8 Ways to Make the Most of Summer

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Keystone, Summer of 2014

Beautiful beams of sunlight came beating down. My entire being felt overjoyed at feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. At last! How could we not spend most of the day outside? I stole away for 30 minutes alone in the sun to read and take it all in. Then we all went to the pool!

Yet as glorious as these summer days are, we may sometimes wonder how we going to make it through weeks on end with our kids around all the time and few fixed activities.  As a mom with four kids, I wonder how I can structure our days not just to fill the time but also to align (at least loosely!) with our family’s goals. We want to rest; but we also continue to live intentionally and with purpose.

Here are a few ideas…..

  1. Take a true break. Despite my natural desire to constantly create a learning environment for my kids, I need to let them truly rest. Sometimes the mental break from piano scales, math facts, or phonograms can actually help them return to those things with more energy than if we had kept going. I’m also often surprised at how much they learn in various environments even when there was no intention of getting them to learn something specific. If you’re visiting a new state park or venturing into a museum, let your kids and yourself just take it in. Learning can happen best when it happens naturally and ‘immersively’.
  2. Create a summer schedule. This may seem contrary to the first idea, but there may be portions of the summer where you want to completely rest and other portions where you need more structure. I’ve been feeling like we need a ‘new normal’ as much of what we were doing during the regular school year has ended. If we’re home for a decent portion of the day for the next few weeks, my kids know to look at our chalkboard for the daily schedule. It’s meant to be a guide so that they know what to expect– and so I’m not going completely crazy from the lack of any structure! A few ideas for creating blocks of time are: devotions, chores, read-aloud, Bible, stations for art activities, rest time/reading, and of course free time.
  3. Do something that doesn’t fit into the school year. My older girls really enjoy theater but we couldn’t quite fit it into our school year routine so they’re going to a week long theater camp. Oh, and swimming lessons of course. They all need to know how to swim!
  4. Read. If you don’t know what to do, it’s always a good choice to read! I created summer book lists for my girls according to their reading levels and interests. They can choose what to read from the lists…And there are rewards the more they read. (Who says you can’t incentivize them for a good cause!) It’s definitely working. For someone like me who loves reading, it is a true joy to see them devouring all kinds of books as we embark on this summer break.For me, my goal is to be reading fiction along with something deep and difficult that challenges both mind and heart. For the moment, I’m finishing Confessions by St. Augustine, starting The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and about to start #4 of the Harry Potter Series. If you’re in a season where you feel like challenging books are hard to pick up, but you want to stretch yourself, take a book like Confessions and just read a short section from it each day.  It may take longer than you want to get through, but the depth of content will nourish your soul.
  5. Get some serious sunshine. Vitamin D is good for all of us! Plus, if getting sun is our goal, we’ll also likely be going on adventures like hiking, camping, biking, soccer playing, swimming, and all things outdoors. (Or, maybe seashell hunting and surfing if you live in Florida!)
  6. Try something new. I would really like to learn how to sew, even just a bit. And for my girls to learn too. We’ll see if we can find a willing friend or teacher!
  7. Spend time in community. As a person who attempts to structure our lives in a very intentional way, I continue to feel like there is never enough time to spend with our friends. Somehow the windows in the school year seem small amidst the regular schedule. We are trying to be intentional about spending more time with friends in our community this summer.
  8. Take time to plan. I’ve been feeling the tension between rest and planning for the next school year. I’m committing to resting at the moment but am also taking bits of time here and there to be prayerful about the future. Along with praying, I’m also asking for input from my husband, friends, and mentors. I’m asking the Lord to gently nudge me in the direction of things and relationships to pursue and to help me sense other things to take a break from.

What about you? What are some of your favorite ideas for making the most of Summer?

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A Marvelous and Melancholy May: Reflections on Delight, Sadness and Longing

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.”
Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

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I’ve been thinking about writing for many weeks, but just haven’t been able to muster up the emotional energy to put any thoughts or experiences into words until now. I want to be someone who will speak in the strong moments in life and in the ones that don’t go as we hope. So here are some thoughts surrounding the latter.

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Outside Shakespeare’s childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The last month began with a gloriously delightful trip to England. Words wouldn’t adequately express how wonderful and soul-filling the trip was for me personally.  Eight days away from my children, with my husband, with friends, with great books, in London, in Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon– a luxury made possible because of Glenn’s wonderful parents and their willingness to be with our kids. These are places that I have desired to visit for many, many years. Plus, there was the plane ride where I read an entire book set in England! Brideshead Revisited brought me into the world of a man who had great desires, searching for something more than what he had known. Little did I know, I was about to enter a world that would captivate my imagination and passions.

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The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library in Oxford, home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of the mind.

Our days were filled with tours and walking around historical sites, wandering libraries centuries old, drinking too many flat whites, perusing used books stores with all my favorite books, and engaging in intellectual and invigorating conversation. My worlds were merging – I looked upon fragments of an ancient Sappho poem that my girls memorized this year. And the original handwritten, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. And an unexpected visit to Shakespeare’s home brought so much joy, having listened to a 16 hour audiobook last year about his life. I was ecstatic to see the places I spent so many hours reading about.

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Grahame’s original handwritten manuscript of the ‘Wind in the Willows’, which were a series of letters to his son whilst away on a long holiday.

I felt on top of the world, even if for a brief time.  If you know me, I’m usually the stable, steady type, emotionally. Rarely do I feel the heights or depths of extreme emotions. But I fell in love with so many facets of England, and I fell hard when I returned. Of course, part of this was likely due to the fact that I came home alone (Glenn stayed on for some meetings) to my four children whom I missed dearly but who still needed to be fed, bathed, listened to and the list goes on. I must have briefly forgotten all the physical and emotional energy it takes to run our home and educate our children on a daily basis! The whining and fighting that occurs daily and that I normally I tune out, was like loud gong and a clashing cymbal.

Upon my return home, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I usually ask myself this question if I leave home without my kids.  But normally its only for a couple days. This was 8 glorious days. Still, my answer was, ‘Yes’, of course, but I really felt like I paid a high price for my departure.

This particular time, I felt very emotionally down and sad. It was as if, being in some of the environments in England showed me how much I desired some of those elements to be a part of my daily life. Even though I read deeply, have great conversation with friends and mentors, it just isn’t the same. There is no way to re-create many of the experiences I had there.

And that’s just it, isn’t it?  We were made for another world. There are longings in our hearts that won’t ever be fully met on this Earth. Being made in the image of God, we have a sense that everything isn’t what it was created to be– ideas about how a perfect homeschool day could go, or the perfect walk in the woods, or a perfect relationship. Somehow our ideals often don’t seem to be the reality we live in.

May was also the time for endings. As I wrapped up the school year with my kids, there were numerous bittersweet moments– the ending of activities, programs, recitals, book groups, and even the saying goodbye to friends. All this amidst weeks on end of rain and hail, storms and gray, and sunless skies. I couldn’t shake a deep sadness in my heart that I knew was about longing.  A longing for things to be different.

Many days, I would begin to cry and call out to the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself, not to pull me out of the pain, but to call me to reach out to him in the midst of the difficulties. It was a call to grieve even the small things that didn’t turn out as I thought they might, a call to seek only Him in the midst of wanting to find my joy in the things He created.

I’ve been reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions and he talks about grief in this way: “Grief eats away its heart for the loss of things which it took pleasure in desiring, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.” Later in the book, he writes these soaring lines about true Joy: “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.

Sometimes we ask for God to show up in our circumstances and to fulfill a desire of our heart. Sometimes the circumstances change. Sometimes His Holy Spirit comes alongside us to walk with us in the midst of what we are going through. And this is the source of our truest Joy.