Little Saints, Tips

After sharing about my theological and philosophical convictions about Christian families bringing their children (yes, of all ages) into the worship service with them as the norm, I think it is only fair to share some of the ways that I have made this work for my family over the last fifteen years. By the time my child is four years old, they can sit through an entire worship service on their own and participate well in it. My husband could lead music and I could be accompanying on the piano, and our children can sit on their own in the pew. Not because we are amazing parents, not because my kids are quiet little churchmice, not because we hold a monopoly on pew life. We simply hold to our convictions and prioritize living them out as faithfully as we can. It is God’s grace!

When my first child was a baby, I would listen to an audio sermon (or just a portion of one – this was before podcasts were a thing) and sit on the couch with him on my lap. My goal was to teach him lap-sitting skills. The first goal was to train his noises to quietness. His physical wiggles and wobbles and kicks and claps were totally fine. The only requirements I had for him were that he stayed on my lap, and that his mouth did not go above a whisper while we were listening to the sermon. Quiet snacks and little fidgety hand-toys were fine. Nursing or napping was also fine. If we could do fifteen or twenty minutes per morning of this, it was a success. It was worthwhile. I also would sing with him, balancing him in one arm or on my hip while holding the hymnal in the other hand – and I would encourage him to make noise while I sang. Teaching him to follow my example: make a joyful noise during singing, but sit quietly when a pastor is speaking. Until about two years old, those were my main goals and practices. And yes, practicing at home was helpful for my baby and for me as his mama.

I said that his physical movements were not my priority focus, but his quietness. We train their volume control first, and we get to their physical self control later. My second son essentially engaged in a silent wrestling match during sermons for a solid year of his life… but because he was already trained to have a quiet mouth when he was asked to, he pretty much just needed bear hugged on a lap to eventually train his body to be still. It’s not about a particular method, but about faithful consistency and not growing weary in doing good. It is good work to train children for worship. It is all too easy to grow weary in it. But the fruit that grows from planting and nurturing these seeds is indescribable. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture: fruit takes time to see, but the sowing is crucial.

Until about three years old, a snack during the worship service can be helpful. Disposable pouches of applesauce or yogurt are pretty quiet and don’t make much of a mess. Cheerios, puffs, fruit snack gummies, or yogurt melts are good ideas if you have put them in a quiet container beforehand – some little baggies are pretty quiet, and so are these Munchkin cups. Crackers and pretzels or crackly packaging like most granola bars are wrapped in are NOT good ideas. But it doesn’t take a ton of planning to get rid of the crinkly bits prior to the worship service. Simply learn to be mindful of planning ahead.

For my kids, I train them away from snacks by offering it to them later and later in the service as time goes on. Nursing, milk or water bottles, and little snacks at any point during the service were fair game until my child is about two years old; and then at that point, it was time to relegate any of that just during the sermon. And by the time they are about three years old, it is time to give up the snack altogether. They can learn to wait until the service is done by the time they are that age. At that point, having a little snack once the service ends is like a reward for a job well done. It is a good reminder to whisper in their little ear: “you’re doing a great job, so after church, you can have your snack!”

Until about six years old, quiet activities for their hands can also be helpful. Avoid things with loud zippers, crinkly sounds, and Velcro. Don’t give keys to your kid. And keep all toys with batteries at home or in the car – they have no place in church. WaterWow, BoogieBoard, colored pencils and a little notebook, and some versions of Quiet Books (again – zippers and Velcro are often not quiet) can be great. If you want to bring picture books, keep them small – board books or Indestructibles are highly recommended. And teaching kids to bring a Bible with them to church from the earliest age is great: I have picked up Bibles for fifty cents apiece at Goodwill before, and they are great for little hands to hold and page through – and it isn’t a big investment or a special family heirloom to be sad about when the pages get wrinkled or ripped.

During the ages of 4-7 most kids tend to come to an understanding of both reading and writing- until they are ready to learn how to take notes, using an activity book like this can be a fun idea. Depending on the child, though, having that many pages of activities can be overwhelming with too many options – sometimes one or two sheets on a clipboard is a better route to take. Print something off the internet and use cheap clipboards like this.

By the time a kid can read & write independently, it is a worthwhile practice to equip them with a notebook and pen (if your kid is going to obsess over clicking it during a sermon – don’t give them a clicking one). We like lined notebooks with a ribbon bookmark, elastic strap to keep it closed, and a loop to stick their pen in (like these). For the first year or so of “taking notes,” we assist the child by copying down some of the sermon text, and then making fill-in-the-blank spots for them to copy the words, and then writing keywords and leaving tally space, etc. After a few months, our child usually has learned to write a couple sentences of their own as a take-away from the sermon, or write down a question they have about it. (Similar to what this resource does – but we do it intentionally each week for our child, tailored to that week’s particular sermon text.) Step by step, little progression on a great trajectory. It’s beautiful to watch them develop this skill and grow in their understanding.

We have a little reward system with the kids, too – if they “take notes well” that week (and we judge it subjectively week by week, according to what we know that child is capable of, etc) as well as achieve a personal goal we set for that child (one child’s current goal is to sing boldly every song and every verse; another’s is not to doodle rather than take notes; another’s is to engage in corporate prayer with self-control over body and mind) – then they will get a candy. It is a great way to recap the sermon and share these growing skills with one another over a meal either Sunday afternoon or on Monday.

What about those moments when the toddler is flipping out and becomes a genuine distraction? For the love of your brethren, take the kid out of the sanctuary. There is a line somewhere that every kid crosses (some of them more frequently than others) when it comes to making noise during a worship service. If “shushing” and patting their lips gently doesn’t cut it, you ever so gently whisper in their ear “whisper, whisper, please” – and if that doesn’t cut it, you pick them up and leave the sanctuary for a time of teaching. In most churches there is a chair in a hallway or foyer or a mother’s room or something. In our little local church, there is a pew in the foyer, and it’s the perfect place for training a tot. It’s exactly the same as being in the sanctuary, but we are more isolated from others – so my toddler is less likely to be distracting to anyone around us, and I am less likely to become easily frazzled. But do I take him into “the nursery”? Absolutely not. I made the mistake of changing a soiled diaper in the nursery about a month ago, and there were a few moms in there just chatting while their toddlers were playing with whatever they wanted. When I had finished the diaper changing and was heading back into the worship service, my two year old threw a fit because he wanted to play with the other kids. I have now learned that we will no longer even so much as enter the nursery while a worship service is going on. I want him to know that he absolutely may play in there with his little friends before service or after service, but that he belongs in the sanctuary during worship. It was a good reminder to me as well. I inadvertently tempted him and knocked him off course. I asked him to forgive me for not being more mindful of that. And then we sat together on the pew in the foyer until the sermon ended, and we made our way back into the sanctuary to sit with our family for communion and a closing hymn.

But here is another nuance that I don’t want to neglect stating outright: if you keep your kid in the service until they get too noisy or too distracting, and then you just go to the nursery and chat while they play, you are rewarding negative behavior. Of course playing with toys is more fun than sitting still and having a quiet mouth for forty minutes! But rewarding my toddler with that playtime after the service is done is a bigger blessing in so many facets. We can’t overlook the negative things we teach our children by our actions, and we must pray for grace to have eyes to see our stumbling blocks and identify our blind spots!

As far as bringing “all the right things” to church on Sundays, we again just plan ahead with intentionality. We have a large canvas bag printed with the “five solas” that I ordered a long time ago from CafePress. And it is what we call “the church bag.” We only bring it to church. It remains packed with each child’s notebook & pen, quiet activities for the toddler (currently an LED writing tablet, a notebook, a fabric pouch of colored pencils, and a mostly-quiet book that he is not allowed to use the velcro parts on), a few Bibles, and two quiet snacks for the toddler (currently one applesauce pouch and one yogurt pouch). On Sunday morning, when we are ready to leave the house, we grab my keys, the diaper bag, and the church bag. That’s it.

I leave the kids’ allowance & pay out the night before, so on Sunday morning they are reminded to get their tithe in their pockets. Beginning at 5 years old our kids get a $1 training allowance, in order to teach them the importance of tithing as well as saving and generosity; at 10 years old it goes up to $2, at 15 it will be $5 – and if they earn any money by doing additional jobs during the week (nope, normal family chores and duties do not count – we don’t get paid to simply be a contributing family member), they tithe on that as well. Under 5 years old, my kids almost always ask for coins to put in the offering box – so I try to keep a solid stash of dimes and quarters around, so I can place a coin in their palm as well.

Why do I train my kids that there are church clothes and not-church clothes? Why do I train my kids to take their tithe every week? Why do I train my kids to attend the worship service from infancy? Because of what I believe about God, about worship, and about their place in the Kingdom of God. And it takes years of training and practicing to not only have the proper actions and participation, but to win their hearts and shape them into lovers of Christ, lovers of worship, lovers of true and good and beautiful things.

Sundays are where we start. It is the day of rest and worship.
Heaven is where we aim. It is an eternity of rest and worship.

Life here is just preparation for that glory anyway. It is worth prioritizing and implementing these practices with joy. For the glory of God and the good of the little saints who have been entrusted to you.

Little Saints

A little over month ago, I shared some good posts I found about Raising Worshipers. Or, as some people like to call it, parenting in the pew. Last summer, I shared a guest post where I wrote over at Humility and Doxology about Singing Psalms with Little Saints. And as I have been seeking to parent my own children faithfully on Sunday mornings week in and week out, I continue to ponder many of the themes which overlap and intertwine between those two topics. The idea of raising worshipers connects with the term “little saints,” which I apply to Christian children. My kids don’t have a catechism question which says exactly this, but I want them growing up knowing the answer to this question:

  • TO WHOM DO YOU BELONG?

My kids belong to Christ. They bear the image of their Father in heaven. They bear the mark of baptism. They are fed on the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper every week. We are raising them with the understanding that they are Christians just as much as they are Cummings. I have confidence in the fear of the Lord, and He is the refuge for my children (Proverbs 14:26). This is the underlying philosophy which informs every aspect of my parenting and homeschooling… including our weekly worship service every Sunday morning.

  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN?
  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT WORSHIP?
  • WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE LORD’S DAY?

Your answers to those questions are where you need to start when it comes to the topic of Christian parenting. And I believe that what we believe about these things comes out our fingertips… no matter what we say our answers are.

My five children range in age from almost-3 to 14. I have only done this parenting thing a few times, and for less than fifteen years – but during my stint so far as a mother, I have encountered approximately 728 Sunday mornings with at least one child in my charge. (It actually feels like a lot more than that to me, but I double checked my math, so we’ll go with it.) Not infrequently, I have had people come up to me and praise my children and my parenting skills for the way my kids “sit through” worship. People say things like, “your kids are so well behaved!” or “my kids could never do that” or “are they always this poised and quiet?” I pretty much always chuckle out loud (or perhaps totally gut-bust in laughter, depending on the morning), trying to reassure the admirer that nope, my kids are definitely not always poised and quiet (but rather quite the opposite on an average morning), that their kids could be trained to do this just as much as mine could, and that they are only so well behaved during Sunday morning worship because we have spent their entire lifetimes pursuing and prioritizing their practice as children of the King.

I remember when my oldest was just a wee thing, and he would sleep through pretty much the entire Sunday morning service every week. Sometimes I could be constrained to share my little snuggly boy (with cheeks like dumplings) with my mother, but usually only when I was the pianist for that week… so my mom loved those Sundays best. Once I had more children in the pew, it became a little more of a juggling game, especially because my husband and I often serve during services in one way or another. Passing babies back and forth, or relying on help from grandparents, became a kind of dance. But it was always worth it. (Always will be.)

I have never put my children in the nursery during worship. Not once.
I *have* put a child in a nursery during a Sunday school hour or a Bible study. I have no qualms about giving my child the time and space to engage in that kind of setting. But it goes back to my underlying philosophy about my child: he belongs to the Lord in whose image he was created, and therefore he belongs in the worship service of that Lord. The worship my baby or toddler or adolescent offers to the Lord is no less valuable than mine or my parents’ or my grandma’s. By the grace of God, we all belong to Him and we are all called to worship Him in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). I would no more put my two year old in the nursery than I would put my ninety-two year old grandma in the nursery. Even though each of them can be distracting and need assistance sometimes. Neither one can hold the hymnal on their own or harmonize perfectly in song or sit quite still for a forty minute sermon. Neither one of them whispers convincingly but is always louder than they think they are, and there are occasions where either one of them will declare they have to use the bathroom in the middle of the service.

Grandma belongs to the Lord. She is called to worship Him.
My children belong to the Lord. They are called to worship Him.
I am tasked with motherhood by the Lord, and I am called to let them come unto Him in worship and for blessing (Mark 10:13-16).

Do you know when churches started having nurseries? It was not all that long ago, from what I can tell with preliminary searches on the internet. I have read about the history of Sunday School, as a lot of us probably have when studying the industrial revolution, but that was not intended to take the place of the worship service. It was meant to be a time of teaching and blessing children – it was not focused on worship of the Lord. Nurseries and other childcare meant to keep parents kid-free during worship services are an enigma to me. Call me narrowminded, but there it is. If you want a break from your children, especially the toddlers, go for it: but not to the extent that you are banishing those little saints from worshipping their King. I would commend to you that you reserve “a break” from your kids for just about any other time – during a weekly Bible study or occasional coffee date or so you can enjoy time with your husband or go shopping without kids in tow. But don’t bar these little saints from the worship of their Lord, and from their weekly opportunity to watch you and learn from you as you worship your Lord.

In Scripture, were children exempt from honoring the Sabbath or Passover? No. These things were as much for the children as for the adults. The Bible never describes children being kept separate from the adults – God works in families, through families, and Scripture shows us that children are not only important players in His story (Isaac, Moses, Samuel, John, Timothy) but were also considered part of the church by Paul (otherwise why would he address them directly in Ephesians 6?).

I don’t know when parents decided they didn’t need to bring their children to the worship service of the King. I don’t know why church leaders decided that it was okay to banish children from corporate worship and segregate families by age. Have you ever considered what it communicates to the child when they are exiled from even just a portion (say, the sermon, perhaps) of the worship service? Have you considered what it communicates to those around you when you send your child out of the worship service?

What we do is indicative of what we believe. What do you believe about your kids, about Christ, about the Lord’s Day, and about worship? The way you live and act and parent and worship on Sunday is more indicative of what you believe than what your words might say you believe. Our theology is lived out in our actual lives.

What kind of practical good comes from having children in the worship service? It teaches them how to worship, it teaches them that they are part of the family of God, it teaches them that their praise and prayers are valuable to the King. There is a battle against the family in society, and Satan is aiming straight at our children – and we can not give in to these attacks by distancing children from participating in the most important activity of the week.

We have to remember that the worship service is not about us. It is not about our emotional experience, or about us hearing every minute of the sermon, it is not about what we want or our own selfish needs. It is most definitely not about having a break from kids so you can listen to a sermon (you’ve heard of earbuds and recorded sermons, right?). If you aren’t able to absorb the sermon during the worship service, you have plenty of opportunity during the rest of the week to listen to the recording.

Children learn to tithe by dropping coins in the offering box alongside their parents. Children learn to sing by singing at the sides of their parents. Children learn to pray by praying with their parents. Children learn to sit and focus during a sermon by the faithful example of their parents. Children learn to stand and sit and kneel and lift their hands and bow their heads – by watching and imitating and enacting alongside their parents.

Can it be distracting to have kids in the worship service? Sure… but adults are sometimes super distracting, too. (Exhibit A: cough drop wrappers, blowing noses, and cell phones going off – oh my.) And have you never found that parents sometimes exacerbate the distracting elements of their children? (Exhibit B: parents giving their keychain to a child, or handing them snacks in crinkly packaging, or entertaining them with toys equipped with batteries.) Children do not have the monopoly on distraction.

It’s very well and good to say that I believe children ought to be in worship services with their parents because of my theology and philosophy… and it’s fine to tell you that from the outside looking in, people will tell you that my kids do great during worship every week… but my kids are far from perfect (as is my parenting), and I did not naturally know how to train my children for worship – it has taken over seven hundred Sundays to get to where we are now, and we still have room to grow and learn and iterate.

On the cusp of my youngest child turning three years old, I can share a few practical tips and experiences from my five times going through these phases and stages… stay tuned, because those practical tips will be shared in my next post.

Cultivating Community, 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.

The Printed Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rest & Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teach Them Diligently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Praying for Nate

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

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

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

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

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

He uncovers deep things
out of darkness

& brings the shadow of death
to Light

~Job 12:9, 10, 22~

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

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

Take up your life and follow Him.

Face trouble.
Pursue it.
Climb it.

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

~N.D. Wilson, Death By Living p83~

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

Dear Curmudgeonly Congregant…

Dear Curmudgeonly Congregant,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Saints in Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Week of Advent ~ Hope

When do we most need hope?
In hopelessness.

That is when we feel lack of hope most acutely. It is when we need to have our eyes opened to real hope.

“A prison cell in which one waits, hopes,…
and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom
has to be opened from the outside,
is not a bad picture of Advent.”
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That is what this first week of Advent is all about. Hope.

Anticipating, longing, looking ahead, believing that the fulfillment of promises and prophecies are yet to come.

I love these simple perspectives and tips for observing Advent, even in a family with little (messy, fussy, short-attentioned!) children.

“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light,
now in the time of this life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;
So that, at the last day, when He shall come again
in His glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal.”
–The Book of Common Prayer

I am pulling out our Advent wreath, our Advent calendar, and a huge amount of chocolates.
Soon, other Christmas-is-coming boxes will be brought up from the basement, as we slowly see hope fulfilled by the advancing of Christmas.
May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear. May He make us awake and ready.
May He give us hope because of Jesus.