Little Saints, Coda

If you wonder about other tips and tricks and experiments and experiences… what kind of things others have 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.

For the most part, I have written lately about training “a child,” but have not addressed the reality of balancing an infant against my chest, a toddler on my right, and a preschooler on my left. I have mentioned that the phase of life I’m in currently involves three kids who are completely self-capable worshipers – ages 14, 10, and 9. The almost-3 year old stays with me… unless I’m serving as accompanist, which means someone else has to keep him, and that honestly never goes super smoothly yet. And the 6 year old needs to sit beside an adult, but it doesn’t matter whether it is mama or daddy or a grandparent or even a friend. He just needs the gentle accountability of having an adult beside him for occasional reminders. He’s this close to graduating even from that being a true necessity. But all that to say: I have been in the situation before where all my little people were quite little people, and it felt like a juggling game in the pew every week. I haven’t taken notes during a sermon for years. I don’t even hold a Bible on my lap anymore at this point. But I teach my children to take notes, and I help them hold their Bibles open. And that is way more valuable, because this season is so comparatively short but has tremendous dividends in the long run. In another two years, I think I will absolutely be balancing a Bible and notebook on my lap again – because my children will no longer need so much supervision and oversight from me. It is a process of slow progress, but the progress really does happen right in front of my eyes. It is beautiful to behold. I’m here for it.

Let me say, do not underestimate the value of standing in the back to bounce your baby or toddler during the service. For the first 18 months, my babies have relished spending the service in a wrap or baby carrier. Often they are fine with me just sitting in the pew while they are snuggled and strapped against my chest. But they also might need me to stand and bounce or sway. And that’s completely fine. I like sitting in a place where I can either stand right beside where my family is sitting or right behind them. I always want to stay as close in proximity to my family as I can. And there are often ways to make that work, even if I am needing to be standing during a sermon in order to best care for my youngest-at-the-time.

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.

Speak about worship regularly and positively. Teach yourself and your children to look forward to Sunday mornings with joy, anticipation, preparation, and gladness. Seek to make Sunday mornings smooth and sweet prior to the church service so that your spirit (and theirs) is rightly oriented away from the various stumblings of sins and toward fellowship and song and joyful worship. We used to drive an hour each way to church on Sunday mornings (actually, when I was a teenager, we drove 2.5 hours each way!), so snacks & audiobooks were key. It was honestly hard to maintain sweet fellowship with all family members during that long commute, and arrive for worship with genuine peace and joy. We now drive just five minutes each way to church on Sunday mornings, and we often spend the entire time singing Psalms and hymns. I highly recommend this. There’s nothing like singing together as a family to prepare you to worship together with God’s people in His house. I love Deuteronomy 6:6-7, and singing and reciting and catechising are often great ways to do this… but so is the simple act of prioritizing worship together on Sunday mornings. There is no greater act of Christian parenting than that of discipling our kids for the Kingdom of God. How could we NOT therefore prioritize sharing the pew with them?

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.

Joyful Domesticity’s Summer Reading Challenge, 2019

Joyful Domesticity Summer Reading Challenge

One of the things I really love about homeschooling is how each of our family members both contributes and receives from the culture in our home without much contradiction from outside input. We are constantly discussing, evaluating, and sifting what we see, hear, and experience through our Christian worldview and family culture. I have posted before (it seems so long ago) about the main loves in our family and home ~ broadly stroking, books & food & music.

This last year, perhaps more than any other, our love for books and love of story has been quite pronounced. I have long loved the Read Aloud Revival, and have enjoyed the community of membership there this last year. I have found encouragement and validation and camaraderie over literature there, and it brings delight to my heart. I have also found a lot of encouragement and camaraderie at Simply Convivial and Scholé Sisters this last year, thanks to the community-building efforts of my friend Mystie. It is such a blessing & boon to know that I am not alone in my journey, even if many of my connections necessarily happen online.

Something that I have loved every summer with my children is pursuing a variety of reading challenges. We participate in Read to Ride, Barnes & Noble’s summer reading journal, Pizza Hut’s Book It program, and we have also enjoyed summer reading challenges from Exodus Books and Veritas Press in the past. This summer I have crafted a slightly more personalized take on it for my children. They will get to put stickers on their completed squares through the end of August, and there will be rewards for every dozen squares marked off. You may notice that there are a few specific books and authors ~ these are to help my children & me keep up with the Family Book Clubs my friend Sarah & her Read Aloud Revival team host each month. And then we love taking rabbit trails from those ideas, exploring more of the authors & illustrators we meet there, and build a lot of our library holds list from that. But the majority of these challenge boxes are much more open, more free. It is up to parental discretion whether a book can be used to check off more than one box, or whether each book should only qualify for one box at a time.

REWARDS for every dozen checked boxes:

  • Ice cream sundae
  • Movie date
  • Staying up thirty minutes late
  • Cookies & lemonade picnic
  • Choosing a new book on Amazon
  • Visiting local amusement park (with free tickets!)

I will also be sharing some of our favorite titles and authors that suit some of these categories, to encourage your own library holds list to grow!

Please feel free to print and enjoy Joyful Domesticity’s Summer Reading Challenge, and fatten the hearts & minds of your family this season along with us! And if you are so inclined, please leave comments sharing some of your favorite authors, illustrators, titles, and wins so we can learn from one another.

A Break for Breathing

It may seem as though even I were new around here now, it has been so long since there has been any update here on Joyful Domesticity. This has been a break for breathing, a season for a deep breath. A season for new journeys, and adjustments to old paths that take new winding turns.

For anyone who is genuinely new to glancing around Joyful Domesticity, please allow me to briefly introduce myself. I am Melissa Joy, a second generation Christian homeschooling mother in the Pacific Northwest. I have been married to my husband Steven since 2007, and we have been deepening our walk with each other & our walk with Christ ever since. One way He has broadened our faith and deepened our theology is through the sanctification of parenting: what a joy, what a privilege, what a hope, what a responsibility! He has blessed us with fourteen children: nine in heaven, four in our home, one in the womb.  Our journey of recurrent miscarriage has been very shaping and honing, of our individual spiritual lives as well as of our family culture at large. I continue to endeavor to reach out in empathy, compassion, understanding, and aid for other grieving mamas. I continue to learn much from the experiences and community God has put in my story.
We homeschool our little band of redheads on family property in the countryside in a Classical Christian model, emphasizing truth, beauty, & goodness through the means of books, music, science, math, art, books, language arts, penmanship, computer skills, books, history, geography, handcrafts, theology, and more books. We delight in embracing life together in our home, our homeschooling community, our church family. My husband operates a company called Olive Tree Bible Software with passion, patience, and diligence. I recently began an endeavor called Paideia Northwest, where we aim to host an annual conference in Northeastern Washington state for Christian mothers raising, educating, & loving their children for the Kingdom of God. It isn’t a money-maker, it is more of a ministry, as my heart longs to see Christian mothers band together in love and encouragement despite differences of practice, method, or even theology.

We have four sons, with one daughter directly in the middle. At this moment, our children are Gabriel (11), Asher (7 1/2), Evangeline (6), Simeon (3 1/2), with the littlest brother’s arrival anticipated in a matter of weeks. God has been continually gracious toward our family, and we are humbly grateful for His intense benevolence. There is no more challenging yet rewarding chapter in my life than motherhood ~ with its many facets.

While I have taken recent months to focus on my tangible home, replete with books and babies and bedrest, I hope to make a somewhat more regular presence here at Joyful Domesticity again. To share what God is doing in my heart, my home, my journey to the Kingdom. I am nothing particularly clever or wise or unique, but I have a heart that is eager to uplift, encourage, and share the sharpening of Christ mutually with my sisters in Christ both near and far.

For the glory of the King, the furtherance of His Kingdom, and the joy of the home! Cheers.

My Cup Overflows

Thou anointest my head: my cup runneth over.
Psalm 23:5

This morning, as my children and I sat around the kitchen table doing our copywork for the day, little things were really getting under my skin. The six year old will not stand still, sit still, stop wiggling, or curb the humming & whistling… quite literally, no matter what we try, it seems that at least on this particular morning, he is actually physically unable to truly be still & quiet. The ten year old repeatedly uses his pencil and the heel of his opposite hand for a drum set in between penning words. The five year old moans every time she needs to correct a word, erase a pencil mark, or drops something on the floor… which, to be fair, is about every 27.3 seconds. The two year old is happily uncapping ColorWonder markers and strewing them about the floor (last time it was half-melted crayons which took a while to scrub up… so this is a major improvement) while singing songs at what-ought-to-be the top of his voice, but I happen to know it isn’t, because if there’s one thing we have in spades in this household, it’s breath support & plucky lungs.

My own copywork was going slowly, thanks to the ever-emergent nature of the fulltime homeschooling mother of small children. The dog needs out, the toddler needs to go potty, the children squabble, the pencils need sharpened, the dog peed on the floor, the toddler peed on the floor, the phone rings, the washing machine buzzes, the FedEx man comes at an unusually early hour… the singing, the pencil-drumming, the leg-wiggling, the chair-squeaking, the moaning about how long five verses is when you are trying to write in cursive and you’re only six years old…

I made a big, delicious latte and sat back down. I was only three verses through my five… and it had quite honestly been about thirty minutes already… when the five year old lost her self control and needed some correction. In my over-zealous flight to show her the error of her ways, I rather gave a flamboyant representation myself of just what lacking self control can do to a day. I managed to knock my entire large mug of hot latte all over the table and down the edge like a frothy waterfall. In the nanosecond it took for me to finally lose my cool and react in an expulsory fashion, God slowed down my vision enough to do one of those “this is your life” slideshows inside my eyelids for a moment… highlighting simply the last hour of the morning. My petty angst, my raw nerves, my frenzied attack of all the things at once rather than pacing and parsing them out in an orderly fashion. I don’t think I uttered a single sound or solitary syllable. God grabbed me right there. The proverbial swat on my hand was received, my eyelids came down, my shoulders slumped. The breath in my lungs caught and I immediately felt the mercy of God’s hand rearranging my morning in one quick movement.

My sudden physical response was so jolting, I managed to slide my chair away from the table far enough that the waterfall of coffee avoided me altogether but rather soaked up my copywork journal and splashed upon some of the readalouds from our morning basket, sopped into the table runner, and managed to splosh & splash across the entire kitchen nook floor (praise the Lord we recently got rid of the rug & reverted to the bare wood) & onto most of the chair legs around the table.

While I spun around to grab an armful of towels from the drawer beside the sink, I thought to myself, well, that’s one way to restart the morning.

I cleaned up the books, the table runner, the chair legs, the floor… and layered kitchen towels amongst the wet, brown pages of my own copywork journal. As I did this, my children grew suddenly so attentive and diligent in their own copywork, their verses were finished and they moved on almost mechanically to their sketchpads and math books. I hardly even noticed my daughter crying over her copywork… I was so caught up in my coffee-soaked Scripture pages and trying to make sure no library books were casualties.

Finally, my daughter looked up at me and said in a very sad little voice, “Mommy, was that my fault?” I cupped her chin in my hand and looked her in the eyes to say, “Who knocked over that cup of coffee?” “I don’t know, Mommy. Did I do it?” she asked, tears trying to puddle in her ever-greener blue eyes. “Mommy knocked it over, baby. You didn’t do it. Mommy lost self control. I let my impatience take over.” I stepped back and looked at all the kids. “Thank you for being patient with me while I got through my own temper tantrum. God’s still working on me, and I am not always a cheerfully obedient daughter.”

They smiled at me. They forgave me. They understood.

I made a new latte. We all sat back down, a freshly mopped floor now beneath our feet. It was overdue for that anyway. I looked down at my copywork journal. The page that seemed most ruined held Colossians 2:6-7: Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I certainly was not walking in Him with an abundance of thanksgiving this morning! And now this coffee-soaked, tattered & torn page would remain the evidence and reminder of my weak & wobbly ways.

I gently turned that page over to see where I had left off of this morning’s verse… we are just beginning to work on memorizing Psalm 103, so I was three verses into it when I spilled the coffee…

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
who forgives all your iniquities,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your…

Oh my.
My own eyes now filled with tears. Immediately, I was brought to prayer of humility, confession, repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.

I am not called to run a home that is still, silent, stark, & stoic.
I am called to be faithfully building up my home, training these children for the Kingdom, and pursuing Christ as a corner pillar.
How can I so easily lose sight of the calling of my soul?
To bless His name! And to not forget all that He has done.

Oh! Praise the Lord that even in the very midst of that moment, His grace was there to grab me and set me straight again. To show me that I was pursuing an incorrect vision of my day, rather than embracing the life before me with faithfulness. My friend Mystie had just shared with me a few days ago some thoughts about leading our homes and teaching our children with rest and faithfulness. It was a must-re-read for me this afternoon. Quoting Sarah Mackenzie, in her book Teaching From Rest, “Our days, though messy, loud, chaotic, and sometimes completely overwhelming, can be filled with great peace. … Teaching from rest means we don’t panic when things don’t go according to our plan.”

It was a beautiful spiritual exercise to finish my section of Psalm 103 once my page dried out enough that my pen wouldn’t rip the page badly.

…who redeems your life from destruction,
who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
who satisfies your mouth with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

What a perfect pivot from where I was to where I went.
The irritation and angst that had been building in me (although I would not have admitted it) gave way to destruction, and it wasn’t until after my soul awakened to NOT FORGET the benefits of my Lord that I once again realized how very much my cup overflows – with His lovingkindness and tender mercy, and with so many countless, tangible, good things.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! For things like forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction, and strength. These are the gifts that He gives in abundance. These are the things that I can rely on, even in the midst of the messy, chaotic, loud, frustrating, and unpredictable.

Mystie says, “Instead of looking for what you can cut to make life easier, cut the whining, cut the social media, cut the lingering over your coffee. Cut the fear, cut the comparisons, cut the jealousy, cut the anxiety – we can, because God gives us grace to turn from our sins, to repent.”

Yes. He does. Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless His holy name. The goodness and mercy of my God follow me and fill me. He makes my cup overflow. Amen.

Lit for the Loo

Perhaps it is safe to say that when anyone in our household embarks on (or even simply revisits) anything remotely new or exciting, my response is wholeheartedly, there are books for that. My husband is into things like grilling or smoking meat, roasting coffee, and brewing beer… so he buys books on the subjects. My oldest son is excited to learn computer programming skills and languages, so he spends an immense amount of time finding just the right books from every corner of the library as well as adding a couple extras to the Amazon shopping cart. My middle son wants art instruction on how to draw just the right kind of animals, plants, ninjas, or medieval weaponry, so we gather drawing books from hither and yon. My daughter finds a love of ballet, and suddenly nearly an entire bookshelf in her room is full of ballerina fiction & nonfiction. I need to work on prayer and devotional reading? Four clicks away, and now there are a few new things on my desk to give me the needed boost – Nancy Guthrie, Andrew Case, Timothy Keller, Clay & Sally Clarkson. I need reminders and propellers for educating my children – Katherine Paterson, Andrew Pudewa, Sarah Clarkson and Sarah Mackenzie are ready to jump off the pages and take my hands. When I need cooking inspiration, I grab hands with Danielle Walker, Trim Healthy Mama, and Hot Providence via pages of their books. When I recently jumped into the world of duck eggs and baby chicks, I collected more than an armload of fiction, nonfiction, and picture books for the occasion. It’s just what we do in this family!

Now my littlest ginger is working on a new endeavor, and he found himself a whole stack of books for the process too.

pottybooks

Once Upon a Potty is his absolute favorite. He has actually made friends with the character in the book. For instance, he talks about Joshua going poopy in the potty, and how proud his mother is of him. He then looks up and me and says, “Mommy, you are proud of me too.” Yes sweetheart, Mommy is proud of you. “Simeon and Joshua?” I laugh, yes, of course, Simeon and Joshua.

Skip to the Loo, My Darling is downright cute although definitely pure fun rather than educational. It makes him smile, and he enjoys looking at each of the little potties in the illustrations throughout, especially at the very end. He finds the one that looks most similar to his own little potty, and says, “we match!”

What to Expect When You Use the Potty is honestly a big out of his league. It seems like it would work better for a 3-4 year old going through the potty training experience, rather than a little two year old tot. He got glossy-eyed pretty quick when I was reading it aloud to him; I think it simply went too in-depth and had too much information for what was necessary in our particular scenario. But he still enjoys the pictures, so it goes along with the other two he really enjoys, and he’s got his happy little stack of three… his very own pile of literature for the loo.

And he’s a successful, happy, informed, M&M filled little guy!
One week into the process, we’ve almost got it nailed.
And for right now, that’s an absolute victory.

For icing on the cake, when he was reading AlphaBlock last night, a longstanding favorite of his which he has been reciting completely from memory since last winter, he got to U and quite proudly proclaimed that “U is for Simeon because now I wear undies too.”

AlphaBlock1AlphaU

Summer Reading Stack, take one

It is hard to imagine that summer is so fully underway! With soccer camp behind us and music camp looming just ahead, the garden in full production and the birds nearly ready to start laying eggs, you’d think I would have a clue. But I totally missed local strawberry season, and the only way I won’t miss our local cherry season is if I get out there this week with my sister-in-law and all the kids. My children are ecstatic that “fireworks day” is this week, but when my daughter asked this evening, “is that the day about St. Patrick?” I realized that I need to revisit some basic Independence Day foundations with the kids in the next 24 hours. Note to self: dig out the patriotic picture books post haste! I know I have Mary Pope Osborne’s Happy Birthday America on the schoolroom bookshelves somewhere…

While our official school year with the chaos of our weekly co op finished up over a month ago, we are continuing our normal habit of schooling through the summer when we are at home. During soccer camp week, we focused on Bible, reading, music practice, and soccer practice. Plus playdates and swimming! It was exhausting and delightful. It will be a very similar pattern during music camp. The rest of the weeks of summer, though, we are plugging away with piano lessons, ukulele lessons, and the basic subjects at home: Bible (which term we use rather broadly to include Scripture, catechism, hymn, devotional, copywork, & handwriting), math, English, reading, and music lessons.

Newbery4

What everyone most looks forward to, though, is our regular habit of reading aloud. In general, I am the one who reads aloud to the children while they eat a meal (or two), and while they do things like copywork, artwork, sewing, or other quiet fine motor projects… but the children do love being asked to take turns reading passages to one another. (Only the three oldest are solid readers, of course, but even 2 1/2 year old Simeon likes to hold a book and “read” it to us either by reciting what he remembers of a favorite, or by interpreting something from illustrations.) It gives the children practice speaking well in front of others, without the added pressure of needing to recite a memorized passage or write a speech themselves. One step at a time! I am very pleased with their skills of inflection, character designation, and rhythm/speed/pause.
Something I have been incredibly pleased with in the last few months is the broad variety of picture books we have gotten that are biographies of wonderful, creative people, both historic and contemporary. It is wonderful to accomplish humanity studies through the practice of reading aloud with one another.

This morning we enjoyed visiting the world of Virginia Burton, the brilliance behind stories like Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. We have always loved Virginia Burton, so to read a picture book where we can recognize all of her wonderful characters, as well as find out a little more about her own life, delighted us all.

Burton1
Burton2 Burton3

There is a delightful comment here about Virginia, called Jinnie, making creations with her very magical wands — her art supplies!, which made us giggle and have a brief conversation about the magic of creation, using things like charcoal, pencils, brushes, stamps, and God-given hands.

We also recently read about Grace Hopper, which was of particular interest to my own computer programming son, as she was so highly instrumental in creating and streamlining computer code. She found the solution in taking binary a lot further than anyone before. It is good for my son to read about women doing amazing things — like computer coding for the naval forces during a war, or painting children’s books, or cooking gourmet French food, or rocking babies to sleep on a starry night. Each of these things is a powerful force, and could be wielded for great good in God’s kingdom. I am eager for my children to take note of these things.

Hopper1  Hopper2

Software tester. Workplace jester. Order seeker. Well-known speaker. Gremlin finder. Software minder. Clever thinker. Lifelong tinker. Cherished mentor. Ace inventor. Avid reader. Naval leader.” Such good reminders that a beautiful education is fat with variety, fully faceted all around.

Newbery2

And there are also innumerable books that I want my children to read about incredible, world-changing men throughout history. One of my favorites this week is called Balderdash, about John Newbery himself. What a treasure of a little book! The artwork is absolutely sublime.

Newbery1

The story begins with an introduction to Newbery as a boy in a time when books were not made for children, but rather only for adult sensibilities. And John set out to change this as soon as he had outgrown childhood himself. Apprenticing for a printer, and eventually owning his own printing company, he was the one who put children’s literature truly on the market. The lighthearted way this book describes the life and times of John Newbery is truly satisfying. I think Newbery reminds me a little of my father, and perhaps that is why I think I could have been friends with this gent if I were about two centuries before my time.

Newbery5  Newbery3

Did I mention that Joni Eareckson Tada sent us a couple of books recently? We had written to her earlier this spring, as a family and then also along with a letter-writing class I taught at our homeschool co op. What a delight to receive letters in return (an unexpected surprise, for certain), and the additional of books to enjoy. This woman has been an encouragement to my heart since I was right about ten years old, so it feels full circle now for my son of the same age to be finding joy from her as well.

FunBooks10

But lest you think we do all serious reading, even in picture books, and don’t delve into the realm of lighthearted tale, anthropomorphism, comedy, or jest… think again. When you see a book cover that has your 2 1/2 year old all but pegged (including just one letter off on the author’s name!), you bring it home from the library to pass around and everyone agrees it’s a total ringer for our little Simeon James!

FunBooks11

Or how about the Animal House that had the three big kids walking around our house trying to locate all the animalesque words they could find in our own home? Refrige-gator, seal-ing, floor-mingo, kanga-room, gi-roof, snail-box, chimp-ney, cow-ch, ele-pants, hare-way, chande-deer. The house was echoing with bad puns and uncontrolled laughter for a solid twenty minutes after we finished the book itself.

FunBooks1  FunBooks2

I must quickly mention two sweet picture books we discovered last week, which both could be summed up in the idea of knowing yourself… with two very different ways of getting there. Tracks in the Snow is sweetly simple, with a little girl eagerly trying to find the owner of tracks she sees in the snow until she realizes they were hers leftover from the previous day. And Adelaide is truly winsome, in a very subdued message that the little kangaroo with wings has a life that no other kangaroo could have because she was made exceptionally unique – which is, of course, exactly the way we want her to be.

FunBooks3  FunBooks4

And lastly for now, our love of bird books continues. We revisited an old favorite, Chickens to the Rescue, which allowed us to introduce it to the youngest member of the family — and now our chickens themselves have taken on an adventurous twist of their own when we call out the refrain to them across the backyard.

FunBooks6  FunBooks5

And Calliope… who we now realize is a drake and has thus adopted the nickname Ope rather well… would like to show you our latest ducky favorite. Largely because it’s simple, sweet, and has precious ducky illustrations.

FunBooks7  FunBooks8

FunBooks9

I have two large canvas bags filled with library books ready to be returned tomorrow after our watercolor lessons with Mrs. S. We have potty training books on hold, waiting for us! Somebody around here needs a little extra literary inspiration, I think, to make the final leap in the process of ascending the porcelain throne…
And I have more books and snippet-reviews to share coming up soon.

What kind of children’s books would you like to see reviewed for a tried-and-true perspective?
I’ve got a pile of little gingers who are up for the challenge.

Rest & Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful crying forth

As I contemplate my thirteen precious children today, on PAIL (pregnancy and infant loss) Remembrance Day, I am praising God for His beautiful crying forth of ideas which created each one of them.

I still daily get to set my eyes on four of them, and I am daily blown away by His imagination in how He formed each one. They are absolutely spoken magic, woven into flesh.

But there are nine other ideas of His which were spoken into creation by His Words. Although my eyes do not see them, nor my hands get to hold theirs, and my days are not filled with teaching & instructing them; and although their beautifully cried forth souls have flown from their woven bodies of flesh; they are still spoken magic. Fully alive. Glorifying God.

How stunning.

God, thank You for giving me so many children.
Thank You for lending some to me for such a long time.
Thank You for balming my heart when You took so many of them to Your heavenly places.
Thank You for crying forth such beauty even through my broken womb.
Thank You for showing Yourself faithful to me in grief.
Thank You for hearing my prayers.
Help me to show my children how beautifully & imaginatively spoken they are by You.
I believe Lord, help Thou my unbelief.