Seeking the Lord, at Co Op Vol I

Last week as we began a new foray into a small homeschool co op with just five families, I was in charge of leading our first Chapel session. We will begin each co op day with Chapel, being the formal title for the thirty minute session where we will gather all together for prayer, Scripture, singing, and devotion. There are three of us moms who will rotate preparing and leading Chapel, and we each have different backgrounds and styles, so we are excited to see how the variety fattens our Christian walks and shapes the experience for all the children. It is good to remember that we have both unity and diversity in the body of Christ. It is wonderful to have opportunities to see, hear, interact, and experience different kinds of Christian practices.

I happen to be a very structured and traditional sort of woman, especially when it comes to things like my Christian faith. I love the old ways. I love the traditional texts, songs, liturgies, and formalities.

So I decided to jump right into the deep end and share my style & loves with the other families in our new little homeschool co op. We began with prayer, using a liturgy from Every Moment Holy (which does happen to be one of my favorite books).

Liturgy for the Midday:

O Christ our rest, we pause amidst the labors of this day to remember the best reason for our laboring.

We labor, O Lord, as stewards of Your creation, and as stewards of the gifts
You have apportioned to each of us for the good of all.

Bless then the works of our hands and minds and hearts, O God, that they might bear fruit for Your greater purposes.

May our work this day be rendered first as service to You, that the benefits of it might be eternal.

Receive this, the offering of our labors, O Lord.

Amen.

If our hearts have already been tempted this day to believe anything about ourselves or others
that does not take into account Your creation, Your mercy, Your sacrifice, Your grace, Your forgiveness, Your redemption, and Your unshakeable love, O God,

remind us again of these truths, giving us faith enough to believe
and hope enough to choose to embrace them again and again.

Or if we have been swayed from the place of resting in Your grace today—swayed by shame, by error, by vanity, by pride, or by love of the praise of people, act, O Holy Spirit!

Reveal our error, convict conscience, and bring us to quick repentance.
Rekindle our affections, restoring them again to their one worthy object,
who is Christ, and who alone holds the words of eternal life.

Let us now consider such words, from Holy Scripture.

Shape our thoughts, O Lord, by Your truth, even as you shape our hearts by Your love.

(my children took turns reading aloud the following Scriptures)
This is My command: be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid or discouraged,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Proverbs 9:9-10

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.
You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23-24

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to Him.
The Lord is the strength of His people; He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Oh, save Your people and bless Your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Psalm 28:7-9

Now grant us strength and grace, O God, sufficient to the remains of the day, that we might move through its unfolding in humble obedience to Your will and in sensitivity to Your Spirit and in joyful expectancy of Your coming Kingdom.

May the light of that eternal city illuminate our hearts, our paths, our vision through these next hours, O Lord.

Amen.

It was beautiful to hear our little co op group join in on the liturgy, speaking aloud the bold portions. I don’t know for certain, but I assume that this type of liturgy would be a new (& quite possibly strange) experience for those moms and their children.
Then I pulled out a book that Joni Eareckson Tada had sent to my children as a gift a few months ago, which we enjoyed using over the summer during our morning routine. I very quickly taught the children (even the tiny tots) the chorus, and then read the devotional pages aloud before we all jumped into singing the entire song together acapella, before finishing with one more liturgy from Every Moment Holy.

(reading of a devotional & singing its song accompaniment—
pp81-85 in Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart by Wolgemuth/Tada)
We praise thee, O God!
For the days of our youth,
For the bright lamp that shineth—
The Word of thy truth.

Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Hallelujah we sing;
Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Our praise now we bring.

We praise thee, O God!
For the Son of thy love,
For Jesus who died
And is now gone above.

Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Hallelujah we sing;
Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Our praise now we bring.

We praise thee, O God!
For thy Spirit of light,
Who has shown us our Saviour
And scattered our night.

Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Hallelujah we sing;
Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Our praise now we bring.

All glory and praise
To the Lamb that was slain,
Who has borne all our sins and
Has cleansed ev’ry stain!

Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Hallelujah we sing;
Hallelujah! thine the glory,
Our praise now we bring.

Liturgy for Students:

May we learn to love learning, O Lord, for the world is Yours, and all things in it speak—each in their way—of You: of Your mind, Your designs, Your artistry, Your power, Your unfolding purpose. All knowledge is Your knowledge. All wisdom Your wisdom.

There, as we apply ourselves to learning, may we be mindful that all created things are Your creative expression, that all stories are held within Your greater story, and that all disciplines of order and design are a chasing after Your thoughts—so that greater mastery of these subjects will yield ever greater knowledge of the symmetry and wonder of Your ways.

Along this journey, O Great Architect of Life and Beauty, bless us with teachers who are passionate about the subjects they teach, and with mentors who will take joy in awakening in us a fierce love for those parts of Your creation and Your story that they have already learned to love well.

As I apply myself even to those subjects that I might at first find tedious, reward my efforts with new insights, fresh inspiration, small epiphanies, and with the firm conviction that You are at work in my heart in all circumstances, not only broadening my knowledge, but also shaping my heart by patience, endurance, and discipline that I might mature to more fitly and humbly serve the purposes of Your great Kingdom.

Give us a deepening knowledge of truth and a finer discernment of the ideas we encounter as we study. Guard our minds always against error, and guard also our hearts against the temptation to compare our own performance to the work of peers, and so to fall into either of the twin traps of shame or pride. Grant instead that we might happily steward what scholarly gifts You have apportioned each, and that we might do so as means of preparing ourselves for service to You and others, with our identity drawn from Your love and forgiveness, and not from grades or accolades here.

Open, O Lord, as You will, the paths of my life in the days yet to come. Use my studies to further shape my vision of what my place and call in this world might be. Begin to show me where my own deep gladness and the world’s deep need might meet. And in that light, let me be mindful not only of my studies, but also mindful of the needs of my peers and even of my teachers. Let me respond with mercy to the failings of others.

Let me be in this gathering of students, even in small ways, a bearer of love and light and reconciliation; which is to say, let me in humility be Your child.

God grant these children discernment and wisdom.
Guard us from error.
God grant these children knowledge and understanding.
Lead us to truth.
God bless the labors of this new season.
Shape us for Your service.

Amen.

And that is how we began our new little homeschool co op. With prayer, liturgy, tradition, singing, reading aloud, and begging for God’s mercy upon both the teachers and students in our group.

Then after we had time for each of the moms to share with the kids about the classes they will experience this year together (Apologia science, IEW, music/singing, and PE for the biggest kids – with the younger set doing simpler versions of those things like intro to the human body instead of Apologia science, and Poetry Teatime instead of IEW), the kids got to have playtime while we moms had our first Mom’s Circle where we will do a book study together, pray together, and discuss things related to homeschool, co op, and life in general.

To begin that, I shared some things from Heidi St. John’s new book Prayers for the Battlefield and some snippets from Clay & Sally Clarkson’s book The Life Giving Parent:

WORDS for MOM’S CIRCLE
(from Prayers for the Battlefield, pp55-59
and The Lifegiving Parent Experience, Week One)

Your Word says my children will be like their teacher, Lord. Today I realize that I am that teacher. Would You show me how to become the person You want me to be so that my children can become who You want them to be too? Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, and strength. Help me to remember the commands You have given so I can teach them to my children. Help me to take advantage of every opportunity to teach Your ways to my children, from the time we get up to the time we go to bed. I also see that everyone who influences my children matters. Help me to see influence as something that carries eternal consequences and to act in the best spiritual interest of my child on the battlefield of education. Give me insight into the hearts and motives of those who carry influence with my children. Open my eyes to wrong teaching, wrong motives, and a worldview that opposes You, so I can make sure my children learn what is right according to Your standard, not the world’s. You say that the person who doesn’t sit in the counsel of the wicked will be blessed. In this crazy world, it’s sometimes hard to tell the wicked from the righteous! Snares are everywhere, including on the battlefield of education. You say that if anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask You for it, so I’m asking. Please give me—and my children—daily wisdom in discerning good from evil. I pray for my child’s teachers, Lord—starting with me. Help me to be an instructor who brings life and truth—Your life, Your truth—to the heart of my children’s education, no matter the subject.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge:
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go:
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God,
who gives generously to all without reproach,
and it will be given him.

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Deuteronomy 6:1-25
“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’

Only you—parents alive in Christ because of the Holy Spirit within you—have the ability and the power of the Spirit to make your home a Christian home. Engagement with Christian culture does not define a Christian home; engagement with the living Christ does. That understanding is a necessary first step on the path to becoming a lifegiving parent.

Even as winds of culture howl around our children, our fundamental responsibility is to give them the life of God that we have found in Him. That is what we call lifegiving parenting.

I am eager to see what God does to fill us, shape us, teach us, and lead us with this group this year. We hope it is a place of restful education and Christ-centered learning. We hope it is a place of integrity, honesty, diligence, honor, and joy. We hope it is a place where we can glean wisdom from others as well as share the abundance God has put in our hands. May He be pleased with our weekly offering to Him in this new endeavor.

The Liking of Sentences

As we continue to pursue being a storyformed family with a culture of literature & reading emanating from every corner of our home, perhaps I ought not be surprised when my children start making comments that show they really are encultured in that way! Why does it surprise me when something actually turns out the way that I seek to mold it? I suppose because so often I create something, make it and mold it, only to fire it in a kiln and find it looks completely different than I had intended it in the first place. Like the glazes that change things drastically and surprise you with their outcome, at least until you are familiar with how the chemical compounds work and how they turn out by practice. (Yes, I am missing college ceramics class. Yes, I still wish I had a wheel, a kiln, and an endless supply of mud. Yes, we just finished listening to Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard again.)

But back to my children actually showing me that they ARE storyformed, that they ARE soaking in the kidlit culture in which I bathe them, that they ARE paying attention & processing ideas & acquiring their own sensibilities of taste while marinating in the stories & ideas I pour upon them from my own sensibilities..

Sometimes having early readers and excellent readers really shows forth its double-edged sword. Like when my children read books that are probably leaps and bounds ahead of their own maturity level, but they CAN, so they WANT to, and they DO. Evangeline recently read Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman – she loved it, but it wasn’t exactly printed for a five year old to read by flashlight under her covers at night. Hehe. She was so diligent in reading that fat chapter book! She is also reading The Adventures of Geraldine Woolkins by Karin Kaufman.

But other times, she takes books that are much more bent toward a five year old girl… even if they are often meant to be read-aloud by a parent instead of read on their own.

For instance, a cousin recently shared her love of Ladybug Girl books with Evangeline, which immediately caused my little girl to put every copy on hold that we could find on our library’s website. She has been devouring them! For the last two weeks, they have been her bedtime choice, her read-with-Mommy choice, and her bring-in-the-car choice. And then of course, little brother Simeon discovered Bumblebee Boy and that’s an entirely new yet connected current passion.

I digress.

As we were driving around one crazy day last week, all of a sudden my quiet little book girl piped up from the seat behind me, Mommy, I love this sentence.

The sentence said, “she whips off her coat and hat, and her wings and antennae spring to life.”

After she read the sentence aloud to me, she paused in silence. I supposed she was pondering the words. I could tell she was playing them over again on her tongue. I smiled to myself, wishing I could see her better in my rear view mirror. I asked what she loved about the sentence, and she replied, I love the way the words sound. I like “whips off.” I like “springs to life.”

Interesting side note: while her mama adores adjectives to the moon and back, my little girl focuses on the verbs. She is a little lady of action.

“How does that sentence make you feel?” I asked.

She thoughtfully answered, it makes me feel excited. Like I have energy. Like it’s a surprise. It feels fun.

Something about the depth of maturity it takes for a child to not only love a sentence, but to acknowledge their love of it, and then to be able to share the why behind the love… man. It made this mama proud.

Baby, I like that sentence too. I love that you love it. And I sure love you. More than every freckle on your face.

Little Miss Country Girl

The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes,
and surely it is in the everyday things around us
that the beauty of life lies.

It is the sweet, simple things of life
which are the real ones, after all.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

Sweet little darling,
firecracker passion,
strawberry seed freckles,
your blue eyes now grey-green.
Work beside me,
hold my hand,
rest in the comfort
of learning alongside
this mama learning too
and who could imagine nothing better
than walking life with you.

My own sweet little country girl, helping her mama, seeking to grow up far too fast into my shoes.
She delights in ducks, water hoses, garden soil, butterfly wings, ripe strawberries, and fresh basil.
She finds comfort in holding hands, being close, and conversing about all the deep things she carries in her heart.
She seeks to be far too grown up far too quickly, but not because she really tries to – simply because she is a mature little starlet, truly an old soul.

As the years pass,
I am coming more and more to understand
that it is the common, everyday blessings
of our common everyday lives
for which we should be particularly grateful.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

My Cup Overflows

Thou anointest my head: my cup runneth over.
Psalm 23:5

This morning, as my children and I sat around the kitchen table doing our copywork for the day, little things were really getting under my skin. The six year old will not stand still, sit still, stop wiggling, or curb the humming & whistling… quite literally, no matter what we try, it seems that at least on this particular morning, he is actually physically unable to truly be still & quiet. The ten year old repeatedly uses his pencil and the heel of his opposite hand for a drum set in between penning words. The five year old moans every time she needs to correct a word, erase a pencil mark, or drops something on the floor… which, to be fair, is about every 27.3 seconds. The two year old is happily uncapping ColorWonder markers and strewing them about the floor (last time it was half-melted crayons which took a while to scrub up… so this is a major improvement) while singing songs at what-ought-to-be the top of his voice, but I happen to know it isn’t, because if there’s one thing we have in spades in this household, it’s breath support & plucky lungs.

My own copywork was going slowly, thanks to the ever-emergent nature of the fulltime homeschooling mother of small children. The dog needs out, the toddler needs to go potty, the children squabble, the pencils need sharpened, the dog peed on the floor, the toddler peed on the floor, the phone rings, the washing machine buzzes, the FedEx man comes at an unusually early hour… the singing, the pencil-drumming, the leg-wiggling, the chair-squeaking, the moaning about how long five verses is when you are trying to write in cursive and you’re only six years old…

I made a big, delicious latte and sat back down. I was only three verses through my five… and it had quite honestly been about thirty minutes already… when the five year old lost her self control and needed some correction. In my over-zealous flight to show her the error of her ways, I rather gave a flamboyant representation myself of just what lacking self control can do to a day. I managed to knock my entire large mug of hot latte all over the table and down the edge like a frothy waterfall. In the nanosecond it took for me to finally lose my cool and react in an expulsory fashion, God slowed down my vision enough to do one of those “this is your life” slideshows inside my eyelids for a moment… highlighting simply the last hour of the morning. My petty angst, my raw nerves, my frenzied attack of all the things at once rather than pacing and parsing them out in an orderly fashion. I don’t think I uttered a single sound or solitary syllable. God grabbed me right there. The proverbial swat on my hand was received, my eyelids came down, my shoulders slumped. The breath in my lungs caught and I immediately felt the mercy of God’s hand rearranging my morning in one quick movement.

My sudden physical response was so jolting, I managed to slide my chair away from the table far enough that the waterfall of coffee avoided me altogether but rather soaked up my copywork journal and splashed upon some of the readalouds from our morning basket, sopped into the table runner, and managed to splosh & splash across the entire kitchen nook floor (praise the Lord we recently got rid of the rug & reverted to the bare wood) & onto most of the chair legs around the table.

While I spun around to grab an armful of towels from the drawer beside the sink, I thought to myself, well, that’s one way to restart the morning.

I cleaned up the books, the table runner, the chair legs, the floor… and layered kitchen towels amongst the wet, brown pages of my own copywork journal. As I did this, my children grew suddenly so attentive and diligent in their own copywork, their verses were finished and they moved on almost mechanically to their sketchpads and math books. I hardly even noticed my daughter crying over her copywork… I was so caught up in my coffee-soaked Scripture pages and trying to make sure no library books were casualties.

Finally, my daughter looked up at me and said in a very sad little voice, “Mommy, was that my fault?” I cupped her chin in my hand and looked her in the eyes to say, “Who knocked over that cup of coffee?” “I don’t know, Mommy. Did I do it?” she asked, tears trying to puddle in her ever-greener blue eyes. “Mommy knocked it over, baby. You didn’t do it. Mommy lost self control. I let my impatience take over.” I stepped back and looked at all the kids. “Thank you for being patient with me while I got through my own temper tantrum. God’s still working on me, and I am not always a cheerfully obedient daughter.”

They smiled at me. They forgave me. They understood.

I made a new latte. We all sat back down, a freshly mopped floor now beneath our feet. It was overdue for that anyway. I looked down at my copywork journal. The page that seemed most ruined held Colossians 2:6-7: Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I certainly was not walking in Him with an abundance of thanksgiving this morning! And now this coffee-soaked, tattered & torn page would remain the evidence and reminder of my weak & wobbly ways.

I gently turned that page over to see where I had left off of this morning’s verse… we are just beginning to work on memorizing Psalm 103, so I was three verses into it when I spilled the coffee…

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
who forgives all your iniquities,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your…

Oh my.
My own eyes now filled with tears. Immediately, I was brought to prayer of humility, confession, repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.

I am not called to run a home that is still, silent, stark, & stoic.
I am called to be faithfully building up my home, training these children for the Kingdom, and pursuing Christ as a corner pillar.
How can I so easily lose sight of the calling of my soul?
To bless His name! And to not forget all that He has done.

Oh! Praise the Lord that even in the very midst of that moment, His grace was there to grab me and set me straight again. To show me that I was pursuing an incorrect vision of my day, rather than embracing the life before me with faithfulness. My friend Mystie had just shared with me a few days ago some thoughts about leading our homes and teaching our children with rest and faithfulness. It was a must-re-read for me this afternoon. Quoting Sarah Mackenzie, in her book Teaching From Rest, “Our days, though messy, loud, chaotic, and sometimes completely overwhelming, can be filled with great peace. … Teaching from rest means we don’t panic when things don’t go according to our plan.”

It was a beautiful spiritual exercise to finish my section of Psalm 103 once my page dried out enough that my pen wouldn’t rip the page badly.

…who redeems your life from destruction,
who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
who satisfies your mouth with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

What a perfect pivot from where I was to where I went.
The irritation and angst that had been building in me (although I would not have admitted it) gave way to destruction, and it wasn’t until after my soul awakened to NOT FORGET the benefits of my Lord that I once again realized how very much my cup overflows – with His lovingkindness and tender mercy, and with so many countless, tangible, good things.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! For things like forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction, and strength. These are the gifts that He gives in abundance. These are the things that I can rely on, even in the midst of the messy, chaotic, loud, frustrating, and unpredictable.

Mystie says, “Instead of looking for what you can cut to make life easier, cut the whining, cut the social media, cut the lingering over your coffee. Cut the fear, cut the comparisons, cut the jealousy, cut the anxiety – we can, because God gives us grace to turn from our sins, to repent.”

Yes. He does. Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless His holy name. The goodness and mercy of my God follow me and fill me. He makes my cup overflow. Amen.

Eleven Years of Hope

Just thinking of my beautiful Covenant Hope tonight. Eleven years later, I still remember holding her for the first time. And saying goodbye to my first sweet baby. My gateway into a world of dark grief I never expected. My gateway into a complicatedly gorgeous weaving called Motherhood that I wasn’t prepared for.

Eleven years later, I now wouldn’t change a thing.
But at that moment, I would have given ANYthing to put my baby back in my womb and start that little heart beating again.

Beautiful baby.
Eleven years later, Mommy still loves you more than every freckle your DNA included. Eleven years later, I can still remember the first time I saw you with my own eyes and marveled over the complexity of your beautifully knitted, tiny body. Eleven years later, your life still brings me hope.
And I am eager to join with you in the choir. xx

Fireworks Day

The Bible is worth all the other books ever printed.
-Patrick Henry-

Julyfourth2

My children love “fireworks day.” And this year was no exception. With the specific delight of getting to gather with our church parish group for a cookout and fellowship, followed by meeting up with my parents at a small town fireworks display not too far from our home, there was no end of joy and excitement.

This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family.
The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.
-Patrick Henry-

True to our bibliophilic family’s constant obsession, we began the day with books.
I read to my children about the history of Independence Day.
I read them the Declaration of Independence.
We looked at facsimiles of the document.
We sang a couple of patriotic songs.

Although the eyes of my sweet little gingers well nigh glazed over during the reading of the Declaration of Independence itself, they really loved Alice Dalgliesh’s book on the subject. What other books have you read and loved about America’s beginnings, founding fathers, liberty, & independence?

Julyfourth1

Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian
and social duty of each individual…
Continue steadfast and,
with a proper sense of your dependence on God,
nobly defend those rights which heaven gave,
and no man ought to take from us.
-John Hancock-

But, as expected, it was really the fireworks that took their breath away.
Enjoying the snuggles with grandparents while some watched through the sunroof, wrists wrapped in glowstick bracelets, covering ears when it got super loud, even counting bats that flew by nearby & overhead in the pine trees beside us.

Julyfourth3

These are moments of memory-making.
I too have memories of Independence Day… my mom throwing pool parties, with buntings and streamers along the deck, patriotic-colored food, even tablecloths made of sewn-together flag handkerchiefs. I remember huge glass bowls of trifle with blueberries and strawberries and fluffy white cream. I remember going to a nearby theme park to watch incredible fireworks with friends and family, and the seemingly-eternal drive to get home through indescribable traffic jams.

And now, here I am, on the other side. Helping my own children to enjoy holidays, make memories, and learn little bits about the seriousness behind the excitement. But let’s be real: it will be a while before my children call it Independence Day, because the star of the celebration is truly the pinnacle of the night – and thus it shall be called, for the foreseeable future, Fireworks Day.

I congratulate you and my country on the singular favor
of heaven in the peaceable and auspicious settlement
of our government upon a Constitution
formed by wisdom,
and sanctified by the solemn choice
of the people who are to live under it.
May the Supreme Ruler of the world
be pleased to establish and perpetuate
these new foundations of liberty and glory…

Thank God, my country is saved
and by the smile of Heaven
I am a free and independent man.
-John Hancock-

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Then join hand in hand,
brave Americans all!
By uniting we stand,
by dividing we fall.
-John Dickinson-

Lit for the Loo

Perhaps it is safe to say that when anyone in our household embarks on (or even simply revisits) anything remotely new or exciting, my response is wholeheartedly, there are books for that. My husband is into things like grilling or smoking meat, roasting coffee, and brewing beer… so he buys books on the subjects. My oldest son is excited to learn computer programming skills and languages, so he spends an immense amount of time finding just the right books from every corner of the library as well as adding a couple extras to the Amazon shopping cart. My middle son wants art instruction on how to draw just the right kind of animals, plants, ninjas, or medieval weaponry, so we gather drawing books from hither and yon. My daughter finds a love of ballet, and suddenly nearly an entire bookshelf in her room is full of ballerina fiction & nonfiction. I need to work on prayer and devotional reading? Four clicks away, and now there are a few new things on my desk to give me the needed boost – Nancy Guthrie, Andrew Case, Timothy Keller, Clay & Sally Clarkson. I need reminders and propellers for educating my children – Katherine Paterson, Andrew Pudewa, Sarah Clarkson and Sarah Mackenzie are ready to jump off the pages and take my hands. When I need cooking inspiration, I grab hands with Danielle Walker, Trim Healthy Mama, and Hot Providence via pages of their books. When I recently jumped into the world of duck eggs and baby chicks, I collected more than an armload of fiction, nonfiction, and picture books for the occasion. It’s just what we do in this family!

Now my littlest ginger is working on a new endeavor, and he found himself a whole stack of books for the process too.

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Once Upon a Potty is his absolute favorite. He has actually made friends with the character in the book. For instance, he talks about Joshua going poopy in the potty, and how proud his mother is of him. He then looks up and me and says, “Mommy, you are proud of me too.” Yes sweetheart, Mommy is proud of you. “Simeon and Joshua?” I laugh, yes, of course, Simeon and Joshua.

Skip to the Loo, My Darling is downright cute although definitely pure fun rather than educational. It makes him smile, and he enjoys looking at each of the little potties in the illustrations throughout, especially at the very end. He finds the one that looks most similar to his own little potty, and says, “we match!”

What to Expect When You Use the Potty is honestly a big out of his league. It seems like it would work better for a 3-4 year old going through the potty training experience, rather than a little two year old tot. He got glossy-eyed pretty quick when I was reading it aloud to him; I think it simply went too in-depth and had too much information for what was necessary in our particular scenario. But he still enjoys the pictures, so it goes along with the other two he really enjoys, and he’s got his happy little stack of three… his very own pile of literature for the loo.

And he’s a successful, happy, informed, M&M filled little guy!
One week into the process, we’ve almost got it nailed.
And for right now, that’s an absolute victory.

For icing on the cake, when he was reading AlphaBlock last night, a longstanding favorite of his which he has been reciting completely from memory since last winter, he got to U and quite proudly proclaimed that “U is for Simeon because now I wear undies too.”

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Summer Reading Stack, take one

It is hard to imagine that summer is so fully underway! With soccer camp behind us and music camp looming just ahead, the garden in full production and the birds nearly ready to start laying eggs, you’d think I would have a clue. But I totally missed local strawberry season, and the only way I won’t miss our local cherry season is if I get out there this week with my sister-in-law and all the kids. My children are ecstatic that “fireworks day” is this week, but when my daughter asked this evening, “is that the day about St. Patrick?” I realized that I need to revisit some basic Independence Day foundations with the kids in the next 24 hours. Note to self: dig out the patriotic picture books post haste! I know I have Mary Pope Osborne’s Happy Birthday America on the schoolroom bookshelves somewhere…

While our official school year with the chaos of our weekly co op finished up over a month ago, we are continuing our normal habit of schooling through the summer when we are at home. During soccer camp week, we focused on Bible, reading, music practice, and soccer practice. Plus playdates and swimming! It was exhausting and delightful. It will be a very similar pattern during music camp. The rest of the weeks of summer, though, we are plugging away with piano lessons, ukulele lessons, and the basic subjects at home: Bible (which term we use rather broadly to include Scripture, catechism, hymn, devotional, copywork, & handwriting), math, English, reading, and music lessons.

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What everyone most looks forward to, though, is our regular habit of reading aloud. In general, I am the one who reads aloud to the children while they eat a meal (or two), and while they do things like copywork, artwork, sewing, or other quiet fine motor projects… but the children do love being asked to take turns reading passages to one another. (Only the three oldest are solid readers, of course, but even 2 1/2 year old Simeon likes to hold a book and “read” it to us either by reciting what he remembers of a favorite, or by interpreting something from illustrations.) It gives the children practice speaking well in front of others, without the added pressure of needing to recite a memorized passage or write a speech themselves. One step at a time! I am very pleased with their skills of inflection, character designation, and rhythm/speed/pause.
Something I have been incredibly pleased with in the last few months is the broad variety of picture books we have gotten that are biographies of wonderful, creative people, both historic and contemporary. It is wonderful to accomplish humanity studies through the practice of reading aloud with one another.

This morning we enjoyed visiting the world of Virginia Burton, the brilliance behind stories like Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. We have always loved Virginia Burton, so to read a picture book where we can recognize all of her wonderful characters, as well as find out a little more about her own life, delighted us all.

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Burton2 Burton3

There is a delightful comment here about Virginia, called Jinnie, making creations with her very magical wands — her art supplies!, which made us giggle and have a brief conversation about the magic of creation, using things like charcoal, pencils, brushes, stamps, and God-given hands.

We also recently read about Grace Hopper, which was of particular interest to my own computer programming son, as she was so highly instrumental in creating and streamlining computer code. She found the solution in taking binary a lot further than anyone before. It is good for my son to read about women doing amazing things — like computer coding for the naval forces during a war, or painting children’s books, or cooking gourmet French food, or rocking babies to sleep on a starry night. Each of these things is a powerful force, and could be wielded for great good in God’s kingdom. I am eager for my children to take note of these things.

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Software tester. Workplace jester. Order seeker. Well-known speaker. Gremlin finder. Software minder. Clever thinker. Lifelong tinker. Cherished mentor. Ace inventor. Avid reader. Naval leader.” Such good reminders that a beautiful education is fat with variety, fully faceted all around.

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And there are also innumerable books that I want my children to read about incredible, world-changing men throughout history. One of my favorites this week is called Balderdash, about John Newbery himself. What a treasure of a little book! The artwork is absolutely sublime.

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The story begins with an introduction to Newbery as a boy in a time when books were not made for children, but rather only for adult sensibilities. And John set out to change this as soon as he had outgrown childhood himself. Apprenticing for a printer, and eventually owning his own printing company, he was the one who put children’s literature truly on the market. The lighthearted way this book describes the life and times of John Newbery is truly satisfying. I think Newbery reminds me a little of my father, and perhaps that is why I think I could have been friends with this gent if I were about two centuries before my time.

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Did I mention that Joni Eareckson Tada sent us a couple of books recently? We had written to her earlier this spring, as a family and then also along with a letter-writing class I taught at our homeschool co op. What a delight to receive letters in return (an unexpected surprise, for certain), and the additional of books to enjoy. This woman has been an encouragement to my heart since I was right about ten years old, so it feels full circle now for my son of the same age to be finding joy from her as well.

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But lest you think we do all serious reading, even in picture books, and don’t delve into the realm of lighthearted tale, anthropomorphism, comedy, or jest… think again. When you see a book cover that has your 2 1/2 year old all but pegged (including just one letter off on the author’s name!), you bring it home from the library to pass around and everyone agrees it’s a total ringer for our little Simeon James!

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Or how about the Animal House that had the three big kids walking around our house trying to locate all the animalesque words they could find in our own home? Refrige-gator, seal-ing, floor-mingo, kanga-room, gi-roof, snail-box, chimp-ney, cow-ch, ele-pants, hare-way, chande-deer. The house was echoing with bad puns and uncontrolled laughter for a solid twenty minutes after we finished the book itself.

FunBooks1  FunBooks2

I must quickly mention two sweet picture books we discovered last week, which both could be summed up in the idea of knowing yourself… with two very different ways of getting there. Tracks in the Snow is sweetly simple, with a little girl eagerly trying to find the owner of tracks she sees in the snow until she realizes they were hers leftover from the previous day. And Adelaide is truly winsome, in a very subdued message that the little kangaroo with wings has a life that no other kangaroo could have because she was made exceptionally unique – which is, of course, exactly the way we want her to be.

FunBooks3  FunBooks4

And lastly for now, our love of bird books continues. We revisited an old favorite, Chickens to the Rescue, which allowed us to introduce it to the youngest member of the family — and now our chickens themselves have taken on an adventurous twist of their own when we call out the refrain to them across the backyard.

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And Calliope… who we now realize is a drake and has thus adopted the nickname Ope rather well… would like to show you our latest ducky favorite. Largely because it’s simple, sweet, and has precious ducky illustrations.

FunBooks7  FunBooks8

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I have two large canvas bags filled with library books ready to be returned tomorrow after our watercolor lessons with Mrs. S. We have potty training books on hold, waiting for us! Somebody around here needs a little extra literary inspiration, I think, to make the final leap in the process of ascending the porcelain throne…
And I have more books and snippet-reviews to share coming up soon.

What kind of children’s books would you like to see reviewed for a tried-and-true perspective?
I’ve got a pile of little gingers who are up for the challenge.

Hungry for Healing, Part III

Hungry for Healing, Part III
The Apple Pie

A number of months ago, I made an apple pie for my husband. Fruit pies are his love language. He loves when I get the crust just right. But he could probably revel in the filling with delight even if the crust weren’t flaky enough or got too browned around the pinched, ruffled edge. He simply loves pie. Really can’t live without it. And as long as it tastes delicious and close to heaven, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

While I washed, peeled, and sliced apples, I recall meditating on trees and fruit and baked goods. I contemplated Rachel Jankovic’s comment once that “trees which have borne much fruit should no longer look like a sapling.” I thought about God growing my tree, deepening my roots, expanding my trunk, filling out my branches, producing my fruit, and performing the harvest year by year. In her book, Loving the Little Years (which I haven’t read in a long time), I remember Rachel’s musings on trees and fruit: “The branches are our responsibility, the ground is not.” “The more fruit you make, the more fruit gets used.” “You cannot know the depth of His plan for your fruit. So throw it out there on the ground when you have no plan for its future. Waste it.” “Be bountiful with your fruit and free with it. The only thing that you can know for certain is that God will use it.”

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While I blended flour and salt together, and cut fat into its grains with dedication and delight, preparing to wrap, enfold, cover, and encase those apple pieces… I thought about the process with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I remember texting a friend of mine to say that I was writing a blog post about apples, apple pie, body image, and mom life. I remember telling her that I had been peeled, cut, seasoned, aged, and baked – that I was realizing I was no longer an apple, but rather a pie. I vaguely recalled Robert Capon saying something which planted that seed.

I never hit publish on that. Partly because I lost steam, partly because I wasn’t ready to really expose my struggle.

But the image has not strayed from my mind. I’ve written and rewritten thoughts about this numerous times. None of them felt right. But the repeated phrase Jonathan Rogers told me this winter was to trust my instincts and to worry less about what I write. So this morning, I don’t plan to edit, rework, or nuance. I am writing stream-of-consciousness style, for better or for worse. It may be a jumbly, hot mess. That’s pretty much the state of my work these days. It’s simply true.

At nearly 35 years old, raising four children full-time, with thirteen pregnancies and a host of health & hormonal nuances under my belt, I am a woman learning to live post-anorexia and post-bulimia, loving my smile lines, embracing the little streaks of white dappling my carrot top. I think about Nate Wilson’s poetic phrasing in Death By Living when he said that his grandmother was the tree from which apples fell and grew, from which apples fell and grew, from which apples continued to fall and grow.
Apple trees produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees, which will produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees…

Apple tree in old apple orchard horizontal.

I am not alone, stagnant, isolated, an island. I am an apple. I fell from a fruitful tree, I was sown and sprouted. I grew into a sapling.
But the rub comes when I fail to acknowledge that God has continued to deepen my roots, increase my fruit, lengthen my branches, and strengthen my trunk. I am not the girl I once was. I am not the firstyear fruit producer I had been. And while I love the imagery of remaining the tree, of looking forward to the days of needing my branches propped up, of having burls and truly gnarly bark thick with wrinkles and creases – there’s something about the idea of moving from the orchard into the kitchen that delights me.

I’m a baking addict, so that’s one thing.
I love flour, sugar, fat, spices.
I adore the sounds of thick syrupy fruit bubbling on the stove, and the schunk sound my knife makes as it slices through crisp apple flesh.
Even just imagining the smell of pastry in the oven makes my salivary glands dance.

And then there’s Father Robert Farrar Capon.
The man who really introduced me to onions.
The one who started me realizing that my hatred of my body and my war with food was truly a spiritual battleground, and I wasn’t seeing victory.
He is the one who reminds me that, yes, I fell as a crisp, ripe, firm, shapely apple from a strong and faithful tree. But when God took that apple, He didn’t set it on a shelf to be kept the way I was harvested from the tree of my lineage.

I was plucked in order to be used.
Apples are meant to give nourishment, to give joy.
I am meant to give life, nourishment, and joy too.

And just like the apple that is used up for those purposes, I will not be left the same.

Rachel Jankovic wrote, “our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body… Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of joyfully giving your body to another.”

She goes on to say, “make sure you aren’t buying into the world’s propaganda. While there are a great many rewards, the sacrifice is very real… [and] the answer to these obstacles is not to run away in fear as the world does, but to meet it with joy, and in faith.”

My life, my calling, my homemaking, my motherhood, my faith – these things call me to be used for the good of others, to give myself away, to be used up, to savor, to become considerable, to be relished.

As Robert Capon said in a beautiful benedictory passage in The Supper of the Lamb,

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable… And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed… Eat well then.

I will determine, then, to turn from buying into the world’s propaganda. I will meet these obstacles with joy, and in faith. I will embrace my season of apple pie as sweeter and fatter than my firm and slender days as an untouched apple straight from the tree. I will endeavor to appreciate my softened body with a heart of thankfulness rather than a sense of resentment. I will seek to glorify God with this sweet season of bodily life, not grasping for control over the size of my jeans, the fit of my swimsuit, the taut of my belly skin, the roundness of my cheek.

May I be used. May I be molded, remade, served up as something even more marvelous than I was to begin with. And may I see joy and glory in the process and in the result. Not because my determination is a victory. But because God is in the business of making things new, and I want to give myself up to Him as He works new things in me and through me. Muffin top and all.

Glory be.

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“for to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you might follow in his steps…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 peter 2:21, 24

Only Daughter

EJCatthebeach

She runs into the house without even slamming the door—the loud clomp clomp of her periwinkle Wellies announces her entrance just prior to the shout in the foyer, “I want to come in! I’m frozen!” Chapped, peeling lips are pale beneath her runny nose and wind-kissed cheeks. Heavy breaths through her mouth along with icy white splotches on her coat are evidence of the five-year-old’s best efforts at a snowball fight with two older brothers. Tossing mittens halfway down the hallway and grabbing off her purple knit cap, she shakes her head like a puppy fresh from the bath, letting loose deep red tangles of hair that cling to the sweat on her neck and melted snowflakes on her freckled face. Sitting down with both exhaustion and effort, she tugs off her boots, bringing along striped wool socks which leave little balls of fuzz between clammy toes.

While her hands unclip navy blue hand-me-down snowpants and unzip a pink snowcoat two sizes too big, she hears her mother hollering, “close the front door!” Leaving haphazard piles of thawing snowclothes and strewn accessories, she latches the door and runs on tiptoes. The little girl who previously looked as plump as a marshmallow is stripped down to mere lace-edged white leggings and a long-sleeved magenta shirt, showing the gangly limbs and thin frame of a little sapling not yet fully grown. She finds a silver tulle skirt with sparkly sequins freckling the top layer, a coordinating silver knit sweater with metallic threads woven throughout, two pink grosgrain barrettes, and a hairbrush to deliver to her mother.

She finds her stoking the fire, and scurries to squeeze her softer frame. With a heaving grip and exaggerated groan, her arms wrap around matronly hips, smiling upward with her chin pressed into her mother’s belly button. “Get me dressed!” she demands. She swivels her body and shakes her pigtails. She grins and sighs as her mother fawns over her, dolling her up in the warmth of the nearby fire which pops and crackles. She stares into dancing flames until her blueberry eyes glaze over and her breathing slows into little sighs beneath her sinking head as one ear nearly reaches a shoulder in relaxation.

“Read to me, Mommy,” the daughter quietly pleads, blinking slowly and stifling a yawn, as the last barrette is clipped. Mother reaches for a nearby stack of books, and pulls her daughter onto her lap. The thin little girl reclines against the pillowed warmth of her mother’s body, covers her knees with her shimmering skirt, and rests her temple against her mother’s breast. She insists on turning the pages, interjecting commentary, and correcting each slip of her mother’s tongue.

The door slams. The little girl is immediately erect, rigid, alert. “Boys?” she calls out, cupping her hand alongside her mouth. With a quick kiss on her mother’s lips, she wriggles herself out of her mother’s lap and races down the hallway back to the foyer, welcoming her boisterous brothers with clapping of hands and loud hurrahs. One of her barrettes falls askew.

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