Two Years Old

God’s amazing hand in our life by granting us His gracious gift of Simeon James two years ago is just astonishing on so many levels. I can not believe the adventure of his entrance into the world of the oxygen-breathing was two years ago. My little boy loves so much and so well. Books, tea, turning anything & everything into a phone, taking rides on Great Grandpa’s lap in the wheelchair, snuggling with his parents after the big kids have gone to bed, singing at the top of his lungs, talking up a storm, exploring with flashlight in hand, zooming around on a tiny balance bike with epic skill. This little boy has a big life ahead of him; he is embracing it with both hands already. We couldn’t be more thankful for God’s evident grace in his life, and the faith Christ continues to grow within him.

Happy Birthday, sweet little benediction.

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Rest & Adventure

A couple weeks ago during communion, where the pastor prayed over my children, he included a phrase asking God to be their rest and be their adventure.

I can not tell you how that has stuck with me.
It has been repeated in my own prayers and in my discussions with my children, and it informs my outlook frequently as we face day to day scenarios as a Christian family.
It is even reflected in how I hope my children look back on their own childhoods: that it was both restful and adventurous.

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Oh God, even in Your 23rd Psalm I can see both Your rest and Your adventure. You take us on daring journeys, through all types of landscape, You show us both darkness and light, shadow and glory. You provide for us with strength, yet You carry us when we are void of it. Thank You for proving Your faithfulness. In the calm and in the storm, in the peace and in the drama.

Isaiah 26:3
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Exodus 33:14
And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Psalm 4:8
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 16:11
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
2 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession,
and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
1 Timothy 6:12 / 2 Timothy 4:7
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called
and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Thank You, Father, for Your Word. For how You meet us at every time and in every place.
Thank You, Lord, that my children are Your children; that they belong to You, that You have numbered their days, formed their intellects, nuanced their delights. Thank You for giving them Your love. Thank You for giving them a love for You. Thank You for knitting their hearts in faithfulness.
Do, oh my God, do be their rest. Do be their adventure. Both now and forever. Amen.

Beautiful crying forth

As I contemplate my thirteen precious children today, on PAIL (pregnancy and infant loss) Remembrance Day, I am praising God for His beautiful crying forth of ideas which created each one of them.

I still daily get to set my eyes on four of them, and I am daily blown away by His imagination in how He formed each one. They are absolutely spoken magic, woven into flesh.

But there are nine other ideas of His which were spoken into creation by His Words. Although my eyes do not see them, nor my hands get to hold theirs, and my days are not filled with teaching & instructing them; and although their beautifully cried forth souls have flown from their woven bodies of flesh; they are still spoken magic. Fully alive. Glorifying God.

How stunning.

God, thank You for giving me so many children.
Thank You for lending some to me for such a long time.
Thank You for balming my heart when You took so many of them to Your heavenly places.
Thank You for crying forth such beauty even through my broken womb.
Thank You for showing Yourself faithful to me in grief.
Thank You for hearing my prayers.
Help me to show my children how beautifully & imaginatively spoken they are by You.
I believe Lord, help Thou my unbelief.

Teach Them Diligently

This week, I participated in a conversation about how to keep a Bible routine with the children in your home. It seems both super simple and overwhelmingly complicated at the same time. God granted me four precious children to train for His Kingdom. What an immense responsibility! In some sense, I’ve only got one shot at this parenting gig. In another sense, the Lord’s mercies are new each morning so I’ve got an endless amount of shots at this parenting gig. It is seeking to live a life of balance by His grace, with faith in Him, where I need to focus my eyes as I work day in and day out training & educating & discipling these children of His.

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As a stay at home, full time homeschooling mama, I don’t have to rush out of the door in the mornings, so I aim to do Bible time with my kids around the breakfast table. Steven and I were recently discussing how we can get him incorporated into it more (which is super tricky with his long work days), so we are thinking of having him lead that on Saturday mornings after breakfast (although Saturdays have been crazy because of rushing out for bowling league & ballet lessons right after breakfast… so we will need to do some planning before that starts up again next month), and then also on Sunday afternoon just before we start our weekly “family fun night” (which includes board games, a movie, special snacks, etc).

Part of me misses the old bedtime routine we used to have with our older boys (in the quieter days pre “real” homeschooling, with fewer rascals bouncing around), which involved rocking and reading books, singing as many songs as they would beg for, etc. Now it has turned totally different, because our evenings are spent more in the family room or playing soccer outside or something. And then the “bedtime routine” is just a rush of necessities rather than a special time of bonding. And that’s okay! We tidy up, we get in jams, we brush teeth, sometimes there are baths… and with four young kids to take through the routine of basic necessities, it draws things out and has resulted in needing to cut short the snuggly part of the bedtime routine. It’s just a different season now, and I’m slowly learning how to embrace that. But I also don’t mind admitting that I miss the old bedtime snuggle phase.

Anyway.
During our morning time together each day, I read from Scripture (we always do something from Psalms and Proverbs, and then I am reading straight through the Bible with the kids – we are currently in Ecclesiastes), I read from a picture storybook Bible, we sing “psalms & hymns & spiritual songs” (it varies day to day… we are working on memorizing a couple Psalms right now, and also the old hymn Praise To The Lord, The Almighty), I quiz the kids on their catechism (Gabriel is through Q68 in this Westminster Shorter, & I the one my 3 little guys do is called The Small Child’s Catechism – Simeon knows three Qs, Evangeline knows 27, and Asher just about has all 50 down pat), we pray together, I read a page from The Boy’s Devotional, and then I read a chapter of an allegory (we did Pilgrim’s Progress, Basket Of Flowers, Hedge Of Thorns, Hind’s Feet On High Places, and are now in Mountains Of Spices – I love the Lamplighter books for this, and when I purchased the Boys of Grit collection this week I also might have just signed up for the 4-book-per-month book club!).

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Honestly, our “Bible time” really sounds more intense and complicated than it actually is, now that I’ve typed it out. :blink:

It only “needs” to take about ten minutes, and sometimes on days when we have places to rush to, I just pick and choose two or three of those things. On “at home/school days” we do the whole routine and it takes about an hour. It’s the kids’ favorite hour of the day, though, pretty much. I try to start it while they are eating breakfast, and then while they are still sitting in their seats at the table, I give them copywork to do (I give them a verse each day that they copy… Evangeline is just now barely beginning to copy them properly into the actual words/sentences in a readable way, mostly now that she knows how to read so she can tell the actual difference), coloring (especially Bible themed coloring books that you can even get from the Dollar Store!), and my nine-year-old does some Bible word searches and Scripture/catechism copywork, and then both of my big boys (ages 9 and 5) have sketchbooks they draw in. So I keep their hands busy as much as I can so they pay attention. It’s my own attitude that sometimes gets most in the way because I get sick of being interrupted every three sentences with someone needing something or the kids just get noisy.

But I am trying hard to humbly realize that the important thing is just to cover them in Scripture, and make it a normal part of their life. It honestly doesn’t matter so much how I do it, or how much I do it, or how well I do it!!! It’s just that we seek to live a life that is saturated with Scripture. It’s all over our walls in pictures and on chalkboards. We have cds playing nonstop all day, and about 90% of the music I play is Christian music or straight up Scripture set to music. We are currently on an Indelible Grace streak. ;)

My little ones (ages 5 and under for sure) looooooove the Jesus Storybook Bible. They also love the old Children’s Illustrated Bible that I picked up for fifty cents at Goodwill! And the Lindvall series of Read-Aloud Bible Stories (there are five volumes I think). We have others we read at a variety of times also: The Garden, the Curtain, and the CrossThe Biggest StoryRead Aloud NTRead Aloud OT. They love the app on my phone, too, Bible For Kids, which they really only rarely get to play, but they get totally addicted to it and into it! My big boys (especially the 9 year old) love The Action Bible. When it comes to reading the Bible storybooks, sometimes I do add my own little commentary to include things that I  might notice missing/incomplete. But I am constantly emphasizing to my kids (even from before they understand, like my 21 month old) that these are Bible storybooks, not Scripture. When I read the Bible with my kids, I read them a real translation of Scripture (usually ESV or NKJV because those are what I have handy). But we make sure to train their sensibilities to know that there is a difference between Bible stories and Scripture. Both are good, so we use both! But making that distinction is one of my key points even with the littlest. After I read Scripture to them, I say “the Word of the Lord” and all four of my kids strongly respond “thanks be to God” – but we don’t do that after reading stories out of the Bible storybooks. That is just one way we practice reiterating that and putting teeth to it, so to speak.

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We pray a lot during the day, so they are constantly bathed in prayer being a normal part of life as well.
Before each meal, when we do “Bible time”, when we arrive somewhere (while kids are still buckled in, after I’ve turned off the car, we usually quickly pray for all of us to have self control and joy etc while we are doing whatever it is we are about to do), before bed, and just at random times throughout the day like if someone gets an owie or needs a prayer for self-control or faithfulness or diligence, we pray during our discipline routines, we pray when we get a parking spot right next to the cart return, we pray when we see an emergency vehicle rushing by us…

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As I seek to prioritize the education of my children to line up with what I most see in Scripture, these are just some the things I am personally doing at this current time with my kids. It’s the most structured and formal it has ever been yet in our family, largely because I am homeschooling fulltime so it works out well in that way (which is one of the reasons we wanted to homeschool, actually). But I do not think it has to be super structured. I do not want my children growing up in at atmosphere of legalism, emphasizing works over faith, or being pressured into “spiritual disciplines” as though our entire lives were not an act of worship & spiritual discipline. I honestly firmly believe that if you just spend your hours with your children loving Jesus, it will happen naturally.

Praying for my children, I think, is hands down the biggest and best blessing for them and their souls. Both in the short term and in the longterm. I am seeking to grow in that area. I love praying for them when they are listening, because I think it feeds their souls as well as helps to shape their own prayers. But I also need to be truly purposed about praying for them when I am alone with God as well. I got Andrew Case’s book “Setting Their Hope in God” as a springboard for praying for my children, largely because I am lazy about it. :blush: But I know that… and acknowledging that and humbling myself should be the first step in growing in that area and asking God to gird my resolve to pray more frequently and more passionately for my children.

Also, back to that idea of seeking to find balance & grace without slipping into the ditch of legalism, I have learned to realize and & embrace that it doesn’t have to be every day.

Seriously. Are you shocked that I would say that publicly? Hah!

If you pour into them little bits at a time, even if it only feels like you’re “doing adequately” once a week (or whatever), God does not turn that away void.
Give what you can give to your children in faith.
Offer up those bits of time as loaves and fishes to Him, and let Him multiply it for your children.
Be gracious with yourself.
God is not constrained by our work schedules, our noisy & silly kids, our wiggly or consistent prayer times.
He gathered the children onto His lap and blessed them.

Honestly. It’s enough.
It’s enough because He takes what you offer in faith, and He multiplies it, makes it fruitful, and brings the increase.

We end every day with singing Numbers 6:24 over the kids, and saying “God bless you, I love you, peace be with you.”
Even if that is all I manage to sneak into the day, God knows my heart. He knows the hearts of my kids. He is at work. :happytears:

 

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Walking in the Way

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Come, sweetheart… come for a walk with your mama. It was not long ago that I carried you every time I went walking, but then you grew a bit and began to stretch your legs. Another little one came along then, and I carried him in my arms while holding your hand tightly in my grasp. Keep you from tripping, stumbling, sidling into the ditch or losing your boot in a puddle.

But today my arms are swinging, my palms holding nothing but the breeze. You are walking on your own, but not too far away. The little brother is having his first ride in the stroller. Big sister pushing. Mama’s eyes constantly on you both, giving direction and correction, gently guiding without grasping.

Parts of the path are smoother than others. When you walk along the smooth parts without the dips, the bumps, the stray gravel, things feel more carefree. The burden of the stroller is easier to push. Isn’t it fun to run and laugh and feel that sunshine all around?

Other parts of the path are muddy… watch out, don’t get stuck there… dig your heels in, really use those muscles, push through. If you go helterskelter through the muck, it is going to splash onto you, stick to your boots, cling to the hem of your dress… better to have diligence and self control and constancy as you work through the muddy puddly parts. Keep the little one protected from the muck. If you get too messy, it’s likely that it will slosh onto him too. Get that burden through the puddle and onto the other side.

Yes, I will help you… take it? okay, this time I will… I can see you are weary. I’ve done this before, I know this walk and I recognize the muddy puddle to. Take my hand, I’ve got you. Let me push the stroller for a little while as you catch your breath. It’s good to know you don’t walk alone, isn’t it? I love to feel your hand in mine, see you smile up at me, little image of who I once was, the one urging me on toward who I am becoming. We go together along this path, at the same time, hand in hand, yet in different places. I started along it sooner, I will stop before you do. Until then, let’s keep walking.

Oh yes, sure, you may have the stroller back. I’ll let your hand go again and keep my eyes on you as you continue pushing that burden ahead.
I love to see you delighting in the world around you, my girl. I love watching you take it all in, observe, indulge, taste and discern.

Why do you keep looking backward, glancing behind you with a look of fear? No, there is no car coming on our little path. No, there are no mountain lions here. How do I know?… oh… um… I just do.
Things are getting a bit wobbly now, sweetie, keep going forward and watch where you are walking. I know it’s fun to make zigzags and loopy lines along the way, but you must be careful not to stray. Mommy is not holding your hand… oh sweetheart, can I take the stroller now? Can I hold your hand? Will you stay closer and walk more carefully with me? I worry you may trip… don’t stumble… what if I can’t catch you?

You are running forward while looking behind… you are forgetting to care well over the burden you are pushing… look out! a ditch!
Silly little girl I love, look at the wheels, stuck in the stones, baby nearly toppled over, you slightly scraped your knee.
Do not run from Mommy, do not fear what is behind you, you do not have to fret so.

There we are, let me help you back onto the path. Let me settle the stroller wheels for you in the right direction. Hold firmly to the burden while you are moving forward, and keep your eyes focused mostly on where you are going. There, that’s it. Good job… much better! Doesn’t it feel good to keep set on the right way?

Oh, do you see those puddles up ahead? How will you prepare to meet them? Is there a wise way around them? Is the only way through them, with steady step and a firm grip on the burden you are pushing along? What did you say? Oh, yes of course I can help you push it through this set of puddles. That was a wise way to work through them. You saw the trouble coming and knew to ask for someone with a firmer grip and more experience with the puddles and the path and the burden. Well done. Keep your hands on it and your gaze fixed where you need to go… I will simply add my hands to yours and give you the confidence that you don’t have to do it alone. Together, we have more strength, more solidity, more stalwart tenacity. Companionship does ease the burden. I would rather laugh with you and cry with you than do either one alone.

You did well, my sweet. Look at you, smiling in the sun and making your own breeze with your speed. Yes, your eyes are facing where you should be going, I see the skip in your step, your face to the sun, your hair blowing like a veil. Yes, I see those beautiful little flowers growing there beside the path. You’re right, they are lovely. Would you like to stop for a moment to enjoy this expression of beauty? Shall we pick one to tuck behind your ear, carrying with you a token of delight? You are bringing some mud along the way, it would be a nice counterpart to have a sweet violet also.

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What’s that you say? Why yes, I do see that patch of bumpy gravel. Yes, you may try to push through it on your own. Remember, I am here if you need me. I will encourage you with my words unless and until you need me to give you a boost with my hands. I think you’re prepared for this. Your eyes are focused on what is coming, your hands are gripping the burden. You have traces of both past difficulty and past ease… on your hem, tucked behind your ear… determination in your eyes, fire in your soul.

Don’t forget the little one you are caring for! It’s not just about you anymore. Be watchful and take care over that which has been entrusted to you.
Yes, you came across the bumps without falling to the side nor losing a handle on the burden you carry. You were watchful, careful, alert. Continue steadily on, yes, you are doing fine. I’m watching you, the same path beneath our feet… I am slowing down, you are moving on ahead…

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Oh my sweet little girl, yes… yes, I am proud of you… we made it to the end of our walk for today. You did well. You proved true. You did faithfully.

And tomorrow, let’s walk along the way again, shall we? I’ll stay near to you again. We will face the same walk with possibly different terrain. Perhaps there will be rain, with more mud and deeper puddles and sticky ruts. Perhaps the sun will burn our necks, and the path will be so dusty we can’t help but cough. The violets? Hmm, I don’t know… keep your eyes open for whatever beauty pops up along the way, because often there are different beautiful flowers at different times in different places… simply watch for them, and when you find them, recognize them and delight in them… and yes of course, do remember to carry some of that fresh beauty with you.

We will continue walking together as the days go on. I will enjoy it while we have it. Each other. And the way to walk. Together.
I no longer carry you, but I walk beside you. I’ll still be near.
The day is coming all too soon when you will be making the walk on your own.

This Is Our Newest Must-Read

 

You know those times when you stumble upon a great book that you just read over and over again because it’s that good?
Usually I would say my favorites that fall into that category are things like The One Year Book of HopeTeaching from RestStreams in the Desert, or other things in that type of category. Maybe something like Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie or even the Brambleberry Hedge collection… I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say that I usually fall in love with short, simple picture books from the children’s section at the library. I feel like it is pretty rare that I want to run to the bookstore (or open up Amazon, because, really – I’m an hour from bookstores, and I’ve got four busy little people in tow!) because I have fallen in love with a picture book.

Confessedly, I did buy Papa’s Mechanical Fish for my dad’s birthday not long ago, after having gotten it at the library for my kids… and it was too much right up my dad’s alley NOT to get him a copy. (Whizz-bang-thump-whirrrrr!)

But this one? My newest favorite? I can’t help but share it with all of you. 🙂

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I love the artwork, I love the simple wording, I love the reality, I love the humor.
I love seeing my own life reflected in something as simple as a picture book.
This is My Home, This is My School by Jonathan Bean is one of our newest favorite books.

It will be arriving on my doorstep when my dear old 2-day shipping comes through.
And just because it’s that perfect, it will also be arriving on the doorstep of some of our dearest friends. (hint, hint!)

If you aren’t a homeschooling family, you might not quite get the apt humor and nuances, but perhaps it would help give you a little glimpse into what the homeschool can be like.
And if you ARE a homeschooling family, I would take a leap and say that this is a total must-have for your home library!!

  

Of course, the boys might take pleasure in calling our dog “the bully” and me “the grumpy cafeteria lady” now… but it’s all in hilarious good fun!

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Family Loves

I said a few days ago that in my journey of teaching people, one of the main things I am doing is teaching my children what to love and how to love. Over the last few days I have thought numerous times about my children someday no longer being children. It’s happening right before my eyes. Every day, I’m one day closer to my empty nest, to their wings carrying them off, to my grandbaby birds peeping around. There are times I can get so downright caught up in the daily living of life and training of my little people that I can honestly lose sight of the bigger picture.

When I am up to my elbows in crockpot meals, dirty dishes, laundry to fold, books to read, worksheets to check, diapers to change, bills to pay, phone calls to return, appointments to keep, seasons & holidays to embrace… I can forget the big rocks in the jar. How in the world it can be so easy to overlook those… it’s beyond me… but I get so buried in all the little pebbles that I no longer see the cornerstones.

So it’s helpful to ask myself occasionally, when my children fly the coop, what are those cornerstones I want them to see when they look back over their shoulders toward childhood? What solid rocks do I want them to carry on their own journeys forward?

I suppose the biggest answer is a pretty obvious one. I want my children to have their Triune God as the absolute overriding pillar of their childhood. I want joy to be the feeling they recall. I want their memories plastered with family and the family loves.

So since y’all know I come from a Christian background and am seeking to do my utmost for the Kingdom in the raising of these little saints for Him, I’m going to just skip over the first two points, assuming that you would nod in agreement with me and think, well duh.

But when it comes to the memories plastered with family and the loves of our family… I think that is where our own little family cultures start to take their unique beauties and precious forms. No two quite exactly alike.
Some families have football and classical education at the top of their Family Loves list.
Some families have speech club and farm-to-table gardening in first place on their Family Loves list.
Some give precedence to family birthday parties, Sabbath meals, and Winnebago journeys across the country.

I have been evaluating the Family Loves of my home.
What Loves do I emphasize for my children to embrace, so that they know God and feel joy through the Loves?
I feel like I can somewhat confidently narrow it down to three:
Food, Music, & Books.

When I expressed this to someone recently, I was met with a hearty laugh, a hand clapped on my shoulder, and an encouraging word: “well, then I can see you are on the right path. It’s pretty clear that those are the loves in this home.”

Maybe it’s the excitement the kids have three times a day about gathering around our table for food & fellowship. Maybe it’s the almost incessant cycle of making sourdough bread in our home. Maybe it’s the freezer full of muffins, scones, cookies, and bread. Maybe it’s the beef, the balsamic covered salads, the homemade pesto on al denta pasta. Maybe it’s the ice cream every Sunday night with the family movie. Maybe it’s the dinners at Grandmama’s house with all the cousins, and the heaps of food that fill bellies & fatten souls.

Maybe it’s the grand piano and two harps that take a bit of center stage in our family room. Maybe it’s the fact that we start almost every day with singing around the breakfast table. Maybe it’s that the kids have music instruments at their disposal from the time they know how to blow a whistle or shake a tambourine. Maybe it’s the fact that they have a mother with a degree in music. Maybe it’s the fact that their mother believes music should be a foundational pillar in a Christian home. Maybe it’s the fact that these little redheads honestly just can’t stop singing. All day long. They sing about everything. Maybe it’s how they beg me to play piano for them at night after I tuck them in; that is as much a part of our bedtime liturgy as brushing teeth, tucking them in, praying for them, and singing their blessing.

Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t go a week without bringing more books home from somewhere. Maybe it’s because between my husband & me, we have gone to the library every day this week. Maybe because I found an amazing woman on craigslist who literally runs a bookmobile side business out of her minivan, and I brought home 70 books two days ago… and then hit the library sale for another 30 books yesterday… and then decided today that it was time to figure out some of next year’s curriculum for the boys, so of course that involved buying books from Amazon and Veritas. And if you know me very well at all, you know I have an addiction to the 49-cent children’s books on the shelves of Goodwill. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a television in the family room, but we do have a wall of bookshelves, and about five other storage containers for books all in that room (plus more in the schoolroom and every bedroom and Steven’s study). Maybe it’s because we spend about half our waking hours reading books in this house.

But wait.

Are those the causes? or the effects?
Are those the reasons these things are our main Family Loves?
Or are these the outworkings of them being our main Family Loves?
Both, in fact, I should think.

If you were to designate a few main Family Loves in your home, what would they be? And why?
What is it about those specific things that makes you want your children to love them?
And how do you envision creating a culture of loving those things in your home?

Dear Curmudgeonly Congregant…

Dear Curmudgeonly Congregant,

I saw you cringe, I saw you glare, I saw your chest heave with a sigh. Each time, it coincided with little noises of little people. If I knew how to properly, appropriately address you with the grace and respect I feel you deserve, I would love to share my perspective with you. Maybe if I write down my thoughts, I can find a way to do that which would increase our peace and fellowship in our congregation, rather than sour it or divide it in any way.

I want you to know that I believe worshiping God corporately on the Lord’s Day is a truly important act of obedience and faith for every Christian. I want you to know that I take it seriously. The joy and the reverence. The duty and the delight.

And in light of the belief that this is one of the most important things I will teach my children and my children’s children, I want you to know what a weighty burden I feel as I bring my children into the presence of the Lord corporately each week. It isn’t easy. I don’t simply have to get myself up, dressed, fed, & out the door. I also have four little people to get up, dress, feed, and buckle into their carseats for our fifty-minute drive to the church. It is a real act of dedication and faith in action just to have this as a top priority for our family’s life. It is rare for me to show up at church feeling well rested and fully charged. I seek to show up with my family joyful, bodies beautifully clad for the special event of worshiping the King, bellies filled, bladders emptied. But I confess, there are some days where simply showing up feels like a morning of hard work.

I only have four children, but I also only have two hands. There are some days where my husband and I are able to each take responsibility for two kids in the pew. In fact, there are some days where my parents are sitting with us, and it essentially works out to a one-to-one adult-to-child ratio. But let me tell you, that does not make my job easy-peasy as the mother who takes responsibility to train my children.
Then there are other days, like yesterday, where my parents were away and my husband & our 8 year old son were serving as acolytes in the service… which left me on my own in the pew with my younger three children (ages 5, 4, and 16 months).
By the time we had gotten through an hour of Sunday School, ninety minutes of worship, and then an hour long church potluck… not to mention the almost-hour-long-drive-each-way… I was well ready for a nap!

But the reason I lay this out to you is because I want you to know that every thread of my being believes that it is worth the sacrifice. As a homeschooling mom, I teach my kids just about everything they need to know. Math, English, handwriting, cooking, money smarts, geography, history, reading, recitation, memorization, habits of homemaking and cleanliness, manners… you name it, I teach it. (At this point! I mean, hey, my 8 year old is not ready for calculus II yet, okay?)

And yet absolutely nothing I teach my kids the other six days of the week is half as important as what I teach them in the pew on Sunday mornings.

I know what you’re thinking: “why can’t you teach them to worship before you get here for the service?”
Well, we do the best we can with that: we train them in worship principles throughout the week. We practice listening reverently when Mommy reads the Scripture every morning. We practice praying, with quiet hands and still bodies so that we can focus on speaking in our spirits with God. We practice singing robustly. We practice confession of sin. We practice reciting the creed and other liturgical parts of the service.
But like in so many other things, we can practice in a separate situation until we’re blue in the face, but it isn’t until actual gametime that it really matters. That is truly when the rubber hits the road.

You won’t have watched me train and prep my kids at home throughout the week.
But you have my word, with God as my witness, that we seek to practice for this good work throughout the week.

You can listen to me pep talk my kids before the worship service begins, in the bathroom after we have made sure that bladders are emptied, hands are freshly washed, whistles are wet and water bottles filled.
You can watch me organize my children in the pew with the best of my wisdom helping not only choose a pew’s location, but also each child’s location in that pew.
You can see my set out my bag of tricks – a diaper bag for myself and the baby, and a “church case” for each of the three older children.
You can watch me hand out liturgy booklets, bulletins, and hymnals… and blankies to the two youngest.
You might even see me pray God’s grace over our pew and take a few deep breaths.

I hope you see me encouraging my kids to participate in the service. I don’t want you to think that my endeavor is to teach my kids how to simply sit down, be quiet, and doodle or dawdle away the worship service.
I tell my kids to speak and sing when I speak and sing.
You can hear their words trailing a beat or so behind the adults.
You might hear my one year old chiming in with a loud amen at all kinds of random points during the service (although he is quite good at paying attention to when he hears others say it, and he follows suit a breath later).
My children don’t always have a good grasp on volume control: so if they know a hymn particularly well, they might belt it out at what nearly seems like a shout if you’re sitting in front of us.
I encourage the baby to make joyful noises during these times too, but I can assure you that in his one year old way, it doesn’t exactly sound recognizable as the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Sanctus.
But the children are doing exactly what I am asking them to do: participate. To the level which they are able, they are participating in the liturgy of our corporate worship service.
And it’s beautiful.

You could very well notice me putting my finger to my lips often during the service. And yes, you might hear me “sssshhhhh” the kids (which, yes, I know is not a silent thing… but sometimes the kid isn’t looking at me with my finger to my lips so I absolutely have to grab their attention so they recognize that they are not being as quiet as they think they are).
You can watch my fingers point to words in hymnals and bulletins to encourage the eyes of my children to follow along, even if two of them can not yet read fluently (or at all).
You can watch me put my hands on little thighs when legs are kicking, or on little hands that are suddenly zooming around like rocketships, or on little knees that are teeter-tottering on the kneeler rather than quietly knelt in confession.
You can see me have my children stand, sit, kneel, turn, raise hands, etc. along with me.
And no, they don’t always do it perfectly or cheerfully. But they are learning. And I’m doing my best.

You can watch me rock back and forth or sway side to side, as I attempt to keep the baby quiet during Scripture readings and prayers.
You will definitely notice me teaching the baby how to quiet the noises his mouth makes.
You may notice sometimes that I give him little flicks to communicate discipline (not in the sense of punishment, but in the sense of training).
And yep, you’re right, there are times where he gets fed up with the little flicks and starts to let out a full-blown howl. When this happens, I sure hope you notice that I do my best to leave my pew swiftly.
But sometimes I need to whisper quick directions to another child (“make sure you stay seated and listen quietly to the sermon”) while I shuffle out of my pew (which is full of little legs, the diaper bag, the kneeler, and other random articles) and make my way out of the nave.

Yes, I know there is a “cry room” on the side of the sanctuary.
Yes, I have used it when I needed a place of privacy for my own sense of modesty.
But it is not sound proof by any means, so I recognize that going in there with a wailing child is not helpful.
So I do have to walk all the way out through the lines of pews to the back of the church and down the hallway. And yes the hallway echoes terribly.
I know this. Trust me, my ears are not numb to these things, but are more accutely tuned in than anyone else’s.
I know your ears are stunned when my children make noise.
I see you turn around with your furrowed brow.
I feel like every pair of eyes in the place is burning a hole into some part of me or my child.

Do you know that I often leave the worship service feeling more tired than when I arrived?
That even if my soul has been fed in some way, that my physical self feels depleted?
Do you know that there are times I’m tempted to wonder if it’s worth it?
Do you know that I can feel jealous of people who think it’s okay to stay in bed and let the kids sleep in rather than go through the hard work and routine of getting to worship put together & on time?
Do you know how self-conscious I feel about bringing my little pew full of redheads into the sanctuary and up to the altar each week?

But what I need to remember (and what I would like to encourage you to think about) is that my children belong in the worship service. I will not hinder them. Of children is the kingdom of heaven. I want faith like theirs.
When my children are here, they contribute to the joyful noise. (And when it isn’t joyful noise, I seek to take their fussing out of the worship service when it gets out of control.)
I love being in a congregation where all ages and stages are present and relevant.
But just like I am so thankful to have grey, white, and balding heads in the pews around us, I also recognize that the little saints filling my pew help to round out the body of Christ present in this worship service.
They are part of His body, too, and they are a visual reminder that Christ came for all peoples.

The corporate worship service is not about individualistic study, contemplation, or introspection. It is about coming together as one body made up of many parts, sharing together as a community in the Word and Sacrament.
When my children are here, it reminds all of us that Jesus loves the children. That we should have faith like the children. That Christianity isn’t just for the adult version of faith.

My children are learning that worship is important. That it is beautiful. That it is a priority. That it is a worthy sacrifice. That it is the high point, the pinnacle, and the start of every week.

My children might make noise with their pencils and papers. Or perhaps you’ll hear a slurp from a water bottle, regardless of our best intentions. Or the baby might make bodily noises that really will eventually be trained out of him. But my prayer is that their loud singing, their bold amens, their enthusiastically raised hands in the Doxology, their energetic passing of the peace to as many pews full of folks as possible, and their skipping up the aisle to receive communion at the altar would be a blessing to you. I pray that you would have the grace to cover their shortcomings… and grace to cover mine. I pray that your heart would look ahead in faith and thankfulness, because if children are filling the pews now, we hope it means that the pews won’t be empty in another ten or twenty years. I pray that you would send me looks of smiling encouragement and joy rather than glares that feel like judgment.

I ask that you pray for my family during the week, as we seek to walk in faithfulness all seven days of the week.
I ask that you pray for my family on Sunday mornings, as we seek to come to worship as a family and as part of this community of our congregation so that our children know that Jesus loves them just as much as He loves the adults (who aren’t perfect either!).
I ask that you pray for me during worship as I direct my reading-capable children to follow along, as I encourage my preschooler to participate with an obedient & joyful countenance, as I bounce my baby on my hip… all the while, as I too am seeking to bring my sacrifice of praise to my Heavenly Father.
I ask that you forgive me when I stumble, because I know I will.
I ask that you embrace each member of my family as part of your Christian family – because, while you have not been tasked with training these specific children in the nurture & admonition of the Lord (in which training in worship belongs), you have been tasked with loving these neighbors as yourself.

My children are your brothers and sisters in Christ ~ I ask that your have their spiritual good in mind, that you put their interests above your own, and that you aim (so far as you are able) to be at peace with them & their little frames.
Like you, I seek these same goals.
Like us, they are but dust.

Thank you for bringing your aged glory to our congregation. Thank you for bringing your aching bones, your walkers and canes, your hearing aids, your grey hair and wrinkles. Thank you for showing my children that God will still love them, value them, and not forsake them in their old age.
Please hear my words here with grace and respect, because I feel both toward you.

May each of us, as Christ’s disciples, know that we are not only tolerated in worship, but that we are embraced, needed, loved, vital. Young and old alike.

With sincere love in our Lord Jesus,
the mommy with arms & pew overflowing with blessings

Little Saints in Worship

There have been more than a few times in my life where I have been truly humbled by someone at church asking me how in the world I do it, getting my kids to “sit still and be quiet” for an entire worship service. I usually respond with it’s definitely God’s grace, and we work hard at it right from birth. They certainly are not born this way!

But then the next thought in my head is usually something along the lines of recalling how I do not instruct them to simply sit still and be quiet for ninety minutes every Sunday morning. Nope, not at all. That is not what I am training them to do. And if there are certain moments where I fall into that ditch (and there are), I ask that God would open my eyes and remind me of who I am, who my children are, and what we are doing!

And what are we doing? In what am I instructing them?
We are worshiping. I am instructing them in worship.
I am teaching & training them to worship their King.

My children have just as much standing before the Lord as I do. Christ died for all of us. I have no more right to be worshipping and receiving communion than they do. My own quiet reflection, focused singing, note-taking, etc. should not take precedence over that of my child.

But how do the children learn to worship?
Just like I teach my children to self-soothe, to drink from a cup, to fold their hands for prayers, to hold a pencil, to sound out words, to recite catechisms, to ride a bike, to memorize verses put to song… I also teach them to worship.

Both through direction and example, my husband and I (but as the mama, I tend to do 80% or more of it) teach our children from their earliest days to participate in worship. They make noise when we make noise (singing, responsive reading, prayer responses, the creed, etc), they are quiet when we are quiet (prayer, Scriptures being read, sermon), they stand and kneel and sit and pass the peace when we do.
Little by little, they grow up worshiping.
The worship service is not something that is for the adults.
It is for God’s people.
All of His people.
For His glory.

Does that mean my children worship perfectly?
Nope! And neither do I.

But what it does mean is that they belong in the worship service.
They, as part of Christ’s body, are called to worship Him.
They need to enter His gates with thanksgiving, making joyful noise!
They learn reverence by participating in it.
They learn from the get-go that man does not live by bread alone.
They know that the bread & wine they receive at communion is a mystery but that it’s vital.
They know that they belong to Christ, and that He is theirs.

But what we all must remember (the children, the parents, the clergy, and the other parishioners as well) is that worship, like all other aspects of our life, is something that must be learned, practiced, implemented, worked on.
Worship is not so much about the ones worshiping, but rather it is about the One who is worshiped.

Since this involves training, that implies that it isn’t something that you wake up knowing how to do one day.
Like training for a marathon. It is hard work for the long haul, with a big end goal in mind.
My child doesn’t reach three years old and suddenly have the ability to participate seamlessly.
There are times when I too have a hard time not fidgeting, not making noises, keeping up with the liturgy.
I need to remind myself, too, to go potty before the service and get a drink too.
I don’t have it down pat, and I’ve been at this for over thirty years already!
It’s simply my job to bring my children along on the journey with me.

As a friend of mine said yesterday, “it’s training. Which can be bumpy.”
Yes.
Bumpy.
But these little saints are not to be hindered from coming to Jesus.
He loves them, He lays His blessing on their heads, He longs for their joyful noises.
Jesus taught us that we need to become like little children, to have faith like theirs.

Who are we, that we think we have more clout in the Kingdom (or simply in the church pew) than they?
Oh that God would give me eyes to see and a heart to understand,
so that I can more beautifully reflect Him, show a worshipful heart to my children, exemplify faith in action, and ooze grace through our pew that seeps throughout the nave.

He is the faithful One. These little saints are His.
It’s simply my job to train them by His grace to work out their faith with fear and trembling,
and to worship Him on the Lord’s Day in spirit and in truth.
(And I seriously love Mr & Mrs Piper’s expression on the subject here, and this article too, if you’d like to keep reading…)

Teaching People…

I have been contemplating a lot about teaching lately… Everyone says that there comes some kind of slump at the end of February… it seems to coincide with spring fever! So I decided to talk to myself, and pray with my Lord, about things quite a bit this week.

I finally got tired of constantly re-requesting Teaching From Rest from the local library, so last week I went ahead & Amazoned it (yep, I used that as a verb – I’m cool like that). It’s much happier to have this sweet, encouraging, accessible book at home on my own desk.
I have recently gotten more addicted to perusing Sarah Mackenzie’s website and instagram. Last year, her ideas about spiral notebooks totally changed the way our homeschool (and life!) works – this year is far and wide smoother and sweeter than previous years. Steven and I credit a lot of that to the simple, wise implementation of our spiral bound notebooks (our children simply refer to The Lists, and yes, in their eyes they are quite capitalization-worthy). Hands-down without a question, we will be doing it this away again next year, in case you were wondering!

I’ve been teaching some fun music classes at our weekly homeschool co op this winter, and am about to jump into teaching some new things in the spring session! I’m pretty excited about it. And I actually enjoyed teaching music theory this winter a lot more than I thought I would. :) My students were great, and the curriculum/notebooks I was able to compile over Christmas break worked really well! I am so thankful for God’s grace in the details.
I do find that I am still a newbie at teaching other peoples’ kids, and some of the more seasoned moms have reminded me recently that when I am sassed or disrespected, it is not only in the best interest of the classroom at the time but also just one more way I am teaching a student, to send the student to their mother for instruction and correction. I am ever so thankful for the more seasoned mamas who have so much grace and generosity with newbies like me!

Yesterday I was also approached on the subject of teaching children about Sunday worship. It was an interesting little conversation, and got me pondering the issue a great deal more. Interestingly, I had just listened to a podcast on the subject last week, so I had already been mulling over some principles and methods before the conversation even came up yesterday.

Sometimes I get caught up in the idea that I am teaching math, teaching English, teaching music… teaching subjects.
But the reality is that I am not teaching things.

I am teaching people.
In fact, I’m teaching my favorite people in the whole world!
While I am teaching brains, shaping cultures, instilling eternal souls with a variety of life,
I’m essentially continuing on my journey of creating people.
Sculpting, molding, shaping, filling.

I show them what to love and how to love.
It’s a big job. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming.
I don’t want to get caught in the trap of stressing over methods, curricula, schools of thought, schedules.
I want to focus on teaching precious people how to love true, good, beautiful things.

This takes time and thought and joy and peace and grace.
It also does happen to take books and pencils and instruments and keyboards and recitation and repetition and trying-again.

And yes, it definitely also takes a sense of humor and a pot of coffee every morning. :)