Cultivating Community, 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultivating Community, 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 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 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.

Leading with Vision

I wouldn’t say that I generally consider myself a leader. It has always been more comfortable for me to be a follower. Now, that is not to say that I am naturally submissive or obedient: I am just as human and sinful as the next person. But whether it is because I have long-tended to be a people-pleaser or because I don’t particularly enjoy conflict or because bearing the weight of leadership has provoked too much inner anxiety for me… well, I can not discern nor explain for you. But there it is. I have never thought of myself as much of a leader.

Yet I have long recognized that, like my father, I tend toward “being a visionary.” Sometimes I chuckle and think, man, I’m such a dreamer. I remember when I was twelve years old, sprawled out in the back of a rented RV, as my family toured the Pacific Northwest… and my dad and I together came up with a dream. We dreamed that we could move away from my childhood locale of northern California, and end up in the panhandle of Idaho or the nearby northeastern corner of Washington state. We dreamed up property, and house building, and gardens and animals and church plants… we even dreamed of having some of our close friends move north with us.

Lo, and behold: it actually happened. Here I am, twenty-five years later, living on that very property we originally dreamed about back in 1996 while our RV bumped along highways I wasn’t sure I would ever visit again.

All that to say, sometimes being a dreamer, or even a visionary, isn’t just about pipe dreams. And sometimes it is about sitting back and watching the Lord do crazy, surprising things. Sometimes you don’t even have to bang doors down, the Lord just opens them wide and brings you through without even realizing what just happened.

But other times, He gives you a dream and calls you to create a vision, and then makes it a journey of labor and prayer and seeking His face without knowing which doors are open or closed, or perhaps even where you ought to begin knocking.

That’s the part where being a leader has seemed scary to me. Needing to be bold and tough and willing to take risks. Being someone who actually finds leadership and headship of my father and husband throughout my life to be a real hedge of protection and place of rest, I have often trembled at the idea of stepping out to take charge of something.

And yet… I am a leader.

I lead my children in their education. I lead a local co op. I lead an annual regional conference. I have lead book studies and Bible studies and the compilation & editing of a pregnancy-after-loss devotional. I have lead in an online Christian forum for women suffering infertility and pregnancy/infant loss. I have acted in leading roles on organizational teams and group efforts.

And here is the thing I have learned about myself in a leadership position. I need a vision. In fact, I need a well-defined vision. I need to be able to describe it, articulate it, point it out, and share it. It isn’t enough to wield authority. That is not what makes a wise leader. That is what makes a tyrannical leader or a dictator. To be a godly, wise leader, I need to prayerfully pursue the face of the Lord, follow His guiding, seek wise counselors, and iterate specific direction in the honing of the vision.

Being attentive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit doesn’t always come easily. It can be difficult to jump into something that I was not seeking to do… it can be difficult to stop myself doing something that I really want to grasp… it can be difficult to simply tell the difference.

I have been thrown into some areas of leadership in recent years that I did not personally seek, yet now as I ponder my place, I am humbled and grateful that God saw fit to put me in situations that I couldn’t deny were created for me by Him.

How do you identify the vision? How do you articulate the vision? How firm, yet how fluid, ought the vision to be? These are good starting points. I am looking forward to articulating some of that bit by bit, sharing my experiences and pondering the process, here at JoyfulDomesticity.

She is Nine

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

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

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

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

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

She is nine.

Setting a Guard

Ephesians 4:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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