Little Saints, Coda

If you wonder about other tips and tricks and experiments and experiences… what kind of things have others learned from their own series of trial & error… never be afraid to ask for someone to share their wisdom with you. Learn by watching others, learn by asking others, learn by trying and iterating on your own. In fact, I am further along in parenting in the pew than the woman who wrote this post, but I just found this and think it’s so encouraging to see someone else saying the same things I have found to be true. She reminded me of some tips I had forgotten, and worded some things in ways that were a particular blessing. So read what Lisa wrote here – if only to know that I’m not the only one saying these things about little saints and training worshipers from their earliest days. And I am just beginning to read Let the Children Worship, which looks very promising. Maybe I’ll come back and give an official review once I have read the whole thing; it’s rather short and unintimidating.

If I have a choice, I will always sit in a pew rather than a chair. It is so hard to keep a kid in their own chair, rather than squeezing and snuggling together on a bench. Plus, chairs tend to have a space where the seat and back “meet” but leave a gap where things tumble to the ground – pencils or puffs or papers… or chubby little legs. Try to sit in a place where you can minimize those types of struggles in the middle of a service. Plan not only what to bring (and what NOT to bring), but where to sit. Is there a speaker nearby that will blast the ears of your sensitive kid? Don’t sit there. Is there a fan or heater vent somewhere that will distract your kid? Sit somewhere else. Can your kid reach the lightswitch for the sanctuary if you sit in a certain spot? Please find a different spot.

If your youngest child is more than four years old, sit as close to the front as possible. This is good for them – it narrows their scope of vision so there are less distractions. It is good for others – it leaves seats toward the back for families with younger children and babies so they have a quicker route to exit when it becomes necessary.
If you are old enough to choose where to sit in a worship service, please choose to leave the back rows for children with little saints in tow. This is a generosity and kindness that is too often underestimated. And if you only take up half a row, please leave aisle seats for parents with little ones. Again, this is a generosity and kindness: it is a way you can serve and help the parents in this trench of raising up little worshipers. Give them the aisle seat so they can come and go as they train their little ones. You ought not need to get up repeatedly during a service, but a parent who is training their toddler to be quiet and be still, to learn focus and attention and obedience, very well may need to be up and down five or ten times during one service.

There is literally almost never a reason for a larger child or adult to need a bathroom break during a worship service. Teach yourself and your children to use the bathroom before church starts, and then they can hold it until church is over. This might take some training and some practice – and there is always an exception to the rule for someone who has a medical problem with their bladder or a little one who is freshly potty training – but for the majority of church goers there ought not to be bathroom breaks necessary during the worship service. It is just as distracting and disruptive for an 8 year old or a 17 year old or a 42 year old to get up and walk out (and then flush the toilet in the hallway, which everyone in the sanctuary can hear, by the way…) as it is for a baby to fuss or escape their pew or whatever.

And water breaks? Learn to bring a little water bottle for those extreme moments when someone genuinely needs to wet their throat – a parent can determine if the child actually needs it (honestly, during pregnancy I had to almost constantly be chewing peppermint gum and sipping lemon ice water – so I know it’s not just a child’s issue). But going out to the water fountain in the middle of the worship service as a norm is unnecessary.

More and more often, we as a broader cultural community do not teach focus and attention and diligence to one another or the upcoming generation. We are all about instant gratification, fast paced video games with loud noises and bright lights, and everything needs to be bells & whistles for someone to put up with it or try paying attention to it for more than ten minutes. This is a disservice to our families, our children, our churches, our communities, and our humanity at large.

I’ve seen parents give phones and tablets to little ones during worship services, and this breaks my heart. In a doctor’s office waiting room or on a long road trip, or maybe possible even at something like a wedding or funeral… that kind of thing is fine. But remind yourself again what we are doing on Sunday mornings: we are worshipping the King of the universe, the Creator, the Lord of all. Don’t stumble your little ones by giving them a distraction. Rather choose the good by bringing them with you in this godly endeavor to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength – to learn the liturgy and practices of being worshipers of the King. Bless them with the trajectory of knowing and loving Sunday morning worship.

I have high-energy, outside-the-box, energetic, fast-paced children. It takes effort to cultivate focus and attention and diligence in them. And I am still learning these things myself – partly because my brain is always on high alert, trying to not only be attentive to the Spirit while I worship but also to be holding my five kids accountable, plus either serving musically or supporting my husband as he serves during the service… I get that what I am describing isn’t always going to be easy. But it honestly is simple. (Ease and simplicity are not the same thing.)

Simply plan ahead.
Simply be attentive.
Simply be humble.
Simply come to the feet of the Lord as a child yourself, and let your little children come also to Him – don’t forbid them, for the Kingdom of heaven is also for them. (Acts 2:39 & Matthew 19:14)

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.

Practical Attributes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading with Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet… I am a leader.

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

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

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

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

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

She is Nine

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

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

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

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

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

She is nine.

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.

Blessedness vs. Wickedness

Trees have roots and fruits, and we see this in Psalm 1 applied to a godly man. How do we apply this to our walk with the Lord? What can we learn about blessing, delighting, meditating, prosperity, and fruitfulness? Where do we go for nourishment?

Verse: Psalm 1
“Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.”

The book of Psalms opens with two psalms which really end up setting the stage for the entire rest of the book to come. It generally makes sense to begin in the beginning of a book before reading on through it, but not everyone has had that experience with Psalms. A lot of people are introduced to Psalms through super common ones like Psalm 23 – the Lord is my Shepherd – or Psalm 100 – about entering His courts thanksgiving and His gates with praise. But one of my absolute favorite ways to read wisdom literature in Scripture is from beginning to end. My kids and I read both Psalms and Proverbs this way: straight through, on repeat, all the time. I can not count how many times we have read those two books together already, and can’t imagine how many times we will have done it throughout our lifetimes. This is a good heritage to pass on, and a worthy foundation to set.

So if we were to approach the book of Psalms by starting at the beginning, we would see that Psalm 1 presents two ways of living—actually, very similarly to what Proverbs does with the way of wisdom and the way of folly—but here in Psalm 1, it is the way of the blessed man and the way of the wicked man. Some theologians actually say that Psalm 2 is not a separate song but a continuation of the first—the King mentioned there is not David, but a foreshadowing of Christ, the Son of David that God’s people were anticipating. Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm. But back to Psalm 1!

This is a wisdom psalm (again—that connection to Proverbs), it is intended for the training and instruction of God’s people. The book of psalms was the hymnal of the Hebrews, the Jews, God’s people. And right here in the beginning of that book is a teaching method commonly found throughout the Bible: two ways in contrast; a positive example beside a negative example; one meant for imitation and the other for warning. We’ve already established that the two options in Psalm 1 are that of blessedness and that of wickedness. What does blessed mean? This is actually the Hebrew word that my son Asher’s name comes from: asherey, ashrei, esher (it’s phonetic so you can find it transliterated different ways). It is a word that means happy, blessed, fulfilled. It is a contented state of joy that is an internal happiness which brings blessing from the inside out—not the outside in. It is not a happiness based on situation or blessedness based on materialism. This kind of true blessing, true happiness, comes from walking with the Lord.

The first half of this psalm gives beautifully poetic description about what the blessed man is like. We see the blessed man described as a tree planted by rivers of water, yielding good fruit, not withering but prospering! And from where did this tree stem? Where are its roots? Delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on the law of God day and night—that is where these tree roots are nurtured and nourished. And then back to the beginning, we see that this man steers well away from sinners and scoffers and wickedness.

We must see that the very first thing mentioned is the distinction between godly and ungodly influences. We must resist the influence of the ungodly, carefully protecting ourselves from ungodly influences. Therefore, we must rather put ourselves in the way of godliness, righteousness, and meditation on God’s holiness. This is where blessedness and happiness lie. This is the path of good fruit and prosperity. Psalm 119 is a long treatise on exactly this! Here is a brief example:

Psalm 119:97-106

Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
    for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
    in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
    for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to keep your righteous rules.

Throughout the psalter, but notably right here in the very first chapter, we see that devotion to God and His Word is not a slavish duty nor hedge against superstition. Rather than a burden, it is a delight and pleasure and joy. He meditates on it! This meditation is considering, pondering, wrestling with, and being occupied with—meditating on God’s Word means focusing on it and seeking to understand it, memorize it, and—dare I suggest—even sing it.

But how does the psalmist go on to describe the wicked? In an abrupt shift, he declares simply: “the wicked are not so.” He describes them as chaff that has been shaken off the grain. Therefore, because of their very nature as inconsequential and useless, they will not stand in judgment but will blow away like the dry hulls of chaff when a farmer winnows wheat. Chaff is worthless, meaningless. Ultimately, we are told that the end of the wicked is far from prosperity: the wicked will simply perish.

So we see that there are two ways we can live—the Lord presents us here with the two paths: that of wickedness and that of blessedness. This is the ultimate distinction in life. And here is one simple yet profound note: although we would all like to think of ourselves as the blessed one, the tree planted by rivers of water… we are only that one thanks to the irresistible grace of God. But for that undeserved mercy, we would lie squarely in the path of the wicked one. Praise the Lord for His sovereign plan and gift of Jesus Christ! Because of Him, we can be blessed. We can be happy. We can be fruitful and prosperous. Like that tree representing the happy and blessed man, we do not have to fear dry seasons because of the constant water supply nourishing our roots. Because of the Living Water of Jesus Christ our Savior, we can endure adversity, persecution, drought, affliction. It is the law of God, His very Word—which we have the modern gift of carrying around in our very pockets, not to mention in a dozen different copies on our shelves at home—which is our sustenance. May we thus brim over with love for God’s Word. May we raise children whose roots are planted by the riverside. May our homes be orchards with fruit ripe for plucking and harvesting and sharing. This is how we can share in the prosperity and blessing of the man in Psalm 1. Rely on Jesus and trust in Him, letting Him be your righteousness and hope, your joy and delight. Do not walk in the ways of the wicked—but rather, choose to delight in the law of God and meditate on His living Word.

Sweet Paideia

One week ago, my sweet little girl decided to make a surprise for her new friends at ballet. She has been trying to find ways to connect with the girls in her new class this year, which is difficult when they are not allowed to talk or giggle during class (they are very focused on their poise and form and classroom respect), and with all the weird restrictions our state has over gatherings… honestly, it’s almost surprising that we are allowed to have classes at all. Praise the Lord, we can! But how to overcome the obstacles of our current culture’s mania when my little girl just wants to hug and talk and smile and be close and interact and pursue fellowship… let’s just say, it has been a bit of a fickle pickle to iron out.

She started with writing letters to a couple of her fellow ballerinas, and then at the next class after that, one of the moms pursued a conversation with me to tell me how incredibly timely and kind the letter-writing gesture had been. Our daughters came out of class then, and spent the next fifteen minutes giggling and talking and dancing on the studio patio.

So her next creative idea was to bake cookies for her classmates as a special surprise. She had all the ingredients set out, found a recipe she wanted to use, and waited all day for me to have the time to help her. It went beautifully until she was adding eggs… and unfortunately dropped an entire egg — including the shell — into the mixer — while it was beating. Immediately, I turned off the preheating oven and broke the news that that was my last pound of butter and cup of brown sugar, so we would have to wait a week to make cookies for her class. Cue the tears! I may have briefly considered the possibility of using tweezers to scrutinize the bowl of dough and try to pull out three hundred shards of eggshell like so many splinters…

She sadly got into jammies and brushed her teeth, all the while blinking back tears that desperately wanted to wash her freckled cheeks. I climbed into bed with her to scratch her back and have a conversation. What makes this the hardest tonight? She replied, my friends won’t get to have cookies tomorrow! I smiled at her and said, but maybe there is a reason why God wants you to bring cookies NEXT week. Maybe one of your classmates is really going to need the encouragement of a kind gesture and friendly gift at that point. God knows all the details of the things we can’t even imagine.

She looked at me, fairly satisfied. And so for the last few days, she had mentioned now and then how she wonders what her new friends are doing, going through, enjoying, struggling with — and she is hoping that bringing cookies to them will be a timely blessing.

We bought more butter. And brown sugar. And this time, we will crack the eggs into a cup before pouring them carefully into the mixer set in its off position.

~~~

When we were discussing the idea of making cookies as a gesture of kindness and friendship, Evangeline said that it seemed like a Christian thing to do: to make something lovely or delicious without someone expecting anything, and to just bless them out of nowhere. And I think she’s exactly right. This is the kind of gesture a godly paideia longs to produce. An 8 year old little girl who can articulate on her own that making cookies for her ballet classmates can be an embodiment of “virtues like the fruits of the Spirit.” When I asked her which fruits she thought cookie-baking and cookie-gifting might embody, she smiled and said, “love and joy definitely; peace like fellowship between new friends; I had to have patience because of the whole eggshell problem last week; kindness and goodness are like giving a special surprise to someone; but I’m not sure I can find faithfulness and self control…” I reminded her at that point that she has a very faithful pursuit of trying to be friendly and to generate actual friendship with these girls. And while we laughed at self control because we can’t mention that virtue relating to cookies without Frog and Toad immediately coming to mind… (tell me you know that kid lit reference!), it is also true that Evangeline has had to pursue self control in class not to giggle and chitchat with these new friends, which honestly is what urged her to try finding more creative, out of the box ways to connect with classmates.

I think this is the kind of moment where I really want to be purposed in pointing out that glimpse of paideia. Recognizing that something as simple as homemade cookies… and as complicated as ruining the first batch of dough, thus needing to wait an entire week before trying again… can bring about a sweet conversation about philosophical paideia intersecting with practical paideia… that is a beautiful step for me. It’s my friends at PaideiaSoutheast.com that help urge me onward and upward in this continued conversation. And I am finding that the more I open my eyes, asking myself how can I glimpse paideia here?, the more easily I see it. Godly paideia fleshed out and lived to the fullest.

So this is the sweetness of a little Christian girl, giving of herself for the enjoyment of others. And I praise His holy name.

Glimpsing Paideia

I have always loved the word paideia. It’s a word I kind of grew up on. Having been raised in the Reformed Christian tradition, Greek and Hebrew and Latin words are not unfamiliar to me, although I have never even considered the option of studying one of those languages to the point where I were fluent or able to translate anything. But when it comes to original languages, especially used in Scripture, I have a longing to know the translation and the etymology and the various definitions and applications of a word. Paideia was one of those words introduced to me from childhood, thanks to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I think it is fairly safe to say that all children raised in a Christian household have been taught Ephesians 6:1 from a very early age: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” and many of us probably even went so far as to have memorized verses 2 & 3 on its heels: “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” But I think it is less commonplace for verse 4 to be memorized and catechized in our families: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

As a parent, it can be tempting to bark Ephesians 6:1 without first washing ourselves in the gentle command here to parents (fathers specifically). DO NOT provoke your children to anger. Rather, DO bring them up in the paideia of the Lord.

That’s where we see the Greek work paideia.
Biblical translators have a variety of different English words they use in our English Bibles, but they are just insufficient for the height and breadth and depth of what the Greek word would encompass.

Britannica says:
Paideia, (Greek: “education,” or “learning”), system of education and training in classical Greek and Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) cultures that included such subjects as gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, music, mathematics, geography, natural history, and philosophy.

Merriam-Webster shares this definition:
1: training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development
2: the ideal development envisioned or attained by paideia

And John Piper shares the Greek here:
Fathers . . .
bring them up (ektrephete auta)
in the discipline (paideia)
and instruction (nouthesia)
of the Lord (kuriou).

John Piper continues by saying, “This word [paideia] signifies the actions a father takes to give his children the abilities and skills and character to live life to the glory of God. It is not synonymous with teaching. It is more full and more active.” (emphasis mine)

I have previously written here about paideia as well: how it is the complete enculturation of a person (or society), which is not limited to religion or education, but includes all aspects of training, education, nourishment, nurture, instruction, discipline, and enculturation! The Greeks were endeavoring to raise fantastic little Greek citizens, for which they used the term paideia: but our endeavor as Christian parents is of raising faithful Christian citizens of heaven, using that same all-encompassing term paideia.

But talking about the philosophy surrounding and supporting godly paideia isn’t the whole story. It needs fleshed out! It isn’t enough to simply say, “raise your kids in a decidedly Christian way, and voila, there you have it!” A friend of mine from Paideia Southeast was telling me recently how it feels like raising her kids in the paideia of the Lord is like driving a train down the track… but she is currently laying the track upon which they are driving! And it is exhausting to lay the track while driving the train. And sometimes we don’t even know what other well-used train tracks look like, so we are planning the path of the track while laying it while driving down it. Whew! How much more of a blessing it is to be driving down an already-laid track, or at least to have another track nearby for reference and recommendations.

How do we actively pursue the paideia of the Lord as we raise our children? What are some simple ways for starting out on laying that track? Where are visuals to remind me that it looks different in different families? I am looking now for glimpses of paideia around me. Specific instances where I see godly culture being cultivated both in my home and in the homes of others around us. In pictures, in books, in conversations, in posts online. I want to recognize it myself, point it out to my children, and share it with my friends. The paideia of the Lord.

Oh, may the Lord give me eyes to glimpse His paideia in palpable, practical application so that I can walk in faithfulness for the furthering of His kingdom. Amen.