Little Saints, Coda

If you wonder about other tips and tricks and experiments and experiences… what kind of things others have learned from their own series of trial & error… never be afraid to ask for someone to share their wisdom with you. Learn by watching others, learn by asking others, learn by trying and iterating on your own. In fact, I am further along in parenting in the pew than the woman who wrote this post, but I just found this and think it’s so encouraging to see someone else saying the same things I have found to be true. She reminded me of some tips I had forgotten, and worded some things in ways that were a particular blessing. So read what Lisa wrote here – if only to know that I’m not the only one saying these things about little saints and training worshipers from their earliest days. And I am just beginning to read Let the Children Worship, which looks very promising. Maybe I’ll come back and give an official review once I have read the whole thing; it’s rather short and unintimidating.

For the most part, I have written lately about training “a child,” but have not addressed the reality of balancing an infant against my chest, a toddler on my right, and a preschooler on my left. I have mentioned that the phase of life I’m in currently involves three kids who are completely self-capable worshipers – ages 14, 10, and 9. The almost-3 year old stays with me… unless I’m serving as accompanist, which means someone else has to keep him, and that honestly never goes super smoothly yet. And the 6 year old needs to sit beside an adult, but it doesn’t matter whether it is mama or daddy or a grandparent or even a friend. He just needs the gentle accountability of having an adult beside him for occasional reminders. He’s this close to graduating even from that being a true necessity. But all that to say: I have been in the situation before where all my little people were quite little people, and it felt like a juggling game in the pew every week. I haven’t taken notes during a sermon for years. I don’t even hold a Bible on my lap anymore at this point. But I teach my children to take notes, and I help them hold their Bibles open. And that is way more valuable, because this season is so comparatively short but has tremendous dividends in the long run. In another two years, I think I will absolutely be balancing a Bible and notebook on my lap again – because my children will no longer need so much supervision and oversight from me. It is a process of slow progress, but the progress really does happen right in front of my eyes. It is beautiful to behold. I’m here for it.

Let me say, do not underestimate the value of standing in the back to bounce your baby or toddler during the service. For the first 18 months, my babies have relished spending the service in a wrap or baby carrier. Often they are fine with me just sitting in the pew while they are snuggled and strapped against my chest. But they also might need me to stand and bounce or sway. And that’s completely fine. I like sitting in a place where I can either stand right beside where my family is sitting or right behind them. I always want to stay as close in proximity to my family as I can. And there are often ways to make that work, even if I am needing to be standing during a sermon in order to best care for my youngest-at-the-time.

If I have a choice, I will always sit in a pew rather than a chair. It is so hard to keep a kid in their own chair, rather than squeezing and snuggling together on a bench. Plus, chairs tend to have a space where the seat and back “meet” but leave a gap where things tumble to the ground – pencils or puffs or papers… or chubby little legs. Try to sit in a place where you can minimize those types of struggles in the middle of a service. Plan not only what to bring (and what NOT to bring), but where to sit. Is there a speaker nearby that will blast the ears of your sensitive kid? Don’t sit there. Is there a fan or heater vent somewhere that will distract your kid? Sit somewhere else. Can your kid reach the lightswitch for the sanctuary if you sit in a certain spot? Please find a different spot.

If your youngest child is more than four years old, sit as close to the front as possible. This is good for them – it narrows their scope of vision so there are less distractions. It is good for others – it leaves seats toward the back for families with younger children and babies so they have a quicker route to exit when it becomes necessary.
If you are old enough to choose where to sit in a worship service, please choose to leave the back rows for children with little saints in tow. This is a generosity and kindness that is too often underestimated. And if you only take up half a row, please leave aisle seats for parents with little ones. Again, this is a generosity and kindness: it is a way you can serve and help the parents in this trench of raising up little worshipers. Give them the aisle seat so they can come and go as they train their little ones. You ought not need to get up repeatedly during a service, but a parent who is training their toddler to be quiet and be still, to learn focus and attention and obedience, very well may need to be up and down five or ten times during one service.

There is literally almost never a reason for a larger child or adult to need a bathroom break during a worship service. Teach yourself and your children to use the bathroom before church starts, and then they can hold it until church is over. This might take some training and some practice – and there is always an exception to the rule for someone who has a medical problem with their bladder or a little one who is freshly potty training – but for the majority of church goers there ought not to be bathroom breaks necessary during the worship service. It is just as distracting and disruptive for an 8 year old or a 17 year old or a 42 year old to get up and walk out (and then flush the toilet in the hallway, which everyone in the sanctuary can hear, by the way…) as it is for a baby to fuss or escape their pew or whatever.

And water breaks? Learn to bring a little water bottle for those extreme moments when someone genuinely needs to wet their throat – a parent can determine if the child actually needs it (honestly, during pregnancy I had to almost constantly be chewing peppermint gum and sipping lemon ice water – so I know it’s not just a child’s issue). But going out to the water fountain in the middle of the worship service as a norm is unnecessary.

More and more often, we as a broader cultural community do not teach focus and attention and diligence to one another or the upcoming generation. We are all about instant gratification, fast paced video games with loud noises and bright lights, and everything needs to be bells & whistles for someone to put up with it or try paying attention to it for more than ten minutes. This is a disservice to our families, our children, our churches, our communities, and our humanity at large.

I’ve seen parents give phones and tablets to little ones during worship services, and this breaks my heart. In a doctor’s office waiting room or on a long road trip, or maybe possible even at something like a wedding or funeral… that kind of thing is fine. But remind yourself again what we are doing on Sunday mornings: we are worshipping the King of the universe, the Creator, the Lord of all. Don’t stumble your little ones by giving them a distraction. Rather choose the good by bringing them with you in this godly endeavor to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength – to learn the liturgy and practices of being worshipers of the King. Bless them with the trajectory of knowing and loving Sunday morning worship.

Speak about worship regularly and positively. Teach yourself and your children to look forward to Sunday mornings with joy, anticipation, preparation, and gladness. Seek to make Sunday mornings smooth and sweet prior to the church service so that your spirit (and theirs) is rightly oriented away from the various stumblings of sins and toward fellowship and song and joyful worship. We used to drive an hour each way to church on Sunday mornings (actually, when I was a teenager, we drove 2.5 hours each way!), so snacks & audiobooks were key. It was honestly hard to maintain sweet fellowship with all family members during that long commute, and arrive for worship with genuine peace and joy. We now drive just five minutes each way to church on Sunday mornings, and we often spend the entire time singing Psalms and hymns. I highly recommend this. There’s nothing like singing together as a family to prepare you to worship together with God’s people in His house. I love Deuteronomy 6:6-7, and singing and reciting and catechising are often great ways to do this… but so is the simple act of prioritizing worship together on Sunday mornings. There is no greater act of Christian parenting than that of discipling our kids for the Kingdom of God. How could we NOT therefore prioritize sharing the pew with them?

I have high-energy, outside-the-box, energetic, fast-paced children. It takes effort to cultivate focus and attention and diligence in them. And I am still learning these things myself – partly because my brain is always on high alert, trying to not only be attentive to the Spirit while I worship but also to be holding my five kids accountable, plus either serving musically or supporting my husband as he serves during the service… I get that what I am describing isn’t always going to be easy. But it honestly is simple. (Ease and simplicity are not the same thing.)

Simply plan ahead.
Simply be attentive.
Simply be humble.
Simply come to the feet of the Lord as a child yourself, and let your little children come also to Him – don’t forbid them, for the Kingdom of heaven is also for them. (Acts 2:39 & Matthew 19:14)

Little Saints, Tips

After sharing about my theological and philosophical convictions about Christian families bringing their children (yes, of all ages) into the worship service with them as the norm, I think it is only fair to share some of the ways that I have made this work for my family over the last fifteen years. By the time my child is four years old, they can sit through an entire worship service on their own and participate well in it. My husband could lead music and I could be accompanying on the piano, and our children can sit on their own in the pew. Not because we are amazing parents, not because my kids are quiet little churchmice, not because we hold a monopoly on pew life. We simply hold to our convictions and prioritize living them out as faithfully as we can. It is God’s grace!

When my first child was a baby, I would listen to an audio sermon (or just a portion of one – this was before podcasts were a thing) and sit on the couch with him on my lap. My goal was to teach him lap-sitting skills. The first goal was to train his noises to quietness. His physical wiggles and wobbles and kicks and claps were totally fine. The only requirements I had for him were that he stayed on my lap, and that his mouth did not go above a whisper while we were listening to the sermon. Quiet snacks and little fidgety hand-toys were fine. Nursing or napping was also fine. If we could do fifteen or twenty minutes per morning of this, it was a success. It was worthwhile. I also would sing with him, balancing him in one arm or on my hip while holding the hymnal in the other hand – and I would encourage him to make noise while I sang. Teaching him to follow my example: make a joyful noise during singing, but sit quietly when a pastor is speaking. Until about two years old, those were my main goals and practices. And yes, practicing at home was helpful for my baby and for me as his mama.

I said that his physical movements were not my priority focus, but his quietness. We train their volume control first, and we get to their physical self control later. My second son essentially engaged in a silent wrestling match during sermons for a solid year of his life… but because he was already trained to have a quiet mouth when he was asked to, he pretty much just needed bear hugged on a lap to eventually train his body to be still. It’s not about a particular method, but about faithful consistency and not growing weary in doing good. It is good work to train children for worship. It is all too easy to grow weary in it. But the fruit that grows from planting and nurturing these seeds is indescribable. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture: fruit takes time to see, but the sowing is crucial.

Until about three years old, a snack during the worship service can be helpful. Disposable pouches of applesauce or yogurt are pretty quiet and don’t make much of a mess. Cheerios, puffs, fruit snack gummies, or yogurt melts are good ideas if you have put them in a quiet container beforehand – some little baggies are pretty quiet, and so are these Munchkin cups. Crackers and pretzels or crackly packaging like most granola bars are wrapped in are NOT good ideas. But it doesn’t take a ton of planning to get rid of the crinkly bits prior to the worship service. Simply learn to be mindful of planning ahead.

For my kids, I train them away from snacks by offering it to them later and later in the service as time goes on. Nursing, milk or water bottles, and little snacks at any point during the service were fair game until my child is about two years old; and then at that point, it was time to relegate any of that just during the sermon. And by the time they are about three years old, it is time to give up the snack altogether. They can learn to wait until the service is done by the time they are that age. At that point, having a little snack once the service ends is like a reward for a job well done. It is a good reminder to whisper in their little ear: “you’re doing a great job, so after church, you can have your snack!”

Until about six years old, quiet activities for their hands can also be helpful. Avoid things with loud zippers, crinkly sounds, and Velcro. Don’t give keys to your kid. And keep all toys with batteries at home or in the car – they have no place in church. WaterWow, BoogieBoard, colored pencils and a little notebook, and some versions of Quiet Books (again – zippers and Velcro are often not quiet) can be great. If you want to bring picture books, keep them small – board books or Indestructibles are highly recommended. And teaching kids to bring a Bible with them to church from the earliest age is great: I have picked up Bibles for fifty cents apiece at Goodwill before, and they are great for little hands to hold and page through – and it isn’t a big investment or a special family heirloom to be sad about when the pages get wrinkled or ripped.

During the ages of 4-7 most kids tend to come to an understanding of both reading and writing- until they are ready to learn how to take notes, using an activity book like this can be a fun idea. Depending on the child, though, having that many pages of activities can be overwhelming with too many options – sometimes one or two sheets on a clipboard is a better route to take. Print something off the internet and use cheap clipboards like this.

By the time a kid can read & write independently, it is a worthwhile practice to equip them with a notebook and pen (if your kid is going to obsess over clicking it during a sermon – don’t give them a clicking one). We like lined notebooks with a ribbon bookmark, elastic strap to keep it closed, and a loop to stick their pen in (like these). For the first year or so of “taking notes,” we assist the child by copying down some of the sermon text, and then making fill-in-the-blank spots for them to copy the words, and then writing keywords and leaving tally space, etc. After a few months, our child usually has learned to write a couple sentences of their own as a take-away from the sermon, or write down a question they have about it. (Similar to what this resource does – but we do it intentionally each week for our child, tailored to that week’s particular sermon text.) Step by step, little progression on a great trajectory. It’s beautiful to watch them develop this skill and grow in their understanding.

We have a little reward system with the kids, too – if they “take notes well” that week (and we judge it subjectively week by week, according to what we know that child is capable of, etc) as well as achieve a personal goal we set for that child (one child’s current goal is to sing boldly every song and every verse; another’s is not to doodle rather than take notes; another’s is to engage in corporate prayer with self-control over body and mind) – then they will get a candy. It is a great way to recap the sermon and share these growing skills with one another over a meal either Sunday afternoon or on Monday.

What about those moments when the toddler is flipping out and becomes a genuine distraction? For the love of your brethren, take the kid out of the sanctuary. There is a line somewhere that every kid crosses (some of them more frequently than others) when it comes to making noise during a worship service. If “shushing” and patting their lips gently doesn’t cut it, you ever so gently whisper in their ear “whisper, whisper, please” – and if that doesn’t cut it, you pick them up and leave the sanctuary for a time of teaching. In most churches there is a chair in a hallway or foyer or a mother’s room or something. In our little local church, there is a pew in the foyer, and it’s the perfect place for training a tot. It’s exactly the same as being in the sanctuary, but we are more isolated from others – so my toddler is less likely to be distracting to anyone around us, and I am less likely to become easily frazzled. But do I take him into “the nursery”? Absolutely not. I made the mistake of changing a soiled diaper in the nursery about a month ago, and there were a few moms in there just chatting while their toddlers were playing with whatever they wanted. When I had finished the diaper changing and was heading back into the worship service, my two year old threw a fit because he wanted to play with the other kids. I have now learned that we will no longer even so much as enter the nursery while a worship service is going on. I want him to know that he absolutely may play in there with his little friends before service or after service, but that he belongs in the sanctuary during worship. It was a good reminder to me as well. I inadvertently tempted him and knocked him off course. I asked him to forgive me for not being more mindful of that. And then we sat together on the pew in the foyer until the sermon ended, and we made our way back into the sanctuary to sit with our family for communion and a closing hymn.

But here is another nuance that I don’t want to neglect stating outright: if you keep your kid in the service until they get too noisy or too distracting, and then you just go to the nursery and chat while they play, you are rewarding negative behavior. Of course playing with toys is more fun than sitting still and having a quiet mouth for forty minutes! But rewarding my toddler with that playtime after the service is done is a bigger blessing in so many facets. We can’t overlook the negative things we teach our children by our actions, and we must pray for grace to have eyes to see our stumbling blocks and identify our blind spots!

As far as bringing “all the right things” to church on Sundays, we again just plan ahead with intentionality. We have a large canvas bag printed with the “five solas” that I ordered a long time ago from CafePress. And it is what we call “the church bag.” We only bring it to church. It remains packed with each child’s notebook & pen, quiet activities for the toddler (currently an LED writing tablet, a notebook, a fabric pouch of colored pencils, and a mostly-quiet book that he is not allowed to use the velcro parts on), a few Bibles, and two quiet snacks for the toddler (currently one applesauce pouch and one yogurt pouch). On Sunday morning, when we are ready to leave the house, we grab my keys, the diaper bag, and the church bag. That’s it.

I leave the kids’ allowance & pay out the night before, so on Sunday morning they are reminded to get their tithe in their pockets. Beginning at 5 years old our kids get a $1 training allowance, in order to teach them the importance of tithing as well as saving and generosity; at 10 years old it goes up to $2, at 15 it will be $5 – and if they earn any money by doing additional jobs during the week (nope, normal family chores and duties do not count – we don’t get paid to simply be a contributing family member), they tithe on that as well. Under 5 years old, my kids almost always ask for coins to put in the offering box – so I try to keep a solid stash of dimes and quarters around, so I can place a coin in their palm as well.

Why do I train my kids that there are church clothes and not-church clothes? Why do I train my kids to take their tithe every week? Why do I train my kids to attend the worship service from infancy? Because of what I believe about God, about worship, and about their place in the Kingdom of God. And it takes years of training and practicing to not only have the proper actions and participation, but to win their hearts and shape them into lovers of Christ, lovers of worship, lovers of true and good and beautiful things.

Sundays are where we start. It is the day of rest and worship.
Heaven is where we aim. It is an eternity of rest and worship.

Life here is just preparation for that glory anyway. It is worth prioritizing and implementing these practices with joy. For the glory of God and the good of the little saints who have been entrusted to you.

Little Saints

A little over month ago, I shared some good posts I found about Raising Worshipers. Or, as some people like to call it, parenting in the pew. Last summer, I shared a guest post where I wrote over at Humility and Doxology about Singing Psalms with Little Saints. And as I have been seeking to parent my own children faithfully on Sunday mornings week in and week out, I continue to ponder many of the themes which overlap and intertwine between those two topics. The idea of raising worshipers connects with the term “little saints,” which I apply to Christian children. My kids don’t have a catechism question which says exactly this, but I want them growing up knowing the answer to this question:

  • TO WHOM DO YOU BELONG?

My kids belong to Christ. They bear the image of their Father in heaven. They bear the mark of baptism. They are fed on the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper every week. We are raising them with the understanding that they are Christians just as much as they are Cummings. I have confidence in the fear of the Lord, and He is the refuge for my children (Proverbs 14:26). This is the underlying philosophy which informs every aspect of my parenting and homeschooling… including our weekly worship service every Sunday morning.

  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN?
  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT WORSHIP?
  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE LORD’S DAY?

Your answers to those questions are where you need to start when it comes to the topic of Christian parenting. And I believe that what we believe about these things comes out our fingertips… no matter what we say our answers are.

My five children range in age from almost-3 to 14. I have only done this parenting thing a few times, and for less than fifteen years – but during my stint so far as a mother, I have encountered approximately 728 Sunday mornings with at least one child in my charge. (It actually feels like a lot more than that to me, but I double checked my math, so we’ll go with it.) Not infrequently, I have had people come up to me and praise my children and my parenting skills for the way my kids “sit through” worship. People say things like, “your kids are so well behaved!” or “my kids could never do that” or “are they always this poised and quiet?” I pretty much always chuckle out loud (or perhaps totally gut-bust in laughter, depending on the morning), trying to reassure the admirer that nope, my kids are definitely not always poised and quiet (but rather quite the opposite on an average morning), that their kids could be trained to do this just as much as mine could, and that they are only so well behaved during Sunday morning worship because we have spent their entire lifetimes pursuing and prioritizing their practice as children of the King.

I remember when my oldest was just a wee thing, and he would sleep through pretty much the entire Sunday morning service every week. Sometimes I could be constrained to share my little snuggly boy (with cheeks like dumplings) with my mother, but usually only when I was the pianist for that week… so my mom loved those Sundays best. Once I had more children in the pew, it became a little more of a juggling game, especially because my husband and I often serve during services in one way or another. Passing babies back and forth, or relying on help from grandparents, became a kind of dance. But it was always worth it. (Always will be.)

I have never put my children in the nursery during worship. Not once.
I *have* put a child in a nursery during a Sunday school hour or a Bible study. I have no qualms about giving my child the time and space to engage in that kind of setting. But it goes back to my underlying philosophy about my child: he belongs to the Lord in whose image he was created, and therefore he belongs in the worship service of that Lord. The worship my baby or toddler or adolescent offers to the Lord is no less valuable than mine or my parents’ or my grandma’s. By the grace of God, we all belong to Him and we are all called to worship Him in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). I would no more put my two year old in the nursery than I would put my ninety-two year old grandma in the nursery. Even though each of them can be distracting and need assistance sometimes. Neither one can hold the hymnal on their own or harmonize perfectly in song or sit quite still for a forty minute sermon. Neither one of them whispers convincingly but is always louder than they think they are, and there are occasions where either one of them will declare they have to use the bathroom in the middle of the service.

Grandma belongs to the Lord. She is called to worship Him.
My children belong to the Lord. They are called to worship Him.
I am tasked with motherhood by the Lord, and I am called to let them come unto Him in worship and for blessing (Mark 10:13-16).

Do you know when churches started having nurseries? It was not all that long ago, from what I can tell with preliminary searches on the internet. I have read about the history of Sunday School, as a lot of us probably have when studying the industrial revolution, but that was not intended to take the place of the worship service. It was meant to be a time of teaching and blessing children – it was not focused on worship of the Lord. Nurseries and other childcare meant to keep parents kid-free during worship services are an enigma to me. Call me narrowminded, but there it is. If you want a break from your children, especially the toddlers, go for it: but not to the extent that you are banishing those little saints from worshipping their King. I would commend to you that you reserve “a break” from your kids for just about any other time – during a weekly Bible study or occasional coffee date or so you can enjoy time with your husband or go shopping without kids in tow. But don’t bar these little saints from the worship of their Lord, and from their weekly opportunity to watch you and learn from you as you worship your Lord.

In Scripture, were children exempt from honoring the Sabbath or Passover? No. These things were as much for the children as for the adults. The Bible never describes children being kept separate from the adults – God works in families, through families, and Scripture shows us that children are not only important players in His story (Isaac, Moses, Samuel, John, Timothy) but were also considered part of the church by Paul (otherwise why would he address them directly in Ephesians 6?).

I don’t know when parents decided they didn’t need to bring their children to the worship service of the King. I don’t know why church leaders decided that it was okay to banish children from corporate worship and segregate families by age. Have you ever considered what it communicates to the child when they are exiled from even just a portion (say, the sermon, perhaps) of the worship service? Have you considered what it communicates to those around you when you send your child out of the worship service?

What we do is indicative of what we believe. What do you believe about your kids, about Christ, about the Lord’s Day, and about worship? The way you live and act and parent and worship on Sunday is more indicative of what you believe than what your words might say you believe. Our theology is lived out in our actual lives.

What kind of practical good comes from having children in the worship service? It teaches them how to worship, it teaches them that they are part of the family of God, it teaches them that their praise and prayers are valuable to the King. There is a battle against the family in society, and Satan is aiming straight at our children – and we can not give in to these attacks by distancing children from participating in the most important activity of the week.

We have to remember that the worship service is not about us. It is not about our emotional experience, or about us hearing every minute of the sermon, it is not about what we want or our own selfish needs. It is most definitely not about having a break from kids so you can listen to a sermon (you’ve heard of earbuds and recorded sermons, right?). If you aren’t able to absorb the sermon during the worship service, you have plenty of opportunity during the rest of the week to listen to the recording.

Children learn to tithe by dropping coins in the offering box alongside their parents. Children learn to sing by singing at the sides of their parents. Children learn to pray by praying with their parents. Children learn to sit and focus during a sermon by the faithful example of their parents. Children learn to stand and sit and kneel and lift their hands and bow their heads – by watching and imitating and enacting alongside their parents.

Can it be distracting to have kids in the worship service? Sure… but adults are sometimes super distracting, too. (Exhibit A: cough drop wrappers, blowing noses, and cell phones going off – oh my.) And have you never found that parents sometimes exacerbate the distracting elements of their children? (Exhibit B: parents giving their keychain to a child, or handing them snacks in crinkly packaging, or entertaining them with toys equipped with batteries.) Children do not have the monopoly on distraction.

It’s very well and good to say that I believe children ought to be in worship services with their parents because of my theology and philosophy… and it’s fine to tell you that from the outside looking in, people will tell you that my kids do great during worship every week… but my kids are far from perfect (as is my parenting), and I did not naturally know how to train my children for worship – it has taken over seven hundred Sundays to get to where we are now, and we still have room to grow and learn and iterate.

On the cusp of my youngest child turning three years old, I can share a few practical tips and experiences from my five times going through these phases and stages… stay tuned, because those practical tips will be shared in my next post.

Cultivating Community, 4

In addition to communing well in my own home with my own family, and pursuing solid relationship and reliability within our extended family circle, plus intentionally cultivating both a healthy church family AND a homeschool co op where we foster a variety of friendships and collaborations… I have engaged in the formation and cultivation of a larger community as well.

My friends at Scholé Sisters emphasize that learning happens in community, and that is one reason they have taken on the task of developing and maintaining a growing and thriving online community of homeschooling mamas, particularly those in the Classical Christian niche. It’s been a while since I heard it, but I remember their episode which talked about communities versus networking – and I loved pondering the distinctions there. Both have value. I am part of the Scholé Sisters Sistership, which is their online community for banter, brainstorming, and spitballing. It is a blessing, it is unique, it is sweet… and it’s a form of social media I can get behind.

But it is still digital, distanced, and the only “real” face to face time comes when you happen to have your schedule free enough to prioritize the meetups for reading accountability, book discussion, mentorship, and retreats (which is still done through the medium of internet and screens). There is a huge blessing to this nuance of the digital age. And yet if that’s the closest community we pursue… it is going to leave us a bit droopy and dry. (That’s why Scholé Sisters actually encourages you to find others in your local community to live out the principles together which they teach and promote.)

Back in early 2018, I found myself longing for an occasional meetup with more likeminded mamas than I found at our church at the time (there were only a few of us homeschooling families there, and it was honestly not closeby) or at our co op at the time (there were only half a dozen or so of us). I heard stories and saw online snippets of different conferences and events around the United States. I was particularly intrigued by the sound of the Great Homeschool Convention, because I knew Sarah Mackenzie, who spoke at those & promoted them broadly. At the occasion of her book releasing party for The Read Aloud Family in early 2018, I remember asking her if she knew if GHC would ever consider doing an event in the Northwest. She kind of chuckled and told me that the folks who run GHC consider their event in southern California “local” for the entire West coast… even northeastern Washington state. I think I made a snide remark about how they needed to study United States geography a bit better than that. But anyway, I then asked her (because she’s an outgoing, gregarious, entrepreneurial go-getter) if she would ever be up for hosting (or helping with) some kind of actually local event to encourage moms in educating their kids. She said, “I am not the one to do that, but I think it would be great if you did it.” I laughed and told the friends I was with, “I am not interested in doing something like that. I just really want someone else to do it! I think the Pacific Northwest really needs something to encourage moms like us!”

There were a couple more instances of similar conversations that popped up that spring from time to time. Then in June, Sarah told me she thought that Mystie Winckler might be interested in a similar endeavor, and I should connect with her. I had actually met Mystie a few years previously at a women’s event at a church a couple hours away – neither of us were local to it, and we sat together at the luncheon. So reconnecting with her felt easy. She told me to get the Voxer app, and we chatted back and forth for hours, piece by piece. (Oh, here’s a hint: the Voxer app is another great way to pursue community with someone who is long-distance, but with whom you want to share conversation. It’s another excellent medium for encouragement, accountability, spitballing, and bouncing ideas around.)

It was those conversations with Mystie which God used to change my heart. I did not want to be the one to drum up a local conference. I did not feel equipped to start a business or ministry that needed so much groundwork. I didn’t want to do the work necessary for the kind of blessing I wanted to receive.

But I felt called to it.
And God used Mystie to give me the courage necessary to give it a try. I went into that first conference thinking that I would love for this to be an annual thing, but knowing that I would be content if it ended up even just being a one-off event.
And yet here I am four years later, preparing for the fifth annual event with more wind in the sails and encouragement from the offing’s than I could have predicted or imagined.

I have been asked lots and lots of questions about this in recent years. Why a conference? Why this niche? Why you?

And again, I can’t help but go back to the idea that it was all God. I am just a bit player in His story, and this is but a wee sidestory in the grand scheme. I like being a nobody, and prefer to remain a nobody. (Great Homeschool Convention? Nah, no thanks. Not my gig. I prefer small, intimate, down to earth, real community where authentic fellowship can take place.) But while being a nobody, I am happy to do lots of work behind the scenes to deeper bless the mamas who are laboring nearby in the trenches alongside me, seeking to follow the Lord in furthering His Kingdom here on earth while we anticipate the culmination of it all someday in heaven.

We long for community because we were made for community. It is worth the sowing effort of time and resources and stress because of the fruit God brings from it. I am passionate about cultivating this community and sharing its fruit with anyone hungry for it because I have seen God at work, and I love to see Him praised.

Cultivating Community, 2

I was homeschooled during the eighties and nineties in the state of California, which is very different than homeschooling in the time and place where I currently do it. There were some necessarily isolating factors built into the practice in my childhood. There weren’t co ops and large homeschooling communities or gatherings… or at least, none nearby that we knew of. There were other homeschooling families at our church, and we occasionally did something with another family or two (or ten), especially things like fieldtrips or Christmas parties. But it was sporadic and unpredictable. There were two different years when we did a weekly homeschool day with one other family, and I remember snippets from those studies more than just about any other part of my childhood homeschooling experience. (Math with my dad was memorable because of all the M&Ms… but it was also very ordinary, very daily.) What stands out in my memory are the things which we did in community – including a year of anatomy which included things like getting our blood typed (I was the only one who wouldn’t let the moms prick my finger! We waited to type mine until I got a bloody nose one day…), we kids got casts put on our arms for a week-long experiment, and we did cool dissections like blowing into a set of lungs attached to a trachea by puffing into a PVC pipe inserted into it. Perhaps predictably, one of the most striking memories I have from homeschooling alongside another family was our three week long “fieldtrip” going along the coast of New England one autumn, because we had just finished studying early American history. Even that was done in community, because we traveled across the country with our friends. It was that pursuit, that cultivation, of community that really made it stick and stand out.

But now in the current generation, we not only have curriculum galore (enough to drive one batty on the best of days), we also have community almost anywhere and everywhere we want to find it. Co ops are almost as common as coffee shops. And yet real community is often elusive.

Sometimes I think it is because we can tend to treat things such as a homeschool co op (or social equivalent) like a drive-thru coffee hut. You blitz through in order to make a transaction, but you aren’t really engaging and communing on a deeper level. It’s grab and go. On the run. Take what you need, pay your dues, but keep a level of distance. It is all very business-like at times.

When my oldest child was eight years old, I decided it was time to see what kind of community I could engage in as a homeschooling mom. We live on a large plot of family land, where our closest neighbors are my parents, half a mile walk away. At that time my husband worked almost an hour away and our church was an hour away… and so were almost all of the people with whom we had fellowship or relationship in those spheres. If I wanted friends, I had to pursue friendship actively. If my kids wanted friends, I had to learn to prioritize making time for fellowship. So when I was invited to join a homeschool co op that was only 25 minutes from home, we jumped in excitedly! There I was: every single week, packing my four-at-the-time children into the car with backpacks and lesson plans… and I gave myself and my kids predictable pep talks each week as we pulled into the parking lot. Have fun, be friendly, learn well, listen more than you speak. Those kind of things. My kids loved the classes, because they love studying new things, being challenged, and learning alongside others. I enjoyed being stretched to teach things I had never taught before: music & movement to preschool kids, plus a letter-writing class that got rave reviews (and always included things like being assigned a long-distance penpal as well as a field trip to a nearby post office), for instance. That was also where I first developed Singing School to teach vocal & choral music to children outside my own kin. But what we did not get in that co op was real community. It was all business. A work environment. It was not about cultivating a rich fellowship of likeminded families. It was more about checking boxes for educational practicality. Not that that doesn’t have a place in life at times. But it was not what my family needed, and it did not lift any educational burden from my shoulders for our other days of homeschooling each week. After two years there, we felt completely depleted, exhausted. I wasn’t even on the leadership team, but I felt like I was carrying so much weight, without having others bear any burdens alongside me. My husband could see that it wasn’t ultimately a healthy community for us. Just because it is a community doesn’t mean it is the right community for you to be cultivating. (Different plants need different nutrients in their soil, right?)

It was over a year later that we finally found a homeschool co op which felt like home. (There was actually one in between as well, but suffice it to say: that was a little bit more of a burden than a blessing. We were grateful it was shortlived.) Finding a place where we fit in, and where God was obviously wanting to use us as well as fill us, was such a huge answer to pray. It was still a lot of work, took effort on my part to prep & teach as well as on the kids’ parts to be well-studied and prepared for classes each Tuesday. But it was not just about checking boxes. It was about relationship with one another while learning subjects for the sake of knowing God and His creation better. And it overlapped into our other weekly homeschool days, which made it feel like a blessing every day of the week- the blessing of Tuesday flowed throughout the other days. It felt so very different. Even though this co op was nearly an hour away (fifty minutes usually, but getting stuck behind a schoolbus or dealing with icy road conditions happened all too often), we instantly had deeper fellowship with that group. Once a month, the moms got together for a meeting. The workload of teaching and cleaning and watching toddlers was shared equally among the group. The kids immediately had friends like they’d never had before… and my oldest was eleven by this time, so they were ready for peers and buddies. The two years God gave us in that Classical Christian co op changed me for the better, grew my kids in pivotal ways, and spurred me on deeper in my love of truly good community. We were so excited to help develop the high school level year by year – my oldest was in the oldest class, so we were eager to assist in the building of what high school co op could look like. This was the first place where my family really felt like we actually fit in. It totally felt like home.

And then it dissolved. I did NOT see that coming. I was already planning what classes I would teach in the fall, had purchased my curriculum and was excited to plan ahead… but the last week of April last year brought a phone call that broke my heart. Co op is going to close. Four out of the remaining six families aren’t returning next year. It was my family and one other (who just had one school-age child remaining at home). I tried to be brave on the phone, understanding and empathetic. But I couldn’t wait to hang up so I could bawl. It felt like a death.

Looking back, I now know that it gutted us so badly because of what the community was for us. It was not just educational boxes that were checked off each week. This was where we spent our time, our resources, our heart, our relationships. We were closer with our co op community than with our church community – there were lots of reasons for that at the time, which I won’t go into here (but I’d be glad to share about personally any time). Suffice it to say: I think my kids and I wept for four days without coming up for breath. It was grief. (And I know grief.) As C.S. Lewis said, I never knew grief felt so like fear. And even in this instance of grief (which is different than the grief of a broken engagement shortly before your planned wedding, and different than the grief of miscarriage, different than burying baby after baby after baby), it felt scary. The rug was ripped out. Our community felt torn from us.

Within one week after that, two different women from different spheres of my life mentioned rather casually to me that they wished I would start a homeschool co op. My reaction probably included rolling my eyes, but I know it included me basically blowing that off. I don’t want to start a co op. I don’t want to be in charge of something like that. That’s not something I want to do.

I want. I don’t want.
I suddenly paused to ponder… but what does the Lord want?

Community cultivation is more than simply putting a date on the calendar to get together. It is so much more than that. Considering what the Lord was doing, I needed to consider what He was asking me to do next. And that was a very humbling experience.

Cultivating Community, 1

While my friend Mystie Winckler knows my “personality type” much better than I do, I am self-aware enough to know that I am neither a classic introvert nor a traditional extrovert. Perhaps most of us are like that: somewhere in between the two extremes. (Makes sense to me.) I love alone time, especially if I can read a book or listen to music. Having some time with sensory-relief is a huge gift to my soul, my brain, and even my physical body. It has taken me a few decades to figure that out, but God continues to graciously show me more about His creation as I grow & age… and that includes His grace in showing me more about even myself, a fearfully and wonderfully made creature in His image. And I’ve learned that I need to continually be seeking balance between busyness and being still, noise and quiet, community and solitude.

As a full time homeschooling mother of five exuberant kids, my daily life, routine, and occupation is naturally one of built-in (shall we say inescapable?) community. Solitude tends to be the thing which is harder to come by. Ask any mama, and she will tell you that hitting the bathroom alone for five minutes is a gift as rare as a pint of ice cream to herself. Going outside for a walk on my own feels downright selfish sometimes, yet God loves to use that kind of time to restore my soul and refresh me in the light of His mercy and the presence of His creation. So I am learning to lean in to the opportunities for solitude which He occasionally presents to me – seeking to accept them as gifts with a heart of gratitude.

But I confess that I do not always lean into the opportunities for community which He presents… largely because I can sometimes often feel “peopled out.”

So this is where it goes back to what I said at the beginning: I have learned that I need to continually seek balance between the two extremes. After all, we were made for community. Really. We were actually created with community in the Creator’s mind! Just check out the book of Genesis for proof of that. Chapter 1 verse 26 talks about creating man in “Our” image, so the Triune God was telling us right from the getgo that we were created to be community-minded. And in chapter 2 verse 18, we find out that God sees His crowning creation, and declares that it needs even more community! Not just walking in the garden in the very presence of God. Not just hanging out with all the animals. But another human. It was not good for Adam to be without Eve as his helpmeet. And then along with that other image-bearer, there would be fruitfulness and multiplication… more humans! Bigger community!

Therefore, the biblical basis for community is right at the forefront of the Scriptures, and at the center of the Gospel. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 has foundational elements of community: make disciples, go to all nations, baptize in the name of the Trinity, Jesus will be with us always. Our Lord wants us in community.

I find it honestly encouraging to read in the Gospels about how Jesus Himself engaged in different levels of community: He would pray in solitude, He was knit specially to John (known as the disciple Jesus loved), He spent the majority of His ministry hours with the twelve disciples, and He taught the multitudes. His work, His fellowship, His time – it was spent in different ways, and we can be encouraged to follow the example He set of spending ours in ways which reflect those various spheres as well.

Obviously there are different forms of community, and there are many facets of each. Each person – and each family – has different needs inherently knit into their very selves. But the need for community is common to all.

I think it is helpful to look at “community” in some concentric circles. I am talking about community person-to-person(s), so let’s just agree that the indwelling of the Spirit is a foundational communing, since I am a believing Christian who has faith in the Triune God, which is the undergirth for everything else that I pursue or cultivate.

My nuclear family is my closest community – for me personally that includes my husband and our five kids – all of us who live under one roof and commune together day in and day out, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. Then my extended family comes next – my parents, grandma, and brother’s family all live close enough that when it comes to things like celebrations, holidays, lending a hand, bearing burdens… these are the ones that we rely on, and who know they can rely on us in return. (We do have extended family on my husband’s side as well, but three thousand miles between us makes tightknit community difficult. So they would share this concentric circle in our hearts and minds, but rubber meeting road plays out very differently on the practical side. When it comes to cultivating community, distance makes a difference.) I will also note here that “extended family” does not have to be limited to those with whom you share blood relations. In a version of Psalm 122 that I grew up singing, there is a phrase which describes “friends no less than brethren dear” – which has always struck me as a beautiful translation: there are sometimes friends who are quite literally family to us in every practical way, and they are absolutely no less than dear brethren. Don’t be discouraged if your “extended family” circle is made up of friends. (Shared DNA isn’t everything.)

And then the next concentric circle is where we begin to branch out into people with whom we share less genetics and family vacations. That would be, for us as Christians, the local church. In our fifteen years of marriage, we have been part of a few churches, and while I am fully ready to never have to move churches again, I can tell you that we have completely jumped into whichever church has been our home at the time. We don’t believe in just claiming a pew for two hours every Sunday, but then living disconnectedly for the rest of the week. We have sought to embrace our position in a local body with hospitality, service, humility, joy, honesty, and a desire to give of ourselves and our resources. This can look like serving in an official capacity in a church, or it can look like showing up every time there is something going on at the church or within the families who make up its body. It can look like attending weekly Bible study, taking the initiative to work in the kitchen at the monthly after-service potluck, inviting people from church over on a regular basis (weekly? monthly? quarterly?) for any number of meals or activities or excuses for fellowship. It also looks like sharing the burdens of our lives with this group of people. We rejoice with those who rejoice and we grieve with those who grieve – and those are some of the most obvious community-building elements that pop up week by week and year by year within a church body. Not only embracing the needs of others, but being willing to share the needs in our own life – that too is part of cultivating community.

As far as close community, those spheres are sort of the givens, the gimmes, the nonnegotiables.
You have a family? That’s community. You have extended relatives? That’s community. You are part of a church body? That’s community too. So start there. Pursuing community in those most intimate of circles is hugely important. It’s also the best place to try out your skills, test your gifts, and put ideas on trial. If you want to be the person who hosts a monthly Soup & Psalms night, then I suggest you find your best soup recipes by trying them out first on your family (who will give you the most honest feedback – watch their faces for feedback, too, and see if someone grabs for the salt or pepper or hot sauce), and also try out the singing in your closest circle before extending it to others. Dispersing my children amidst a group of people who are new to Psalm singing is a great way to spread courage. If my kids are confident with a song, they will sing with both skill and gusto – which tends to breed confidence in the people around them. Not only does it give guests something to listen to and sing along with, to increase in skill themselves, but if they find themselves thinking that they can’t carry a tune in a bucket, they will find confidence in thinking that my children are loud enough to cover up their sour notes or wrong lyrics. (I can say this because I have been told this on multiple occasions.)

Have the foundation of good community in your home, and find what kinds of hospitality practices work well with your extended relatives… then have the courage, humility, and willingness to invite your church community into some of these experiences – as well as be eager to lean in to the opportunities which arise for you to accept invitations, receive hospitality, and attend community-building events. Cultivate community with these closest circles in your life. It glorifies the Lord, and it will bear fruit in a merciful disproportion to the effort it takes to pull off.

Setting a Guard

Ephesians 4:29

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

What does the Bible have to say about our words? Wholesome speech. Honorable speech. Sound speech. Controlling our tongues.

Quite a lot actually. If you read through Proverbs regularly like my family does, you’ll find that it is a frequent focus in the wisdom of Solomon. Here in Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul has just been encouraging the people in the church in Ephesus to have unity in their pursuit of Christ, integrity in theology, faithfulness to their callings and giftings, and an exhortation on what it means to live in the new life of a Christian—putting away darkened understanding and turning from the futility of mind, putting off the old self with corruption and deceitful desires, turning from “every kind of impurity.” Paul writes, “PUT OFF your old self… and be renewed in the spirit of your minds… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And here is the famous clincher: what is the THEREFORE there FOR?? Paul writes, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, along with all malice.”

So what is “corrupting” talk? Any ideas? Probably anything that is NOT “building up” and “giving grace.” Other translations say “rotten” or “unwholesome.”

Matthew 15:11 tells us that it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his mouth.

But here’s the thing: the battle for purity of the mouth and tongue (by which of course I mean, your words) is fought in the heart. In Luke 6:45, Jesus declared that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” My dad used to say, “what is down in the well comes up in the bucket.”

Pastor John Piper describes four main types of corrupting or rotten talk: taking the name of the Lord in vain, trivializing terrible realities, referencing sexuality or the body in vulgar ways, being vicious and mean-spirited. Then Piper describes four implications of this kind of speech: it does not nourish, it will harm/wound/make sick, rotten words are rotten fruit and rotten fruit comes from rotten trees. Piper says, “the issue for Paul is not really language at all; the issue is love. The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace. You see he shifts from the external fruit to the internal root. He shifts from what we say to why we say it. That’s the issue.”

Scripture is full of reminders that what we say matters. But Scripture is also clear that the reason for that is because our words, our speech, our attitudes show much about the state of our hearts.

Proverbs 11:9, 12—with his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

Proverbs 15:1, 2, 4—a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 18:4—the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Proverbs 20:15—the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.

But let me close with this—it is by Christ and the Holy Spirit that we can turn from darkness, that we can turn from corrupt speech. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” because GOD is a fountain of life and the righteous live on God. And the way God means to change the mouth is by becoming that abundance. He means to be a fountain of life for us and in us so that out of that abundance our mouths can be a fountain of life for others. We’ve seen the call of God to put away, put off, get rid of, turn away from… all the negatives. But what does Scripture tell us about pure words and righteous speech?
The mouth of the righteous is a well of life. He who restrains his lips is wise. The lips of the righteous feed many. The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom. A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth. The tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever. He who guards his mouth preserves his life. Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

And in conclusion, Psalm 141:3 and 19:14 are a beautiful prayer to ask for God to equip us and sanctify us and purify us as we ponder our words:
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Holy Week, vi

Holy Week, vi ~ Good Friday
Trial of Christ
Torture of Christ
Mocking of Christ
Conviction of Christ
Crucifixion of Christ
Conversation with thieves
Conversation with loved ones
Darkness
Final words
Death
Rending of the veil
Earthquake
Graves opened
Soldier breaks and pierces
Jesus is laid in a borrowed tomb

Scripture reading:
Psalm 22
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 4:14-16 & 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

Hymns:

Poetry:

The Lay of Redemption by Joseph Carlson

The Whirlwind Bides His Time by Joseph Carlson

The Stranger by Ben Palpant

Activities:
Make a Resurrection Garden–closing the tomb and setting a toy soldier as sentry

Bring out the crown of thorns (we made it years ago like this) and place it on an empty table

Special Food:
Hot Cross Buns
(I used this recipe)

Art Study:

The Crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald
Christ on the Cross by Mihaly Munkacsy

Historical Practice Study:
The stations of the cross for protestants, through book and art and poetry.
Stations of the Cross for Children by Julianne Will

Stations of the Cross for Children | The Catholic Company®

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/good-friday-the-stations-of-the-cross/

Listening:

The Crucifixion: A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer is an oratorio composed by John Stainer n 1887

Holy Week, iv

Holy Week, iv ~ Holy Wednesday, “Spy Wednesday”; plotting against Jesus, anointing Jesus; teaching, resting, fellowshipping.

Discussion Points:
What was Judas doing on the Wednesday before the crucifixon? Who did he conspire with? What was Jesus doing? Where was He resting? Who was He teaching? Who anointed Him, and what is the significance of this offering?
(Here is an interesting blog about Spy Wednesday.)

Art Study:
Study the visual difference between faithful following and plotting following. What is the posture? Where is there light versus darkness?

File:Master of Perea - Saint Mary Magdalen anointing the feet of Christ - 1975.95.1 - Yale University Art Gallery.jpg
Saint Mary Magdalen Anointing the Feet of Christ
Artist: Master of Perea, Spanish, Valencia, active ca. 1490–1510
Dixon, Maynard_Shapes of Fear
Maynard Dixon (American, 1875–1946), Shapes of Fear, 1930–32

Scripture Reading:
Psalm 70
Matthew 26:6-16
Luke 20:19-26
Luke 22:1-6
John 12:36-50
Hebrews 12:1-3

Hymn:

Snack & Stories:
Today we will eat simple bread and fruit, such as Jesus and the disciples may have had while traveling and fellowshipping and teaching. And we will read The Jesus Story by Mary Batchelor.

Poetry:
Holy Sonnets by John Donne

Activity:
Playing some spy games (ideas here and here to be a fun mom)
Printable activities:

Listening:

Bach’s Chorales & Partita No. 2 in D Minor—Holy Week festival, Tenebrae (what is a Tenebrae?)

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.