When I first heard about Christy my curiosity was pricked. Her husband Stephen was coming to play music at our church and I was so excited to meet her. Christy is a fellow blogger, wife to a touring musician, homeschooler on the road, mom to seven (now eight!), and a woman that carries the "less is more" flag high for family living. She is a breath of fresh air. I'm sure you will agree and I'm grateful to share her words with you today.
Tell us more about yourself; what is a regular day like for you?
As a mom, Amanda, you know there is no such thing as a regular day. Wink.
A little background: we live in travel trailer touring the country full-time for my husband's (really our family's) music mission (www.StephenBautistaMusic.com). That means there are ten people and a 125-pound dog living in about 240 square feet. We're in a different town every few days, switching time zones, switching schedules, switching climates. A regular day for me involves remaining flexible, remembering to focus on the priorities of God and family, and also trying to teach a little phonics and American history along the way.
More specifically, I'm a morning person in a home where one doesn't turn on a light for fear of waking everybody else two hours early. (At least, I was before my current pregnancy.) I pop up around 6:00, struggle to remember where we are, and then read and write. Nearly everything I write is done before my children are up; the exception is that a small child or two will crawl into my lap and go back to sleep while it's still dark.
Some mornings we have to be up and ready for worship services—we attend all of them, since some of the kids sing and others man the table, and it never hurts to hear a sermon twice...or five times, as is sometimes the case. Other mornings we have to move on down the road, so it's up and eat and carry the dishes into the church to wash and stow the trailer and down the road we bounce. We school in the van on those days. School is haphazard sometimes, but life is a lesson much better learned in the Bible and at the feet of others or in the canyons and on the mountain peaks rather than in the textbooks. Sometimes we stay put, which allows us to “do school” after breakfast like normal people. We school from Tuesday through Saturday; the older three or four do most of their work independently.
Two or three times a week we have evening concerts with social functions, so the kids are up very late. That's why we have no set bedtimes, “waketimes,” and school hours—because we have no set life. We have been both criticized and praised for what is simultaneously called irresponsibility and flexibility. We call it life.
How would you describe your unique role as a woman?
I don't believe my role as a woman is unique to me. It's simply carried out in a unique circumstance. As the wife of someone in the spotlight, it sometimes feels like I'm riding my man's coattails, especially when someone approaches me after a concert and asks, “Do you have any talent?” or “Why aren't you up there singing with him?” The in-my-head answers are “I make babies and milk” and “Because then you wouldn't still be here listening,” but out loud I humbly admit I have no spotlight talent.
My husband is quick to acknowledge that we—the children and I, not the dog—hold his hands up, like Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses when he didn't have the strength to continue God's calling on his own (Exodus 17:12).
Too often I let my husband's hands drop, but still, it's a beautiful picture, isn't it? If I took that role seriously all the time and held my husband's hands up, imagine the reserves he would have available for the Lord and for his family! Imagine.
What is your favorite Bible passage?
Most of my life I have been afraid. Some of my earliest memories are being afraid at daycare, being afraid on the school bus, being afraid in class, being afraid of being hungry, being afraid of being lost, being afraid of being sick, being afraid of growing old, being afraid for my children, being afraid of being alone, being afraid of being with people, being afraid of failing, being afraid of succeeding, being afraid of never trying...did I mention being afraid of being hungry?
You may have guessed that I suffer from anxiety, which, as a Christian, is humbling...almost humiliating. I can point out a two-year span of my life during which I constantly felt like I was about to tip over backward on a rocking chair—heart racing, mind racing, feet always moving and getting nowhere. It was a waste of time and a waste of energy and a black hole in my memory of family life, although the transformation of my hair from brown to grey was pretty fascinating for my kids.
My verse was and still is “Be still” (Psalm 46:10). Be still and know.
I doubt, I question, I stress, I re-stress, I fear, but in the end I always return to that verse. “Be still and know.” “Know that I am God.” Know that I have it all figured out, and whatever highways and back alleys I send you through, I'm getting you where I want you to be, and that's in my arms. So be still, baby girl! I've got you. Pat pat pat. Daddy's here.
Who is your strongest Christian mentor?
This is a difficult topic for me. I've always wanted a wise, as-close-to-perfect-as-humanity-gets older couple devoted to helping us be the wonderful parents, spouses, and Christians we could be if we had the right guidance. We've never had that. That doesn't mean I haven't had influences who guide me on the path of life.
My grandmother has a personality much like my own—for good and for bad. Recognizing the similarities early on has been very beneficial to me. She's willing to tell it like it is, which I need sometimes, and we relate to each other very well. It's been helpful to be in the ditches of life with another Christian who “gets it,” loves me, prays for me, and gives the down and dirty advice most people are afraid to dish out.
My mother did a wonderful job raising us and has a servant's heart. She is generous to a fault in the world's terms, and to God's glory in heavenly terms. I want that servant's heart.
My husband has an amazing gritty, real-world faith; he has held me on course more than I can say. It has been an honoring growing with him.
There are others:
- I have a couple of dear friends who radiate encouragement and compassion for others even during their own trials; I want that steadfast encouragement and selfless compassion.
- My brother's kindergarten teacher was the sweetest woman I have ever known; I want to be gentle like her.
- A mother who lost her only son in my youth—a boy who attended my dayschool—works with children every day and loves loves loves them all; I want to love like that.
- I've had a small number of teachers who have carved indelibly on my soul words that have helped form me; I want to use words that beautifully to help others grow.
- I have an aunt who sent me a card 19 years ago during a difficult time in our lives. In it she wrote a single line: “You'll be a wonderful mother.” She couldn't have possibly known how much I needed that encouragement and how often I sit alone in the dark moments and mentally re-read that little token of another mama's belief in me. I try to live up to that and to share that encouragement with others.
- I have a few online friends, one in particular, also with seven kids, also a homeschooler and writer, who radiates joy. I want that joy.
- There are many people who come into our lives for a moment, leave a mark, and are gone. They are gifts. I want to be a gift.
Perhaps most humbling of all is when our children become our mentors. I have one who has a servant's heart like her grandmother—why do I struggle here? I have one who is quick to compare everything she reads to Scripture—how can I make that my strongest crutch? I have two who are quick to forgive and love—oh, my weaknesses! I have one who was dealt a harsh hand in life, but who rises above it with joy and with a strength I never would have predicted in her—I can only watch in amazement. I have two who teach through their needs and their affections—they teach me to look to the needs of others, to look outward, to reach outward, and to draw others in. Children as teachers—it's a beautiful, humbling thing.
Any advice to encourage a husband in his faith and role in marriage?
Let him be strong, and let him be weak.
I admire my husband's strength. I love that he's strong and that he takes care of us and makes us feel safe, and I brag on his strengths to the kids—he may conveniently overhear from time to time. I don't subscribe to the notion that women are as strong as men in all areas, just because we give birth and the uterus is the strongest muscle in the human body; ultimately, I can't open a jar of pickles with my uterus, and if anything, giving birth has made me less emotionally stable. My husband is a man, and I value the emotional and physical strength that he brings to our relationship.
I also have to acknowledge and accept his weaknesses and let him be human. This is extremely difficult for me. I have to understand that he hurts, that he falls, that he fears. I have to be patient and compassionate with areas where I am strong and he is weak. When we are both weak together, I have to let him be a mere man and not demand that he be strong when no human being can stand up to some of the things that have been dealt us and not expect him to hold me up when there is no strength between us.
Together, we must turn to God in the weak times and the strong times.
More practically, a big lesson I learned the hard way is one which should be embroidered on every wife's underwear so she sees it first thing each morning as she's prepping for her day: Don't nag.
I used to tell my husband his faults, particularly in the areas of parenting and husband-ing, you know, just in case he was living under the delusion that he was perfect. I wished and nagged and cajoled. Finally I gave up and turned it all over to God in prayer and started nagging myself instead of my man. That's when the growth started in both of us—when I shut my big fat mouth.
Shut your big fat mouth early and grow faster.
Is there anything specific from Titus 2:3-5, our blog’s mission, that you can comment on?
Titus 2:3-5, “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
So few of us have been raised to be Titus 2 women in today's world. Much focus is placed on creating well -rounded Renaissance men and women, and little emphasis is placed on the value of simple kindness, goodness, and self-control. We're busy doing what needs to be done to compete with the world's standards which, unfortunately, trickle into the church and the Christian home. We must forsake the world's standards in actions, not just in words! If we don't take the time now to make Titus 2 women of ourselves and your daughters, before we know it, we will see our own weaknesses manifested in our children.
One way we can refocus is by being busy at home. Even in the homeschool realm, the mini-van seems to have become the new family gathering place. Swim lessons, music class, play dates, socialization exercises, sports, drama, debate, speech, preschool, pre-preschool, pre-preschool readiness, college at 12—where's the childhood? Where's the family? I see the busy, but I'm missing the “home.” I'm also missing the self-control, as parents spiral away from forming a strong family unit in an effort to...to what? Keep up with a man-made standard?
Even physically at home, the mind is often elsewhere—blogs, social media, a second job (is it necessary for survival, or is it necessary to keep up with the world), on the phone, creating Pinterest-perfect moments for the world to see instead of creating family-strengthening moments through which the family will grow together and build character.
Being busy at home is a beautiful thing, and our children will grow up learning and focusing on what matters most: faith, family, and home.
In the process, if we women could fill the gaps for each other, what a blessing that would be! We don't all have faithful mentors, but we all need them. If we could stop competing and instead encourage one another, guide each other, pray for and with our sisters, what a force we would be as we kneel before God's throne together on behalf of each other! I'm in. How about you?
What has been your favorite place to travel so far?
My favorite place to travel is always home. Sometimes home means wherever I see a familiar face. Sometimes it means home to Wisconsin to the family farm where I grew up and where my grandmother and mother still live.
Sometimes it means back to the majestic mountains and beautiful ruggedness of the wild west where most of my children were born and where our a big part of our hearts resides.
Sometimes it means some obscure place like a backroad in Vermont or a peak in the Cascade Mountains or a quiet river where something—some familiar pine smell or a chill in the air or a loon call—gives me that elusive feeling of home. I think it's just a little taste of heaven teasing my senses.
What do you feel is a threat to a woman’s faithfulness in her home?
Comparison is the devil's distraction and competition is comparison's partner in crime.
As a non-traditional nomadic homeschool mother in an extended family of traditional schoolers with some teachers in our midst all living in houses with reasonable numbers of children, it's tempting (tempting like when my three-year-old hands me her chocolate bar and says, “Don't eat this, Mommy”) to train and teach with the intention of staying one step ahead of other kids. Why? Because we know full well that the weird nomadic homeschooled kids are being measured against the “normal” kids, and the mama bear in me wants my own kids to measure up. It's validation that we're not raising unemployable nose-pickin' heathen social outcasts after all.
To win the comparison game, it's tempting to turn from the original plan to plan B: the make-my-kids-look-smarter-than-other-kids-in-front-of-Grandma plan. Where's God in that plan?
Strangely, in every aspect of life people often throw their credentials and flash their look-what-I-did-that-you-didn't-do badges at us. Some are complete strangers and others are close loved ones. Tempting as it is, it's a game we don't play. When our kids witness it and wonder why we don't toss our trump cards on the table, we tell them our actions are to serve God—He sees, and that's enough.
When we compare and compete, we lose our vision of God's plan. We stop looking at the people around us as blessings and start viewing them as projects. Instead of seeing a blossoming beauty or a sweet little honey, we see a fix-it project. And then we mamas get busy. We get busy with lessons and shopping or un-shopping (depending on whether we're comparing ourselves to the materialists or the minimalists) and more lessons and social functions. We get busy busy busy, and that distracts from God and from the real people in our lives.
How can we be alert against these threats?
First, please know that you are special and unique. I don't care about your size, hair color, or fingernails. I don't care about the letters behind your name. I don't care how many college credits your children have when they graduate from high school. I don't care—okay, maybe a little—about your grammar. That is just stuff, and the people who are judging you based on that “stuff” better be assessing you for employment or college admission, because that is the only time most of those things matter...except the grammar. Okay, not even the grammar. That hurt me to say. What matters is your heart.
Second, the images you see on Facebook and Pinterest are not real. As a blogger, I can assure you that I position my camera so you see the lovely loaf of bread and the tantalizing lasagna, but not the kitchen full of dishes, the dog licking the splatters off the floor, the child licking the splatters off the table, and the toddler licking the splatters off the baby. Online images are like commercials designed to make something look better than it really is. The amount of time and effort devoted to that “as seen on Pinterest” perfection is exorbitant. You have 24 hours in your day. Do you want to spend it creating a Pinterest-perfect exterior, or do you want to laugh and bond with your family as you enjoy yet another Pinterest fail? I choose failure.
Third, remember your limited vision. You don't know if that picture perfect mama you compare yourself to is hurting inside. You can't see the pain, the betrayal, or her pet sins. You don't know what thorns God has given her and what crosses He asks her to bear. Don't compare yourself, because you can't see what's truly there. Only God can. If you long for someone else's blessings, you have to be willing to handle the hardships that come with them.
Fourth, assess your motivations carefully. When you say or write something, is it to make yourself look better, or is it to share joy? Is it to take the other person down a notch or is it to encourage? Be honest and judge your heart before you open your mouth or hit “send.” Assess why you want your children to succeed in a certain area. Is it to impress Grandma and the world and look good at reunions, or is it to form lasting servants of Christ?
Finally, weigh the cost. In a world where kids are graduating from high school with a college degree, it's hard to not compare and rush kids into adulthood. Be aware that the rush and competition causes us to forego that precious time of building relationships and growing faith, trading it in to compete with the world. Keep telling yourself that's not your priority for your family, and keep your mind on Jesus. Come to think of it, my husband has a song for that.
I chuckle when people say I am living their dream or chirp about how lucky we are. I look at the year we hit the road full-time. We lost our business, our child's health, and our home. We gave up whatever security was left for the open road in order to feed our kids. We now live from church to church, donation basket to donation basket, praying for God's provision, because we have nothing else—no financial security blanket, no worldly safety net.
I wonder how many people would willingly go through what we experience to live this dream. I'm guessing none. All they see, however, is a smiling family serving God, the joy, the fun we share, the adventure—they don't see the loss, the pain, the loneliness of being strangers everywhere we go, and, yes, the fear. Just like I don't see your pain and fear. Remember that when you are tempted to compare and compete.
As you homeschool, what is the greatest lesson you hope your children learn?
Every Christian parent wants their children to have faith. Kids study the catechism and memorize passages and go to church every Sunday and try to follow a few scripted rules. I want so much more than that for my kids. My husband and I have led a Saul-to-Paul sort of life—pharisee to greatest of sinners to working for the Kingdom with all our hearts. I want my children to skip the first two steps of that and move right on to the heart action. I want them to know that the Bible isn't a subject, that faith isn't a part of life—faith is life, God is it, live it. Live Him. Nothing else matters. Nothing!
Of course, then they say, “So...I can ditch algebra.”
Can you share a difficult event in your life that God strengthened you through?
Less than a year before we went on the road full-time, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. If you've never had a chronically sick child (I'm not talking tonsils or earaches—I'm talking lifelong auto- immune disorder), you can't understand the depth of the parental pain. From before she was born, my daughter looked to me for everything. When she was afraid, I held her and everything was okay. When she was hurt, I kissed the boo-boo and rocked her, and everything was okay. When she was angry or frustrated, we walked together and talked together and everything was okay. When the doctor handed us that diagnosis and my weak, emaciated daughter woke up from her procedure and her heavy eyes sought my face, she waited for me to tell her everything was okay; I couldn't do it. I couldn't say it was okay, because everything was very, very wrong. That was her new normal for the rest of her life—very wrong. There was nothing I could do about it. She was so sick that we had to hand her over to the doctors who gave her the medications and the treatments that would simultaneously stabilize and attack her beautiful body—our baby. She was fourteen.
If not for the grace of God... I don't know how we made it through that year. We lost our business and our home, we lost the health of our daughter, we lost the innocent carefree joy that had once been the highlight of our children's lives, and we birthed a new blessing who, after only nine days in my arms, started screaming with colic and passing blood in her stool just like her big sister with Crohn's. And then we hit the road full-time for our music mission—a family of nine homeschooled introverts, a freak show in today's world of 2.3 kids. Life hasn't miraculously smoothed out, but God has been faithful. He gave us a new strength I didn't know we could achieve. I look back at that year and I can't imagine how we made it through. I can't imagine.
If not for the grace of God...
Is there a moment that you saw God's hand so clearly guiding or providing for you that you would like to share?
My husband plays a song called “He Provides.” It's the title track to his third Nashville-produced CD. He wrote it shortly after our introverted family went on the road full-time with a then-smaller travel trailer, a colicky baby, a Crohnsie, a husband with stage-fright, and a big fat dog who was allergic to everything except water. We had $500 to our name. To our name, people! We had been in real estate, and the crash in Nevada took everything we had—our emergency fund, our investments, our business—everything. So we left with our guitar and our children and, yes, the hairy beast.
It wasn't long before we realized, wow, God really provides.
I'm ultimately more interested in his eternal provision, but it is such a comfort knowing He's “hovering over the waters” caring for our daily needs, too, isn't it?
Here's a cute story for you—I've got a dozen just like it:
We were in some out-of-the-way place in Minnesota, and for some reason this ol' brain can't pull up, we couldn't leave to get food and hadn't stocked up on enough before reaching our destination. We can only travel with a small amount of food at a time, so when I say there's nothing to eat, I mean we're eating olives and goat's milk for dinner. (I don't know why we have a can of goat's milk in the trailer.) This particular time, like many days before and since, I checked the under-the-bed pantry and prayed, “Well, Father, I can manage breakfast and lunch, but dinner is up to you.” And I left it in His hands.
Not more than 30 minutes later a stranger ambled up to our trailer and asked if we liked corn. Yes, we do. And off he went. We forgot about him, but shortly after lunch and the disappearance of the last of our food (except the goat's milk), that man showed up with two bags of sweet corn, two bags of potatoes, two packs of homegrown beef, radishes, lettuce, apples—you name it!
“This is amazing!” I cried. “There's everything but the bread!”
And another man showed up with a loaf of fresh bread.
We don't have a retirement account, all our investments crashed—every last one—and there's nothing keeping our heads above water if anything goes wrong on the mission. In human terms, it's not a pretty place to be.
In heavenly terms, our treasure is waiting for us. All we have is God. All we truly need is God.
What’s next for you?
Chocolate sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?
Besides hunting for chocolate, I am currently polishing my companion book to my husband's CDs, and tentatively following that up with a book about our adventures. Our older girls are finishing up their high school education and looking into college credits without debt and without giving up the lifestyle we're living right now.
As for the mission, we'll keep rolling until God tells us to stop. Because someone briefly joked that the trailer was feeling roomy, God blessed us with another baby, our second son was recently born.
We can't know what the Lord has planned for us. When I married my husband, I told him I'd follow him anywhere but the desert, and in a few months, there we were—in the desert. We told God we'd follow Him anywhere, including the desert, so we'll see where that takes us. As long as it means the ten of us are together In heaven someday, I am willing—I hope I am willing—to endure the highs and lows of this life with gratitude and joy. I struggle, as does everyone, with the gratitude and joy, but the gift of life is infinitely more beautiful with gratitude on our lips and joy in our hearts, isn't it?
I'll answer that. Yes. Yes, it is.
To follow Christy's travels and family online check out their websites and blogs:
Music mission website: www.StephenBautistaMusic.com
Family travel site: www.TheTravelBags.com
Christy's blog: www.TheSimpleHomemaker.com