than a dog or a horse or a bird, and witnessing their metamorphosis. Absolutely amazing. And it still excites me now.
IMG_9034eSo seven swallowtail caterpillars which I found on our dill are now residents of this little cabin, along with the rest of the things in our tabletop “Observatory.” We’ll have the thrill of watching them transform from rather ugly little worms into breathtaking beauties through a process that absolutely defies all the gymnastics and contortions of evolutionary thought, and could only have come about by the creative power of a Creator God.

One of the greatest gifts homeschooling gave to me is the love of learning. Anything. Just learning. Homeschooling allowed me and my siblings to explore learning in creative ways, hands on ways, memorable ways. It is tragic that any parent with a desire to homeschool would choose to not homeschool because they don’t feel qualified. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a homeschool parent. You don’t have to be a certified teacher to be a homeschool parent. Your biggest job as a homeschool parent is to help your child desire to learn.

So much of what is taught prior to college is a waste of time (even a lot of what is taught in college, actually). Even the subjects that are considered “important.” I’m sure that some people would say those subjects are important because they help with brain development or something like that, but it seems that if they were that important, I’d remember more of them.  I chuckle as I admit that I do not remember how to find the area of a circle (pi and the radius are in there somewhere, I think), I don’t remember what years Richard the Lionheart was king, I don’t remember how many Crusades there were, and I really couldn’t tell you any practical application for Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I’m not sure I even know what it is anymore. Parabolas and equations baffled me. I never cared what x or y was anyway. I was forced to read The Scarlet Letter in highschool and remember hating it, and maintain that if God ever blesses me with kids I will never punish them with that book. I do remember pi to the seventh decimal place, which is absolutely useless.

But there is something that is so much more important than those dates and names and formulas and laws and hypothoses I’ve forgotten – I remember that learning is a joy and I still crave to be learning. I remember time with my mom and science projects with my dad and looking at pond bacteria under microscopes and watching things grow on Petri dishes. I remember growing butterflies on milkweed, identifying birds, collecting leaves, pressing flowers, and reading The Borrowers. We built Borrower homes and played Borrowers for weeks and months. I remember what it was like to be a child, and I remember what it was to play, to climb trees, ride bicycles, and make forts. We loved to make forts. I remember making rag dolls to be like Laura Ingalls, and learning how to sew at a young age, a skill that grew to actually be a serious hobby and some self-employment. I remember reading wonderful literature with Mom and my sisters – books like The Door in the Wall, The Golden Goblet, and Adam of the Road. I remember loving Ivanhoe, The Scottish Chiefs, and reveling in Shakespeare plays. I pored over books on daily life in the Middle Ages as I worked on a novel set in a fantasy kingdom, and tried to learn Welsh, and learned the Tengwar alphabet so I could write in Elvish script. I taught myself how to shape something in clay, make a mold of it using latex and gauze, and then cast it in resin. I remember studying Ancient Egypt and making a terrarium with the Nile running through the middle. I remember beautiful pictures of Roman women in their flowing robes, and reading The Eagle of the Ninth. I remember making plaster of Paris relief carvings. I remember doing an oil pastel reproduction of the face of Botticelli’s “Venus,” which I remember thinking was gorgeous but in reality was really quite ghastly. I remember discovering the Western novel in highschool, and being enthralled by the myth and lore of the West and the frontier.

None of what I just mentioned would show up on a standardized test. But what I remember is delight, and joy, and exploration, and curiosity, and discovery.

Any parent can give that to their children. And they’ll be learning right alongside their kids, sharing in that delight, watching with awe as the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis.

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Then Sings My Soul!

It is so easy to take family for granted. They’re there. All the time. Or so we think, until they aren’t. But all of us will one day die. Only God knows when that will be, and His timing is truly perfect. But as I’ve watched my grandmother age, particularly over the last couple of years, I know with keen sadness, and yet with eagerness for her, that her time is coming soon when the LORD will take her home. She is almost 95 years old, and a couple of strokes have wrecked havoc on her once-sharp mind, leaving her often confused and uncertain, sometimes not knowing who we are. But God in His mercy has given her peace. We were singing hymns tonight as a family, something we used to enjoy more frequently when we all lived in the same house or were all home more in the evenings, but this was done specifically for Grandma, since she has been requesting it lately. I wasn’t particularly eager to sing and play the piano tonight. I was tired, and had a lot to do getting ready for another marathon week. We sang some old favorites, each requesting those which we remembered first or found first as we flipped pages in our hymnals.

“Oh, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed…” we sang together. One of my favorite hymns. Oh, heavens, one of my favorite hymns. Dad’s warm baritone blended in imperfect sweetness with Sarah’s and Mom’s harmonies. I always love hearing our little family chorus.

Then I glanced up from my place at the piano. There was Grandma, her frail body and grey head bent over the hymnal, holding it firmly in her twisted, weak hands. Her lips, which often betray the confusion in her mind or tremble in the infirmity of age, were perfectly shaping the words of this wonderful hymn. I couldn’t hear her, since she was across the room from me, but I know she was singing. My eyes filled and I could hardly choke out the next words:

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow with humble adoration
And then proclaim, my God, how great Thou art.
Hymns have a way of piercing my heart in its hardness, and of reminding me of those things that truly matter, even when my mind is distracted and out of sorts. To see my Grandma, who often cannot carry on a coherent conversation anymore, joining us in singing praises to God brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful picture of how God renews the soul, even as the body wears down and wastes away.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16
Our world spurns age. Age is something to be avoided, like a disease, but a disease that everyone ultimately succumbs to. Age is something to be ridiculed, and dementia and frailty are things to be mocked and despised. Age is feared, desperately. Physical signs of age are causes of embarrassment and distress. And if I’m honest with myself, I fall into this thinking, valuing youth more than I should. How contrary to Biblical admonitions, and how contrary to truth. For those who have placed their hope in Christ Jesus, those who are oldest are most likely the closest to seeing Christ face to face. Not only do the elderly among us deserve our respect for obvious reasons, but even in the infirmities and sorrows and pain that come with age, Grandma is in an enviable situation: one day soon, likely much sooner than I, she will stand in the presence of Christ. And even though a lot of what goes on around her isn’t clear to her, it is clear to me that Christ is clear to her. Soon, He will be even clearer.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

The Simplicity of Thanks

Thanksgiving is almost entirely an uncomplicated holiday. I suppose we’ve kind of spoiled that with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday insanity, but Thanksgiving Day itself could hardly be simpler. Compared to the other holidays we observe culturally, such as Easter and Christmas, or even St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Days, all of which have modern traditions and trappings that do something to secularize and obscure the original meaning, Thanksgiving has been relatively unsullied. There is little in the way of complication. Get together, eat together, pray together, laugh together. Its terribly simple. Yesterday, we enjoyed the company of friends and family as we always do, our traditional meal, beautiful pies, homemade bread and jams and jellies, a hike to Hole-in-the-Wall, and a Christmas movie after everyone had left. Sweet and simple. And so typical for us. IMG_1287eIMG_1307eIMG_1306eIn a culture that craves the new experiences, the best foods, the best clothes, the best vacations, where #YOLO and we desire to be the envy of those around us, and to outdo one another in matters that don’t even matter, for one day we seem to set all of that aside in favor of the familiar, the simple, the old-fashioned, the typical, the rustic. What could be less elegant or progressive than turkey and pumpkin pie? Yet that somehow brings us all back to the familiar idea culturally that we have so much to be grateful for. Even those who don’t acknowledge God understand that there is a level of gratitude we owe to someone or somewhere outside of ourselves. I’m just glad I know to whom I give thanks. And it isn’t to me or to some impersonal force of fate.

Gratitude is simple, like turkey and pumpkin pie, and it is the same now as it was in yesteryears. Biblically, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. Period. There are no qualifiers, no ceremonies to perform, no special prayer to pray, no specifications, instructions, or complicated user manual. Just the command to give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) Not just to give thanks when the table is laden with food and my needs have been met. Not just when I am comfortable and making as much money as I think I need. Not just when I’m certain of where I’m going and what I’m doing and I’ve got everything under control. Not just when my vehicle is reliable and my relationships are enjoyable. Not just when life is good and I feel admired and needed. My gratitude can’t be put on hold until I’m married and living the life I thought I’d be living by the time I turned 27. I can’t put my gratitude on hold until medical bills are paid, my savings reaches a certain amount, and I feel like things are going the way they should be. My gratitude cannot be conditional. If it is…then it isn’t gratitude. It is simply a reasonable response to a good thing. But my gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am hungry, tired, and grouchy after a long day of work, and still have to fill up my fuel tank on the way home and it is 20 degrees, dark, and the wind is whipping. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am uncomfortable and feel sheepish because I’m not doing what most 27-year-olds do with their life and I kind of wonder if I missed something. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I feel like I’ve failed and when I know that I’ve failed. When I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing and life feels out of control. When I feel belittled and unnecessary, depressed and anxious. When my vehicle is unreliable, my relationships are discordant, when life feels like a drag. When I’m still single at 27, and those little dreams I thought for sure would be reality by this time just aren’t coming true. When I’ve got medical bills, taxes to pay, and a bank account that isn’t as full as it seems like it should be. We each have those little things that pile up like grime on a window, obscuring and complicating our sight, those things that eat into our joy and nag our hearts, turning our thoughts away from Christ. We have to intentionally turn our thoughts to Him, trust Him, and then give thanks.

Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” I think we can also say that one who gives thanks in very little also gives thanks in much. We cultivate a heart attitude of thankfulness by thanking God even for the mundane, normal, boring, simple things. Those are no less gifts from Him than are the big things – the marriage, the new baby, the new house, the life-saving operation. God is the giver of all good gifts, even the things we think no one wants to hear about when you’re sharing the thing you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the sky above our heads. I’m thankful for my family. For my church. For my cat sleeping on the arm of the chair. For flannel pajama pants. For hot tea. For my mattress on the floor of the loft bedroom I share with my sister. All of these extras that God didn’t need to create or facilitate, much less to gift to me for my edification and delight. The attitude of gratitude isn’t cultivated by waiting until those obvious moments when it is culturally appropriate to give thanks. Thank God for the glass of water you just drank, the bed you’re looking forward to, the cold cereal you eat for breakfast. Thank God for His sustaining power even in the things we are too callous to think about more than every once in awhile, but by which His power is displayed in ways we can’t even come close to comprehending: the balancing and continuous sustaining of our solar system, the water cycle, our supply of oxygen, gravity. Start with things we, to our shame, too often take for granted. I’m thankful for the gift of salvation. I’m thankful that this life isn’t all that there is. I’m thankful that I know there is a purpose behind all the trials, the major ones, the tragedies, as well as the little niggling trials like sales tax and singleness. I’m thankful that I know and serve and am loved by a sovereign God who loves those who are His, and does all things for their good and His glory. I’m thankful.

If your heart loves the LORD and your desire is to honor Him, there is so much to give thanks for, even when life doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. Over and over in the Bible, God’s people are commanded to give thanks, sometimes “because He is good,” and other times, simply because He is. And we, too, can give thanks, simply because HE IS. For no other reason. He is. He is. He is. Give thanks.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #2

Settled in with my aunt and uncle near Sutton, Alaska – We got in after 2am, and I managed to catch up on my sleep this morning, at least a little bit. It has been 12 years since my first (and only) trip to Alaska, and it is wonderful to be back. This picture is from my trip  back in 2005, and it would be the view out the livingroom window right now, if Amulet Peak wasn’t shrouded in cloud. The elevation of this mountain is 8200 feet, but it is obvious looking at it that the elevation gain from the foot of the mountain to the summit would be significant – most of that elevation. Compare this to Harney Peak in the Black Hills, the highest summit east of the Rockies, which is elevation 7200 feet, with a relative elevation gain of only about 2000 feet when climbing it, since the whole Black Hills sits at probably an average of 3000 feet above sea level (my number, not sure what the actual average would be). Below the mountain can be seen, just barely, the Matanuska River, upstream of which is the Matanuska Glacier. The snow-capped peaks, mountaintops buried in cloud, the massive, soaring mountainsides, sweeping valleys, gleaming rivers, and glorious vistas – this is an amazing part of the country. And I’ve got nearly a month to enjoy it.

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Photoshoot | Johnson Family

Right before our long fall ended and winter began, we had one glorious day of 60 degree weather and sunshine, clear blue skies and only the slightest breeze. The Johnson family and I went out to Falling Rock along Hwy. 44 west of Rapid City to get family pictures. What a beautiful spot! Junipers and pine, expansive views, rock outcroppings, and golden sunlight.IMG_9126eThe Johnsons are a special family to me, for a number of reasons. We all go to the same church and share sweet fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters there on a weekly basis. Dave is my boss, and what a joy it has been to work for a brother in Christ. His wife Teresa is a dear friend of mine and I look up to her very much as my sister in Christ. They have raised a wonderful family, and all six of them have such a love for their Savior.IMG_8812eI love taking portraits of couples who have been married for more than 20 years. What a testimony a strong marriage is to our good God! I have shot a few weddings and young couples, but I really think I enjoy the longer-married couples the best, even if it is just a handful of pictures in the middle of a family photoshoot. There is a unity and belonging there, a beautiful blending of two souls, a true sense of companionship born of time and hardship and joy. IMG_8837eIMG_8989eIMG_8950e2IMG_8932eIMG_8910eIMG_9040eSiblings. Another one of God’s greatest gifts. They are the first friends we ever have and hopefully are always the friends we hold the closest and keep the longest! Homeschoolers really do have it the best, in this regard. Day in and day out, we share life with our siblings. It isn’t optional, when your siblings are your classmates, your roommates, your playdates, your partners in crime….etc. IMG_8689eGod has gifted the Johnson family in so many ways, individually as well as familially. Not only are they good natured and personable and pleasant, but they have been gifted with skills and talents which they share generously with others. They enjoy and share their musical abilities, their creative talents, their hospitality, their medical skills and training, and literally share their home and and their lives. They’re also quite the handsome family. And wow, the Johnson women have gorgeous eyes. But all of that – their talents, their skills, their hospitality and personalities and giving – really would be nothing, except for the beauty of Christ in them, individually as well as as a family.

Laura Elizabeth

Photoshoot | The Parents

Mom and Dad have been asking me to do portraits for them for awhile now, and today was the perfect afternoon! What fun to spend some time making portraits of them as a couple. Dad and Mom seem pretty level headed and laid back in public, but they really can be hilarious and…kind of like newlyweds.  I mean, they sort of bust the traditional monochromatic stereotype of the homeschool mom and the pastor dad. Pretty sure I deleted 2/3 of the pictures I got because they were in the throes of laughter. I have no idea what they were laughing about.
IMG_6668IMG_6588IMG_6691IMG_6700IMG_6606Particularly in this present culture, their marriage does one’s heart good! Their marriage is characterized by a love and delight in one another, mutual respect, Biblical headship, mutual submission to God’s wonderful plans and intentions for marriage. They truly have a beautiful, dynamic relationship, centered on the only Rock and Truth, Jesus Christ. They’ve done their share of failing, as has anyone who has ever worked hard to succeed at something, and they would be the first to acknowledge that their successes haven’t been through their own strength, but through the strength of their Savior. That is a success that lasts! They are building a beautiful legacy.

I’m so glad to have their example in my lives!

Laura Elizabeth