At the end of this past summer I shared a list of things I slid into learning that season: lessons learned almost by accident and without my knowing.

My learning experience this fall was opposite in almost every way. This season’s lessons have come through challenging circumstances and uncomfortable new awarenesses. It was an important season of growth and maturation, and I would not trade a single lesson here for a simpler season. But what I learned this fall did not come easily.

That isn’t to say that this was a terrible season, because it definitely wasn’t. It has been fun and fruitful and formative, with far more good than bad. It showed me, though, that God is always at work and that He is not bound by protocol or expectations.

I have entered an all-in season with my kids.

I understand that every new stage with kids (and in life in general) will look different: some seasons will be harder than others, and the same age/stage isn’t challenging for every family or every parent. Many moms who are a step ahead of me on this journey told me that once I got the twins through the early toddler years, life would get a little easier; and in many ways they were right: Kali and Sully are more independent now, as is Charleston, and parenting them has gotten physically and logistically less demanding. As we have entered this new school year, though, and since the twins turned three, we are facing new challenges: there are now sibling squabbles to navigate and lots of preferences to take into consideration and SO MANY QUESTIONS from my three curious, inquisitive, bright children. With their minds and spirits developing at such rapid rates, I have felt the tremendous responsibility of being their nurturer, caretaker, and guide in all things spiritual, academic, and life-skills. This is not a burden, and I relish the opportunities to pour into them spiritually, discipling my children in ways that they were not ready for just a few months ago; but this requires me to be on my game all day long. It can be exhausting and has me regularly dipping into my spiritual reserves throughout the day in order to pour out for them in the way I believe God has called me to do.

Our family needs to all be home for dinner most nights.

Because of the all-in nature of this life stage, Luke and I realized that our family needs to prioritize dinner as a family most (if not all) nights of the week. This was always our default, but at the start of this fall we started filling up our evenings with other things: Bible studies, date nights, more Bible studies, evenings with friends. They were all great things, but the busyness was taking a toll on our family and after two solid weeks in which we only had one family dinner, I realized we needed to scale back. We had to step away from a few groups we had been excited about; those were hard and sad goodbyes, but we know that those opportunities will come up again in the future and that we will never get back missed time with our three little ones.

Community doesn’t need to look “one way.”

The biggest challenge for Luke and me in bowing out of a few church groups was that we truly do value community with other believers. So we have gotten creative! Instead of leaving the kids a few nights per week, we are having friends over for dinner so that our whole families can fellowship together. Luke and I have multi-tasked our biweekly date nights, spending them with another Christian couple who is also eager to get together and talk Jesus-y things but was having trouble making a couple’s community group work. Luke and I are each reaching out to friends for one-on-one get-togethers during the day rather than in the evenings. I think I had always fallen for the belief that to be involved in community, it needed to look like Luke and me in a church-sponsored group that we attended together each week; now we are seeing that that simply isn’t the case. Christian fellowship IS crucial for our spiritual health, but the context and the format are variable.

Homeschooling family-style is tough, but also amazing.

I mentioned in my post about our homeschooling plans for the year that we have been doing more of our school as a whole family (as opposed to just Charleston and me doing school while the twins played in their room). My goodness, has this been challenging! There are lots of interruptions and questions, and it all takes about five times longer than I feel it should. But even these challenges have not dissuaded me from seeing the good in doing school this way. Much of the material is over the twins’ heads, but they are getting exposure to new ideas and to the concept of learning and school. For his part, Charleston loves having his brother and sister join him in his lessons, and his learning is solidified as he reteaches them what they’ve just covered. He takes his job as co-teacher to Kali and Sully very seriously, which has helped to deepen his understanding of our history, science, literature, and Bible lessons in some significant ways.

It’s okay to take a break “just because.”

You might recall that I took a weeklong break from blogging in early October. There was no real reason for the break other than my own lack of inspiration and bandwidth to get any posts out that week. This was not the first blogging break I have taken, but in the past my breaks have generally coincided with a holiday or an especially busy season, and that was not the case this time. And because I had no real reason not to blog, I experienced a lot of internal conflict over the decision—not because I worried that my content would be missed that week (though if you did miss hearing from me for a few days, I’m sorry!) but because I felt I was letting myself down or giving myself permission to stop caring. . . that I was giving in to laziness or lack of ambition, and that I was somehow a failure undeserving of this platform I’ve been given. Taking a break (even a short one) required me to lay my pride aside and acknowledge that I cannot handle all the things, all the time. It felt like a blow to my ego, but the humbling exercise was a great reminder that the world does not revolve around me and my ability to produce and create. Taking that break—one that likely went unnoticed by nearly everyone—was probably the most important spiritual exercise I engaged in this fall. I am always amazed (though I shouldn’t be!) that God can use something so seemingly insignificant to impart huge lessons and reminders of who I am in Him.

I’ve been underestimating Charleston’s spiritual maturity.

I attend a women’s Bible study Thursday mornings and this semester a shortage of childcare workers meant that there was no classroom for homeschooled kids over age five. Leaving Charleston home was not an option, so we settled on having him come with me to the study, sitting with me through the hour-long lecture. I had assumed he would use this time to read or color, but instead he chose to sit and listen. Afterwards we would discuss what we had learned (this semester’s focus was on identifying our God-given purpose, as seen in the book of 2 Timothy) and he always had some pretty awesome takeaways. This experience would pave the way for future discussions with him throughout the week and I could see that he was not just listening to the lectures but understanding and applying them. I had not thought he would be ready for content like this at age 7. I was so wrong!

Our van is not a necessity, but it is a luxury I’m very thankful for.

The damage our van incurred on our trip home from California in August (which I wrote about here) meant that we were without our van for more than five weeks in September/October. The initial estimate from the repair shop had been one week and we were certain we could survive as a one-car family for that short span of time. Five weeks sharing Luke’s 2007 4Runner was harder. There were scheduling logistics to navigate, not to mention a disastrous afternoon in which our single car broke down, our family of five was scattered across three locations, and we could not get assistance from AAA. (Thank goodness for amazing friends who offered the use of their vehicles, and rides, and roadside assistance during that debacle!) Our beach vacation (for which we had to pack a week’s worth of water and food and beach gear) in the 4Runner was also challenging. Through the whole ordeal I learned how much I take my (newer, bigger, nicer, more kid-friendly) van for granted, not to mention how convenient it is to have two family vehicles instead of just one. But the time with as a single-car family taught us a lot about relying on community (never before have I had to bum so many rides off of friends) and flexibility and our family’s ability to adapt when necessary. The limited space in the 4Runner also provided the prompting we needed to switch the twins into forward-facing carseats!

Potty training looks very different for each kid.

Potty training Charleston was one of the few parts of parenting that I didn’t overthink and that was exceedingly easier than predicted. I had a feeling things could not go so smoothly with the twins and I was not wrong. Whereas with Charleston I simply got rid of the diapers one day and that was that, the twins are requiring a little more . . . training. One of them (I won’t name names, I don’t want to throw my child under the bus) is having a harder time than the other (holy moly can my kiddo be stubborn!) and that is holding the other back. No, I don’t love that they are well over three years old now and nowhere near being fully potty trained. I know that there will be much more vigorous training ahead for us. In this (as with all things parenting) I am seeing how each child is unique and what works for one kid is not guaranteed to work for all.

Even the experts can get it wrong.

My mom shared this podcast about childhood reading with me and I was fascinated (and disturbed). The six-part show takes a hard look at a popular style of literacy instruction that has been proven ineffective. I was especially interested in this because many of the strategies explored (and debunked) in the podcast were taught to me in the early 2000s when I was getting my teaching credential; I actually used the curriculum discussed on the show. We thought those methods were effective, and for some students they were, but ultimately they were not best practices. I’m not in the classroom any longer, but a huge takeaway from the podcast (other than a few new ideas for how to approach reading instruction with my own three kiddos) was that I cannot necessarily trust advice being touted as the best. Ideas, even ones adopted by a lot of people, can be disastrously wrong, and the backing of “experts” is not a free pass to set my critical thinking cap aside.

Humans are terrible at predicting the future.

You might have noticed that a little thing called the mid-term elections took place a few weeks ago. And if you are like me and follow politics and the news fairly closely, you are aware of how surprising the results turned out to be. Every poll and commentator was anticipating a massive Red Wave, which dissolved into barely more than a Red Trickle. I have learned not to put my hope in politics or the outcome of elections; yes, they matter, but they are not ultimate, so the specifics of who was elected and who wasn’t was not especially devastating for me. What WAS harder for me to navigate was the massive inaccuracy of the predictions. Even individuals who have dedicated their lives to examining American politics and trends were way off. And if we can be wrong about things that should be easy to understand and predict . . . what does that say about our ability to foresee other future events? I am so glad I trust in an all-knowing God who is never surprised, because humans appear to be pretty terrible in determining what’s next.

Texas beaches can be beautiful.

Since moving to Texas in 2016 I have spent very little time outside of the Austin area, and I had yet to visit a Texas beach. Most native Texans (and especially Texas transplants) had assured me that I wasn’t missing out on anything, that compared with the Southern Californian beaches I am used to a Texas beach would be a disappointment. I was very pleasantly surprised by our beach experience in October. I cannot speak for all Texas beaches, as this is now the only one I have experienced, but I found Surfiside to be a delight. It was clean, the sunsets were incredible, and I loved the narrower expanses of sand, the calmer waves, and the shallow shores that were all very kid-friendly. I did find it a little odd that cars drove right up to the water, and I kind of missed the surfers, but overall I could not have been more pleased by the very-different but equally lovely Texas seaside.

I have fallen prey to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I have spent a lot of time this past month exploring the topics of apologetics and Biblical world view (largely through the work of Alisa Childers and Natasha Crain, among others). This deep-dive has opened my eyes to many areas in which my Biblical understanding was a little off base. I had been unknowingly absorbing untruths from teachers who claim to be followers of Jesus—most of whom are likely well-meaning, but whose teachings simply don’t align with Scripture. I am glad to be on this journey as I grow more discerning in filtering out God’s truth from the deceptions. But it has also been really hard to let go of some beliefs I wanted to be true and that have been exposed as lies. I will be sharing a lot more of this process in the future, keeping in mind that the refinement of my theology will be ongoing but my commitment to God (and His commitment to me) remains unchanged.

God doesn’t get disappointed with us.

Tara-Leigh Cobble shared this in a recent episode of her podcast with Candace Cameron Bure and it was just what I needed to hear in the moment. I had been starting to experience deep sadness and shame over the misguidedness of some of my beliefs (see previous bullet); but Tara-Leigh pointed out that God cannot be disappointed, because disappointment hinges on unmet expectations. . . and God, who is all-knowing, does not expect any more or any less of us than who and what He has made us to be. Yes, our sin grieves the Lord, but it does not surprise Him and therefore it does not disappoint Him. Our gracious Heavenly Father is not shocked when we go astray; instead He uses those wayward moments to draw us back to Him.

There are blessings to be found in going with the flow and trusting God with the outcome.

We have family photos taken every fall, and though I’m always glad that we have done them, it is consistently my most stressful endeavor of the year—so much so that I nearly decided not to go through with them this year. I had a feeling I would regret that decision, though, so I scheduled a session with our photographer and took the most low-key approach I’ve ever taken to getting coordinating outfits and having my hair and makeup done and getting everyone into smile-ready moods for picture day. Once I let go of the stress around our photos, everything went so much more smoothly than it has ever gone before. The twins napped earlier than usual on picture day and woke up in great moods (that never happens); the place I stumbled into finding for my hair and makeup proved to be a dream come true; our location was easy and beautiful; we had amazing weather and sunlight that afternoon; and the whole session was a breeze. And I was happier with this batch of pictures than our photos from any other year! I had spent a lot of time praying over that day (mostly that it would not be a disaster and that I would not be stressed about it); God did not have to answer that prayer, but He did, and in ways even better than I’d hoped to pray for. Yes, family pictures are such a trivial thing and it felt shallow to invite God into the process, but I am so glad that I did.

And also. . . is including this item on this seasonal WIL list just an excuse to share a sneak preview of our lovely family photos? Perhaps . . . but can you blame me? There’s plenty more to come, but this is one of my favorites:

Now it’s your turn, and I would love to hear from you: what did you learn this fall? Hard-earned or smooth slides, please share what God taught you in this season!

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