Page 181

Back in home school days—maybe ninth grade—my sister and I joined a handful of other homeschooled kids from our church to meet every Tuesday and Thursday for real lessons. By real lessons, I mean we had to report to teachers, listen to actual lectures, and do work as opposed to pretend we were watching biology videos at home when really we were watching Saved by the Bell (for the record, AC Slater still has my heart).

On these communal home school days, we drove half an hour to our church, an old brick building in Flint, Michigan that struggled to hang on to its historic charm when everything around it was falling apart. Wrapped high around the sanctuary of this church was a U-shaped balcony housing a number of modest offices. The floors creaked, the carpet was worn, and the walls were cold and paint-chipped, but there was character, especially after the rooms were transformed to home school classrooms. Chalkboards, desks and a few colored posters greeted us in these rooms on Tuesdays and Thursdays, along with teachers—church members who volunteered their time to instruct subjects in which they were experienced. Several of them were licensed teachers who traded public school jobs to stay at home with their kids and offer their help with homeschooled students in our church. It worked out perfectly.

Sue was our algebra teacher—or Sister Sue as we called her because in our church everyone was a Sister or a Brother, a Deacon or a Pastor, and you respectfully referred to them as such. Home school outings sounded a lot like the hallways in Sister Act—kids running around, shouting “Sister Mary! Sister Theresa! Sister Sue!” Except no habits or cool nuns with pasts as Reno lounge singers. Sister Sue was a math whiz, an algebra genius, and teaching higher math classes came easy for her. On the first day of algebra class, we (the three kids who made up Algebra I) received our text books (A Beka for curious homeschoolers) and immediately began flipping through them, just asking to be intimidated. And we were. The middle of the book revealed quadratic function graphs, square roots, equations with too many parentheses to count—a cryptic map to the future of our class, and we were certain we’d never decipher it.

“We’re never going to be able to do this,” my friend complained, “this is, like, way too hard.”

“What page are you looking at?” Sister Sue asked.

“Page 181,” my friend answered. We each flipped through our books until everyone was on page 181. She was right, it was bad—a hot mess of x’s and y’s and detailed graphs that made no sense. While we moaned and protested, Sister Sue smiled and walked to the chalkboard.

“So you think that looks really hard, huh?” she asked as she picked up a piece of chalk and wrote in a small corner at the top of the board the number 181 and circled it. “We’ll see about that.”

We eventually forgot about page 181, the tiny chalked circle at the top of the board lost among weekly lessons. Gradually and—for the most part—painlessly, we learned to solve square roots, function graphs and equations with too many parentheses to count. And then one day, in the middle of class, Sister Sue announced, “I’d like you to look down and see what page we’re on.”

Behold, page 181.

We were shocked. It looked completely different now that we were there. We laughed in disbelief and chided our former selves for doubting our capabilities. Function graphs? Child’s play. Square roots? Cakewalk. Here we were, on page 181, and we hadn’t even realized how high we had climbed.

Sister Sue erased the number on the top corner of the board that day. And strangely, it was a little disappointing not to have a scary goal anymore.

I’ve remembered this story through many moments of intimidation and doubt and have repeated the words “page 181” to myself a number of times now, its significance intensified with events in my life far more important than algebra lessons. The message remains though—I’m equipped with 181 pages of confidence and experience, enough to know I’ve proved myself wrong. Instead of the “I’ll never…” mindset, I will continue to face goals—far-off ones, challenging ones—by circling an objective on a corner of a chalkboard, showing up for class every day, turning the pages, and knowing with certainty that I will get there eventually.

Sunset on the beach last night

For all the Page 181s we face: I’ll lose the weight, I’ll get out of debt, I’ll stop yelling at my kids so much, I’ll stop caring what people think, I’ll restore order to my home, I’ll save the money, I’ll learn to forgive, I’ll stop being so critical, I’ll repair that relationship…write it down, circle it, and start on page 1. Allow for sick days and extra time on some lessons. You’ll get there.


I’m heading toward the holiday cave, feeling the need for more family and friends, impromptu trips to the beach for soul recharge, good food, good books and some holiday traditions…time to dock this ship and settle down.  We’re headed to the North Pole later this week.



The Albums joins us as a sponsor this holiday, bringing a unique experience for your family.  There are a number of ways to share photos and tell stories online, but not everyone is interested in blogging and many of you may not have found what works for you yet.  If you dread writing blog posts, if you’re looking for something more simplified and organized, if you want a personal experience, The Albums is a way to share your story and your family’s moments with those you love most–grandparents, aunts and uncles, best friends far away. 

Check it out:

If you’re interested, take one moment to sign up and reserve your spot in the premiere here.


Leave a Comment
  1. Beautiful photos and post as always.

  2. Lovely, Kelle. I’m struggling with a page 181 of my own just now. Thank you for these words.

  3. This post is such a delightful way to start the morning. Thanks, Kelle!

  4. I love the way you remembered the details as a 9th grader, and the post is so true. My friend recently reminded me that I had written a blog post and had written my own “page 181″ (if you will). Mine was to lose 50 pounds and to run a half marathon. What was I doing writing that? I really put it out there. Well, this year I lost 50 pounds between Jan-April, and just this past Saturday I ran my first half marathon. So I guess I need a new “page 181″. Something I will be reflecting on this Advent season…thank you :)

  5. I am a Math Teacher. Algebra in particular. This story hits me in so many ways….thank you for reminding me of what at first looks hard, is inevitably solved with patience and practive.

  6. Very nice thought for today, Kelle – especially as I struggle with getting to page 181, or in my case, page 130 (25 lbs away, in the hardest direction for me to go). Thanks for sharing.

  7. That is a beautiful story. God bless Sister Sue for her simple wisdom. :)

  8. Thank you for this very good reminder today.
    So glad you conquered page 181 with the help of Sister Sue.

  9. What a wonderful post Kelle.

  10. What a smart teacher and a great life lesson! Thanks for sharing. When my son was diagnosed with a congenital cataract at the ripe old age of 5 days old, I was shocked. We were told he was blind in one eye. After surgery, it would take 8 or 9 years of patching the strong eye to give him usable vision in the weak eye. That was my page 181. He is two. It hasn’t been easy, but it is a part of his life and a part of who he is. We got this. He is going to be stronger because of his weak eye, and so am I. Take that page 181. 😉

  11. Getting to page 181 in your life is helping others get to theirs…thanks.

  12. Amazing how much this post goes hand-in-hand with Nici’s mamalode from this morning. Thank you for the encouraging words, Kelle.

  13. thank you for reminding us that everything takes time, we will get there.

  14. Thank you for this post Kelle! I so needed to hear this….

  15. Love this! My mom’s often-repeated advice is, ‘take one day at a time’– or one minute, or one contraction, depending on the situation. :) This advice fits right in with her wisdom.

    Mary, momma to many

  16. That’s just plain beautiful! Such a smart teacher. such a gift of a life lesson. thanks.

  17. Great post. I was taught to set goals early on in life. I have never met a goal I can’t achieve. (Can’t is a four letter word in our house) I may not achieve them in the way I first set out, but I always get there.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I am also in hunker down holiday mode.
    Have a great week!

  18. The Albums sounds intriguing, I registered, and can’t wait to learn more. And thanks for the reminder to slow down and take things one step at a time. As a homeschooling mom of 4, this school year has been filled with many struggles, much more than any years past. And I’m finding myself constantly looking at the big goals that I’ve not been able to meet, rather than the many small ones that I have.

  19. Love love love this post. What a great reminder and as usual, always said so eloquently.

  20. Thank you, Kelle, for yet another inspiring post. I often feel so overwhelmed by everything I face – health-wise, money-wise, etc. But you’re right. Write it down. Put it in front of myself, and take one step at a time. Your words move me, yet again.

  21. Thank you for the reminder. Great post.

  22. Wow, such a great story! This is just what I needed to finish this school term. I am a senior at Kettering University in Flint, MI and this hit me just right. It isn’t always easy studying to be an Industrial Engineer, espeically here in Flint. THANKS! :)

  23. Love love LOVE this post :) Thank you for this lovely reminder. I needed it this morning.

  24. Love this post so much and I definitely needed it today! You have a beautiful way with words! (p.s. checked “Bloom” out of the library yesterday. Can’t wait to get home and read it!!!)

  25. Aint it the truth, girlfriend. As Anne Lamott says, just focus on the 1 inch X 1 inch picture frame. Look through that. Start there.

    I find it can be debilitating to look ahead to Page 181, as in: “I’ll never get there!,” or even seductively distracting, “WHEN I get there, life will be perfect.”


  26. Perfect advice…and so true…page 181 one seems so daunting if you skip all the lessons needed to be learned before getting there. Thank you. Today will be my page one. X

  27. Wonderful! Thanks for the reminder.

  28. I love this! So encouraging. And I needed it today, at this moment.

  29. Your writing always inspires me but this one so specifically. Like everyone else, I have a few of my own page 181s… actually with a newborn and a 3-year old I have about a hundred a day! I needed this today. Thank you.

  30. This was just such a great way to describe it! I am definitely facing a page 181 right now but you’re right, if I start on page one I’ll get there!

  31. Powerful thoughts! Thanks for sharing. I am anxious to check out “The Albums.”

  32. Thank you. I needed this today.

  33. Thank you so much for this post; the timing is great and you have reminded me that this battle will be won eventually, that this too shall pass. I am struggling on my own with a 5-week old fussy baby, and when the days seems endless, your words often bring a smile to my face and remind me of how fortunate I am. Thank you, for this post and all of them.

  34. Great little story, and a wonderful lesson! Sister Sue sounds like she was a great teacher who made a lasting impact! As always, love your photos of the girls!!

  35. I love reading things like this, and love also to write and tell my stories too. Just signed up for The Albums premier!! So intrigued!!!!

    Thank you, Kelle!

  36. Lovely lesson remembered – thank you for sharing. Can’t wait to see the North Pole excursion!

  37. love this whole perspective on life! I am going to share this tonight with my family, and i know this will stick with me too. thank you…
    I a your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.

  38. Mmmm…..great analogy Sister Kelle….might borrow that one! Cheers.

  39. Thanks for the powerful story of seeing things in a different way!

  40. I’ve been reading a long time but this is my first comment (had to happen eventually, yes?) and probably my favorite post to date. We all have page 181’s, sometimes several, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and give up. This is a great reminder that if we just take it day by day and keep plugging away we WILL get there one sweet day!

  41. I don’t normally comment but this post really touched me. Thank you!

  42. Beautiful lesson, Kelle – and equally beautiful photos, as always.

    I’ve noticed that I’ve begun saving your posts to read until last because you always write such calming, reflective things and to me they serve as a way of slowing down and recharging for me. You’re an excellent writer, and I just adore reading your blog!

  43. Love this post. Such a great reminder to start off the week. I love that this stuck with you for so many years. It’s crazy what we remember and what sticks out in our minds from our younger years. Beautiful sunset photos! What I would give to be able to frolic in the sand and surf right now!

  44. Fantastic post! Love it.

  45. What a powerful message! I remember feeling the exact same way in math class – always intimidated by what was at the back of the book. But each and every year, we always started on page 1, never page 181.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Kelle!

  46. What a wonderful post!

    This is sort of off topic, and on topic at the same time: I work for a church in Flint Michigan that still hosts a Home school co-op twice a week. What church was it that you would go too??

  47. beautiful analogy. I remember that feeling of hopelessness of thumbing through the algebra text book and let me tell you i’d feel the same hopelessness now, since it’s been so long! and always, getting there and being so surprised at how easily it locked into place. sure felt that with my giant EMT text book of which i read every. word.

    much love kelle.

  48. love this…

  49. Last night I was snuggled in bed reading your beautiful book on my ipad. My husband crawls into bed and asked what I was reading. I explained that I was reading a book written by the woman who writes my favorite blog.I continued, ‘She has two beautiful little girls, her second was born with down syndrome, and she had no idea until she was born’ His response was appologetic and heartbroken.
    I began flipping through the book to show him some pictures.. My personal favorite of Profesor Nella. He took the ipad from me and started flipping through. His response “They are so cute! You are lying, there is no way she has down syndrome.. She is so cute.. look at those glasses! So cute!!! I wonder if our babies will have blonde hair like them”

    I think I might have fallen more in love with him that night.. He was able to look past all differences and see two beautiful girls, your two beautiful girls.

  50. I really love your page 181 story. Thanks for sharing it!

  51. Kelle….
    I, too, was homeschooled!! However, math is not my strongest subject in life!! Never has been. Never will be!! Poor Mom. She did her best…. But none of us could understand math!! None of us!! ;-}
    Oh, and by the way? I remember A Beka workbooks!! Being homeschooled was an incredible positive for me and my family. Mom taught us each individually. Plus, although I was still made fun of, the bullying would have been so much worse had I gone to “real” school. Because I am a learning disabled oddball!!;)
    “Instead of the “I’ll never…” mindset, I will continue to face goals—far-off ones, challenging ones—by circling an objective on a corner of a chalkboard, showing up for class every day, turning the pages, and knowing with certainty that I will get there eventually.”. I needed to read those words!! ;-D

  52. Beautiful photos!

  53. Wonderful post as always. Your words and pictures continue to be an inspiration to me. Merry Christmas! I’m heading to the holiday cave myself, right after these stupid final exams are over!

  54. What a beautiful lesson you have given all of us! I just checked out Bloom today from my local library and can’t wait to start reading it!

  55. “Home school outings sounded a lot like the hallways in Sister Act—kids running around, shouting “Sister Mary! Sister Theresa! Sister Sue!”

    HILARIOUS! I can vividly remember those days. I remember going strawberry picking with my mom and Lashanda one day and she kept yelling, “Sister Di” every time she talked to my mom. The man at the farm asked her, “Are you a nun?” haha I remember being embarrassed from that moment on whenever my mom was referred to as “Sister Di” :) There are definitely good, and funny memories from the ole’ homeschool days :)

  56. THANK YOU. This is JUST what I needed to read tonight. I am 18, and though I travel a lot, I am in a really odd situation for the next four days, and I am SO HOMESICK. I just want a hug from my mama. But I will just keep telling myslef, “page 181″ until I am safe in my mama’s arms :)

  57. I giggled while reading this tonight because I know that A Beka book very well :)I love that I leave your blog feeling inspired and refreshed.
    XO Sarah

  58. I realize this is a long shot, but know in my heart that you will, at very least, remember this family in your prayers.

    I am writing you tonight on behalf of a dear friend named Kelli Hammond. As we’ve followed your blog through the years, she and I have laughed over all the similarities between her life and yours, down to the sound of your names. She and her family are in crisis right now and have more needs than can even be explained without years of friendship and stories to put context to their trials.

    My friendship began with her six years ago when we began as new fifth grade teachers lesson planning together before the sun was up and calling each other in the evenings often in tears over students, parents and demands. Then, we were pregnant with our daughers together, but her birth story, much like Nella’s, was a trip to Holland. Her daughter, Brookelyn, was born completely unexpectedly to her twenty-five year-old mother with Down Syndrome, and has encountered many, many health challenges over the course of her short three year-old life. Recently, she has also lost all of her hair for reasons doctors still cannot explain. Kelli’s husband, Joe, stays home with Brookelyn to take her to many therapies, and with a teacher’s income as the bread and butter for the family, it, obviously, has not been an easy road and life is frugal to say the least, most of the time paycheck to paycheck. Joe takes on as many handyman jobs as he can in the evenings, and Kelli also works on the weekends in a bakery to help support the family.

    However, the last year has brought on even more difficulties. Joe’s mother lost her battle to cancer, Kelli suffered a traumatic miscarriage and, just before Thanksgiving, Joe was rushed to the ER for an emergency appendectomy that became infected and now has spent weeks in ICU. Kelli is actually expecting again (due in January) but this hope and joy has been overshadowed as she has had to pull out of her job to care for her husband and daughter. Their family is at the end of their rope physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and most obviously, financially.

    I am writing you because to have their needs met would require a miracle. She and I have shared a great love for your blog for years, read your book together and often sat in tears together before or after a teaching day over your beautiful pictures and your words of hope and beauty. I especially know your videos of Nella at dance class have brought a unique joy to Kelli’s life when the Dutch life was dreary and dark.

    I don’t know exactly what I’m asking for from you – prayers definitely, but also if you would consider sharing their story and a request for more support from your community. I know any outreach from you would mean the world to my dear friend. Here is the link to contribute financially to their needs.

    Please let me know if you have any questions, if I can provide any more details or if you have any ideas of how I can help her any more.

  59. You really made my night! I needed to feel a connection somewhere with someone who was not family, a little bit of family “overload” here. Not only do I have a child with Down Syndrome, much older then your little one, but I went to PCC who makes A Beka Book, but also did some of there curriculum in HS. I went to a Christian school. What a small, funny world we live in!

  60. I love the way life provides us with the lessons we need when we need them. I needed “181” tonight. Thanks.

  61. Flint, Michigan. I’ve seen a certain movie about Flint many times in my studies. It was a total flashback moment for me when I read that.

  62. love the story!!!

  63. As always, you have such a way with words. Thanks for sharing that story! :) Beautiful pics of beautiful girls! Looking forward to the North Pole!

  64. Ooooh… you had to do A Beka? No wonder you were intimidated. A Beka math had lost me entirely by third grade. I couldn’t even multiply anything outside of the 1, 2, 5, 10 and 11 tables. Finally for grade six my mom started me on Math-U-See, and my whole world suddenly opened up. I’ve since graduated and while I’m no math genius, I can at least manage my finances and file my dad’s taxes. :-)

    But I digress… anyway, great story! I kind of needed that reminder — now to figure out how exactly to define my ‘page 181.’

  65. This is so beautiful, needed to hear it tonight. And, as a former homeschooler myself, I totally did A Beka books too! haha.

  66. I love this! Thank you for the encouragement!!

  67. Beautifully written! Loved this story. My daughter with DS is almost 1–a New Year’s Eve baby! As you probably remember, that first year is a blur of appointments and therapies and research and acceptance. I’m so ready to focus a little on getting myself back to a healthier place and am inspired to set my own “Page 181″ goal. Thanks for the inspiration!

  68. Kelle,
    Thanks for such a beautiful story, great inspiration, and so much positivity. You’ve helped motivate me to reach page “181” and I thank you for that!

    As always, your photos are warm, delightful, and they each tell their own beautiful story!

    I hope you enjoy some “Kelle time” as you continue to prepare and enjoy this holiday season!

  69. Sister Sue sounds like a smart woman! A fabulous life-long lesson, right there in algebra :)

  70. I was more of a Zach Morris girl, m’self…
    the words you posted here are very helpful. (((thank you))))

  71. Page 181 – I love it! Thanks for sharing such a sweet story.

  72. Thank you for sharing this story. Gosh, I love reading your writing. It is like I am right there with you. I admire how you are able to express, so poignantly, thoughts that I have been thinking, but not found the words for. Thank you. I always leave your site feeling so inspired.

  73. My page 181 – my daughter’s surgery on January 4th….needed to read this today. Thank you Kelle.

  74. I love this, Kelle. Yesterday I hit a certain level where I had to pep talk and breathe through and remind myself it’s one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

    PS I’ve retreated to my cave with lots of books and yarn and right now I’m listening to your podcast with Meagan on The Kitchen Hour while I knit…. and having a really good moment. Hope you are, too!

  75. Oh, this is perfect and I’m totally stealing this story! I was a mom before most of my friends, and so hit a lot of milestones WAY before them. When they say, “I’ll never be ready for my kid to…(go to high school, date, drive, go to college, etc.) I always tell them they will when they get there.

    This is a MUCH BETTER way of telling it.

    How you got so wise when your kids are still so little, I’m not sure. Sometimes your posts remind me of someone’s grandma with a lifetime of experience behind her.

    Thank you!

  76. This is a wonderful post, Kelle, and such an incredible lesson. I know I am often guilty of forgetting to take things one day at a time and it’s always good to have a reminder. Thanks!

  77. This is a wonderful post, Kelle, and such an incredible lesson. I know I am often guilty of forgetting to take things one day at a time and it’s always good to have a reminder. Thanks!

  78. I reserved my spot, can’t wait to see what the albums is all about ! Looks so cool!

  79. Beautifully written, Kelle. One of your best.

  80. I like this. We call everyone at church brother and sister too. :)

  81. Just taped a post-it to my work computer with a big blue circled “181” on it – it’s my reminder that I don’t have to be perfect. What a relief!

  82. At about 2am the night after I read this, I was laying in bed not sleeping and worrying about something (nothing life-changing, just a medium sized worry). All of a sudden what pops in my head….page 181. It helped. Thank you for that new strategy when I’m stressed about something! You are such a joy and inspiration to me. My kids are grown, and I think I did a pretty good job, but I hope to adopt more of your attitude with my grandchildren someday. ; )

  83. You are always so well spoken and beautifully positive! Thank you for sharing your uplifting words with the world!

  84. This may be the best post you’ve written. I loved it, even more than I usually love your posts.

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