Seeking the Lord, at Co Op Vol I

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

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

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

Liturgy for the Midday:

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

Let us now consider such words, from Holy Scripture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgy for Students:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liking of Sentences

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireworks Day

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

Julyfourth2

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

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

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

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

Julyfourth1

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

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

Julyfourth3

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

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

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

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

IMG_3611

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

Lit for the Loo

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

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

pottybooks

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

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

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

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

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

AlphaBlock1AlphaU

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.

Newbery4

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.

Burton1
Burton2 Burton3

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

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

Hopper1  Hopper2

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.

Newbery2

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.

Newbery1

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.

Newbery5  Newbery3

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.

FunBooks10

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!

FunBooks11

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

FunBooks1  FunBooks2

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

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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.

FunBooks7  FunBooks8

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

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

Reading Aloud is Contagious

It was a little before Simeon was born that I caved, trading in my old handy flip-phone (“sorry, I don’t text – it’s way too hard on this thing”) for an iPhone, and then I think it was shortly after Simeon was born that I learned about podcasts. At first, I would literally just smile & nod when people would talk about listening to podcasts, because I honestly had no real idea what they were talking about but didn’t want to seem as ignorant and old-school as I truly was. But after I got hooked on Sarah Mackenzie’s blog, The Read Aloud Revival and fell in love with her upon reading Teaching From Rest – a Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace, I decided that I needed to figure out this whole podcast thing and find a way to jump on that bandwagon. Because, ya’ll, Sarah Mackenzie had a podcast (was it like a sermon? someone reading a blog? webcamming? I was that clueless…) and I wanted in on that treasure.

That was over two years ago. I’m deep in treasure now.
Since then, I have listened to every podcast episode at least once, pored over her booklists and recommendations, and have seen her out & about in town (like at Nate Wilson’s movie release last week) – because, yep, we live in the same county and go to the same places and know a lot of the same people and use the same library. In fact, my kids and I have been known to compare the size of Sarah Mackenzie’s “hold” items stack at the library to ours! Because, umm, we’re awesome like that.

It was Sarah Mackenzie who somehow got me linked up with a lot of the authors and homeschooling resources that I have been in love with over the last couple of years. She is the one, thanks to her blogs and podcasts, who has trained me to recognize names of authors & illustrators, and how to choose great literature over twaddle or mediocre stuff. She helped us fall in love with The Rabbit Room, especially S.D. Smith and Andrew Peterson and Jonathan Auxier and Jonathan Rogers and Jennifer Trafton… She lead me to resources like IEW, Andrew Pudewa, CiRCE, Cindy Rollins, and Sally Clarkson. She is also the culprit behind the fact that even though my family has four library cards (with fifty checkouts each allowed at a time) we have actually maxed-out our limit before!

She speaks at homeschool conferences and women’s events, and I have wanted to participate in one of her events, but they honestly are usually a plane flight away. And y’all know how I feel about flying, right?
I might be a bit personally peeved that Sarah Mackenzie has not yet helped remedy the fact that we still don’t have a great homeschooling conference in our area… hehe… but maybe I need to help get that wagon started moving. I’m a communicator when I need to be – I can make phone calls and write letters and get details organized. So we’ll see. I so much wanted to attend the Great Homeschool Convention or even Wild+Free. Sigh. My city is growing, and we’ve got tons of homeschoolers who need a superb resource at our fingertips! And I think Sarah Mackenzie just might be our golden ticket.

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But anyway, her new book released yesterday and I got to attend her book release party tonight at a local bookshop called Auntie’s, along with a few friends. Sidenote: this was after I spent two hours reading aloud to my kids this afternoon, and they each read on their own for an hour, plus yesterday I read an entire novel (it was middle grade fiction, but still… the whole thing in one day doesn’t happen very often anymore in my life!) AND half of The Read-Aloud Family. My life is always bookish, but today was no exception whatsoever.
So anyway, she read us a chapter of her new book, answered questions, visited with us & signed books, and shared all over again how she fell in love with reading aloud with her kids to make connections with them & with literature. And since I caught the bug from her over two years ago, it was fun to spend some time with lots of other locals who caught the same bug. It was an energetic group of gals & a super sweet evening, and I am so thankful I got to spend time with these lovelies talking about one of my favorite things in the world!! (….books! but you knew that already, right?!)

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(L to R: Sarah G, my sis-in-law Ashley B, Sarah M, Tina G, and me)

Oh, and if I were cool and trendy enough to have instagram, this would be filled with all the hashtags.
#readaloudfamily #readaloudrevival #homeschoolmamasonthetown

Books & Birds

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The glorious sunshine we have had the last couple of days has been invigorating ~ it gives me the hope of spring! Of course we still have snow on the ground, so while we were outside exercising in the sunshine, the kids were throwing little shovelfuls of crystally snow at one another. I was hauling scrap wood from random places into one pile, and kept rubbing my hands into the snow at my feet to clean them off. And when I got hot, it was wonderful to grab a hand full of the crunchy snow and drop it down the neck of my shirt. Cooled my sweaty shoulderblades right off.

So as we are transitioning from winter to spring, praise the good Creator above, we are decidedly working on springtime plans! We have chicks arriving in ten days, which is super exciting for our family. The last time I got chicks was for my fifteenth birthday, and it would not be polite to tell you how many years ago that was. My children are truly ecstatic in anticipation of these precious little fowl. We are getting eleven, and are hoping at least eight of them will survive as dependable layers.

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And then eight days ago I got a random text from a friend asking if I was interested in duck eggs. For a moment I thought she was offering to bring me some to cook up, as she was going to be visiting for lunch the following day. But then she mentioned that she was pretty sure they were fertile, and that she would bring me an incubator as well. I jumped at the opportunity in faith, figuring homeschooling for the win! For sure.
So we have dedicated our kitchen half-bath to the babying of these sweet little eggs. It is about time to figure out if there is life inside, and my kids are wild with anticipation of candling them to check for veins with a flashlight. We have been reading blogs and books to get ourselves up to speed on all things duckling.

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And yes, this means that there will be a coop in the making. I am quite excited. At first, we thought to use the coop my brother built me on my parents’ property when I got chicks the first time… thinking we could include exercise easily in the daily routine that way because it would essentially include a mile walk every time we visited the coop. But as I pondered it further, I realized that is not very realistic and way less fun. I want to have ducks and hens toddling around my own property, where I can see them from my kitchen or my patio, and where I can usher them in to eat weeds and bugs around my fruit trees and garden beds. Also, who wants to haul food scraps and baskets of eggs for half a mile at a time twice a day? Hm.

In addition to the more educational type of poultry sites and books that Gabriel and I have been studying together, we have a pile of bird-themed books from our trusty library. Have I mentioned lately that we now have four library cards in our family? At fifty books allowed per card, I just want you to envision the armloads we come home with every week. We actually do get some pretty funny looks sometimes from people. And I am not sure whether it is positive or questionable that the librarians all now seem to know us by surname, and Gabriel by firstname. In another life, I maybe would have been a children’s librarian. Actually, I might be partially turning into one in my own home. Just check out my growing collection of books and bookcases. No really: ask my husband.

But I need to share a few things with you before I can call it a night here, because these books have already brought us so much joy.

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This is just the bird stack. We also have an Easter stack ~ and since you can only get five holiday books at a time per card, it’s great to have four cards maxed out simultaneously! And a just for fun stack where lots of precious picture books get read and reread and reread ad nauseum before we return them. Here is a closer look at some of these lovely picture books:

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The most basic of the books here is a wordless (but for some numbers, as you count the chicks as they hatch throughout the book) boardbook that is beautifully sweet. Simeon delights in counting these days, and he is super excited about ducks and chicks, so this is right up his sweet little alley. (What book isn’t, though?! I mean, really.)

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Then we have some more nitty-gritty books that are more serious and farm-informational-centric, which the kids find less fun and they definitely look at those as “school” rather than “reading” ~ I know, I know… But anyway, it’s true.

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But I think my personal favorites are the ones that strike a fun balance of informational and simply beautiful. The artwork is stunning and the stories are personal. And they throw in some fun details that I want my kids to learn, but don’t try to fool them into thinking this is “school” because, oh no ma’am, this is just for reading.

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The books throw in wonderful words like incubator, pullets, and coop. Things that my kids need to know here pretty soon!
Sonya’s Chickens even throws in a poignant plot twist where a fox carries away one of the little girl’s hens, and the girl is calmed & reassured by her father’s explanation that the fox is simply looking out for the care of his kits ~ and that it wasn’t a personal affront to her, but a strong provider caring for his family in the best way he knew how. Considering all the predators we will have to contend with out here in the country, I think this storyline is an excellent preparation for the hearts of my own children.

So we will keep reading. And growing our hearts a couple sizes bigger until these precious little poultry babies have pecked their way into our hearts. Oh ~ and if you can’t find me in all the usual places, I’ll probably be reading this stack of books with my kids by the woodstove, out back building a coop, or in the kitchen half-bath babying my duck eggs.

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The Printed Word

The five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in Europe is kind of a big deal right now. As in, I feel like I have seen it pretty much everywhere online, I attended a conference themed on it, I know local churches with Reformation Day parties this year (even ones that wouldn’t normally have gone to the trouble), etc. It is pretty amazing. Now, while I was trying to focus on United States history with my kids this year, for a two week period (last week and this coming week), we are putting it all aside and replacing it with a unit study on the Reformation. What a great time we have been having! Our focus in this Reformation unit is primarily art and literature, which necessarily includes copywork and theology and singing and other such wonderful things. Yesterday my children and I sang David Erb’s version of Psalm 46 (which they had learned at music camp in the summer), and then Martin Luther’s famous Mighty Fortress. And I think, especially for the big boys, it really meant a lot to them, having known more about the history of the music and the words and the musicianship represented there.
We are essentially jumping in deep with these books for our unit:

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I introduced the subject, era, and keynote people with ABCs of the Reformation and some excerpts of The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History. And the kids each had books on Martin Luther they read on their own. But as the kids asked questions about the “whys” behind the Reformation, we ended up leaving the theological men and their stances of the mid-1500s behind and stepped further back into the world of Johannes Gutenberg. We very much loved Fine Print and are currently enjoying Ink on His Fingers as well, plus some other little snippets on him, his life, his work that have simply repeated & filled out what we found in those books.

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Undoubtedly the most stunning thing we realized, though, is that my family has a unique bookcollector right next door… my father collects old Bibles… he has studied them, loved them, researched them, worked with other collectors, learned some dying craft of mending pages and bindings, and he has even traveled in order to acquire or restore Bibles. So I asked him if we could take a peek at one of his early copies. Not only did he allow us to take a peek at it, but he dropped it off so we could fully explore its pages at our leisure. What a gift! This particular copy was printed in 1549, using the sort of mechanisms, leather-over-wood binding, goldleaf, moveable type, handmade ink, etc. that Gutenberg himself created and implemented.

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The kids took turns gently turning pages, smelling & feeling the cotton paper, examining the old inks, following worm holes through sections of pages, fingering the thick embossed leather on the cover. This particular copy was not printed until 1549 (let’s be honest: that’s pretty old!! And to have it in the family, where we don’t need to wear special gloves or keep it under glass, etc. is a special gift we don’t take for granted), so the kids wanted to figure out if someone like Martin Luther or John Calvin could have touched this book. They wanted to know if this would have been chained up to keep it from being stolen; if it would have belonged to a church, a common family, or an elite; they wanted to know about the gold leaf & the leather – where would they have come from? While I don’t have specific answers to most of those specific questions about this specific copy of God’s Word, it was really fun to talk about and imagine and ponder. Who else has held this book and read its pages and had their soul fed in the last 468 years?!

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We then spent an hour over lunchtime yesterday watching this video, where Stephen Fry walked through a lot of Gutenberg’s footsteps and recreated his craft and science and system of creating the printing press which changed the world. It has been really fun to learn, through books and the video, about the process of setting the type. I love the odd spellings and letters in the old English copy here!! I read Psalm 23 to the kids, which even Evangeline knows by memory in the ESV, and had them all follow along with it in this book… which doesn’t even have verse designations… and they were impressed by the difficulty of discerning the words because of the spellings and the spacing and such. The video really touched on that too, so that was a helpful nuance.

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What a contrast I noticed… little Simeon had just received his own little tiny pocket-sized Bible this week… which I picked up for 49-cents when I was grabbing another armload of used children’s books at Goodwill… and this little thing has no real monetary value, no big dramatic story behind it, it was probably printed with very little effort along with thousands of identical copies… yet it is a treasure to this tiny boy who now walks around with it tucked in his arm, and sets it beside him while he plays (such as here, below, when he was playing in the little toy kitchen)…

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And it is the Reformation that makes this kind of thing possible. Where there was chaos, God brought order. Where there was unrest, God brought peace. With a family so deeply in love with books and written words, this is a unit study that hits home deeply. It makes me speechless and just boggles my brain. The world had only manuscripts reproduced by scribes and owned only by the truly elite. The “paper” (vellum from calf skins) was even hard to come by, let alone inks and reeds, and then the immensity of time it took to copy it all! Wow. It’s utterly phenomenal how God brought Johannes Gutenberg to the apex of art & science to bring us the printing press.

I guess I’d say personally speaking, the internet and the printing press are the two biggest things that I think God created through mankind to change the world. And while I am not ready yet to wrap my head around studying the history and creation and implementation of the internet with the kids, I am absolutely stunned by the breathtaking world of the printing press’s creation.

The printed words brought us the printed Word.
What better gift could the Reformation have brought us?!
And then, because this 1549 copy of course is in English, we have so very much to be thankful for in the Reformation fight for Scripture in the vulgate too. We get to worship in our native language, we get to have more copies of the Bible than we even need (and we even carry it around in our pockets, thanks to places like OliveTree!).

The Reformation was a tool our King used to give us these gifts.
As for me my household, we are grateful.

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Busy Bookworms

Our summer has continued to be busy, busy, busy!
But one constant has remained despite the crazy schedules: namely, busy bookworms.

My bookworms do not take summer break.
(nor would I want them to!)

We have three library cards for the county library, and we can check out fifty items at a time on each card… and would it shock you if I told you that I am constantly maxing out how many things we can bring home at a time?! It is kind of hilarious, but also incredibly beautiful. We do not have a lack of imagination around here, let me tell you.

I am thinking I need to start some kind of document where I keep track of the books each of the kids have read, and some kind of rating system so we know what books we absolutely adored and which ones we wouldn’t bother checking out again.

Personally speaking, I have been devouring all kinds of information (from booklists to podcasts to my new canvas bookbag…) from the Read Aloud Revival (check it out if it’s new to you, especially if there are children anywhere in your life), the Story Warren, and CiRCE Institute.

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I’ve been absolutely amazed at the results that come from spending so many hours indulging in books on my own and with the children. Gabriel is starting to write poetry and short stories, and you can tell from his sentence structure that he has been reading a lot lately! Good writers tend to be good readers. In order to pour out, you must be filled up somehow. It’s true in so many areas, and my nine year old son shows me how true it is even in reading & writing. When he is constantly reading and hearing beautiful language and imaginative themes and redemptive storylines, those things are what begin to come out of his own mind and fingertips too.

So what are some of our current reads that are fast becoming favorites??
How many of these books we keep checking out do we actually remember??
Let me poll the people in my home for you!

Simeon
Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?
Doggies
The Jesus Storybook Bible
Pat the Bunny
Animal Alphabet
(and also pretty much any other book he gets his fingers on…
but he is currently obsessed with those)

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Evangeline
The Seven Silly Eaters
This Is My Home This Is My School
Angelina Ballerina
Roxaboxen
Little Red Writing
The Princess in Black series
Little Drummer Boy
My Goodnight Book
The Going To Bed Book
Jabari Jumps
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series

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Asher
Green Ember series
Leepike Ridge
The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic
Motor Miles
Miss Maple’s Seeds
Mercy Watson series
Balloons Over Broadway
Shel Silverstein books
Nate the Great series
Calvin & Hobbes
Billy & Blaze

Gabriel
Wing & Claw series
Tom Swift series
Rump
100 Cupboards series
TinTin books
Guys Read series (Heroes & Villians and True Stories so far)
Flora & Ulysses
Father Brown Readers
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
Encyclopedia Brown series
Magic Treehouse series
Edge of Extinction series
The Wilderking Trilogy
Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes
Harry Potter I & II

Melissa
***   favorites:
Anne of Green Gables series
The One Year Book of Hope
Brave New Family
Supper of the Lamb
Bread & Wine
Streams in the Desert
Mom Enough
Loving the Little Years
Fit to Burst
Mere Motherhood
***    recent reads
:
Different
Desperate
Teaching From Rest (again!)
The Unhurried Homeschooler
Virtuous
Present Over Perfect
Uninvited
Good Girl’s Guide
The Rise & Fall of Mount Majestic (aloud to my children)
The Green Ember series (aloud to my children)
Pilgrim’s Progress (aloud to my children)
Basket of Flowers (aloud to my children)
Hedge of Thorns (aloud to my children)
Hind’s Feet on High Places (aloud to my children)
***    current reads:
The Meaning of Marriage
The Life-Giving Home
Missional Motherhood
Educating the Whole-Hearted Child
Intended for Pleasure
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series (aloud to my children)
Mountains of Spices (aloud to my children)
Illustrated Shakespeare (aloud to my children)
Shakespeare for Children (aloud to my children)
Shakespeare Sonnets (aloud to my children)
Some Writer

Steven
***    favorites:
Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
The Hobbit
Good to Great
The Narnia series
***    recent reads:
The Anglican Way
100 Cupboards (aloud to the children)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child
The Way of Kings
Built to Last
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
***    current reads:
Theology of the Family
Hebrews
Dandelion Fire (for the second or third time, to the children)
Words of Radiance

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So as you can see, we are quite the bookish bunch of gingers around here.
When I asked the children to tell me the best books they have read so far this year, they were all clamoring and proclaiming titles simultaneously, begging one another to “let me say that one!” and vying for my earshot.
They literally had to go around and around taking turns, and letting me make sure I heard each of them correctly… and eventually I just had to put a cap on it, because they probably would never have stopped telling me book after book!

Excuse me, please… I have a stack of books and snuggly children waiting for me on the couch… this is the good stuff of life, people. This is the white cream of the Oreo, smashed between all the other (also good) parts of life.
We are people of story.
And this is very good.

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(…and about ten minutes after I hit publish on this post, I ordered $223 of books for our upcoming school year because I found a coupon code for a discount & free shipping! Yay! More books coming our way! These will primarily be about Church history, classical composers, inventors, math (hello Sir Cumference!), and men from the Renaissance & Reformation eras… I love buying books as school supplies that are not consumable, so the initial financial investment is much higher than the longterm because all of the kids will cycle through the books as the years go on…)

Praying for Nate

This morning, we continue in our prayers for one of our Christian brothers. The son of the pastor who baptized me twenty years ago. A man who married a girl from Santa Cruz, whose family and mine intersected about thirty years ago through our churches under the California sun. A man who has broadly and deeply blessed my home through his writings. Nate Wilson, known as the author N.D. Wilson… which, by the way, he took that signage practically on a dare from his sisters when he was a teenager, and because his favorite authors also went by initials (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton…).

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Nate’s nonfiction books Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl and Death By Living have made a huge impact on me. If you have not read them, you seriously need to pick up copies! Of course, my children would tell you that you have to read Leepike Ridge and 100 Cupboards and Boys of Blur and Ashtown Burials and Outlaws of Time. My boys were thrilled to be able to hear Mr. Wilson talk at a conference last month, and then the next week to attend a lecture he gave at a local Classical Christian school. Each boy even got their own copy of Outlaws of Time autographed by Mr. Wilson, and then they both spent the rest of the day devouring their books and becoming fast friends with Sam Miracle.

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But now their beloved author (right up there with Shel Silverstein and J.K. Rowling for Asher & Gabriel respectively) is undergoing brain surgery to remove a tumor… in fact, at this very moment he is under the knife in Los Angeles… we have been praying daily for him over the last couple of weeks. The boys wanted to send handmade cards and a banner they made, so we were able to share tangible reminders for Nate, Heather, & their 5 kids that they are brought to the Lord by many people during this trial.

I was able to listen to this podcast for a beautiful testimony from Nate himself (along with his sisters) about “Steve” the tumor and how this new trial has impacted their family life, their faith, and challenged the Wilsons to live truthfully & without hypocrisy. I think my favorite line was something to the effect of, if we will accept chocolate chip cookies from God’s hand, I need to also be willing to accept things like brain tumors.
And this morning the kids and I watched this video where Nate spoke about Steve (the tumor!), the gnarly scar he will bear around the left side of his head, and his gratitude for the trial & for the particular type of tumor it is. I wish I could tell you how it blessed my sons to see Mr. Wilson’s demeanor. Asher was touched deeply by Nate’s humor, and Gabriel was encouraged by his blatant bravery.

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The hand of the Lord has done this
in whose hand is the life
of every living thing
& the breath of all mankind

He uncovers deep things
out of darkness

& brings the shadow of death
to Light

~Job 12:9, 10, 22~

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We will continue praying lots today for this Christian brother of ours, for his family, and for the testimony God is giving him in this new way. Won’t you join us today in praying for his surgery? And in coming days for his recovery? Let’s gather around God’s throne and remind him constantly of His image-bearing son N.D. Wilson. Nate writes trials and suffering and challenges into his stories for the characters he creates… and now he is embracing his own trial & suffering & challenge as a character in God’s story. Let’s cheer this man on as he rests in Christ, riding this bull with grip & glory, drinking in Living Water while his branches groan.

If life is a story, how shall we then live?
It isn’t complicated (just hard).

Take up your life and follow Him.

Face trouble.
Pursue it.
Climb it.

Smile at its roar like a tree planted by cool water,
even when your branches groan.

~N.D. Wilson, Death By Living p83~

…and just for fun, I am going to show some financial support to Nate’s family today by padding his paycheck today via Amazon, and getting some books to keep for gifts ~ I encourage others to do the same, if you are able. You won’t be disappointed…