Raising Worshipers

Raising Worshippers

By Duane Garner, please read his words!
(simply compiled by Melissa Cummings)

One of the things I love most about our congregation is that we have the base level expectation that our children are ordinarily going to be in worship with us. We are principally opposed to the practice of shipping Christian children off to nurseries, children’s church and other places, because we want our children to be right beside us, learning how to worship. We want their little hearts and minds and bodies to be shaped by the liturgy, for them to ask forgiveness for their sins, sing the Psalms, hear God’s Word read and taught, give to the Lord, confess their faith and eat with Jesus at His table. We do not want to treat them as second-class Christians, who are relegated to play-time until they are old enough to do “grown-up” church.

But inevitably when you include infants and toddlers in worship, there are going to be all kinds of noises and distractions and times where babies are going to make everyone aware of their presence. That comes with the territory. We expect that a room with a bunch of babies in it is going to sound like a room with a bunch of babies, and we shouldn’t want it any other way. We want the babies in worship and all that they bring with them.

At the same time we do not want our children to remain infants with infant-level expectations all their lives. As they begin to mature they are able to worship with age-appropriate attention and participation. Very early on they can begin to learn the responses and songs we sing every week. They know when to raise their hands, when to close their eyes, when to kneel, when to put the offering in the plate, when to take the bread and the cup. A little later they can pick out words and read along, and before long they begin to even memorize a number of the hymns and Psalms.

This is what we are after, and the whole reason we have them in worship with us is so that they can, you know, worship. If we have a twelve-year-old who spends the whole service fidgeting, daydreaming, sprawled out and rattling paper, have we really accomplished anything by having him in worship his whole life? If that kid is the model of what we are shooting for, then we might as well just have children’s church. But if we want to train worshippers, then we are going to have to be deliberate and purposeful about their training before, during, and after worship.

My goal in writing this is to offer some instruction and thoughts on training children in worship, and to offer you some encouragement as you do the hard work of raising up little men and women who love to receive the ministry of Word and sacrament every Lord’s Day.

I will say a few things about expectations – what our expectations for our children and for each other’s children ought to be (along with how much grace, patience, and mercy we must have for parents in the middle of the great toddler pew wars.) I will share a few thoughts about minimizing distractions and helping little ones stay occupied during the sermon. Then I will offer up some tips on managing emergencies, meltdowns, blowouts, and catastrophes in the middle of worship. I intend to conclude with instruction on how to deal with disobedience in or after the church service.

My wife and I have taken our daughter and son to quite a number of child-oriented entertainment and educational venues over the years, and we always come home with the same observation. Children are never expected to sit still, be quiet, and pay attention anymore. Whether it is a movie or a theatrical production or a presentation on whales at the science center, if the audience has children in it, there is a constant hum of fidgeting, jabbering and sobbing radiating from a sea of perpetual motion. The last time we attended a children’s musical, there was a five-year-old behind us who talked at conversational level non-stop the entire show. I would hate to be the person up front with most of these audiences. I am pretty sure I would walk off stage just to see if anybody noticed.

When I see school-aged children unable to sit in a seat facing forward and keeping their lips closed for even fifteen minutes, I assume that it is because they are un-churched or that if they are churched, their church does not require them to ever sit politely and listen for any period of time. They do not know how to calm themselves and be still and quiet anywhere because there is never any expectation at any point in their lives that they do so. I don’t even want to know what their classroom at school is like.

Training children to worship means training our little men and women to participate energeticallyfor them to make lots of noise in singing and responding when it is time to do so, and to be very still and listen when it is time to do that too. This means that we have to expect a certain standard of behavior and communicate that to them effectively.

Our shared work as a congregation in training our children to worship is first about managing our own expectations and agreeing upon a shared set of expectations. Here is a short list of those that it seems we all ought to be able to agree on.

  1. We expect children of all ages to be in worship with us ordinarily.
  2. We expect that when you have a room full of physical embodied human beings of all ages, those humans are going to have various needs to attend to over the course of an hour-and-a-half worship service. We also expect that with a little foresight and planning, a significant percentage of these can be taken care of before and after worship.
  3. We expect that children over four to five years of age are ordinarily physically and emotionally capable of participating in all parts of worship to the best of their ability, and are able to sit, on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly, for the duration of the sermon.
  4. We expect that children are going to require considerable training to get them to this point, that there will be various setbacks and hurdles, and that children of all ages are going to need assistance and correction. Because we expect this, we don’t see accidents and lapses as colossal moral failings, but as opportunities for gentle correction and training.
  5. If we share these expectations, we then expect all other parents are having the exact same struggles that we are having and are as patient with them as we wish they would be with us.

The goal here is not to have a room full of weird silent ghosts or little robots, but to train ourselves and our children in how we approach a holy and mighty God in worship. It is hard work, no doubt. But training for worship is also training for all of life, and if you set the expectation that your children will learn how to be still and quiet, you’ll find out along the way that you’ve not only raised children who know how to worship, but children who also know how to behave in public around other people in all sorts of venues. That’s kind of a sweet two-for-one deal.

I emphasize the importance of setting and managing our expectations for ourselves and our children in worship. Including the expectation that “children over four-to-five years of age are ordinarily physically and emotionally capable of sitting in a chair, on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly, for the duration of the sermon.” That may seem like one of those things that go without saying, but given the fact that I have seen adults talk to each other throughout the entire sermon, and have on many occasions seen grown people get up in the middle of a Scripture reading and wander around the building for some reason, perhaps this is not something we can take for granted.

The problem is that not only are those who are talking and moving not fully engaged in worship themselves, apparently, but that they are also disturbing others by repeatedly breaking their neighbor’s concentration with movement and noise. For many people, a room with constant visual and auditory interruptions creates an environment where they cannot focus or pay attention at all.

Perhaps you may have never thought of this before, but if you or your children get up and down repeatedly during worship, if you regularly talk or make unnecessary noise, if your school-aged children are not sitting on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly for the duration of the sermon then I can tell you without hesitation that you are distracting most of the people behind you and around you. Your behavior is making worship difficult for someone else.

As I have conceded so far, some distractions are unavoidable and accidents surely happen. We all have to do a good job of ignoring little things and we are all responsible to pay attention despite what is going on around us. But none of us love our brothers and sisters by putting on a three-ring circus in our pew every Sunday morning.

Here are a few practical considerations for minimizing distractions in worship:

  1. Make bathroom and water fountain stops before worship begins. Unless you have a medical condition or an illness, you and your children should be able to make it all the way to the benediction without getting up again. On occasion you may have to whisper directly into a little ear “you are going to have to hold it for fifteen more minutes.” Sometimes children (or adults) just want to go to the bathroom because they are checked out and not engaged with what is going on. You need to be on top of that and correct that also.
  2. Take extra care to be still and quiet when God’s Word is being read aloud. This is critical. When the Scriptures are being read, God is speaking and we and our children must be very still and listen attentively. Do not move. This is never the time to wander off and get a drink of water or start a side conversation. Teach your children to respect God’s Word. Show them how we come to attention and listen to the voice of our Lord.
  3. If you must move or make noise, wait for transition times in the service, if at all possible. Do it when we are all shuffling and moving from one thing to the next together.
  4. If you cannot avoid making noise, do it as quickly and discretely as possible and get it over with. Unwrap the mint for the child and do it fast. Don’t allow them to sit and wrinkle the wrapper for twenty minutes. Better yet, have the mint (or the fruit snack) unwrapped before the service starts.
  5. With very small children, babies and toddlers, make a point of sitting in the back while you are training them. You know that they are going to make sounds and they are likely going to need to go in or out a few times during the service. That’s to be expected and it is all part of the blessing of having them in worship with us. When my children were small we always sat on the very back row so that when we had to excuse ourselves we did so with minimal distraction to people around us. But in order for us to be able to sit in the back we needed to have that space open. So then families with older kids (who are trained to sit on their bottoms, facing forward, quietly for the duration of the sermon), need to move toward the front and leave the back seats for families with infants and toddlers. This ought to be common sense.

Church is not a museum or a concert hall. It isn’t a library or museum or mausoleum or monastery. We aren’t aiming for perfect silence and stillness. A crying baby or a dropped hymnal shouldn’t bring everything to a screeching halt while everyone gasps in horror. I don’t want anyone getting that idea at all. However, I do want us to aim for thoughtful behavior that loves all the big and little people around us by reducing distractions to the barest possible minimum.

I have to confess something right out of the gate. I am a doodler. If I am in a meeting or listening to a lecture and I have a pen in my hand, I am drawing little cartoon characters, cars, trees, flowers, and the occasional crazy-awesome spacecraft. In between, I will stop to scribble a phrase or a reference or a book title that I will want to remember later. But if I’m in a room sitting still, my pen is probably moving.

 I know this is controversial, and I know that many would say that if someone is doodling or drawing then they are not paying attention. It is indeed very possible to get so lost in your silly artwork that you are no longer engaged in listening. It is also possible to sit completely still with your hands folded on your lap and for your mind to be in space. We have all done that plenty of times. For me, if my hand is engaged in writing, even drawing, my brain feels less distracted and more focused on the subject. I also understand not everyone is the same, but for this reason I am not opposed to giving children something quiet to write with during the sermon time of worship, and if they use it for drawing, I am okay with that too. I would wager that they are listening and picking up way more than we give them credit for.

For two-thirds of our worship service, there is plenty of engaging activity for little ones. We sing, we read, we pray, we stand, we sit, we kneel, we raise our hands, we eat and drink, we give. All of these are times where a little noise, a little shuffling as we go from one thing to the next, a little movement is expected and necessary. It really is just for the sermon time that we are training our children to sit still, quietly, on their bottoms, facing forward and to listen to the best of their ability without distracting anyone around them. If we are honest with ourselves, it is often difficult for us as grown people to do this.

With my children, my goal was always to make worship a delight for them and not torturous and to ease them into the focused attention that I was seeking without expecting the same behavior out of a one-year-old that I expect from a fifteen-year-old. I know some parents have very small children who can sit still and quiet without any stimuli, and I remember a time when I wish God had given me one of those. I know some other parents who have tried to force small children to remain still and quiet with nothing to keep them occupied out of principle, and worship ends up being a horribly exhausting experience for them and everyone around them.

The trick is to keep small children quietly busy in a manner which is neither going to draw attention nor distract others. Here are a few ideas we used with our children when they were small:

  1. From babies to toddlers really the biggest challenge is getting them to the point where they are not hollering randomly just to hear their own voice or fussing for no reason. One way to keep them from shouting is to keep something in their mouth – a bottle, a sippy cup, a pacifier (if you use those.) We often brought little snacks like Cheerios or those puffy rice things, but you don’t give them the bag to rattle or the container to throw or drop or spill. You pour a small handful for you to hold and as you keep the child on your lap you distribute one at a time to keep them busy. As they become a little more alert, a very small toy – a car or a soft animal – or board books can go a long way. We saved special things in the diaper bag that they only saw on Sunday. We also did crayons for drawing on the back of the bulletin or another sheet of paper – not the big box of 96 Crayolas – just two or three crayons which I held tightly in my fist. When they want a new one they have to put the used one back in and pull out a new one. Sometimes just taking and depositing crayons was a quiet activity in itself. If you allow them to color, you don’t want to bring a big coloring book that they can rattle and tear the pages, or drop the whole thing. One sheet of paper, using the hymnal for support, together with three crayons and about twenty Cheerios will get a lap child almost completely through the sermon.
  2. When our children are growing from toddlers to school age we can start to expect them to sit on their own chairs, or in their own space on the pew. This is the time to slowly stop bringing the snacks and toys. The expectation is that they are going to begin to learn how to keep themselves mentally engaged without flopping around or laying down. But they may quietly turn the pages of a children’s Bible, or another good book. They may color with a handful of crayons on a single sheet of paper. It’s during this time when they will amaze you with questions from the sermon on the way home. They will have heard something that sticks with them, and that shows that they are beginning to listen.
  3. From kindergarten age through adulthood the expectation is increasing focus and attention. No, early on they are not going to grasp every concept of the Scriptures or the sermon, but they should be expected to put the effort into listening to gain as much as they can. You may ask them to write down three important things from the sermon, or to draw a picture based on the content of the text. When they start to take notes in school, you may ask them to take notes from the sermon – to write down the main thoughts and organize the information. The ride home from church, or the Sunday meal is a good time to review their note-keeping. Rewarding good attention, joyful singing, and note-keeping with something like a sweet treat on the Lord’s Day is a fun nuance.

The purpose through all of this is not to give them something to do so that their minds can wander, but so that they can learn age-appropriate ways of being still, being quiet, and beginning to learn the disciplines of Christian worship.

(End note from Melissa: The goal is raising worshippers because they belong to God. I am going to be sharing some personal thoughts and experiences about raising my children as worshippers… but I wanted to share it because multiple people have asked me recently about it. I have referred them to the posts by Duane Garner and have gifted some copies of Let The Children Worship by Stephen Helopoulos… but it seems like personal experience and “hey, I’ve been in that pew too” is what moms in the ditches really want. So read Duane’s blog posts, read Stephen’s book, and check back here soon for my own description of the hows and whys behind my own children being raised in the pew as worshipers.)

Pondering High School

Have you ever listened to a podcast or participated in a webinar, and thought: man, I wish I had kept my notes… especially because people will inevitably ask me for my thoughts on the experience, and I will be trying to remember, what were the high points? Anyway, I recently participated in a webinar led by Lisa Nehring from True North Academy, where she was giving a drink-from-the-firehose kind of information about planning and pulling off high school years in a homeschool setting. Have I mentioned lately how excited I am to be finally jumping into high school? I’m not positive that’s something I ever expected to say, but it really is true. I am so delighted to be walking with my son through a few more years of dedicated, diligent, purposed, curated work as we seek to pack in all the joy and the wisdom and the practice and the iterating we can. In true firstborn fashion, he seems like the type who may fly the coop at a young age, and I am here for embracing whatever years of this the Lord has left for me. I’m buckled in and ready to go. By God’s grace.

So I will share my own plans soon, which combines both personal plans and co op direction – and I will happily share everything from book lists to curriculum to field trip dreams. But in the meantime, enjoy some bullet points that I took away from my time gleaning wisdom from Lisa Nehring. I love to be caught in the middle: I am holding the hands of those who have done this before me, as they urge me on and pull me through when I am getting stuck; but I am also holding the hands of those alongside me and following after, and I want to do my own due diligence in sharing the resources I love, the experiences I have, and pulling others along when they need an external boost as well.

That said, hello bullet points:

  • High school should be focused on getting kids headed well toward adulthood. Give them a broad smorgasbord of topics is huge, key here in these ages.
  • Good basic math and language literacy—not just functional, but literate. Stop and pause to shore up those skills. Jr. High is when those struggles come into a head. High school is a great time to offer your kids great opportunities, develop their interest in broad categories and mastery in particular interests.
  • High school is a great time spending time and energy to work on identifying passions and skills.
  • Parents are the most important resource your kids have. God gave you to your kids for a reason.
  • Typical course of academic study means generally, and means what the public schools and other day schools are probably working under:
    Math, English, science, history, foreign language, and electives.
  • Are you obligated to follow that? Technically, it depends on your state. So if you care, find out from your state what the laws are. HSLDA.com is the best resource for that.
  • Typical math progression: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II; trig, precalc, personal finances.
  • Typical English: I, II, III, IV—you can put into those credits (120-180 hours of work per credit) whatever you need to. Focus on where their individual struggles are. Most kids should be able to write a 3-5 paragraph essay by the time they begin high school without stressing about it. Writing isn’t actually very subjective, as most people think. Mechanics of writing a good sentence is simply a basic skill. Find a good writing program, or hire a good writing teacher, because if your kids need to know anything, it’s how to communicate well—both written and orally. It should include literature and composition throughout their high school studies. General, World, US, Brit. Are the typical lit/comp classes covered in high school.
  • Typical science progression: biology, chemistry, physics (non-math physics is okay, if necessary), and another science—maybe environmental science or A&P.
  • Typical History progression: world geography (important for history, politics, economics), US history, government/economics
  • Foreign languages: most colleges do not require foreign languages for acceptance, so technically you don’t need it in high school. But it is a really great skill to have. Starting with Latin is the best, because it establishes good English grammar, plus 15000 English words come from Latin roots. Modern language is also okay: do one or two years, and that’s plenty before college. But if you are competent in foreign language, you may get scholarships for college, so that’s a consideration. Spanish is actually spoken by more people in the world than English. It helps to have Latin first.
  • Electives: state geography, speech class for good verbal communication, health, Bible, drama, art, music.
  • Don’t overlook BIBLE! Developing humanity is the number one thing you can do for your kids as they launch into a technical future. But they need to understand the Master of the universe and their part in the world—this starts with Bible.
  • Do not overlook art and music. It is so easy to drop those, but don’t do it. The arts will always play a big part in our lives. Teach your kids both to create and to observe.
  • (Check Truenorthhomeshoolacademy.com blog on college requirements.)
  • PA state standards are more strict than other states, so if you follow their standards, you will for sure cover your own or anyplace you might move.
  • Take advantage of whatever amazing resources God has put near you.
  • Write your transcript according to where they are going to go next. It is just a written record of what your kids have done in high school—it is like a resume. You can do transcript by subject or by year. Write it according to where they plan to go next, and what they want to do with it. Make it scannable. Make sure that it is easy to read. Make sure it conveys what you want it to convey. Vocational (21 credit hours), college prep (24 credit hours—a couple years of foreign language, 3 yrs math), and honors (more hours, more credits) are different types of transcripts.
  • Logging work and counting it for credit can be helpful. You need to not just count hours but also rigor. Not just taking in information passively, but a feedback loop—they need to be able to respond, communicate, write, debate.
  • What does it mean to develop your kids’ standout factor? High school is a great time to think about developing this. It can really garner scholarship dollars for your kid. Elite athletics, for instance. Entrepreneurism if your kid has developed a product or company in their teens is also really great. Your kids could write a novel or a how-to book. Remember that your unique things as a parent is also something that you can easily, generally, offer to your kids. Don’t be afraid to use the resources God has put into your family, extended family, neighbors, or close friends.
  • Have your kids aim to go to college or university as quickly as possible with as little debt as possible. Period. Do not drag out college. Start adulthood. Move on.
  • Developing kids’ life skills, soft skills, and marketable skills.
  • Communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity are really key.
  • Your kids need to nail down how to write an essay. They need to be able to write a 5 paragraph essay by their junior year. They should also know a persuasive essay by some point in their junior year. Help your kids be at ease speaking in public. This starts with simply teaching them to read aloud in the youngest years, and build on that for years. The persuasive essay is the way to start learning to do a persuasive speech. Critical thinking: logic classes are excellent, deductive reasoning games are good for brain breaks, looking at something and being able to parse out what is true & what’s not, how do pieces fit together. Collaboration means getting along with others and working together well; don’t overdo group projects, but find ways to help your kids learn to work together with others. Even sports or gardening is a form of collaboration. Creativity is a soft skill that people really look hard for, it is a hallmark of our economy and country: invest in creativity, give them lots of opportunities to experience arts and create a little bit of everything. Find their interest and grab onto them.
  • Life skills your kids should know: food, shelter, vocation, health, aging, how to manage personal finances. Make sure your kids know how to cook, how to budget for food. Teach your kids that insurance is important. Encourage your kids to earn, spend, give, tithe, and save. Teach your kids to invest in other people, both time and money. Resources are meant to be shared, not hoarded. This can also be honed into community service, which can earn scholarships—writing letters to servicemen even counts, so do food drives, etc. 200 hours a year really earns great scholarships—but you’ll need to keep excellent records for that. Some high schools require 15 hours of community service per year.
  • Soft skills: teamwork, collaboration, critical thinking, work ethic, leadership skills, time and distraction management, communication, etc.
  • Teach your kids to sleep. Teach your kids to have quiet. This helps with circadian cycle as well as sleep hygiene. Look into digital detoxing. Leaving electronics out of bedrooms, and turning the wifi off at night.
  • Technological literacy is super important—not just how to use an app or log on to things, it’s about how to store files, how to work independently and appropriately online, how to have access to tools, how to use all the Microsoft products. Basic computer information system class is helpful. Learning how to store your files is a big thing.
  • 3D printing is going to be booming in the near future. AI and robotics as well. These are economies which will completely explode. Also pastors, counselors, and psychologists.
  • Career exploration is also a good thing to have in your high school plan. Who are your kids, what is the world going to be like, and what is their skill set? How do these things work together to prepare for a life where your kids can have a lifestyle they can live with? We are in another time of industrial revolution (technological advancements), and we need to have a lot of adaptability and flexibility because of that.
  • Don’t overlook verbal and written communication. Leadership skills are also hugely important, regardless of whatever career they may pursue after high school or college (or trade school or apprenticeship). Make sure your kids know how to research what requirements are for different career options—help your kids get on the right path as early as possible, but also be flexible. See if your kids can test drive a career through volunteering or internship. Teach your kids to create a resume. Teach your kids how to network both in person and online, and how to make a good first impression—train your kids how to interview well.
  • Education is about developing the whole person, not just checking off boxes for a kid to feel like they are done being kids and ready to be an adult. Education is much greater than just filling a vessel for 18 or 22 years.
  • 6 week summer classes are a la carte if you want, or buy a bundle of 3 and share among your kids.
  • Education takes place best within community—yes, family is community, but it should branch out into other community as well.
  • TeenCourt and TeenPact are good resources to check into.


It is odd to be in a place in life where I feel frail of body, frail of heart, frail of mind.

It is good timing though. As I approach a few different speaking engagements this spring, I am spending a lot of time meditating on Psalms. I wish I could completely digest this huge stack of books I have on all-things-Psalms. What I have noticed is that, if Scripture at large is the milk and meat that I need to grow and thrive in my walk with Christ, it is the book of Psalms that is my water.

It is what refreshes me.
It is what washes me.
It is what satiates me.
It is what overflows me.
It is what spills out of me.

I know that Jesus Himself is the Living Water. I’m not denying that. 🙂 But I’m simply noticing ever more and more how much I glean from the psalms, grow by them, will never tire of them, find them applicable in every situation.

And it is such a blessed gift that during a season where I feel explicitly frail that it is basically a necessity that I immerse myself in Psalms and the words of others who have been immersed in Psalms. This is good work. And it is my prayer that through the immersion, God would gird me up, make me strong, and grant me faithful grit to persevere.

I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord, when they hear the words of thy mouth.
Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord.
Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.
The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.

Practical Attributes

Paul teaches and exhorts us in detail about Christian qualities—everything from diligence to sacrifice to patience to piety. Let us seek to grow in these virtues by practice, and through prayer. (Romans 12:11-13 “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”) How can we practice these attributes in a co op setting?

The epistles, or letters, of Apostle Paul have a place of prominence in Scripture—in fact, they take up most of the New Testament. These letters that he writes are mostly to individual churches, where he is encouraging the people in congregations (which were made up of the people in a community—because churches weren’t really formed around specific theologies but around geographical proximity) to love one another, to pursue godly virtue, to turn from sin, and to seek holy living according to the will of God. He expounded on the good news of Christ through practical application. In his letter to the church in Rome, he listed out a lot of different virtues that the people ought to prioritize and pursue, as well as things which they ought to run from with haste. Let’s read a few:

Present your body as a living sacrifice.
Discern what is the will of God.
Think with sober judgment.
Use the gifts God has given you.
Love genuinely.
Abhor evil.
Hold fast to the good things.
Love in a brotherly way.
Do not be slothful.
Serve the Lord.
Show honor.
Have hope.
Be patient.
Share with those in need.
Show hospitality.
Have empathy.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Weep with those who weep.
Seek harmony.
Pursue peace.
Do not be haughty.
Be humble.
Don’t avenge yourselves.
Feed your enemy.
Overcome evil with good.

And by the way, that is a list just from one chapter of one letter. (Romans 12)

The thing is, this isn’t a list that Paul gives us in order to put a burden of performance on our shoulders. This is actually a description of freedom. This is a whole lot of “get to’s” right here. Because we belong to Jesus and a community of fellow believers through faith, we get to: _____________. Fill in the blank with all the above things.

So if Paul writes extensively about virtues, and we know that these Scriptures were not just meant for the early churches to whom he specifically wrote but also were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for our sake here and now… how are some ways that we can live out these virtues right here and right now?

Well, anywhere where there are people gathered, it is a group of sinners. And whenever a group of sinners is gathered, there will be sin tossed around from time to time. So even today—in the car, on the playground, in your classrooms, around the dinner table—you will be faced with opportunities to GET TO be humble, to overcome evil with good, to not avenge yourself, to seek harmony rather than haughtiness.

As a co op student today, you will have multiple chances to GET TO not be slothful, to be patient, to discern well and think wisely, to show honor, to have empathy.

And guess what mamas, as teachers at co op today, we will have those very same opportunities. So our prayer this morning as we go forth into a day of working and living and loving and studying alongside one another, is that God would give us eyes to see these opportunities for virtue because He is good, and because He loves us. We get to obey Him and follow Him because of His grace. Not because of a heavy hand of domination. But because He is a good shepherd who gently leads those with young, and who uses a rod and staff as our comfort.

Paul wants us to learn this from his epistles: that we ought to live out our faith internally and externally acknowledging that we are sinners saved by grace, and that Jesus is our Lord. By the working of the Holy Spirit granted to us, we can follow the example of Paul in pursuing these practical attributes and encourage one another in these applications of love and good works.

Losing a Pillar

When you move into a new community, you don’t automatically know who the pillars are in that society. But after a while, you learn. You lean on them, even when you don’t realize you are doing so. And when something happens to knock that pillar down, it suddenly feels like everything else is less stable and more likely to falter.

I remember being a freshly minted teenager the first time I met Farmer Tom. I know he has aged in the last twenty-plus years, and I certainly know he struggled with his fair share of health issues. From what I know, he never had an easy life, but he always had cheer and hospitality and gumption enough to go around. I recall the sidewise glance, almost a sneer, he gave my dad over his crossed-arms when we first bought the property across the dusty dirt road from Farmer Tom’s place, tucked back just behind the overgrown old cemetery. “Whatcha wanna do with all them acres?” This was in the days before good old Y2K and people from places like Seattle and California were tucking tail and running to the hills… and once they realized they didn’t need bunkers and solar powered generators, their plans were often to subdivide and make suburban villages out in the sticks. Like where we just collected ourselves over one hundred acres of beautiful field and forest.

My dad, who literally never met a stranger in his life, smiled and said, “I want to live in the country with my wife and kids, and have a place for friends and family to put down roots. I want to grow old here with grandkids.” I don’t know if those were exactly his words, but that was definitely his sentiment. I’m sure it came with a belly full of joy and a loud sigh of gratitude from my dad. And I am beyond positive that it came with a whoop, a holler, and a hearty handshake to follow from dear old Farmer Tom.

We have been neighbors ever since.

But yesterday our Farmer Tom died. As Simeon said today at lunch, “it sounds better to say he passed out.” Until he was corrected by an older brother who said, “that just means fainted, so it’s not the same thing. It’s not accurate and not true.” “Oh,” said my Simeon. “It just doesn’t sound right to say he died.”

And he’s right. Farmer Tom passed away.
Our neighbor died. And our hearts are sorrowing.

The saddest part is that, as far as we know, he died without Jesus. And I think it has been decades since I have experienced the loss of someone I don’t expect to see again and to embrace in glory. It is a very empty feeling. Death without life on the other side. How do people even begin to cope with that? I can’t wrap my head around it.

The last time I saw Farmer Tom was through his family room window. My daughter and I had walked over with a bag of home baked goodies. Bread and cookies and candied pecans. I chatted with Mrs. K on the patio while snowflakes swirled behind my back and my daughter tugged on my mittened hand. I remember her saying, “Mommy, there’s Farmer Tom” as she pointed to the window on our left. We smiled at him through the pane and waved. I had no idea that would be our last glimpse of him. Weeks ago.

Our field is the home to his cows every summer. His field is where we often wave to him, watching him ride around on his tractor. Unshaven face, eyes that never stop smiling, a grin full of gaps that you can’t help but love. Denim overalls and dirty grey hair, big tan hands covered in motor grease.

Any time anything happens in our little farming community, Farmer Tom would know instantaneously. I never have figured out how. Five minutes into a local tragedy — fire, ice storm, power outage, blocked roads, newly dug grave in the cemetery — you could just call him up, and he could give you all the news. You had a community question, Farmer Tom would have the answer and point you in the right direction.

His kids still live on either side of his place. And I know Mrs. K is still there. Bless her heart. I am sure I will see her out with the goats soon. It is kidding season. And I will look forward to watching her kneel in her bountiful garden, kerchief on her head, sun on her neck, all summer. And I hope there are still cows to come live in my field.

I can’t remember a day when Farmer Tom hasn’t been just across the dusty old road. A phone call away. With all the guttural laughter and local gossip you could ask for.
Now I imagine the next hole dug in our cemetery will be for him. And the community will totter a bit without him.

Because that’s what happens when you lose a pillar.
But thankfully his legacy of grit and cheer and determination and tradition will stick around. We will still lean on him. On his memory.

But I can’t believe he’s gone.
Without Jesus.

Lord, have mercy upon us and grant us Your peace.

Books Read in ’21

I thought it would be fun to write out the books I read/listened to in 2021, and see how many fiction vs. nonfiction I read, as well as how many books I read with my kids this year. I was able to complete the Scholé Sisters 5×5 Reading Challenge (although I kind of made it a 6×5 actually) as well as The Literary Life Reading Challenge… and while I had intended to put some overlap between the two, I really didn’t end up doing it that way. My habit tends to be always having at least one fiction and one nonfiction going all the time, as well as always having audiobooks and paper copy books going all the time. I always have a fiction and a nonfiction going with my kids, and try to read at least one or two books a year with just one child at a time. These are just little habits which help me never have an excuse for not knowing what to read next. And it is good to always have things feeding my intellect as well as my imagination!

I read over 100 books this year, which feels like a surprising number to me, but pretty fun. Let’s see how they stack up. Here we go!


Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall
Home Front by Kristin Hannah
The Blue Tattoo by Margot Mifflin
The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim M. Richardson
The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer
The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair


The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
Alexander the Great by Jacob Abbott
Popes and Feminists by Elise Crapuchettes
A Welcome Shore by Suzanne Rhodes
Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
A Joyful Noise: Praying the Psalms by Mike Aquilina
Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes du Mez
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
Live Not By Lies by Rod Dreher
Hamilton by Tony Williams
Meditations on Psalms by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Decluttering Your Marriage by Douglas Wilson
Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot
The Whirlwind Bides its Time by Joseph Carlson
Twenty Wild Decembers by Jason Farley
No One Doubts a Belly Laugh by Jason Farley
Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers
Beholding and Becoming by Ruth Chou Simons
Wintering by Katherine May
French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
The Price of Panic by Axe, Briggs, and Richards
Spokane’s Stories by Blythe Thimsen
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
First Family by Joseph J. Ellis
The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Classical Education and the Homeschool by Callihan, Jones, and Wilson
The Paideia of God by Douglas Wilson
Classical Me, Classical Thee by Rebekah Merkle
A Place to Belong by Megan Hill
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
I Choose Brave by Katie Westenberg
Good Man by Nathan Clarkson
Live Not By Lies by Rod Dreher
Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
Finding Selah by Kristen Kill
Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller
A Sacrifice of Praise by James Trott (not complete, but spent time here)
Words by the Wayside by Classics Series (not complete, but spent time here)
Mountain Breezes by Amy Carmichael (not complete, but spent time here)
The Litany of Every Day Life by Margaret Kim Peterson
The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson
Teach Me to Feel by Courtney Reissig
The 4 Hour School Day by Durenda Wilson
Mortimer Adler: the Paideia Way by Robert M. Woods
On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
The Case for the Psalms by N.T. Wright


Alice’s Farm by Maryrose Wood
The Door at the End of the World by Caroline Carlson
The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass
The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye
Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld
Dragons and Dragonslayers by Tim Chester
Jimmy McGee by Eleanor Estes
YWAM Amy Carmichael by Janet Benge
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes
YWAM Hudson Taylor by Janet Benge
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
Rescue by Jennifer Nielsen
Resistance by Jennifer Nielsen
The Bookwanderers by Anna James
The Knights’ Tales Collection by Gerald Morris
The Cross of Lead: Crispin by Avi
Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton
The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
Cilla Lee Jenkins: The Epic Story by Susan Tan
The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle
Radiant by Richard Hannula
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielsen
The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish by Karina Yan Glaser
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
Peril and Peace by Mindy and Brandon Withrow
Monks and Mystics by Mindy and Brandon Withrow
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer Nielsen
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Green

Advent, Fourth ’21

Fourth week of Advent, 2021.

Saturday, 12.18.21
Family Advent Feast

Pork tenderloin, roasted in the oven with peaches, pears, and sweet onions (this is similar to what I did, but I added a can of peaches-in-juice before roasting – and then added about two cups of chicken broth to the pan when it was about half done in the oven… so no need to make another dirty saucepot)
Roasted potatoes with garlic & herbs
Fluffy rolls
Cranberry sauce (left over from last week)
Green bean casserole (yep, a classic from my 80s childhood – canned cream soup and all)
Peppermint Flourless Chocolate torte with ganache & peppermint

John 1:1-18
First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle
Ontology of Incarnation

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Lift Up Your Heads
Psalm 24
Psalm 150

Kids’ Group Gift:
Everdell and Bellfaire expansion (so we can have 6 players)

Sunday, 12.19.21
Sunday Soup Supper

Zuppa Toscana (Olive Garden copycat recipe)
More fluffy rolls (from KingArthurFlour recipe)
Pink salad, brought by a friend (like this)
Apple pecan salad with vinaigrette (like this)
Christmas treats platter, brought by a friend (there were peanut butter balls, soft brittle, and much more… but those two were my favorite!)
Ghirardelli brownies topped with ganache & crushed peppermint

Rested with:
fellowship with friends
kids playing games
reading books with the toddler
affogato for dessert
not doing dishes because disposable dishes are a gift
talking to my mama on the phone
writing Christmas cards
reading poetry

Light Incarnate

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:9-10, 14

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:36

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so thatthey may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

We are talking about light. Latin lux, lumen.
And we are talking about incarnation. Latin incarnatio. Embodiment. Taking on flesh.
The mysterious taking on the material. Light becoming touchable. The Word who was with God—and who was God—from before the beginning of time. He was the One who created all things. In Him was life.

This Word—this eternally existent Creator—was the light of men, shining in the darkness, the light of the world to be followed, to be believed. This Word—life, light—gives true light to everyone, and yet even though His light shone in the darkness and couldn’t be overcome by it, eyes were blinded and people did not know Him. They did not recognize Light wrapped in flesh. He counseled His disciples to believe in Him, in the light, in order to become sons of light. He preached to a multitude saying that they who believed were not just sons of light, but were in fact the light of the world (which is what Jesus said of Himself as well), meant to shine before others so that their good works would be seen and glory given to the Father in heaven.

St. Athanasius wrote in On The Incarnation, “For we were the purpose of his embodiment, and for our salvation he so loved human beings as to come to be and appear in a human body.” “The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension—above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.” “There were thus two things which the Savior did for us by becoming Man. He banished death from us and made us anew; and, invisible and imperceptible as in Himself He is, He became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.” “The Saviour of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body.”

This is a beautiful and mysterious way to describe the material One who was Spirit incarnate. God who took on flesh. Material and immaterial knit together in inexplicable but perfect harmony and balance. Douglas Wilson wrote in God Rest Ye Merry, “What is the great mystery of godliness? What is the foundation of our salvation? God was manifest in the flesh. We sometimes do not appreciate the magnitude of the problem here. How could the eternal Word of the eternal Father take on limits? How can infinitude and finitude marry? The doctrine of the Incarnation proclaims frankly and without embarrassment the most stupendous miracle that can be imagined. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. But we are dealing with mysteries and miracles, not contradictions… The body that was broken on the cross was the same body that was formed in the womb of the virgin. And that body was taken on by the eternal Word in order that it might be broken. The blood that began to circulate in the veins of Jesus before He was even born was the same blood that was to be shed for you many years later. If the body that was suckled by Mary was a different one from the one that died on the cross, we are all still in our sins… The virgin birth is an important “handmaiden miracle,” pointing to the central miracle itself, which is the Incarnation. The thing that should stagger us is the “God with us” part, and not the virgin birth. The virgin birth points to this greater miracle. And because God is with us, thus we are saved… We believe in the Incarnation, in the Word made flesh. This is our glory: this is our salvation.”

So this brings it all the way around: the Word became incarnate in order to fulfill the prophecies and laws, to save His people from our sins. He created us in His image, we marred that image with sin (beginning with our father Adam), He took on our created flesh and then spiritually bore our sin when His body died, and then not just the Word—the Spirit—was raised from the dead but so was His body. The incarnation was not suppressed, suspended or ceased by the death and resurrection of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus. His body was touched after His resurrection, He ate, He was recognized. And when He ascended into heaven, in Luke 24 it talks about His hands being lifted up in blessing. And in Acts 1 we read about how He was taken up while His disciples were watching Him—He was still incarnate, else He would not have been seen—and also that “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In the same way. Incarnate. Manifest in flesh. This is no inconsequential detail. This is a core tenet of the Gospel. Good news. God became man. Incarnate Deity. Not for thirty-three years only. But for all time. He became like us so that we could become more & more like Him.

He is the Light so that we can see by Him, follow Him, and let the world know who is in charge. For without the Word, nothing was made. And without the Light, we only stumble blindly in the darkness.

Advent, Third ’21

Third week of Advent, 2021.

Saturday, 12.11.21
Family Advent Feast

Chicken cordon bleu (chicken breasts rolled with ham & swiss inside, then dipped in oil & bread crumbs; topped with shredded mozzarella; baked with a wine & broth bath)
Brown rice (it was al dente… oh well… instant pot isn’t infallible)
Roasted brussels, asparagus, & onion (gotta roast them long enough there is some good char for flavor!)
Cranberry sauce (with fresh orange zest and a pinch of cinnamon)
Garlic bread (yes, my kids are addicted to garlic bread lately… so I have been obliging them for the feasts!)
Sticky toffee pudding (I had never made this before, but this will absolutely be an annual favorite from now on!)

Isaiah 11:1-10
A Child is Born, from Nativity, by G.K. Chesterton
Love’s Incarnate Birth by Madeleine l’Engle

Comfort, Comfort Ye, My People
How Brightly Shines the Morning Star

Kids’ Gift:
Christmas shirts/dress
Olympic rings to hang from the basement ceiling

Sunday, 12.12.21
Sunday Soup Supper

Chicken taco soup (chicken breasts cooked in enchilada sauce in the instant pot; then after that was shredded, added black beans, yellow corn, onions, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, and seasonings; simmered for an hour – topped with sour cream and shredded cheese)
Chips (anybody else love Juanita’s?) & salsa
Bread & jam (homemade all the way)
Cinnamon coffee cake (needed to be gluten free, so I went with a Krusteaz box that is a winner) topped with vanilla ice cream & salted caramel (left over from previous gingerbread sundaes)

Rested with:
delightful friends
the big kids played incredibly beautifully together
the toddlers didn’t burn down the house or need stitches
we parents got to sip wine and share stories
we laughed, and at one point I almost cried
we talked about books… lots of books
we toasted and ate chocolate truffles
we sang the Doxology around the table
the kids pulled party poppers
watched a family movie (Beethoven, anyone?!) while nibbling cheese & apples
ate snickerdoodles made by Autumn Creek Bakery

Advent Hope

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
     Born to set Thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us,
     Let us find our rest in Thee:
Israel’s strength and consolation,
     Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear Desire of every nation,
     Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
     Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us for ever,
     Now Thy gracious kingdom bring:
By Thy own eternal Spirit
     Rule in all our hearts alone,
By Thy all-sufficient merit
     Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Longing, expecting, hoping, asking. These are overarching themes during the season of Advent. (And as I look for words to share about the hope before and behind us, I land on some thoughts from Peter Leithart, a friend of my father… many of the following are his.)

Advent hymns, unsurprisingly, are full of longing, and the language of the prophets. Advent hymns are about Israel’s desperations and hope, and specifically hope that the Christ would come in order to keep God’s promise to restore His people, and through them to restore the nations.

Advent hymns look forward not just to heaven but the redemption of Israel and of the nations, the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.

Our hope is in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19; Ephesians 1:12). Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Christ’s resurrection is the target of Abrahamic faith, he who hoped against hope for resurrection, for new life to come from his dead body (Romans 4:18). Hoping in God’s promise, he didn’t consider his own impotence looked for the impossible.

Jesus is the one who reveals the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13). He is the incarnation of the God of hope, the God whom Jeremiah addresses as the “hope of Israel” (Jeremiah 14:8; 17:13; 50:7). Only Jesus ensures whatever future we look forward to.

This Christ-centered hope gets misaligned if we separate hope for Christ’s coming from hope for His body, for ourselves. It’s true that the coming kingdom is Christ’s. But Christ is head of a body, and so the coming kingdom is also ours. The Christian hope is that the saints in Christ will reach their ultimate maturity as human beings, the fullness of our Adamic calling.

Advent isn’t supposed to soothe us. It doesn’t teach us to be stoic in the face of the irreparable damage of the world. It doesn’t teach us to be piously hopeless. It teaches us to have a hope that is irreversibly entwined with faith. Advent celebrates the Creator’s arrival to repair the damage of sin, judging and making new. Advent comforts because it promises final restoration, justice, and peace. Advent encourages us to persevere in trials and injustice because it demonstrates that God has pledged to make all things new. Advent unveils a God so determined to fulfill His purpose that He did not spare His own Son but freely delivered Him up for us all.

Isaiah 8:17 says, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” In the very next chapter, Isaiah 9, we read that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” THIS is hope. This is the promise. The Savior came! And He is ruling at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again. We long for Him and we expect Him. Therefore, even as the Israelites looked forward with hope, so do we. Jesus, the God who became incarnate, IS our hope.