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Creativity

I love to make soap, lotion, lip balm, and candles. I love puttering in my kitchen mixing up herbal remedies and health-supporting herbal tea. I love this part of homemaking. If I didn't write what I do, mostly memoir and introspection, I would write more about these interests and exploits.

This is a tension I feel in my writing, I have a strong desire to share soap recipes, herbal how-to's and similar health and homemaking content but I have a stronger cognitive, emotional, and spiritual need to write through my experiences. And we all know there is only so much time.

But sometimes the right opportunity presents itself to satisfy the desire I have to teach these skills.

This winter I am so pleased to be partnering with Heather Bruggeman to offer a soapmaking tutorial as part of her Hibernate Winter Retreat.

Skip to here to register for Hibernate, or keep reading for why I love this course so much.

Winter is a great time to make soap. There's just something about fall and winter that stirs in people the desire to "make stuff". It's the increasing hours we spend indoors, it's the natural rhythm of preparing for and enduring winter.

For two winters now I have been singing the praises of Hibernate. Hibernate has been a winter game changer for me. Hibernate gave me the permission I needed to do what my body calls me to do in the heart of winter: burrow, rest, care for myself, drink lots of hot beverages, make things.

Hibernate has been more than a course, it's been a gentle "call to action" for me to honor my body's natural rhythms, live seasonally, nurture my creativity and grow my skill in domestic arts.

When I look back to that list I wrote of things I love about homemaking; making soap... candles, herbal remedies and tea mixes, the influence of Heather's courses is clear. It was three years ago, inspired by Hibernate content, that I started making my own herbal tea mixes. A skill I have since studied more, so that now, I confidently prepare specific blends for our family's winter health needs, using the right herbs for specific symptoms and support. (I'm excited to see that this year Rachel Wolf is offering herbal Winter Wellness recipes as part of Hibernate.)

My favorite candles, the ones I made a few weeks ago and have been burning daily, I learned that recipe from Heather. The herbal chai I've adapted to my own, that too started with a recipe from Hibernate. Throughout my home there are touches everywhere of Hibernate offerings: things I've made (felted bowls), art I've pursued (Hibernate introduced me to meditative drawing, which was the springboard into my own Zentangle practice), and ideas I've learned (my vision board).

Heather teaches hands-on, inspirational and practical, content-rich courses. So much content that you will need to pick and choose which lessons and projects, offered as stand-alone ebooks, one for each day of the course, you will embark on. There will be more in the course than you'll have time to do in the course period. But you'll have all the material, in those tidy little e-books and video teaching, everything you need to pick up a project or idea during the long weeks of winter. Of note, this year's Hibernate Online Retreat is all new content.

Where I live winter is long. And if we look at that positively, winter gives us lots of time to learn a new skill or incorporate a new homemaking habit or idea into our life.

I want to just say something here about having the heart of homemaker.

I am a homemaker. This is the work I love to do. I was raised by a homemaker and grew up surrounded by a community of women, my aunties, who were homemakers. Almost all these role models, my mother included, worked outside the home also, part-time or full-time, depending on the stage of family life, but these women made homes first and foremost. This is my heritage but it is also my heart.

I love nothing more than putzing around my house, tidying spaces, devising better systems of organizing. I love making beautiful and useful things for our home. Not a ton of things, we don't have the space and I lean to warm minimalism, as a style, if there is such a thing.

I don't love, nor do I put my hands to, all the tasks associated with traditional homemaking. I don't really like cooking. I'm not a baker. I don't quilt. I don't spend a lot of time or energy on decorating. I don't host the large gatherings I grew up watching my mother execute with aplomb. (My mother is amazing in her gifts of large gathering hospitality, she's my hero.)

I have grown into my own expression of homemaking, my own standards of homemaking. And what I consistently find is that Heather's courses meet me where I'm at, as they would meet the seamstress, the knitter, the cook, the baker, the candlestick maker.

But lest I give you the wrong impression, Hibernate is not just about homemaking, it's also about our emotional and physical well-being this time of year. It's about attending to yourself during the season of winter. Listening for the lessons of winter, enjoying what this season alone can offer us. It's not a "do more" message. Craft, quilt, knit, sew, cook, bake, host,... a frenzy of activity for the winter. Like Heather says, "Starting where you are, and working with what you have, you will pick and choose the projects, prompts, recipes and inspiration that speak to you."

Hibernate is about nurturing a certain kind of environment, in our hearts and our homes, as an expression of love for our families and ourselves. It's a retreat to help us create a physical space where our winter needs for rest, reflection, and creativity can be met.

When Heather asked if I'd like to contribute a soapmaking tutorial for this year's Hibernate retreat, I gave a hearty yes, delighted that I could contribute to such a great course.

I am so excited to share this tutorial with you. You may remember from a previous post that I had been working on a soapmaking course, but set it aside because I don't have the time in this life season to produce a complete course, as envisioned. But I so want to share some of that material with you, and Hibernate is the perfect place for doing that.

In addition to learning how to make soap, you will get all the other good stuff Heather teaches. Lucky you!

I have poured my heart, head, and hands into this soapmaking tutorial. I have created an easy, yet luscious, beginners recipe for you. I have tested this recipe repeatedly to minimize your risk. I have broken it all down, step-by-step, with photos, video, and written instructions so that you can make a lovely batch of soap with confidence and ease.

I want you to enjoy the beauty of homemade soap this winter. To learn a skill, a very old domestic art, that will bring enjoyment to your winter days and help nourish your dry skin.

Join me at Hibernate.

You can find the full description of Hibernate 2017 here.

I have a little request, if you decide to join the class, could you please use this link to make your purchase? It's a Thank You page that says Hibernate 2017 Renee Tougas under Item. Heather and I are trying an affiliate arrangement* for this class and this link tracks those purchases for us. (Thanks, I really appreciate it.)

Heather prices her courses to make them as accessible as possible. As someone who has taken a few online courses, from various sources, I can tell you the value you receive from Heather's courses is well beyond the price you pay. I go back and reference material from her courses all the time.

In addition to this great value Heather offers a two-for-one special for the first few days of registration. She knows that you will want to share this material with a friend and she offers you a way to do this. That two-for-one deal ends 12/19.

Special note to my Canadian friends and readers: the exchange on the dollar is a killer for making purchases in US dollars. If you want to take this course but the exchange rate is too steep for you (I hear you!) take advantage of the two-for-one friend deal. Don't know anyone to split the cost with? Find a friend here on my blog.

Leave a comment that you want to split the cost with someone. I'd love to play matchmaker. Heather does the same thing on her blog. Comments are open for people to find friends to split the two-for-one cost. I am using comment moderation right now to control some spam problems but I will check diligently and approve comments as quickly as possible to expedite the process. Also email me renee at tougas dot net if I forget.

Right now, I am not offering this soapmaking tutorial as a stand alone product. For now, it is nested within Hibernate.

Hibernate Registation is open today and will remain open for approximately one month, till the course starts in mid-January. But for the next seven days only you can purchase two-for-one registration. Pay the cost of one registration and you get access for two people. What a great holiday gift for a friend, sister, daughter, or mother.

If you want to learn how to make soap, if you want to participate in a beautiful winter retreat, if you're looking for ways to honor your body's seasonal rhythm, if you want to be part of a community of likeminded women (level of involvement is entirely up to you) who desire to create a health, relationship and soul-supporting home environment this winter, I do hope you'll join us for Hibernate.

* See this page for an explanation of affiliate arrangements.

Damien and I went backpacking this past weekend in the Adirondacks. This was the first backpacking trip we have taken since the we hiked the Appalachian Trail (for 6 months) and it was our first trip alone, without the children.

I loved it. I loved the trail, the mountains (though the trails straight up the mountains were a bit brutal). I loved waking up on Sunday morning to a frosty wonderland. I loved being with my husband in the outdoors. In all our years and many miles of backpacking, this felt to me like our best outing ever. This was our first trip with our 20th Anniversary fund I mentioned in this post and I am already anticipating November's adventure together.

Our three day trip, you can read my trail journal here, was the perfect way to transition to fall. We had some rainy weather, some frost, but also crisp blue skies and the glory of autumn foliage. It was amazing.

The turning of the season is an important marker for me. During the threshold from one time of year to another I like to think about the coming months and plan accordingly. I function best when I align my daily/weekly/monthly actions and expectations with seasonal rhythms. I feel disingenuous, inconsistent and just "off" when the pace of my life, my cycles of productivity and rest, and the direction of my inner compass doesn't correspond with these rhythms.

I've had seasons in my life where my cycles of productivity and rest did not align with my body's natural seasonal rhythms. Mid-winter seasons that required "high energy", or times when I set myself up to do certain projects without taking into account the limitations and opportunities of the season. "Make hay while the sun shines" is a cliche for a reason, it makes a whole lot of sense. These occasions when I have felt out of sync with the season have been really instructive for me and taught me the importance of honoring my natural rhythms throughout the year.

Sometimes we come to know and recognize what really works for us by bumping up against things that really don't work for us.

There are so many creative ways, big and small, that people celebrate and honor seasons. The home decor, greeting card, and craft industries, not to mention coffee shops with their pumpkin lattes, are kept alive by the natural desire we have to form rituals and routines around seasonal changes.

Over the years I've explored all kinds of decorative, creative, and crafty expressions of the seasons in our home. As a wanna-be-minimalist I don't do much with seasonal decorating anymore, though I love sprays, wreaths, and bouquets of spring pussy willows, summer flowers, autumn pumpkins and winter bittersweet. And I adore seasonal handmade, non-kitschy textiles - quilts, needle felting, stitching. I just don't make any of that myself and have limited space to store and display such beauty.

Photography (and online publishing of those photos) and gardening largely fill the need to creatively and visually express the seasons in a way that is more suited to my overall values and aesthetic than mass-produced, store-bought decor.

But honoring the seasons is so much more than creative and visual expression, it's more than mums and hay bales in autumn and potted pansies in spring. Seasonal living influences the type of outdoor activities I do and the foods I prepare for my family. Seasonal living is about recognizing the changes in my energy levels and changes in productivity, and being ok with that. Over the years I have become better at giving myself permission to go with the flow in this area and to honor my internal compass.

Embracing the seasons is partially a mindset, choosing to view my circumstances through a certain lens or shift in perspective. But it is also action-orientated, becoming conscious and intentional about what I plan for and commit to during different seasons, both life seasons and calendar seasons.

This is one of the chief ways I feel disconnected and out of place in the world-at-large, because so many systems operate on aseasonal rhythms. (I looked it up, it's a real world.) And yet I've come to depend on that for my survival and comfort. I'm complicit in that system, so I can't be all "nose up in the air" about it now, can I?

One of the things I am most drawn to in the modern homesteading movement, and more generally, the simple living philosophy, is the return to and the emphasis on seasons. This is also why I love the Waldorf education philosophy.

My urban Montreal life isn't a homesteading reality. And I don't think the large garden, canning, cheese-making, hunting and raising animals, fill-in-all-the-blanks, is anywhere in my future. I'm inspired by those things, but I don't aspire to do them, and I don't think I need to in order to live seasonally.

Sometimes very simple things, creative projects and intentional actions can help point your inner compass to align with nature and the season.

In a four seasons culture like Canada, people do this all the time as a necessity (regardless of their inner compass). Changing our wardrobe from summer to winter, reorganizing the mudroom and closets to hold boots and parkas, switching out swimsuits and beach towels for sweaters and toques.

This year I've been using a very simple tool to mark the change in seasons. It's something fun and light-hearted, doesn't require a lot of storage space, and is extremely practical for me.

I'm using colored gel pens in my journal.

This is my first year of bullet journaling, and I love it. I've started to write about using a bullet journal, but haven't finished that series.

I use my journal for managing my weekly calendar and daily to-do's, but I also use it as a place for spiritual growth field notes, creative inspiration, and keeper of other good ideas.

I've been using gel pens to draw attention to spiritual insights I've written, to focus my attention on the truths on which I want to meditate. I also like to highlight special days and events, and since March I've been writing brief monthly summaries and I use the gel pens to highlight the dominant words or themes from those summaries.

I've never kept this type of journal before. The Bullet Journal concept gave me an organizing tool that helps me bring together my to-do lists, monthly summaries, planning pages, conversations with God (prayers), spiritual reflections etc. I love the integration of all these.

I'm using seasonally-colored gel pens in my journal and I'm also making "inspiration" pages for each season. This started back in January, when I created my winter wellness plan, as part of Heather's Hibernate course. (I credit Heather with helping me to honor and celebrate my seasonal tendencies. Her blog and her courses, which bring together a community of likeminded women around excellent teaching, have affirmed this aspect of my being, and helped me to grow in my confidence as I set personal boundaries and make plans for each season.)


I don't like the blue tinge to these printed photos

This past winter I printed the photo collages from my winter wellness plan, paired it with a Zentangle I completed last December and ta-da, a inspiration page for the season was created. And having made one for winter I decided to follow-through for each season of the year: winter (January-March), spring (April-June), summer (July-September), fall (October-November) and holidays (December). Yep, five seasons in my year. In my life, in my home, in my internal landscape, late November through December is a season unto itself.

Each seasonal inspiration page in my journal is different but the colors, images, text etc. are inspired by the theme for that season, and the colors I've chosen to represent that theme.

Here are the colors I chose for this year. And the themes I wanted those colors to represent.

Winter:

  • colors: icy blue & sparkling (champagne) orange
  • essence: sparkly, crystalline, warm, golden
  • a time to rest in the warmth and feel invigorated in the brisk air

Spring:

  • colors: lime/celery green & lilac purple
  • essence: fresh, pretty, clean
  • a time for hope, renewal, a fresh start

Summer:

  • colors: raspberry red, sunset/calendula orange, dark purple highlight
  • essence: juicy, vibrant, lush
  • a time of high energy, growth, bold colors, bold living

Fall:

  • colors: goldenrod/sunflower yellow, chestnut brown, blue highlight
  • essence: golden, gathering, readying
  • a time to get ready for winter, to gather in and around

Holiday:

  • red, star-studded midnight blue, candle light yellow
  • essence: contemplative, saturnalia
  • a time for both merry-making and drawing in

I haven't yet created my fall inspiration page, I would like to do a "vining" type drawing. I see orange, pumpkins, goldenrod, brown leaves, a cornucopia of the fall harvest. It's all in my head and I wish I was a better artist to get it onto paper. Maybe I can do something with Zentangle drawing techniques. We'll see. It's a fun creative project to think about and execute.


winter color themed Zentangle

I wasn't able to find the exact color of gel pens I wanted for each season, I've made due with what I've found. I haven't owned any gel pens before this project so it's been fun to buy two new pens at the threshold of each season.

Last Monday I bought my fall pens, I couldn't get the brown I wanted, but the two colors I picked are a nice combination regardless. And my summer pen combination was not what I originally planned for either. I switched out the orange when I realized it would look like repeat of winter, so I went with a strawberry pink (Sakura Metallic) and a gold tinged purple (Sakura Gold Shadow).

My goal with the gel pens was to have different colors for each season even though I feel green could be used to represent all seasons, but then again the same is true for red, yellow and blue.

Anyway, it's not about picking the perfect color, it's about enjoying a creative expression of each season. And recognizing, in simple and pretty ways, that each season has a different energy for me, a different vibe. And sometimes they seem to contradict each other: merry-making and contemplation, for example. But these are true expressions for how I experience the different seasons, for how I experience the change in light, change in temperature, change in energy, change in focus.

My focus this fall is to gather the supplies to support our physical wellbeing through winter, to continue my preparations for cold and flu. To gather in around learning and learning routines, to adjust once again to the co-op schedule. To gather supplies and make body care products, a perfect November activity. And to ready ourselves for winter fun, saving for a ski pass and searching for used skates.

I will have to do things that don't align with my seasonal rhythms, that's life. But having an expectation for the season, an intention based on inner knowing and past experience, points me in the direction I want to go.

The defining feature from our month of May was the drama production at our homeschool co-op. The yearly musical theatre is one of the keystones to our homeschool co-op and it's one of the (many) reasons we joined.

Putting on a show serves a few purposes: it gives our kids training and experience in theatre, it brings the group together in the way that only intense, creative endeavors do, and it's the primary annual fundraiser for the co-op.

Brienne has long desired to be in theatre, she is what you'd call a natural. The reason we moved to Montreal was for our children to have these kind of experiences.

This was our family's first experience with musical and theatrical performance. (The girls each took a year or two of dance when they were little and we lived in Maine, and they performed in recitals as part of that, but those were minuscule commitments compared to this production.)

The production was an adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, titled Tradition... TRADITION.

Our creative children, with no prior experience or training, dove headfirst into the endeavor, adding their own skills, talent, and interests to the troupe's existing dynamic.

Brienne and Celine, who had been taking drama class since January of this year, were actors and chorus members, with lines to learn and parts to sing. Brienne played the role of Chava, one of the main characters. Celine sewed costumes, helping out the costume director. She also designed posters, the playbill cover, and welcome sign.

Laurent, not a drama student, helped with the technical team, operating the slide-show which projected the scenes. He assisted the costume director with odd jobs, served as usher, and was tasked with fine art projects.

One of the things I so greatly appreciate about the co-op is the way the students' gifts are taken into account in the very choosing of the projects, and roles and responsibilities given. Our own children contributed to the whole, based on interest and ability, and were challenged to grow in those capacities, as well as trying new things they were unfamiliar with. What a wonderful opportunity.

I am a proud parent; our children shone, along with the rest of the cast and crew. They shone because they were coached and mentored by fabulous teachers, directors, and more experienced students; they practiced and worked hard; and because we, as the homeschool parents, created an atmosphere and opportunity for them to do so.

We sold out the show within the first couple weeks of ticket sales, had to add another show, which also sold out in a couple days. All told, we ran five shows in four days.

I'm relieved and exhausted.

The production is over and it went very well. As with all things of this nature, there were emergencies, glitches and errors, and the show went on, with aplomb and enthusiasm. And garnered rave reviews.

I am relieved about all that but I am also relieved that we were able to add this to our repertoire of homeschool and family life experiences. That after years of living removed from such opportunities we could step into this kind of experience.

But it was intense.

And not just because performance and production is intense, which it is, but because parents are the ones who make it happen. And I am one of those parents.

This drama production exists because parents make it possible. Some of these parents are uniquely talented and experienced with music and theatre - they are the show directors. Others organize and mastermind. Others cook. Others sew. Others drive (oh, do we drive). Others design. Others manage children backstage. If your kid is in the play, you too have a part.

Damien and I believe that family life and parents should be the primary influence and social dynamic in children's lives, even through adolescence. Which is just one of the reasons we decided, years ago, to homeschool for the long haul.

Even though family is the primary influence, the circle of interaction, experience, and opportunities must expand as children grow. And if you're homeschooling, especially homeschooling through high school, parents are often instrumental in building community and providing enriching opportunities and experiences.

I am so thankful for the influence I have in my teenagers' lives, for the close relationship Damien and I share with them. I am a co-creator and collaborator in their social community. I know almost all the parents of all my kids' friends, and many of them are my friends. This feels like a gift and a blessing, which it is, but is also a fruit.

It is the fruit of a lot of labor because the endeavor of building community for teenaged kids, kids in general, requires effort and sacrifice. There are things we have sacrificed in this life season, and priorities that have shifted, so our children can be an integral part of their homeschool community.

When our kids were little, assuming responsibility for their education was not a decision we made lightly but we didn't really understand the long-term ramifications. You never do.

I wrestled with the ramifications of that decision all last month. In truth, I wrestle a lot with this. You can hear some of my frustrations in my previous post. Damien and I call these the whoosh years and May typified what I mean by that.


fundamentalist homeschooled children?
no, just girls in costume playing soccer during a rehearsal break

I felt challenged every day. I struggled with sacrifice and selfishness.

My inner world, my writer's world, craves silence and reflection. I need time to read and to ponder and think about ideas. I want to examine my life, not just live my life. I need to write my way through and when that time is limited I get antsy. And my faulty thinking can get the upper hand on me if I'm not careful. (The ways things are today are the way they will be forever, that kind of thing.)

What about my goals?, I moaned from time to time, temporarily forgetting the truth that participating in this production was the fruition and culmination of previous goals and dreams - to find a thriving homeschool community for our growing children.

It was a taste of the Appalachian Trail all over again. Which is to say, it's exactly like life. You have a goal, you set a course and when inevitably that course gets rocky, steep, and sticky with sweat, you think why is this so damn hard? And you remember, ah yes, because good things require hard work. Fruit is the reward of labor.

And you think for the 100th time, if it wasn't for the companions with me on this journey there is no way I'd be doing this.

Which is exactly why we're doing this, why we invest ourselves in teenaged community, homeschool community, and doing hard things together - because of the relationships. The relationships for our kids and for ourselves.

Homeschool parents sign themselves up for a challenging task. We have not passed the torch for our children's education into the hands of a system or an institution. We carry that torch ourselves. The wonderful thing about being part of a homeschool community is that they help us hold it up.

I'm so grateful to be part of a community that provides, through the incredible effort of parents and families, opportunities for greatness and service, high expectations and accommodations, hard work and lots of fun.

Which is not to say we're a perfect group of people. There's "stuff" in our families and community, but there is support for the stuff we are going through, and there are boundaries to ensure everyone's safety; emotional, physical, and otherwise.

It's not the absence of "stuff" that creates a healthy community, a healthy marriage, a healthy family. Hard stuff is the result of our own brokenness, our unfortunate birthright as children of Adam and Eve. And when we pretend there isn't suffering and difficulty in our life, it's a lie at best, and a cancer at worst.

What builds healthy teenagers and healthy families, is having community that will support you through your stuff. People to hold you up, and hold you accountable. People to say, "I've got you covered". People who help rub off your sharp edges. People to pray with you and cry with you. People who will agree to disagree. People who will help discipline and disciple your kids. People who will be those other adults in your child's life to mentor and guide when you are not the best person for the job.


This post sat in draft mode for days because I couldn't write a conclusion on that note. Gratitude for togetherness, we need each other, the importance of community; all sounds so great but it is not the whole story, or the end of the story.

I am tired, physically and emotionally. All that social engagement which my teenagers enjoy and crave, is only ok for me in much smaller doses. You could say I've overdosed.

We crossed my personal boundaries for face-to-face engagement and out-of-the-house commitments many miles ago. Because of commitments on top of commitments I am only now starting to catch my breath, even though the drama production wrapped up at the end of May.

Many other parents "seem" to manage this level of involvement just fine. I've struggled with feeling inadequate and selfish compared to these parents. I'd rather be at home gardening, writing and reading than engaging with people every. single. day. And driving to engage with said people. (And these are wonderful people! They are great to be around.)

Perhaps they, like me, acknowledge this is just for a season. And so, like me, they keep most of their personal angst to themselves.

It's been too much of a good thing.

This last month has been flat out busy and scheduled-to-the-max. End of term projects, visiting family, my trip to Toronto, kid friend birthday parties, the year end co-op celebration, long rehearsals, performances (an extra performance), a youth ministry meeting at church, many shared meals (which build community yes, but also wear me out), birthday celebrations (Celine turned 17!), a post-production cast and crew dinner, debrief and impromptu dance party (best dance I've gone to in my whole adult life, we didn't get home till 1:30am), doctor's appointments, and a homeschool convention all piled up on each other.

This may be "typical" end-of-school-year stress for many families, but it's new to us.

Damien and I have been doing this together. Thank God or I'd really be done for. I feel we have pushed the boundaries of what is healthy. Oh the irony! Healthy marriage, healthy family, healthy teens... rings false in my ears when I am worn thin right now from community. We need companions for the journey, yes, but right now what I need is no companions, no journey. Just rest.

And time to do some of the other work I've had to put off for the last three weeks.

Sitting here with this tension, and having had lots of discussions about this with Damien, I draw on the truth that this is all part of the experience, a necessary part of building healthy family culture and healthy community. A time to re-establish boundaries and re-assert individual and family limits. A time to recalibrate and learn from what we've experienced.

A time to withdraw, because not only is fruit the reward of hard labor, so is rest.

My inner manager falsely believes all discomfort, overcommitments, and periods of overextending ourselves could be eliminated if we only managed things better. Not so.

To some extent yes, good management has the potential to produce better results for all involved. Good drama production management, good home management, good community management. But so much lies outside of our control, and we're usually stuck with making the best decisions we can based on the current information available and then living through the consequences of that. And then we make adjustments for future, based on what we've experienced.

That's called learning. That's called life.

Family life, homeschooling life, teen life must allow for that type of learning also.

I love to keep things well managed in my life, under control. But when things veer out of control is when I have to dig down into one of life's most important spiritual lessons.

When life spins outside of my well managed schedule with its neat and tidy boxes, and I cannot rely on my own strength, I have an opportunity to learn how to rely on the Holy Spirit.

I didn't intend to hit you with a previously unmentioned idea right here at the end. Not good writing form, but I'm pretty sure this is the reason I couldn't conclude this post, I wasn't telling the whole truth.

The truth is, I could not do this thing called parenting, marriage, homeschooling teens, without the breath, or living waters, of the Holy Spirit in me. And I can't do community, the kind I wrote about above where you rub off sharp edges, pray and cry together, agree to disagree, etc. without the power of the Holy Spirit.

I hesitate to write about this (which is no doubt why the idea didn't work its way into this post earlier), because I want to write in a language that is accessible to a wide spectrum of readers.

So this is how I'd explain the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

If I didn't have the faith that a divine power, a resurrection power, is available to me, I'd run out of the essence of what I have to give.

What I give, to my family and community is expressed, for better or worse (oh the constraints of being human!) in a Renee skin and skill set. But I cannot give living waters from an empty well. I can only give what has been given to me and so I desperately need the Spirit in my life.

There is a lot of talk these days about soul care filling the well. The power of the Holy Spirit in my life is the ultimate soul care, the source that fills my well.

Truer than true: I cannot be who I am called to be in my own strength.

What I want to be, as a mother, a community member, a wife, a writer, is way beyond what I am capable of doing in my own strength. I need divine inspiration. I need the Divine. And this is what I know as the Holy Spirit. It is what I intentionally connect with and seek out when I meditate and when I consciously stop, in the course of my day, to breathe deep. It is the reason I seek solitude, gardening, and good books, so I can hear the still small voice of the Spirit.

What I have to give is not something I dredge from within. What I give is something I surrender to; it flows through me (around the various obstacles I put in its way), changes me, enables me to contribute to community, serve my family, write this post.

I know I said that What builds healthy teenagers and healthy families, is having community that will support you through your stuff. I stand by that, I strongly believe in being part of building and supporting healthy teen culture in the context of family and community.

In addition to that, the conclusion I'm seeking for this post, is that what builds a healthy homeschool mom, at least this mom, is to rely on the Holy Spirit to fill my well.

To recognize that the inevitable seasons of life that move me beyond the zone of "well-managed living", beyond my control, what feels like miles beyond my boundaries, are the Divine opportunities to learn a most important truth: I cannot do this in my own strength. I can fight (and I tend to do that, wasting a bunch of emotionally energy), or I can invite the Holy Spirit to work through me.

And then I rest.

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