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, 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.

She is Nine

She is Evangeline Joy, joyful good news. On the heels of two big brothers, she was the sparkle and pink icing God saw fit to pour upon us. She is fiery, energetic, spunky, brave, independent, determined. She is tender, graceful, poised, empathetic, strong. She can be so tiny yet dominate a room. She can be so loud yet fear being unseen. She can be so quiet that we can’t help but listen intently. This embodied dichotomy of ginger spice and nuanced sweet. Dark red hair down to her thigh, indecisive eyes that vacillate from blue to grey to green, slender ivory fingers and freckle-doppled face.

She wanted an American Girl doll tea party with her cousins and brothers. She baked all the goodies herself, after reading cookbooks and creating the menu as well as the shopping list. I didn’t know she could bake a double batch of cupcakes without assistance. Maybe she hadn’t known either. We both know now. And I’m not sure who is prouder.

She is a lover of words. Spoken, written, sung, read, recited. I found some little notes recently where she had written down one thought per tiny square of paper. She is like her mama, where ink on paper solidifies wonder into reality. She writes notes to people – child and adult alike – for any or every or no reason at all. She writes poems and songs and stories and letters. She writes even to me, especially when she isn’t sure that speaking would be as well articulated.

She is a graceful dancer, a powerful musician, and a determined sister. (With two brothers above and two below, I suppose she has to be.) She is calmed by a back scratch and filled up by conversation, delighted by pigtails & braids and emboldened by stories.

She is capable and confident, and sometimes I forget that she is still my little girl – who needs cuddled and encouraged and led gently by the hand. She is mature beyond her years. She is my baby doll.

She is nine.

Cranberries

I don’t know why, but I love the Cranberry books. Cranberry Christmas, Cranberry Thanksgiving, Cranberry Easter, we even have a Cranberry Halloween book while my family doesn’t really even “do” anything for Halloween. I just love the stories, the characters, the artwork.

But I also really love cranberries: they are just a delicious, pretty, little tangy fruit. Ha! I remember loving a particular cereal when I was a kid that had cranberries and walnuts in it. It felt like a very grownup thing to enjoy, and I thought it was super special when my mom would let me put a box in the cart when wandering the grocery aisles with her. (Have I mentioned that I am a second generation homeschooler? I did ALL the errands by my mom’s side, and sometimes we were even bold enough to run errands before 2pm… that was our kind of brazen rebellion back in the eighties and early nineties of California living.) My mom was big into country style shabby chic arts & crafts… and for a handful of years she partnered with a friend to do a Christmas market they called Cranberry Corner. I’m not sure I have ever asked her exactly why she chose that name. But I still remember it! And I remember the ambiance of that annual event, the pungent smell of cinnamon & a tart sweetness. Perhaps it was a cinnamon-cranberry candle burning in the back! My mom was also keenly into potpourri at the time. It was the nineties, after all.

I also have always loved my mom’s homemade cranberry sauce. Nothing particularly unique about it: just fresh cranberries with sugar, water, and some kind of orange flavoring – usually zest. She also occasionally made cranberry muffins and put dried cranberries in our trail mix or granola. I was never a big fan of raisins, but I sure enjoyed their cousin, Craisins. Yummers.

So here I now find myself continuing to love cranberries. But my kids don’t have the same affinity for them. So I’m trying to find ways to incorporate some cranberries into my kids’ holiday traditions. This year, I made a cranberry-pecan coffee cake for Thanksgiving Day morning. It paired perfectly with a side of crispy bacon and a hot latte… well, the kids had milk, but the latte is my favorite. Anyway, that is definitely a recipe we would enjoy again. We have had homemade cranberry sauce twice so far this season (including once when I added a splash of frangelica liqueur, which was a lovely touch). But I still want to try something else.

I think I may need to whip up a batch of cranberry orange muffins to start our Saturday with some zip. And then to pair with a pork loin roast tomorrow evening for our second Advent dinner, I think a cranberry apple chutney might work really well. And if I have any cranberries left that make it without getting gooey in the fridge by next week, I would love to try a cranberry balsamic chicken with cranberry brie bites on the side and cranberry apple upside-down cake for dessert.

It’s time to plan and prepare some more meals. It is just more part of the joyfully domestic life as a full time keeper of home, with seven people living here full time. There are no fewer than twenty-one meals a week which need planned and prepared to some extent. Perhaps breakfasts are mostly haphazard scavenging by the children on most days, but I need to be sure we have muffins or eggs or cereal or oatmeal available. That in itself takes some level of planning on my part. Lunches are often quick things to cook or compile, often just the heating up of leftovers and adding a side of fresh fruit and a cup of milk. But dinners can honestly be the bane of my existence sometimes. I go through seasons of loving the dinnertime routine… but often it is a rotation of cookery that simply feels like work without the pleasure. I know my people need fed well, so I do my utmost to use healthy ingredients and prepare tasty meals. But it honestly CAN get to be a bit monotonous and predictable and uninspired. Sometimes I ask a friend for new ideas. Or I will even just call my sister-in-law and ask, “what’s for dinner?” A friend of mine had dedicated a category of food for each day of the week (Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday is chicken, Thursday is soup or salad depending on the season, Friday is pizza, Saturday is leftovers, Sunday is takeout, Monday is meatless…) just to have a starting point. When I was preparing for my fifth child’s arrival, before I even knew that bedrest was looming on the horizon, I compiled a list of our family favorite meals and posted it on the fridge. So if I ever felt too sick to come up with ideas based around food myself, I could just have a family member glance at the list for inspiration and we would move forward with it… sometimes with Mommy sucking on peppermints while trying not to smell anything meat-based or heated and seeking to avert my eyes from certain things because they would absolutely turn my tummy just on sight. (Honestly… blackberry jam and ground beef are pretty much ruined for me for life.)

But so much of holidays are based around foods. So how do we maintain beloved traditions while not letting the grow stagnant? How do we make holiday meals our own? How do we incorporate our children into the planning, the preparation, the cooking, the work AND the delight?

For my part, I take what I loved from my childhood and mix it with what my husband tells me he loved from his childhood. And we take a few things from each… then we try out different things on our kids like guinea pigs. I try to log what is delighted in while tossing aside what wasn’t anyone’s favorite. Sometimes you know it is an instant hit (like when Grandmama makes homemade donuts for everyone after cutting down Christmas trees on family property… and all ten grandkids devour them, declaring it to be a new annual must), while other times it takes a couple of tries to know that it has made the cut (like hosting weekly Advent meals… not because of any particular recipe, but because the energy of a mama wavers & wanes from time to time thanks to motherhood and hormones and any number of other things).

So I am learning. Growing. Trying. Often succeeding. And praising the Lord for the lot of it. He is good. I am only fourteen years into my own specific homemaking, but I helped my mother before that, so I might be a couple of decades into it. And honestly, sometimes He gives me something as simple as a cranberry to remind me that this is good. From stories to memories to recipes ~ these are the things of which memories, traditions, cultures are made.

Gather

I feel like I’ve never wanted a big old “gather” sign on my wall more than I do this year. It’s like our eyes are all opening to all kinds of things. Like covering coughs with elbows rather than hands- or washing your hands on the regular to remain sanitary- or that we actually do believe corporate weekly worship is important and needs to include singing. Other things I learned this year have included things like: my babies adore my parents, and ought not be kept from them- staying home for twelve weeks in a row can actually be an enormous gift- hugs & handshakes are not scary nor death-sentences- and welcoming people into our homes for various hospitality can not be taken for granted.

If you have ever had family drama surrounding holidays and extended relatives… that whole rubber band type stretch of how much you can fit in, or whose year it is (as though time spent with your family were a bargaining chip or hot commodity rather than an undeserved gift)… well, I’m pretty sure 2020 took the cake AND the icing on top.

So how about that “gather” sign, hmm?! I keep thinking I just need to rearrange some things on a wall or two… but then again, there are timeless options that I really want even more than that… because solagratia.co has this gorgeous option. Actually, let’s be real: they have LOTS of gorgeous options that would bless your home as well as mine. Consider that my unapologetic advertisement for a shop I love, as well as a resource I am saving pennies for myself!

All pithy pleasures aside, gathering for Thanksgiving this year was splendid. And because my family as well as my parents all have immunity to the bug that is trying to take over the world (tongue is in my cheek…), we felt zero guilt or shame in joining my brother’s family for the day. Honestly, we are basically just one big family anyway. They were in our pod from day one (literally! March 14!), and our kids are actually cousins but love each other (& treat each other) an awful lot like siblings. If there is a cousin-sibling hybrid out there, I guess that’s what these ten munchkins are.

I was happily assigned baked goods for the family feasting table. I made sourdough rolls plus six pies (pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate chess). A week later, we are finally licking clean the last of the pie plates. Of course we followed Thanksgiving up with two Advent meals for hospitality & celebration… so we have not been dieting our way through the pie plates.

But here is the real point of the celebrating, the abundance, the joy, the feasting, the hospitality, the pies that are decadent down to the last crumb: Christ has come to make us new, and He is coming again to finish the good work He began. He proclaimed on the cross, “It is finished”! And this is the best news for us as His people. Because it is finished, because He lived & died & resurrected & ascended, He will come again in glory! And from now until then we aren’t just waiting around for the good part of the story. We aren’t just wondering how to endure this life until we reach the life to come. No indeed, may it never be. This life in the meantime is a gift! It is our participation in the early/middle chapters of the story. It is our opportunity to imitate Him, to practice worship through work, to learn abundant grace by abundant giving, to learn immeasurable joy by immeasurable gratitude.

Gather. Feast. Sing. Show your gratitude through gifts like thanksgiving and gratitude-gifting. This is what Christ equips us for: good works. Let your hands get to work. Sweep the floor, make some food, fill the bellies of neighbors and strangers.

Be overcome with abundance. Because that’s exactly what you are.

A Break for Breathing

It may seem as though even I were new around here now, it has been so long since there has been any update here on Joyful Domesticity. This has been a break for breathing, a season for a deep breath. A season for new journeys, and adjustments to old paths that take new winding turns.

For anyone who is genuinely new to glancing around Joyful Domesticity, please allow me to briefly introduce myself. I am Melissa Joy, a second generation Christian homeschooling mother in the Pacific Northwest. I have been married to my husband Steven since 2007, and we have been deepening our walk with each other & our walk with Christ ever since. One way He has broadened our faith and deepened our theology is through the sanctification of parenting: what a joy, what a privilege, what a hope, what a responsibility! He has blessed us with fourteen children: nine in heaven, four in our home, one in the womb.  Our journey of recurrent miscarriage has been very shaping and honing, of our individual spiritual lives as well as of our family culture at large. I continue to endeavor to reach out in empathy, compassion, understanding, and aid for other grieving mamas. I continue to learn much from the experiences and community God has put in my story.
We homeschool our little band of redheads on family property in the countryside in a Classical Christian model, emphasizing truth, beauty, & goodness through the means of books, music, science, math, art, books, language arts, penmanship, computer skills, books, history, geography, handcrafts, theology, and more books. We delight in embracing life together in our home, our homeschooling community, our church family. My husband operates a company called Olive Tree Bible Software with passion, patience, and diligence. I recently began an endeavor called Paideia Northwest, where we aim to host an annual conference in Northeastern Washington state for Christian mothers raising, educating, & loving their children for the Kingdom of God. It isn’t a money-maker, it is more of a ministry, as my heart longs to see Christian mothers band together in love and encouragement despite differences of practice, method, or even theology.

We have four sons, with one daughter directly in the middle. At this moment, our children are Gabriel (11), Asher (7 1/2), Evangeline (6), Simeon (3 1/2), with the littlest brother’s arrival anticipated in a matter of weeks. God has been continually gracious toward our family, and we are humbly grateful for His intense benevolence. There is no more challenging yet rewarding chapter in my life than motherhood ~ with its many facets.

While I have taken recent months to focus on my tangible home, replete with books and babies and bedrest, I hope to make a somewhat more regular presence here at Joyful Domesticity again. To share what God is doing in my heart, my home, my journey to the Kingdom. I am nothing particularly clever or wise or unique, but I have a heart that is eager to uplift, encourage, and share the sharpening of Christ mutually with my sisters in Christ both near and far.

For the glory of the King, the furtherance of His Kingdom, and the joy of the home! Cheers.

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

EJCatthestore

Making Way

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We are moving from books about birds to the birds themselves. And while I will have updates about the chicks soon, tonight I am still flying high on the spectacular experience we had today with our first little duckling hatching. It has burrowed its way quickly into our hearts! After having a very busy weekend followed by a very busy day with our first-ever homeschool science fair yesterday, we took a low key school day today – birds, books, tea & cookies while Mommy read aloud for over an hour, workbooks and piano lessons by the toasty fire, and lots of Legos and running around outside. And although the day in practice was quite relaxed and chill, there was excitement to be had!!

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While the seven duck eggs we began incubating a few weeks ago ended up being overheated (lesson learned: do not trust the incubator’s thermostat… measure its accuracy regularly with additional thermometers!) and never developed their ducklings inside, we adopted five more nearly-fully-incubated duck eggs on Sunday. We have been intently watching and waiting. And little Simeon prays for the ducky eggs constantly, which is perfectly adorable, incidentally.

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I wish like crazy I knew how to add a video from my phone to this blog. I happened to get the actual hatch recorded, and it was downright incredible. My daughter’s reaction was pretty priceless – she cried (actual tears) for joy. The process of watching the duckling wiggling to squirm and stretch, listening to it peep and chirp while still in the egg, was pretty miraculous to all of us. But the actual hatch where it finally broke free of the shell and burst forth like a nocked arrow let loose? It was absolute magic.

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Almost immediately after the duckling was born, Evangeline marched off to find Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, which is pretty great, to read it to her little brother. While we had been reading lots of books recently about chickens, nests, eggs, where birds come from, etc we had not read anything very duck-specific. Leave it to my five year old daughter to locate the book needed for the moment! While Evangeline was caught up in the story, Simeon was caught up in the illustrations.

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We have also been reading a bunch of Easter books this week, for obvious reasons (#holyweek), and in The Legend of the Easter Egg, this illustration made all of us smile because our little duckling’s empty eggshell looks so similar to this one!

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After letting the little Khaki Campbell rest all day in the incubator to try getting some balance and dry off those little downy feathers, this evening I finally caved and snuggled my little duckling once the kids were all tucked away into their beds. I gave this little sweetie some sips of water, and some snuggle-loves. I love the way baby birds just snuggle into a relaxed hand and fall asleep.

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I am pretty sure this duckling is downright darling. Am I right?!

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So now I have tucked the little duckling back into its incubator nest for the night, where it is snuggled near two other pipped eggs, which I imagine will hatch tomorrow (or the next day, at least). The way it chirrups conversationally with the ducklings squeaking inside those two eggs is positively endearing. It’s like a big sister cheering on the younger siblings, and just makes my eyes widen all over again over God’s amazing creativity, and the details He nuanced in such incredible ways.

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Matthew 6:26
Look at the birds of the air,
for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns;
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?

~~~

Luke 12:6
Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?
And not one of them is forgotten before God.

~~~

Revelation 4:11
You are worthy, O Lord
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.