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.

Cultivating Community, 8

To wrap up this conversation about community creation and cultivation, I want to back up from the hands-on how-to aspects, and revisit the philosophical, theological underpinning of it all. I mentioned before that as image-bearers of the Triune God, we were created for community. Did we really cover what that means, though? What does community mean? Adam needed a helper, so God provided Eve. Does that mean they only needed one another? God told them to multiply and to fill the earth. Does that mean that they just needed to procreate and then send their children off to all the far corners of the globe? (Can I just giggle at that idiom, too, please? Corners of a globe? We know the earth isn’t flat and doesn’t have corners, y’all…)

I mentioned concentric circles moving out from immediate family to extended family to close brethren/friends to more formal communities like a church family or school or co op affiliation and then the community in which you live… but there are other communities too. What about a place of employment? How about a particular ministry at your church? And then there are kids’ sports teams and orchestra connections and… and… and!

I mentioned the fact that I did not actually seek out being the community builder for a conference or a co op — and yet, here I am! I told the stories of how God opened my eyes to the need, gave my heart a desire, and then ended up tossing it into my own lap when I least expected it, and called me to be the one who orchestrates it.

How do all of these things coexist and coincide together? How did I know that I was supposed to say YES to those things? I certainly can’t say yes to everything! (Just ask my husband: he is good at reminding me that I can not add more good things to my plate simply because they are good things.)

What is actually required of you? You as an individual. With a particular set of giftings, a particular frame, a particular family, a particular life. What does God require of you? Check out Micah 6:8 for the most amazingly basic yet broad answer to that question. And then read Romans 12, which describes marks of a Christian in a bit more detail which can really get the creative juices flowing. And one of those things we are exhorted by Paul to do is to practice hospitality. In Hebrews 13, we also find a list of virtues and pursuits which are encouraged for followers of Christ – and you’ll find hospitality listed there as well. So this begs the question: what is hospitality? (And how is hospitality connected to the idea of community building like a conference or co op?)

To be honest, I don’t like the official dictionary definitions for the word hospitality. Words like “providing services” and also “entertainment” pop up, and I think that is only one very small, niche aspect of hospitality. In Hebrews, the word hospitality means to actually “pursue the love of strangers.” Additionally, I have heard some people say that hospitality is just a fancy way of saying “welcome others.”

So as Christians, we are called to welcome others. We are called to pursue the love of strangers. We are called to contribute to the needs of others (Romans 12:13) and consider their interests as more important than our own (Philippians 2:3-4).

But just because there is a need doesn’t mean that you are automatically the one who is called to meet it. I am not going to take the time to unpack that or defend it by philosophy from my underlying convictions. But I would be remiss if I did not at least make that statement. Another point which I feel the need to simply mention in passing is that if you start something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will continue it. I went into my first year hosting the Paideia Northwest conference hoping that it would be an annual thing, but being willing for it to end up being a one-time event. I am going into the fifth annual conference with no particular desire to call it quits any time soon. But if the Lord leads me to step away, I hope to have the humility and discerning wisdom to follow Him. Either to let it go altogether or to pass it along to someone else who felt the call to carry it on next. I hope that I would have that same attitude in relation to my co op or any other place where I minister.

I show hospitality by welcoming hundreds of women each November to an event where I seek to bless their souls, encourage their hearts, and equip them to stand fast in the trench of raising children for the Lord. I show hospitality by organizing a weekly homeschool co op and its attendant planning meetings, and facilitating all the communication that is necessary for that to run smoothly. I show hospitality by opening my home every Sunday during Advent to multiple families. I show hospitality by having an open door policy for anyone who needs to swing by for fellowship, a play date, babysitting — while I have not often had people take me up on that open door policy, I am committed to keeping my life flexible enough that I can serve others through my home whenever it is needed. I show hospitality by willingly opening my home to two dozen employees of my husband — I am genuinely eager to welcome them to our home, as a small act of gratitude and care for the work they pursue alongside us day by day each year. I show hospitality by having a small, dedicated guest room in our house that always has a bed made in case somebody requires a place to crash — and a particular nuance of that hospitality is that my husband’s parents know that they always have first dibs on it.

And each of those examples of hospitality could be reworded to show that they are different ways that I cultivate community. These are the things that the Lord has impressed upon me, and my family, as the important places to prioritize hospitality. If you have not read Rosaria Butterfield’s book The Gospel Comes with a Housekey, I do recommend it — but with a reminder: not every family practices hospitality or community building in the same way. I have very much in common with the Butterfields’ philosophy and theology on the topic, but it is lived out in a vastly different way here in my home, and in my current phase of life. I feel like she and I are shoulder to shoulder with linked elbows — we don’t do the same thing, but we serve the same King with the same passion for His Kingdom, and we pursue hospitality and community according to the gifts with which He equipped us as uniquely individual women as well as within the means He has provided (location, phase of life, finances). At any rate, here is a great article Rosaria wrote that will be a great intro or recap for you. Read it with these questions in mind:

  • What do I see here that I find winsome?
  • What are the underlying principles that make this look beneficial?
  • How could I glean wisdom or practical tips from this?
  • How could I apply these tips to my own opportunities for serving?
  • What needs do I see around me, and how am I equipped to meet them?

And then ponder what the Lord might want you to do with the answers. Are you feeling the need to start a large but infrequent community, like I did with the Paideia Northwest conference? Do you see a local need for something like a weekly homeschool co op? What about a monthly women’s book club or Bible study? A quarterly dance or soccer playoffs or neighborhood food drive?

There are all kinds of ways to expand your hospitality practices and build community. But you can not pursue them all. That is a recipe for burnout. Once people recognize you as someone who loves to show hospitality or who is gifted at creating or cultivating a specific community… you may find that more and more people ask you to do more and more things. We need wisdom. Discernment. Boundaries. People like me need to learn how to say no, or how to offer advice rather than taking reins.

In conclusion, this is my personal story. These are the areas where I have felt the call of the Lord to take up a cross and follow Him. To gird up my loins and build my strength for particular tasks. I bring my family along in it with me. I’m iterating as well as learning to delegate. I seek to pursue leadership within the bounds of a joyful humility. And I will probably always want to say yes more often than I should… so my husband will probably always need to be hedging me and shepherding me in these things.

My encouragement to you is this: when you feel the call of the Lord, seek Him first and follow where He leads. Give something a try. Large or small or medium. Occasionally or frequently or annually. If each of us were to follow His call to pursue hospitality more regularly, wouldn’t that be a joy? If there were more opportunities to embrace Christian community, wouldn’t that be a blessing?

Romans 12:4-6
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one or another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…

Cultivating Community, 7

I think the size and structure of any given community necessarily requires different types and levels of organization underneath it. The bigger the garden or the more intricate the garden plan, the more prep & planning is involved at the front-end of things. The front garden spot in my yard took a lot of work the first year, but since I planted perennials, it really is just about maintenance at this point, ten years later. My vegetable garden in the back yard is a different story. We reorganize it, add raised beds, and iterate the watering system just about every year; we are still figuring out the best methods for fertilizing and composting, and experimenting with different types of foods to grow as well as where to purchase seeds & starts. It’s more like starting from not-quite-scratch every year than it is simple reiteration or maintenance. Year over year, it remains an enormous project, and I never feel like my thumb gets much greener. But I still jump in and try!

At this point, I still run Paideia Northwest almost completely on my own, so I am able to keep the organizational structure pretty simple. Running a ten-family weekly homeschool co op has required more official paperwork and organizational communication than running an annual conference for hundreds of registrants. That seems rather backward to me when I ponder it on the surface! I think the reason for this, however, is that the homeschool co op is meant to be more of an equal cooperative of families mutually serving one another – which means more shared burdens and equal servanthood and bearing of the load. The conference is more of a business structure (although I treat it as a ministry, in practical application), where I run it from the top down, and I am slowly learning to delegate and

CONFERENCE ORGANIZATION:

If I were to have more women officially on the Paideia Northwest team, I think I would likely use a GoogleDrive format similar to what I previously described in my co op organizational habits. Since it’s pretty much just me, though, I find using Word documents and the Notes app in my phone is adequate. I have a website, social media accounts, and email account for communication, registration, and marketing. I also have SurveyMonkey and MailChimp, although I think we have outgrown both platforms’ free versions – so I need to probably iterate those things and find replacement programs (or budget for their paid versions). I communicate with my advisory teams mostly via Voxer chats or texts. But I keep all my documents and lists and recaps on my laptop, and just email them to people when such times become pertinent.

What kind of documents?

-conference master list, by year
-speaker agreement packets
-brochures
-letters to churches, schools, and co ops
-vendor agreement packets

It’s the master list that really is like my brain download.
It contains:
-Task List
-Spending Recap
-Packing List
-Conference Schedule
-Volunteer Teams (Set Up Crew, 2 Coffee Crews, Luncheon Crew, Clean Up Crew)
-Task Lists for each Team
-List of Vendors
-List of Journal Ads
-List of Giveaway Items
-Personnel (Names, Position, Contact Info)
-Bio of Each Speaker
-Intro for Each Session
-Hymns & Prayers & Scriptures

I think it is the Task List that makes people the most curious. What in the world does it take to plan, prep, and pull off an annual conference for hundreds of women? (200 the first year… expecting over 400 this year… it has grown year over year, and has always sold out very quickly!)
I can generally break down my tasks into monthly sections. I endeavor to have six months “on” followed by six months “off,” but it doesn’t cleanly slice that way, because I actually do things for the conference off and on all year long. But the mindset I have is kind of six and six, more or less, and mindset is a big foundation for how this all plays out. On a most basic level (because yes, it actually IS more involved and complicated than this list: so this list is simply the basics), it looks like this:

Jan: email & social media sparsely; contact speakers to finalize agreements; make sure taxes were all done and filed properly
Feb: email & social media sparsely; communicate with speakers and location as necessary
Mar: clean out last year’s inbox and documents to make room for organizing this year’s
Apr: design this year’s conference graphic; try to finalize location; book AirBnb for conference personnel
May: make sure location is finalized; share graphic and other artistic elements online; check email regularly; social media regularly; begin to plan swag and decor
Jun: introduce each speaker on social media; schedule registration date for Aug; check email regularly; social media regularly; experiment or shop around for swag and decor
Jul: finalize catering; contact potential vendors; mail brochures and fliers to churches, co ops, & schools in the region; check email regularly; social media regularly; finalize swag and decor; reserve hotel block
Aug: get website, MailChimp, and PayPal set up; open registration; order pens and stickers and other swag; record & release short podcast episodes with each speaker
Sept: follow up with potential/committed vendors; be vigilant with email and social media; purchase decor; plan clothing for conference
Oct: close registration 10/1; make sure all digital files are received on time; place shirts order; finalize all Master List details; make sure all drinks and snacks and paper goods are purchased; fill my freezer with freezer meals for the weeks surrounding the conference; make sure volunteer lists are finalized and task lists emailed out; design, create, & order conference journals
Nov: daily email and social media interactions & updates; print name badges; stuff name badges; write checks for all speakers; write thank you notes; pay caterer; pay location; get all swag bag contributions; stuff bags; shop for any last minute items; get ahead on homeschool commitments and co op duties the week before the conference; spend one day packing vehicles; spend one day setting up; plan to have at least 48 hours of recuperation after the conference with zero outside commitments; send thank you emails; send survey; send audio & video file links to all registrants
Dec: keep an eye on email and social media; make sure the recording links were sent out and received; rejoice over God’s good work; make sure all the moneys and taxes and receipts are in order and ready for upcoming tax season; pack away all the conference supplies in the basement

This is just a quick summary of the biggest points, the main tasks that absolutely have to be accomplished. And this just follows a general timeline of what I have found works best for me. I don’t get paid to do any of this work (which is what I mean when I say that I treat this as a ministry – I don’t cut myself a paycheck or anything – all my time is donated, and a lot of my personal resources are also donated), so it has to be spread out among many months in order to make it doable. I am in a busy season of life (is there ever a season that isn’t busy?! I’m doubting it…), and I will never get any of these days back. I do not want to come to the end of my life and wish I had not done what I am currently doing. I want to be wise. I want to serve. And I want to follow the Lord’s plans for me. And a good portion of that means that I need to plan well and wisely in the midst of the busy hours, days, months, years, and seasons. Planning with hope and joy and intentionality.

I didn’t even plan my own wedding and reception, to be honest, so when I decided to plan a conference including catering and swag bags, I went into it with about as little experience as a person could imagine! In fact, I’ve also never been to any kind of educational conference before. I have never once attended a homeschooling conference! And while that surprises people when I mention that, I kind of wonder if it keeps Paideia Northwest unique and fresh. I essentially plan according to what I genuinely would personally find helpful, beneficial, and sweet. I do not plan anything according to what “should” be done according to any kind of other event standards. I am not trying to copy what anybody else does anywhere else. In fact, from what little bits and snippets I have seen online of occasional other conferences, I would actually prefer NOT to emulate many of the things I’ve seen.

The main reason I felt the need to pursue Paideia Northwest in the first place, though, was because there were no options in the area that I could attend. As a fulltime homeschooling mama in a family with a single income, I do not have the time or finances to pursue the luxury of traveling hither and yon to places around the country to fill the need I felt for this kind of community, connection, encouragement, and resources. And that is precisely why I have never been to a homeschool (or other educational) conference or event! I have dreamed about attending some. But that’s what it has remained: dreams.

So in general, I find it to be a good practice just not to look around at other events too much. Not only do I not want to cast sidelong glances (contentment and comparison can both be hard), but I also don’t want to get distracted from what is needed HERE. I am trying to be attuned to what I hear women in my own region saying blesses them, encourages them, and urges them to raise and educate their kids with faithfulness according to what God has led their families to do.

And that’s one of my main points about cultivating community all over again: it has to be intentional, and it needs to be about what is needed where you are, among the people you’re with. Just because it is a community, doesn’t mean it is the right community for every place or gathering of people.

We need to be asking what does God want me to do here, with this specific community, and the specific gifts He has given to me?

Cultivating Community, 5

Once I had the courage to try something new, to bring a small basket of loaves & fish, I learned to then prayerfully watch the Lord do the blessing & multiplication.

Within just one month I had a business license, created an LLC, purchased the website domain, designed a logo, and was fully in the planning phase of the inaugural event… which I brazenly scheduled for just three months down the road! As I said over at Paideia Northwest, “Registration opened at the end of August for an event called Courage for the Daily, held in November 2018. With 200 women in attendance at that first event, the need for this blessing was solidified – and Paideia Northwest began to put down real roots.” I could hardly believe the variety and depth of positive feedback I received after that event. Truthfully, I was genuinely surprised that it didn’t flop. It’s only because God is good, and He was the One at work.

The community which we seek at Paideia Northwest is an atmosphere of principles over methods, and simply raising kids for Christ is my goal in encouraging regional mamas. Practically everyone calls it a homeschooling conference, but in practice it is really much more broad than that. I never mind when people refer to it as a homeschooling event. Yet homeschooling is one method of raising and educating kids for Christ… and the principle beneath it is much more graciously broad. We have so much to learn from each other, regardless of educational niche. Unity in essentials (Christ!), diversity in non-essentials (methods), charity in all things (brotherhood).

The mission with this annual event continues to be a desire to build bridges, create community, encourage camaraderie, and facilitate fellowship in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. I know that each year there are a couple of attendees who have flown in from other corners of the country, which honestly surprises me. But it also delights me. While the goal for Paideia Northwest is to keep our events local to our region, we not only welcome people to attend from other areas, but are eager to see this mission & vision take root in other locations on the map. I love how the annual conference has built a new sphere of community for Christian mamas in the OR, WA, ID corner of our country. But I also love that I receive emails every single year after the conference, asking if I would be willing to “take it on the road” and do the same event in other locations (short answer: nope) or willing to “share the vision” by helping other Paideia Communities form (short answer: you bet).

So, why me? Because God called me to it. That’s really it.

Why an annual conference? Because that’s what God put on my heart, and what He has equipped and enabled me to pull off at this point.

Why in the broader Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area? Because that’s where I live, and where I have personally felt a need… and the attendance of the conference which increases year over year has confirmed that I’m not the only one who felt the need.

Going back to the question Brandy Vencel asked: is it worth it? Again, I can wholeheartedly say YES. But what’s really interesting about that question is that the people who ask that question have no idea what it costs. Financially or physically or emotionally or time expenditure – none of it. So I can say it’s totally worth it, but that still honestly gives you no clue (zip, zilch, zero) about what I invest in the process each year.

I know that you have no idea… because I had no idea prior to jumping in and just figuring it out on my own.

So what DO you think it takes to put something like this together? What would you imagine goes into the planning of a one-day conference, just once a year, for 200, 300, or 500 women? What kind of team is needed? What kind of finances? What type of organization setup or practical administration is necessary? How is the creativity side orchestrated? What about advertising and social media? Who plans the themes and books the speakers? How do you know who to ask and what to pay and how much to plan for?

As far as I know, there aren’t really classes to teach this. Or maybe there are, and I was in too much of a hurry that first year to bother looking around. Also, I didn’t have money to put toward that kind of thing! Any furthered education I needed in order to learn how to be a conference and event planner, I had to seek for myself. I researched what I could, Googled what I imagined might be helpful (again: so many weeds to weed through when you do that), and just went by faith into trial & error.

I am not a master gardener, but I do have a vegetable garden every year. I do my best. I iterate. And there is always fruit (actually mostly veggies, but you know… idioms). And it is fun to stand back and see what the Lord brings up for harvesting each time. Some things do better than others. I take notes and learn from them for the next season. Each year, I have more notes and experience to build upon, so it feels less like trial & error and more like practice & iteration.

I am also learning that cultivating community by myself as a one-woman-show is more exhausting than cultivating larger community as a small community. This is what’s known as teamwork, delegation, working together, sharing the load, bearing one another’s burdens, partaking in one another’s joys. Yep. I’m still growing. Still learning.

There is more cultivation to do.

Cultivating Community, 4

In addition to communing well in my own home with my own family, and pursuing solid relationship and reliability within our extended family circle, plus intentionally cultivating both a healthy church family AND a homeschool co op where we foster a variety of friendships and collaborations… I have engaged in the formation and cultivation of a larger community as well.

My friends at Scholé Sisters emphasize that learning happens in community, and that is one reason they have taken on the task of developing and maintaining a growing and thriving online community of homeschooling mamas, particularly those in the Classical Christian niche. It’s been a while since I heard it, but I remember their episode which talked about communities versus networking – and I loved pondering the distinctions there. Both have value. I am part of the Scholé Sisters Sistership, which is their online community for banter, brainstorming, and spitballing. It is a blessing, it is unique, it is sweet… and it’s a form of social media I can get behind.

But it is still digital, distanced, and the only “real” face to face time comes when you happen to have your schedule free enough to prioritize the meetups for reading accountability, book discussion, mentorship, and retreats (which is still done through the medium of internet and screens). There is a huge blessing to this nuance of the digital age. And yet if that’s the closest community we pursue… it is going to leave us a bit droopy and dry. (That’s why Scholé Sisters actually encourages you to find others in your local community to live out the principles together which they teach and promote.)

Back in early 2018, I found myself longing for an occasional meetup with more likeminded mamas than I found at our church at the time (there were only a few of us homeschooling families there, and it was honestly not closeby) or at our co op at the time (there were only half a dozen or so of us). I heard stories and saw online snippets of different conferences and events around the United States. I was particularly intrigued by the sound of the Great Homeschool Convention, because I knew Sarah Mackenzie, who spoke at those & promoted them broadly. At the occasion of her book releasing party for The Read Aloud Family in early 2018, I remember asking her if she knew if GHC would ever consider doing an event in the Northwest. She kind of chuckled and told me that the folks who run GHC consider their event in southern California “local” for the entire West coast… even northeastern Washington state. I think I made a snide remark about how they needed to study United States geography a bit better than that. But anyway, I then asked her (because she’s an outgoing, gregarious, entrepreneurial go-getter) if she would ever be up for hosting (or helping with) some kind of actually local event to encourage moms in educating their kids. She said, “I am not the one to do that, but I think it would be great if you did it.” I laughed and told the friends I was with, “I am not interested in doing something like that. I just really want someone else to do it! I think the Pacific Northwest really needs something to encourage moms like us!”

There were a couple more instances of similar conversations that popped up that spring from time to time. Then in June, Sarah told me she thought that Mystie Winckler might be interested in a similar endeavor, and I should connect with her. I had actually met Mystie a few years previously at a women’s event at a church a couple hours away – neither of us were local to it, and we sat together at the luncheon. So reconnecting with her felt easy. She told me to get the Voxer app, and we chatted back and forth for hours, piece by piece. (Oh, here’s a hint: the Voxer app is another great way to pursue community with someone who is long-distance, but with whom you want to share conversation. It’s another excellent medium for encouragement, accountability, spitballing, and bouncing ideas around.)

It was those conversations with Mystie which God used to change my heart. I did not want to be the one to drum up a local conference. I did not feel equipped to start a business or ministry that needed so much groundwork. I didn’t want to do the work necessary for the kind of blessing I wanted to receive.

But I felt called to it.
And God used Mystie to give me the courage necessary to give it a try. I went into that first conference thinking that I would love for this to be an annual thing, but knowing that I would be content if it ended up even just being a one-off event.
And yet here I am four years later, preparing for the fifth annual event with more wind in the sails and encouragement from the offing’s than I could have predicted or imagined.

I have been asked lots and lots of questions about this in recent years. Why a conference? Why this niche? Why you?

And again, I can’t help but go back to the idea that it was all God. I am just a bit player in His story, and this is but a wee sidestory in the grand scheme. I like being a nobody, and prefer to remain a nobody. (Great Homeschool Convention? Nah, no thanks. Not my gig. I prefer small, intimate, down to earth, real community where authentic fellowship can take place.) But while being a nobody, I am happy to do lots of work behind the scenes to deeper bless the mamas who are laboring nearby in the trenches alongside me, seeking to follow the Lord in furthering His Kingdom here on earth while we anticipate the culmination of it all someday in heaven.

We long for community because we were made for community. It is worth the sowing effort of time and resources and stress because of the fruit God brings from it. I am passionate about cultivating this community and sharing its fruit with anyone hungry for it because I have seen God at work, and I love to see Him praised.

Cultivating Community, 3

Cutting to the chase, only three weeks after I received the phone call that we were losing our much-loved co op community, I hosted a parents’ informational meeting at my parents’ church, five minutes from our house to see if there was adequate interest in a new homeschool co op closer to home. (This happens to now also be OUR church… because God likes to surprise us and work in mysterious ways!) Thirteen households were represented at that meeting. And one month after that, we had created an official co op. Paideia Studies.

It was a whirlwind of a summer for me. I spent three months trying to create a solid foundation for a beautiful community to grow. This was not work I wanted, nor asked for – but the Lord made it very clear that this was a good work He had prepared for me to walk in. Because of that, I took great joy in throwing myself into it. God graciously provided for the nitty gritty needs: from pencil boxes to handbook outlines, a location to meet, and enough families to give the manpower (actually, mompower) to juggle classes for each age group… God did it all.

It just so happened that the co op we had loved which dissolved had been around for 26 years, and we actually knew a couple of the families who had started it in their family rooms all those many years ago. So we were able to get together with people who had begun the cultivation of that community, in order to learn how they did it. It’s like getting tips from a master gardener. This was an opportunity for me to do some major educational research: nobody had ever taught me how to start a co op, how to run and direct a co op… and y’all, it is honestly not as simple as hosting a weekly playdate. At least, not in my experience. For our first year of Paideia Studies, we had ten families (including the one other remaining family from our previous co op), which equaled 45 children ranging in age from 1 to 17. So we jumped right into the deep end, needing classes & staffing for every stage from toddler through high school. Remember how I said I had been excited to help develop the high school program at our previous co op year by year as my oldest aged? Well. That flew out the window pretty quick. With eight high schoolers right off the bat, we scrapped together the best ideas we could and decided to run with it.

The co op needed a name, documents, organizational structure, school supplies, a location to meet, a schedule for co op days and a calendar for the whole year. We needed to construct a leadership team and to define all kinds of terms and priorities and parameters. Most of the families didn’t know each other, so this was like throwing together sixty people from different places and saying, hey these could be your new best buddies! and just praying that God would grow something valuable and lovely and fruitful.

The thing that really just sticks out as a high priority is intentionality. You absolutely have to be intentional. That actually points back to the name of our co op as well. Paideia Studies. And yes, if you know me, you might know that I love using the term paideia. I’m not exactly a broken record or stuck in a rut, but I’m very intentional about keeping paideia at the forefront of my mind as I go about life. I’ve shared before about the definition of paideia – formation and cultivation of a society, the entire enculturation of a person. You are going to grow a culture in your family & home, in your co op, in your church… in whatever circle or community we’re talking about at any given moment. Each group or gathering of people will have a culture, and it will grow. So we want to be very intentional about what culture we are growing. What are we cultivating in a particular community? Something is going to grow! But will it be weeds or will it be fruit? We absolutely have to be intentional.

Nobody taught me how to start a co op, but the Lord led. Nobody showed me how to make class schedules or write a handbook for a Classical Christian homeschool community, but the Lord provided. Nobody trained me in leading weekly Collective for almost sixty people, or monthly moms’ meetings for ten women (and how to fight for the balance there of business and fellowship), or how to assist in restoring peace and communion when there are bumps or miscommunication in a community. There wasn’t a class to give me tips. Although I did Google randomly for a lot of things! But there were plenty of weeds to pull out in order to find healthy snippets to take for cultivating.

Now that it has been almost a full school year of cultivating this particular co op, it finally feels like an oiled machine. And I look forward with great joy and happy anticipation to the time when I can say that it feels like a WELL-oiled machine! 🙂 We will have eleven families this next year in our co op, equaling 49 students ranging in age from 2 to 17. My oldest son will be in the high school (and my youngest son still in the nursery), and I will be teaching a class in the high school for the first time. I am still learning. Still iterating. Still actively cultivating.

But there is so much life being exchanged. It’s like a fantastic biome! (Or at least an ecosystem?!) We give and receive and work alongside one another with humility yet confidence, initiative yet gentleness. We seek one another’s good. We bear one another’s burdens. We pray for one another. We give grace. We receive a soft place to land.

I have known many of these families for less than a year, and yet I feel intimately knit with them. I love their children and long for them to grow in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. I’m eager to walk with them toward that end! I love these women and long for them to see fruit prosper from their labor. I’m excited to cultivate an atmosphere of truth, goodness, beauty, and excellence with them in that pursuit! My children have told me how much they love this community of friends – they love the classes, they love the teachers, they love the work, they love the consistency and predictability and structure. And God is granting so much joy to each of us, simply because He graciously loves us, through the labor involved in the continual cultivating of this community.

Starting the community was just the first step. That’s definitely not where the hard work ends. Just imagine if we treated gardens that way. The most fruitful gardens tend to be the ones with the most intentionality in their cultivation. The same thing goes for growing a community of people longing to bear fruit.

And this is the question Brandy Vencel asked me recently: is it worth it? Is it worth all the trouble and time of not only starting the co op to begin with, but to maintain and grow and cultivate it week by week, month by month, and (Lord willing) year by year? I can say confidently and gladly: YES, it is worth it. It is worth it because the Lord is bringing fruit from this labor. And it is good fruit. It shows up in the moms’ meetings where we could just pray together for a whole hour and suddenly realize it is 11pm and we need to get home to our husbands. It shows up in the social dancing time each week when we see friendship and camaraderie between each co op member – teenagers dancing with a kid half their age or with someone’s mom – laughter and delight wrapping up our day. It shows up when there is miscommunication somewhere, and hard conversations need to happen, but it is done with truth in love, Christlike grace, and results in forgiveness & clarity & big hugs. It shows up when a teenager pulls a mom aside to ask if they can talk because they need encouragement. It shows up when my two year old now genuinely thinks he has an additional grandma because he spends every Wednesday with his buddy’s great-grandma in the co op nursery. It shows up when kids’ relationships get messy, when assignments are ignored, when things are done well, when there are reasons to rejoice… The fruit is literally weighing down the branches, and I can’t seem to count it.

So yes, it is worth it. One hundred percent.
And yes, it is exhausting and labor-intensive.
This community is only here because we have been intentionally cultivating it. Because God made it obvious that that was His plan.
And I’m here for it.

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.

Podcast Conversations

Back in April, I had the pleasure of sitting in my family room to chat over Zoom with a long-distance friend across the country. Amy, who writes at Humility and Doxology, had asked if she could interview me for her Homeschool Conversations podcast. I remember feeling a bit stumped about what in the world I could have to offer to anyone, and why would somebody want my voice speaking into their earbuds… but I jumped at the opportunity to visit with Amy anyway because I knew she was sweet and friendly… and we happened to have a lot in common. Fast forward six months, the interview was published on the Homeschool Conversations with Humility and Doxology podcast, and you can find the transcript on her blog as well.

During the interim months, however, I have continued to enjoy chatting with Amy in little snippets thanks to modern technology: we chat on the Voxer voicemail app and share things on Instagram. She also had me participate in her Homeschool Generations blog series over at The Curriculum Choice, and guest post on her blog regarding Singing Psalms with Little Saints. It has been a delight to connect with Amy on things that are near and dear to both our hearts.

Another way that Amy has blessed me recently is in a bit of tip-giving in almost a mentorship type way. While I have been coming alongside my friend Heather Tully for nearly a year now, to be a sounding board as well as act as a bit of a mentor, regarding the beginning of a sister community for my Paideia Northwest, we have come up with some ways to pursue community together between our Paideia Communities even across the distance. Pursuing a small, casual podcast is one of those ways. But I had no idea where to begin! Just like Heather said to me all those months ago, having a vision and a desire and excitement is a great place to start… but sometimes we really need someone to take us under their wing and show us how they have gone about things. Not because there is only one right way to accomplish a particular undertaking, but because it is such a blessing not to recreate the wheel every time you want to try out a new project! I am happy to iterate multiple times, but even to simply have a foundational starting stone is such a gift. It is like being a given a seed that was harvested from a friend’s garden, and now I have something to start with as I begin to build my garden. (It feels like a very pioneer thing to do, in fact.)

So thanks to Amy at Homeschool Conversations, I have been able to start dabbling with Paideia Conversations. While it is not officially launched in any sort of grand way, this is sort of a “soft opening,” so to speak.

Although I have been largely doing the first few podcast episodes on my own to learn the ropes (and thankfully my teenage son is tech savvy and computer literate, so he can run the ropes that are beyond my non-Millennial brain), the Paideia Southeast team will be participating and creating content right along with me before long. This podcast is simply intended to continue the conversation about raising kids for Christ and cultivating homes that center their atmosphere around Him. The recording of these “paideia conversations” in a casual podcast is a natural extension of what we have spent recent months discussing on Voxer together.

So here we go: one more new endeavor to tip toes and fingertips into. Another way to be sharpened and encouraged and challenged and fortified on this journey of raising little saints for the Kingdom of God.