Sunday, November 4, 2012

The oh so complicated sibling relationship

Recently this picture was posted on the Parent's Magazine Facebook page.   At first I thought, "this is great!  I need one of those!"  

We have five children, so sibling fights and disagreements are a daily occurrence at our house.  As a tired and sometimes overwhelmed mom, it is very difficult to find a solution that works, a technique that convinces my children to love one another at all times, play nicely, share, and to think of their brother or sister first.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

After giving it some thought and reflecting on my own adult sibling relationship, I started to wonder if this technique is such a good idea after all.   I have one brother that is 3 years younger than me.  We grew up pretty close and did not fight too much.  Well, at least from our prospective.  I'm not sure what our mother's thoughts on that would be.  I think we played well together and usually had fun and enjoyed each other's company.  However, we were not perfect and we did have disagreements at times.  For example, I could not stand listening to him chew his food at the breakfast table.  It drove me nuts!  I used to yell at him from across the table to chew with his mouth closed.  However, I am pretty sure he did not appreciate being cast as the family dog when my friend and I would play house!

Our biggest challenge as brother and sister came about in our adult life.  Several years ago my brother revealed to our family that he is gay.  I can share this because he is now open about it with our family and friends.  It was a very difficult time for him and us as a family.   We had to and are still working through a lot of our differing feelings, thoughts, and view points on the issue.  Things have been said from both parties that have been misunderstood and at times very hurtful.  I tell you this to demonstrate a messy and REAL life issue.  This goes far beyond fighting over a toy, a turn on the Wii, or in our day the Nintendo, or a he touched me argument.   This is one that you can not possibly prepare for.  How do we relate to one another in this situation?  How do we argue, make our points, work it out together, find common ground, agree to disagree, and in the end still love unconditionally and preserve our relationship while holding on to who we are and what we believe individually. It's tough!

I believe the skills to do just that come from our childhood disagreements.  We were never stuck in a shirt and forced to tolerate each other after a disagreement.  Yes, we had to say, "I am sorry."  I am sure sometimes it was done begrudgingly, but it was still a practice that we had to learn.  The practice of apology takes work.  It is hard, embarrassing, and sometimes painful to say I am sorry and to admit that I was wrong.  Even as adults, we hate to have to do that.   Once we get into the practice of recognizing our wrongs and quickly responding it becomes easier and we begin to do it with sincerity.  I will be the first to admit that in this real life situation, I have not always responded in the right way.

I have to wonder if our parents had simply put us together in a shirt titled "The we will get along shirt"  if we would have learned the skills of apology and forgiveness.  We are now having to call on those skills to hold our fragile and struggling relationship together in a very difficult time.  We aren't totally there yet.  We both have struggled and are still struggling.  Now, I am not saying this technique is wrong, I'm just questioning how effective it is in the long run.  Someone else may argue that it is highly effective because of things I have not considered.

I teach my children that the most valuable friendships they hold are the ones with their siblings.  After all, they are truly the only people on earth that have the same history, that share similar DNA, that have the same childhood experiences and memories.  In a lot of ways, the only ones that really "get" you.  Some even have a secret language that only they understand. Even in the midst of trials, I still believe and hold on to this as truth in my own life and sibling relationship with my one and only brother.  I do love him no matter what and without condition!

I am grateful for parents that taught us how to apologize, how to forgive, and how to love.  I hope and pray that I am doing what it takes to equip my children with the skills they need to relate to the people of the world and most especially to each other as they become adults.   I truly do believe in making brothers and sisters best friends!

What scripture tells us about resolving conflict.

"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love."  Mathew 18: 15-17  The Message

"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it."   Colossians 3:13  The Message

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Halloween! To celebrate or not?

The weather is getting cooler.  The leaves are changing color and falling to the ground.  This is my most favorite time of year.  I even chose October for my wedding month because this time of year just makes me happy.  For me it marks the beginning of the holiday season.  My mind starts to shift and I begin planning for all kinds of family fun and memories.

The first holiday up is Halloween!  Halloween sometimes sparks a dilemma in the church.  To celebrate or not?!?!  Some feel that it is the devil's holiday and centers around evil.  Some feel that it is just good hearted fun for the kids.  They get to dress up and gather candy from neighbors and friends.

It's important to look at the history and origins of Halloween.  The source of all of my historical information here is from Wikipedia. Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of it's original title "All Hallow's Evening"), is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31.  Halloween is commonly thought to have pagan roots.  All Hallow's Eve or Halloween initially incorporated traditions from pagan harvest festivals and festivals honoring the dead.

Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints Day (also known as Hallowmans, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) and All Soul's Day.  They were a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven.  It was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until "All Saint's Day, and All Hallows Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving into the next world.  To avoid being recognized by a soul, Christians would wear masks and costumes to disguise themselves.  The Vatican has now strongly condemned these traditions as being "pagan" and "anti-Christian."

Thoughts on Halloween throughout today's Christian community are diverse.  In the Anglican Church, some have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions associated with All Hallow's Eve.  Some of these practices include praying, fasting, and attending worship services.  Other protestant Christians celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a way of celebrating the Protestant Reformation.  Harvest festivals are held and children dress up as Bible characters or Reformers.

Some Christians reject the holiday because they feel that it celebrates paganism, the occult, or other practices that are incompatible with their beliefs.  Many fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals use "Judgement Houses" and other Christian literature such as "tracts" to take advantage of Halloween's popularity as an opportunity to evangelize.  Some considered Halloween to be completely incompatible with  Christian faith and believing that it originated as a pagan "Festival of the Dead."

Okay, so how does our family handle Halloween?  As a result of our position as Christian leaders, people often look to us for understanding of how they should handle certain issues in life.  This makes me anxious most of the time because I simply do not feel qualified.  However, it is part of the job, so I try to do the best I can and follow how the Lord convicts me on issues.  That in no way means I expect people to share my thoughts and beliefs on all matters.   People are convicted on many different levels.  You have to deal with the Lord in your own time on your own level!  It's not one size fits all.

 First I will say that I know there are many, some even within our own church that would disagree with me, but the Hamby's do participate in Halloween activities.  Usually in the middle of September my kids are begging me to bring out the Fall/Halloween decorations.  It marks the beginning of a time in our home when our surroundings are not the norm.  I put away all of my treasured Willow Tree figures, pack up some of my pictures and other everyday decor and things look quite festive until the New Year.

 I use a combination of Autumn and Halloween decor.  Much of it was passed down to me from my mom and are items from my childhood.  Some were even made by my grandparents, so they carry lots of memories.  Yes, some are jack-o-lanterns and ghosts.  For us it is not about celebrating jack-o-lanterns and ghosts, but simply setting a mood, making memories, and warming up our home.  The joy on my middle child's (Aiden) face when those bins come out of the basement is priceless.  By the way, he gets this excited about the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations too.  I have wonderful Halloween memories from my childhood.  Like the book Five Little Jack -O- Lanterns my mom used to read to my brother and I that I now read to my children.  Growing up, our yard was the best decorated yard in the neighborhood.   Our house was at the top of a steep hill, so my dad built a coffin and tombstones with all the neighbors last names on them and placed them at the bottom of the hill.   All the new neighbors that moved in heard about it and made sure that my dad made a tombstone for their family.  One year we even had a haunted house with dry ice for fog,  peeled grapes, and cold spaghetti to stick our hands in while blind folded.  It was all in good fun and fellowship for the neighborhood.  Let me be very clear, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, costumes and Trick or Treating simply mean childish fun for our kids.  That is all.  They have no meaning and hold no religious importance in our home.  We celebrate and worship Christ alone in this home.

In the years since we have had children old enough to Trick or Treat, we have participated in that as well.  The past several years we have hosted our friends and their families in our home for chili and treats after Trick or Treating.  This year will be different since we no longer live in a neighborhood and our location is not well suited for Trick or Treating.  We are excited that our church has decided to hold a Trunk or Treat event.  This is when people park their themed, decorated cars in the church parking lot and pass out candy, church information, and share the Gospel with the children and families in the community.

Halloween 2010 (Community Helpers and Lady Bugs)

Halloween 2011 (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad)

Now, I guess we could take the stand that Halloween is incompatible with the Christian faith.  The truth is, it's roots most certainly are.  I am not denying that.  We do not condone any of the historical pagan traditions and do not celebrate Halloween in that way.  But, how would turning out our lights and locking our doors or condemning the children and families who are participating do anything to reach people for Jesus.   People are GOING to head out with their candy bags on October 31st. Why not seize the opportunity to tell them about how much God loves them and about the sacrifice He made on their behalf.   I don't really support the "Judgement House" type events.  I feel like people have to be brought to the Lord through brokenness and love, not fear.  The Church must be relevant in  today's society in order to reach people!  We must meet people where they are!  We must reach into their lives!  And we MUST MUST MUST reach the children!  A local church that fails to reach the people and the children, faces a certain death.  Isn't this what Christ did?

When I think about those people that turn off their porch lights and condemn Halloween and those who participate in it, a chorus in the Casting Crowns song Jesus Friend of Sinners comes to mind.  It goes, "Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded."  Don't you want people to know WHO you are for?  Isn't that more important than what you are against?  I respect your right to have that opinion, but I challenge you to search yourself and ask "what  AM I doing to reach the children and families in my community.  What is my church doing?"  If not in this way, then how?  There are many ways to do that.  Be a voice in your church for the children and the lost!  God will honor that!

I encourage you to find a church that is hosting a trunk or treat or fall festival event.  They are a safe place to let your kids have fun, collect Halloween candy, and learn about the Lord at the same time.  This year our family will have 4 pirates and a baby sea turtle.  Our van will be the ship and our slogan will be "Jesus is our buried and risen treasure."  Trunk or Treat is right up my alley because I LOVE to theme my kid's Halloween costumes.

Have fun, be safe. and don't forget to brush your teeth!   Happy Halloween!

This is the closest to the original rhyme from when I was little that I could find!  Enjoy!

Five Little Jack-O-Lanterns
Five little jack-o-lanterns sitting on a gate. 
The 1st one said, "It's getting late."
The 2nd one said, "I hear a noise."
The 3rd one said, "It's only some boys."
The 4th one said, "Let's run, let's run."
The 5th one said, "It's Halloween fun."
Then oooooooo went the wind, and out went the light.
And away ran the jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night. 

                                                 Our 2013 Halloween Announcement

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our first year's curriculum and the school room

I thought it would be fun to share with you the curriculum that we have chosen for our first year of homeschool.  I never thought I would ever get as excited about curriculum as I have been.  Every time a book arrived in the mail it was like Christmas.

First up is Aaron.  Aaron is a very hands-on learner so we may have to find some more creative ways to teach him, but since I am new at this I am sticking to more traditional methods and we will throw in some hands-on stuff as we see fit.  I bought a book called "175 Science Experiments" to work on together.  Aaron has to have breaks frequently.  He works well for about 30 minutes and then he needs to walk outside for a bit to get some air, shoot some baskets, or look at some birds.  He comes back refreshed and ready to get back to work.  So here are our choices for him.

At the top are Dick and Jane readers.  He has breezed through one of them so we will look for something a little more challenging when he finishes these.  They were recommended by a woman whose workshop we attended at the homeschool expo.  They are well written and always encouraging to boys.

Next, is The 175 Science Experiments book that I mentioned earlier.

Under that are some used Spectrum spelling and reading books that Sam got free off of Paperback Swap.  I'm not sure if these will get used for actual school work, but maybe for supplements in his down time.

We are using a Spectrum Math book.  So far this is all we have for him for math.  I'm not so sure this will be enough and it does not have a teacher's guide.  Since I an not great at teaching math, that would be helpful.  We are just going to work through this for now and then reevaluate in January when we have more under our belts.

For handwriting, we are using "Hand Writing Without Tears."  We have not started this yet, but it comes highly recommended by many homeschoolers and teachers.

At the bottom of the stack is a 2nd grade Alpha Omega LifePac.  I am very excited about this because it is a complete Language Arts curriculum.  It teaches phonics, vocabulary, spelling, reading comprehension and grammar all at once.  It has a very helpful teacher's guide.  To top it off there is scripture ALL throughout it.  It teaches the basics of Language Arts while at the same time immersing the child in God's Word.   I love it!

Aaron will also be taking a science class at Grace Co-op in Blairsville.  The teacher has selected "Patterns of Nature" by Rod and Staff.  I know he will enjoy that.  He will also be taking a US History/Geography class, an art class, a music, and a PE class at co-op.

Now onto Ashlyn.  Ashlyn is a more traditional learner.  She likes hands on activities, but does very well in a classroom setting.  She is a strong reader and works well independently.

We chose Switched on Schoolhouse by Alpha Omega for her main curriculum.  It is a 5 subject computer software which includes bible, science, math, history, and language arts.   We had some trouble getting it installed and our computers synced, but now that we are up and running, we are learning the program together.

It is a really cool program because you can pretty much customize the whole thing.  She logs in each day and the computer has assigned her work for the day based on the school calendar that I created in the system.  It tells her what she is expected to do that day and when it is due.  I can also send her messages and she can send them to me.  Once she completes a lesson she moves on to the assignment.  It's great because she gets immediate feed back as she answers the questions.  All of her assignments are graded and then submitted for me to see.  There are sometimes questions that have to be submitted for me to grade.  For now I am sitting with her and we are walking through the lessons together.  Once we get better at this, she will be able to work on her own a bit more.  However, this is not meant to be a hands off tool for the parent.  It still takes instruction and supervision from me.  

Here is a sample Language Arts lesson.  As you scroll down the lesson continues.  There are learning games throughout as well as audio instruction and tutoring.  This program requires that your child have good reading skills.  Our biggest challenge will be her typing skills since it does require some.  I plan to go over some basic typing with her and maybe add a typing curriculum next year.  

For handwriting we have chosen "Handwriting Without Tears" for her as well. 

As extras we are using Wordly Wise for vocabulary and reading comprehension which she is finding very challenging, but that is good. We are also using a Spectrum Math workbook to strengthen her math skills.

At Co-op she will be taking a science class.  The teacher has chosen "Considering God's Creation."  It is a GREAT book.  It talks about many different aspects of science starting with creation and then moving through all the days of creation in order.  

Ashlyn will also be taking a cross cultural/social studies class, an art class, and a girls life skills class at co-op.

We are excited about our choices.  We know that we will have to keep an open mind and realize that some of it may not be a good fit for us.  As we get more experience, I'm sure we will branch out and try many different types of curriculum.

For read alouds and family story time we are using several different books by Lamp Lighter Publishing.  We absolutely LOVE these books.  They are a collection of very old stories that are well written and FULL of Christian character qualities.  They all point to Christ.  We just can't say enough about them!

And just for fun for the little ones I bought some new preschool toys.  Here are some lacing beads and activities, shape and color sorters, and a wooden dress the bear set.  

I also ordered some really cute alphabet cards from My Father's World.  They have all sorts of activity ideas to help the little ones learn their letters.

Here is a tour of where it all happens.  We turned the formal dining room into the school room.

All the school supplies are in the chest and the hutch.  

We have decided to use the green, yellow, red card system for behavior.  I felt like it was easy enough for even the little ones to understand and I only wanted one system to keep up with.   We didn't do it this week, but next week, we will begin our day with prayer and the pledge.

We use the chalk board for our character qualities each week.  We plan on getting a large white board to go on the empty wall there.  For now Avery has a play yard in the corner, but when we get the white board, I will have to move it to have room to write.  

We keep all the curriculum on the top shelf.  The board is our prayer request board.

So that is the run down if you were interested.  We started school this week.  I had not planned on doing that, but thought we should start practicing with some trial runs.  Boy, am I glad we did!  It was a rough week for all 3 of us.  There were tears from all of us.  Getting used to the routine will be hard.  After all, we are learning a new way of life.  I'm trying not to focus so much on content this year, especially in the first semester.  We mostly need to learn together how to do this.   Right now we are doing a lot of review of concepts from last year, which I am thankful for.  It would be tough to be learning brand new material while adjusting to homeschool.  I know that once we get the hang of it, they will by far surpass what they would have gotten in public school.  That is mainly because we will be able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.  I still have to keep praying because the fear and doubt continues to creep in.  Thankfully we are all committed to making this work.  Next week is a new week!  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why we have decided to homeschool

After four years of sending our two older children to public school, I have finally surrendered to the call of homeschooling.  I remember discussing the idea with Sam as Ashlyn approached kindergarten age.  Just like all moms sending their first baby to school, I just figured it was first time jitters.  Little did I know that the Lord had started a work in my husband's heart.  We actually had a wonderful experience with public school.  Our kids attended a small elementary school in North Cherokee County.  For the first two years, we had the BEST principle a parent could ever ask for.  He was a Christian and without getting himself in trouble, he used his faith to encourage the kids.  Every single teacher we had was wonderful.  I always knew that they loved my babies and were very concerned with their success. Other than a few bullies and an issue with Aaron being placed in an EIP class that he really did not need, we had no issues at all.   As you can see, our decision to not send them back to public school and to school them at home had nothing to do with bad experiences with the school system.   I am actually glad that we did send them.  It helps me to feel like I am making a very well informed decision about homeschool.  If I had never put them in public school I feel I would not really have a clear picture of why I am doing this.

For a long time I would entertain the idea and then quickly say, "no way!"  I used to actually get very annoyed with Sam for even bringing it up.  I would wonder, "Is he crazy?"  I hated school growing up.  It was always hard for me.  I was a "good" student, but I had to work hard.  It did not just come easily to me.  I hated my homework and I hated my kid's homework even more.  Even in college, I could not wait for graduation.  So, why in the world would I want to homeschool my kids?  However, Sam was persistent.  He has this kind of annoying quiet persistence and patience.

 I am kind of ashamed to admit it, but the thing that concerned me about it the most was that I just could not even seem to get excited about public school.  I did not go up to the school as much as I should and was not as involved as I felt I should have been.  I used the younger kids as an excuse, but really it was something inside of me.  Yes, I was having babies, we were in a difficult situation in our church, and we were both battling depression, but something was just not connecting.   I felt incredibly guilty.  For the most part the kids were doing well and when we did run into some academic problems with Aaron, I was there doing whatever I could to help, but it was just not enough in my opinion.  If I could not get excited with my kids in public school, how could I get excited about homeschooling them myself.

I am not sure exactly when God started to work and change my heart.  Over time I just started to hear that voice that can only be the Lord's.  I would try to suppress it and just remind myself that I am not qualified to do that and that my kids would end up stupid if I tried.  I was even critical of other homeschoolers.  I feel kind of like Saul persecuting the Christians before his conversion!  There were times over the past year that I could not go anywhere without the topic of homeschooling coming up or meeting other homeschooling moms.  They were everywhere and God kept presenting them to me.  This is when it became a flashing sign for me.

During the year after the "irruption" at our church, we learned a lot about who we are, what we believe and the direction we desire to go in as a family.  Part of that was to be more intentional about sharing our faith with our kids.  As we read scripture and talked to other families, we learned that God's intention is for the parent's to be the major influencers in the life of a child.   We are told to "Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6  We began to realize that we have our children in our home for a short 18 years and by the time they are 5 years old, we are sending them away for 7 to 8 hours a day.  They are receiving the majority of their instruction from people that may have belief systems that are very different from our own. Then, when they return home, we spend a significant amount of time trying to undo some of the "bad lessons" learned from school.  When in the world do we have time to train our children biblically with that kind of routine?  Why not weave the two together?

However, our faith is not the only reason we decided to homeschool.  Let's face it, we all know that there are issues with the public school system as a whole.  Teachers know it, parents know it, and even students know it.  It is designed to move bulk people through a system and often times does not create an environment that promotes a love for learning.  Many of the books children read today are poorly written and full of negativity.  Have you ever read "A Dairy of a Wimpy Kid?"  I had no idea how terrible and negative it was until an excerpt was read to us at a homeschool convention.  Our daughter had one that she purchased at the school book fair.  I will admit it was my fault for not knowing the content of what she was reading.  I won't make that mistake again, but with that kind of literature out there for our children, no wonder kids today hate reading.  It doesn't motivate or inspire them.  Also, the class can only move as fast as the slowest student, leaving children that are excelling bored and frustrated.

We also believe that anytime you get one on one with a child, they will do better.  We believe that we can give our kids a broader educational experience as well.  With state mandated curriculum we feel that our children are limited by what the state wants them to learn as opposed to the opportunities we can provide being wide open.   With all of the state testing requirements, our children are taught throughout the year based on one test given in April.  In Georgia, it is called the GCRCT. All of the state curriculum is built around this test.  Students as well as teachers are assessed based on the test.  Therefore, the material the teachers can teach is very regulated.  Often times teachers are not able to be creative and use their gifts and talents in the way they would have envisioned.  I know this is frustrating to them as well.

With homeschooling, we will be able to learn the basics and add in things that we are passionate about and interested in.  We can study math, science, people, and places while also experimenting or going to those places.  We will not be bound to a classroom or text book.  Some of the things we learn about can actually come alive for the kids.

One of the arguments against homeschooling that is out there is that the children are not socialized.  This is a huge misconception that I believe is slowly starting to change.  There are many social opportunities for homeschooled children these days.  We have joined a co-op in Blairsville.  The children will be taking a variety of courses taught by other Christian adults from a biblical worldview in a classroom setting with other children in their grade level.   We will attend once a week and they will be required to complete assignments that are due back the next week.  This will continue to teach them how to interact with other authority figures and other children.  Being part of this group will also reinforce obligations and responsibility.  Much of the social interaction in public school is negative anyway.  When you consider all of the popularity games, mean girls, and bullies, how much wholesome social interaction are our children really getting?  Homeschool will allow us to be more proactive about choosing the families and children that are part of our family's social network. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says,"Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character."

I have had to ask God to change my heart, to give me peace, and to give me confidence.  There are still days when I wonder, "What am I thinking?  I just want to send them to school.  They are driving me nuts."  Often times I was the first in my circle of friends to start whining during school breaks saying, "I cannot wait for these kids to get back in school." In those moments I ask the Lord to show me the bigger picture and help me not be led by my feelings, but by what I know is right, what is true, and what we want the end result to be, which are well educated, self disciplined, grace-filled, spirit-filled, independent, healthy adult children who love the Lord above all!

I am thankful for a praying and persistent husband.  God gave him a dream for our family and he did not give up on it even when it seemed like it would never happen.    As our new adventure in education begins, I pray for myself and my children.  I pray that we will work together as a team, that we will follow the Lord together as we learn and grow, that we will be patient with one another, extend grace to one another, enjoy each other, have fun, learn more than we could ever imagine  and above all grow closer to each other and to our Creator, the one who created everything and designed us to be curious, to love learning, and who gave us so many beautiful and wonderful things to learn about!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Getting settled

We have been in Hiawassee for six weeks now and have gotten settled into the parsonage.  I thought I would take some time to share how the move went and how things are going so far.  We moved from Waleska on June 18th.  It was very bittersweet for me.  While we were ready to move on, pulling away from the Waleska parsonage was tough for me.  It had been our home for 5 years and was really the only home my children knew.  Ashlyn was only 4 and Aaron only 2 when we moved there.  There are lots of memories in that house.  We brought 3 babies home there, had our first two trips to kindergarten from there, experienced first school bus rides, celebrated birthdays, Christmases, Halloweens, hosted many playdates and cookouts, adopted two dogs, shared many bedtime stories, and much much more!

We spent the day instructing the movers and cleaning.  When the house was finally empty, I walked through each room with my memories.  When I got to the kids rooms, all I could think about was how many times I had tucked each one of my babies into their beds in their sweet little rooms.  I don't watch moving vans pull away.  To me it's just too hard.  It's like watching your whole world drive away on a truck.  As the truck was pulling away, several church members arrived to finish the cleaning and prepare for the Emmitts, the new parsonage family.  It was fitting, because these were all the people that we know loved us and had supported us  during our difficult time there.  We said our goodbyes and headed to Hiawassee.  I have to admit, I had not really cried all day until I was in my van alone.  I cried all the way to Jasper.  I felt like I just had to get it out of my system so that I would be emotionally present when we arrived at the Hiawassee parsonage.  I knew we would be greeted by some of our new church family.

We arrived tired and drained.  Also, we were not prepared for the movers to delay unloading until the next morning, so we did not have all the things we needed for the night.  Thankfully, we called ahead and our SPR chair brought sheets, blankets and towels.  We had an air mattress, but since we were using the master bedroom furniture, we had a bed!  When we got to the house, some of the ladies from church had dinner waiting on us.  We even had fresh veggies from one of the ladies' garden.

We had been to the house a lot in the month leading up to the move to work on getting wallpaper down and painting in the bathrooms.  The last time we saw the house it was pretty dirty.  When we arrived the house was so clean and had been well prepared for us.  That was such a relief.  There have been times when we have had to clean and move in at the same time.

The movers arrived the next morning and the unloading and unpacking began.  It makes me tired to even think back on it.  By the late afternoon it was all unloaded and we were fast at work unpacking as much as we could before the kids were returned to us.  Thankfully, I had the help of my awesome parents that have not missed a move yet.

The kids were spread out in several locations.  The girls stayed in Chattanooga.  Ashlyn stayed with my grandmother and Anna with my Aunt Dean.  They got to do fun stuff.  Ashlyn got to go shopping and get a pedicure.  Anna got to go on a tea party photo shoot with Aunt Dean.  After they had been apart for a couple of days, which is hard for them, Aunt dean took Anna to my grandmother's to play with Ashlyn on the slip 'n' slide.  It was good for Ashlyn, who was struggling with the move and our family being separated.  The boys were together in Athens with Sam's family.  They got to go to the pool, play with cousins, and play with smoke bombs.  What boy does not love that?

My goal was to have the kitchen and the kids room unpacked and set up before they got home.  I just feel like it is important for them to come to a new home with some familiar things around them.  With my mom and dad's help, we got it done just as they were pulling in the driveway.  It was like a scene from HGTV.  You know, the ones where people go away for a weekend and come back to a redone house or room.  They were running, jumping and squealing.  They were so happy to see us, to see each other, and to check out their new rooms.  The boys were elated to see that we had FINALLY bunked their beds.  They had been begging for a long time.  We loved it because several church members were there when they arrived.  They got to see all the excitement.

On the day the kids arrived, the phone rang and it was our parsonage representative on the trustees committee.  She is the person that I am to go to when I need to talk about parsonage issues.  She called to ask if it was ok if she brought balloons to put on the mailbox to welcome the kids when they arrived.  I told her, "of course!" and she brought over 5 balloons, one for each child.  She also came in to make sure we had everything we needed.  She did not say a word about it, but after she left, I stepped outside to find that she had placed 3 hanging ferns on the front  porch.  Also, two of the trustees came over to help hang pictures and towel bars in the bathrooms.  All of this was quite a shock to us because we had never been received like this before.  Sometimes you have to learn how to receive.

We were able to move in a little earlier than official North Ga. Conference move day, but on that day, the door bell rang and I darted upstairs because I was still in my jammies at 3:00 in the afternoon.  I just did not take the time to shower or get dressed that day and pushed on with my unpacking.  I figured it was a church member stopping by to see if they could help or check on things.  A few minutes later, Sam came upstairs to inform me that it was our District Superientendent and his wife.  So, I got to meet them for the first time in my PJs with no make up!  Lovely!  They were making the rounds to all of the parsonages in the district that were receiving new families.  He just wanted to welcome us to the district and to make sure that the church had done what needed to be done to prepare for us.  He left us with a welcome card and a Walmart gift certificate.  "Wow" was all I could say!

Our first Sunday was pretty overwhelming.  The church was very crowed as people came to check out the new young pastor with 5 kids.  There was a fellowship lunch after worship.  They also did what is called a "pounding." That is when the church stocks your home with all the necessities.  We had never had this before and had no idea what to expect.  It was amazing!  It took 3 car loads to get it home.  There were diapers, wipes, cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, cereal, condiments, and the list goes on.  We were so grateful.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, Hiawassee is starting to feel a little more like home.  We are still getting used to the mountains and the small town life.  Sam went into two different local stores to introduce himself and was told, "oh yes, you are the talk of the town."  They seemed to know a lot about our family.  That has been a bit weird for us.  Hopefully, we will be old news soon!

The hardest thing for me has been watching Ashlyn struggle.  This has been tough on her.  She has been quite sad and lonely at times and misses her friends.  It's hard to watch your child hurt.  I feel so guilty sometimes even though I have no control over this one.  I'm ready to get started with our homeschool co-op and activities so that she can start making friends with other girls her age.  More on that later.  She makes friends easily, so I know that will not be an issue.  The rest of the kids are doing well.  Aaron wants to make a trip to visit his friend Casey soon.  We haven't really left town much since we arrived.  Surprisingly, I have not had the, "oh my goodness, I live in the middle of nowhere," freak out moment yet.  It doesn't really feel like the middle of nowhere to me.  There is enough to do around here for me.  Shopping and eating is not great, but in the grand scheme of life, does that matter?

I feel hopeful for our ministry here.  Worship has been wonderful!  I have been so deprived of worship for so long that it's like filling an empty basket right now.  I know there will be challenges, we have already identified some of them, and I don't know what God's desire for our family is long term, but I know that for now we are serving here.  It is amazing the things you rediscover about yourself when you come out from under the kind of oppression and negativity we have lived under over the past few years.  I'm starting to rediscover my passions, to enjoy my kids and my husband more, to remember what I like to do for fun, and to be able to have a clearer vision for my family.  Slowly, my motivation is returning.  We have much to do for the Kingdom in Hiawassee and I am excited to see what the Lord has in store!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A New Adventure

This week has been a very busy week.  Monday marked the beginning of the last week of school.  It has been hard to stay on top of it this week.  We went to awards day today.  Both Ashlyn and Aaron received attendance awards and honor roll awards.  We are so proud of them.  We had a rough moment today at lunch when it hit Ashlyn that she would not be returning to RM Moore and would not see some of her friends again.  I just held her in the restaurant and cried right along with her.   It broke my heart, but I am so glad that I can relate to her and know what she is feeling since I moved as a kid as well.  We are trying to be real with the kids and not try to gloss over it or tell them that they will see those friends again.  That might be easy for us to do in the short term, but in the long run they will remember us being truthful and I feel like the grieving process will go much better by being honest.  I told her that I can't change the fact that we are moving, but if she needs to talk or cry, she can come to me and we will cry together.  It hurts that I can't "fix" this one for my kids.  It is just something they are going to have to work through.  Who am I kidding, I have a lot to work through too. As hard as this appointment has been and as much as we want to move, I have some really great friends that I have to leave behind.  It's just sad no matter how good the move is for our family.  

We are finally into summer mode around here.  However, the beginning of our summer will be a hectic one.  Our move date has been set for June 18th.  The movers have been reserved and we have arranged to have the kid's play set moved.

Tuesday we drove up to Hiawassee with Ashlyn and Aaron to meet with some of the leaders of the church and to see the parsonage.  It was a pretty drive and the kids were excited.  We were greeted at the door by our new Staff-Parish Relations chairman and he introduced us to the church staff.   They all seemed very excited and happy that we are coming.  The church tour started quickly and the ladies took me straight to the nursery.  They must have known how important that one room is to me.  It is such a sweet little room with lots of toys and bright happy murals and colors.  I was happy to see that we would not have to introduce Safe Sanctuaries to this church because they already have it in place.  They even have a nursery pager system to contact parents when they are needed in the nursery as well as a TV monitor so that the volunteers can see and hear the service.  I am ready to sign up for my turn on the rotation.

The music minister showed us around the choir room and the sound room.  The church has a good bit of technology and I know that Sam is excited about learning to preach using Power Point.  This is something he has never had the opportunity to do before.  This does, however, require much more sermon prep!  It will be good for him!  The music minister shared with us that she is beginning to put together a praise band.  She said she is putting it out there and waiting to see what talents emerge.  I like her!

The youth minister showed us the youth room and was very proud to share that 4 years ago, they did not have a youth group and now they have 15 kids along with many professions of faith and re-dedications. It is obvious that he has a passion for Christ and the youth.

We did not get to talk to the administrative assistant too much, but you can certainly tell that she is good at what she does and Sam is looking forward to working with her.

After our tour, we drove out to the parsonage.  I described it in my last post.  By the way, that is Mrs. Pam on the front porch.  She told me to just tell everyone that she is my maid.  I love her sense of humor already.  The house was built in 1984 and the church purchased it new, so it has always been the Hiawassee UMC parsonage.  I wonder how many clergy families have lived there over the years?  The yard is AMAZING.  I forgot to take a picture from the porch view so I will do that the next time we go up.  The house is big enough for us and has a lot of character.  It looks bigger in person than this front porch photo.  It is pretty dated and will need some work.  The current pastor has been out of the house since November, but the church did not learn of his retirement plans until about 2 months ago, so they have just been doing basic maintenance.  Once they heard they would be receiving a new family, they decided to wait and see what we needed or wanted done.  The Trustees are painting the kid's rooms and the wood paneling in the den before we move in.  Mom and I are going up June 1st to try to get all the wall paper in the bathrooms down.  Sam, me, and the 3 older kids will go up when they have VBS and will paint the three bathrooms and maybe the master bedroom.  I was able to call in the paint to the Sherwin Williams store up there and use my brother's family discount.  They appreciated the 40% discount on all the paint and supplies.

The kitchen has a whole other area not pictured.  It's a separate eating area and our table fits.
The kitchen wall paper will be our biggest project so that will have to wait until other painting is done.  The kitchen is a good size with a lot of counter and cabinet space.  I have never been a fan of home improvement projects, but maybe this will be fun.  Maybe?

We are still trying to figure out where we are going to put the kids.  The rooms up stairs are a little small.  The room downstairs would easily fit the three boys.  The master and 2 other bedrooms are on the second floor.  I think the small rooms will be fine since they will have a play room and a school room.  Their bedrooms will mostly be for sleeping.

Back in the day, parsonages where completely furnished.  Pastors and their families just moved their clothes and personal belongings from church to church.  This house does have some furniture, but they let me decide what to keep.  That will not be much since we have a house full of our own stuff.  They will be selling the rest of it to raise money for parsonage improvements.

Kid's bedroom 1

Kid's bedroom 2 (the larger one downstairs)

Kid's bedroom 3 
Living room

The school room

The playroom

One of the cool things about the house is that every entry has a big or small wooden porch, so there are several nice places to sit and watch the kids play.  It has a gas log fire place that actually pushes out heat.  That will be nice in the winter.  Thankfully the carpet is not out dated and is in good shape.  The church is having the carpet professionally cleaned.  I am looking forward to getting in there and making it our home. It will be a work in progress, but I am grateful that the church is willing to work with us and are ok with whatever changes we need to make.  By the time we are done, I am sure we will have painted every wall!  One of the things that Sam and I hope we are known for as we move around the conference is that we are a great parsonage family.  Part of our gift to a church as we leave is a parsonage in better shape than we found it.  It will be an adjustment going from the house we are in now.  The Waleska parsonage is brand new and we haven't had to do much to it, but we knew leaving here would mean a big housing adjustment whether we got another parsonage or even a housing allowance.  I will post more pictures after our next trip up and as we move in, paint, and decorate.  Thankfully, my mom is as good as Martha Stewart in the decorating department.

As we get started on the packing, we grieve over the friends we are leaving, but look forward to building new relationships in our church and community.  One thing that was obvious as we met a small part of the Hiawassee UMC leadership is that they are a praying, Holy Spirit-filled church.  There is much to do in ministry in Hiawassee and we look forward to joining in with this congregation to build God's kingdom together.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's Official

The announcement was made this morning.  Sam is being reappointed this year to Hiawassee United Methodist Church in beautiful Hiawassee, Ga located in the North Georgia mountains.  If you don't know where that is, it is just north of Blairsville and Young Harris.  It's very close to the Georgia/North Carolina border.  We are very excited about this opportunity.  However, I have to admit that I cried for 3 days once we got the news from our district superiendent.  We were certainly prepared and even requested this move, but I did not know what to expect as far as location goes.  When I learned that we would be moving to a rural setting, I immediately flashed back to my 2 1/2 years in rural Kentucky.  That was the only thing this suburban Townelake girl had to compare it to.  Our Kentucky years, while we served a student appointment, were very dark for me.  It was a really hard time because Sam traveled back and forth to school 3 days every week and left me at home with Ashlyn who was just a baby at the time.  We gave up our on-campus Asbury experience to serve two rural churches to make ends meet and because it was highly suggested by our conference officials.

I was so isolated and no matter what I tried, I could not break into the social structure there.  Everyone had lived there their whole lives and were just born into their social networks.  They did not need things like MOMS Club or MOPS to connect with each other, so there were no groups like that.  There were days that I would walk across the parking lot from the parsonage to the church and realize that I had not left the house since the previous Sunday.  I am convinced that is the reason Ashlyn could speak clear as day the moment she said her first word.  For several days of the week, she was the only person there for me to talk to! 

Anyway, all I could think of was that experience.  I did not want to go back to that place again.  After getting the call within a few mintues, I was scouring the internet looking for mom support groups and preschools for the kids.  God is so great because I found both of those things.  I got up the next morning and e-mailed the MOPS group and got a very quick response.  The first mom I talked to has SIX kids.  God is good!  She was a wealth of information and encouragement and also put me in touch with someone else in the group who directed me to a preschool.  I called the preschool and secured the only 2 spaces left for Aiden and Anna.  Again, God is so good!

Then, my worry turned to the parsonage.  After contacting our DS to get more information we recieved word that the house has 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms, a living room, a dinning room, a den, a full basement, pastor's study, and TWO ovens in the kitchen.  It has a big front porch and sits on 5 acres, 3 of them wooded. It sounds like this house was made for us.   Again, God is so so good!  

The more and more I talk to people about the area, the more I know we will love it.  It seems to be a very close knit and caring community.  Lake Chatuge runs through the whole town.  The boys will love fishing there with their dad and we will all love going to the beach and swimming.  The kids are already discussing what tree the tire swing will hang from.  There are Upward Sports, a spectacular public library, a public pool, several summer Bible camps, a MOPS group, a Cub Scout pack, and a great homeschool co-op/network.  I have been wrestling with a call to homeschooling for several years, so after much prayer and discussion we decided this week to go ahead with our homeschool plans for the fall after contacting the co-op up there.  We have also been told that there are other large families in the area.  Everyone I have contacted has been so welcoming and full of resources and information.  The Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds are there as well, and I am excited to check out the weekly farmer's market and produce stands.  What I am learning is that just because a place is rural does not always mean that there is nothing going on there.  I'm looking forward to my kids having the opportunity to experience a slower paced more wholesome way of living away from the hustle and bustle of metro Atlanta.  Sometimes what we think we want is not always what we need. 

As we prepare to leave Waleska UMC, I find myself reflecting over the past 5 years.  It certainly has been a rocky road from day one.  We learned late in the appointment making process that we were moving and the church was none too happy to loose their pastor and recieve a new one.  So, our start here was rough.  I do believe that many of our problems over our time here stem from that one thing.  I also believe that in our Methodist system, sometimes there can be just a bad match.  As hard as this appointment has been, I can finally say that I am grateful for the experience.  I never thought I would be able to say that, but I can now.  It truly has changed our family and our perspective on ministry and our calling.  It has helped us to identify our passions and zero in on what and who we are called to. 

One of those things is family ministry.  Sam and I never set out to have 5 children.  It is certianly something that God has led us to and that we have grown into.  We have a passion for reaching into the lives of families in crisis.   After all, there were several times over the past 5 years that our own family was in crisis.  I can talk about it now, but it is hard to admit that there were several times that thoughts of walking away from my marriage entered my head.  Not because I did not love my husband and my marriage dearly, but because I was buckling under the pressure of his calling. At times I just did not want this life.  It was too hard!   I look back and am baffled by how we were able to function through some of that.  All I can say is that God literally carried us through.  I picture in my mind, Him scooping us up in His arms and carrying us to the other side.  What other explaination is there?  By all accounts, we should be finished.  The things we have been through have completely destroyed other clergy families.  We know of people that it has happened to;  broken marriages and rebellious angry children who walk away from the church all together.  I am so grateful for His Grace!  I believe He saved my marriage and my family.  The least I can do in return is be available and open to reaching out to other families that need Him.  The family was the first institution that God created.  Sadly, I feel like the enemy and our society is slowly attacking this institution in so many ways.  It's our foundation. If the enemy can weaken or collapse the foundation then he thinks he has won and can devour more souls. However, we know that Jesus has already claimed victory!  I pray that our family can do our part for the foundation of the family and play a small role in building God's Kingdom!

God has also given us a vision for teaching children about the Lord and the Bible and equipping parents to instill biblical truths into their children.  Our society has become so biblically illiterate.  Not only that, but we just don't believe what the Bible says or that it even applies to us anymore.  God's Word is relevant yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  We are praying about it, but one day we would love to see this vision turn into some kind of non profit ministry to work to instill biblical literacy in children.  We even have some ideas for a name for that ministry. 

So, as we depart and say good bye to our current ministry post, Waleska UMC, I choose to take the lessons that I have learned here and the wonderful memories of the people who have supported us and loved us, but also to leave my saddness, disappointment, hurt, and anger as I go.  This week I have felt the burdens and baggage that I have been carrying for so so very long start to be lifted from my shoulders.  I have been very angry for far too long!  God has used every difficult and hurtful situation to strengthen me for His work.  I still have a very long way to go, but I have learned so much and I am so grateful for what He is doing in my life and the lives of my husband and my children!  I can't wait to see what He has in store for our ministry in Hiawassee!  One thing I know for sure is that we were faithful to our calling at Waleska and I can see clearly how He is rewarding and blessing our faithfulness in moving forward!

God is so good! 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hello again

So I started this blog a while back and then fell off the wagon.  I really do want to get into doing this.  So here is my latest attempt.  Alot has happened since my orginial entry.  We have added another sweet baby to our family.  Avery Benjamin was born on Jan 18, 2012, just one day shy of his big brother Aaron's birthday.   Had he been born the next day, we would have two sets of Jan. babies born on the same day of the month.  In case you did not know, Ashlyn and Aiden share a birthday on Jan 28th.  They are five years apart.  So now we have 4 January babies.  Anna is our only April baby. 

So as the weather gets warmer, my 33rd birthday gets closer, and June approaches, a new appointment year in the UMC, we look forward to what God has in store for our family. 

I hope to be able to keep up with this and also figure out how to add pictures the way I want to.  I am so technlogically challenged!