Titus 2 and the Dunbar Number: Social Limits and Priorities

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been on a bit of a minimalist kick lately, decluttering my house, my closet, my recipes, my priorities, you name it. While I don’t necessarily hold to minimalism as a whole-life philosophy, I find that it does offer some necessary push-back to our modern tendencies to be “ever expanding,” whether that be in our possessions, resources, opportunities, or social connections.

On that last item, social connections, I recently read an article explaining the theory of what’s called the Dunbar Number. A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar posited (after some research on primates and combing through human records) that the greatest number of meaningful connections any one person can hold at a given time is about 150.

Titus two dunbar number social connections family

I have to admit I had quite the confirmation bias response to this article, because not too long ago I was explaining to my husband that I have social limits, and I simply cannot keep up with all-the-people, and I certainly don’t have energy for continually adding to the number of all-the-people to whom I feel some measure of social obligation.

With interest and perhaps some of that confirmation bias running through my veins, I decided I’d see where my current number of connections stood. I pulled out my brain dump notebook and began to write down all of the people with whom I have some meaningful or working connection. I started with family. That easily reached over 30 people. Then it was long-standing friends. You know, the people you may or may not see each year but whom you are committed in some way to maintaining for the long haul: again, over 30. Neighbors came to about 20. Homeschool connections almost 30. Church connections (which is small right now because we’re still new at our local church): about 15. And then I listed those who are a bit more distant but still qualify under this idea of meaningful connection: 60 or more. If you just add up the rounded numbers I’ve listed, that makes 185, more than the Dunbar Number (150). No wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed and like I can’t add any more.

But guess what kinds of people I didn’t add to any of those lists of contacts? For the most part, I didn’t include online-only relationships. There are seven ladies who make the cut because they are part of an online stand-up/accountability group. Other than those ladies, every other person on the list has some real-life, meaningful or workable connection (or has had in the past and therefore they are on the list).

What this little exercise demonstrated for me was twofold: One, there isn’t really any room for me to build or even maintain relationships on social media or other online platforms. No wonder I feel a little overwhelmed trying to keep up. Two, even these connections that I wrote down are pushing the limit, and I need to prioritize.

Now, Dunbar’s theory itself has prioritization built in. He suggests that any one person can have only about 5 people in their inner circle—these are loved ones, your most trusted and closest kind of friends (large families can adjust this number accordingly, IMO). Next up are “good friends,” of which you can maintain about 15 (or just ten more than the 5 closest friends we already mentioned). There are about 50 that can be called “friends” in a meaningful way before our own capacity is stretched enough to make the term “friend” less meaningful (I’m looking at you, Facebook). And then the next jump is up to that limit of 150 meaningful contacts. Beyond that, the study claims we could have face-recognition of up to 1500 people–but not meaningful relationships. I can’t say I’ve taken the time to test the limits on that last one.

Now, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. The Dunbar Number is a theory, not gospel nor scientific law. But it is interesting, isn’t it?

I’ve titled this article “Titus 2 and the Dunbar Number,” so it’s about time I brought this back around. As Christians, we know that the greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And while Jesus insisted that anyone who we find in need of our help can be considered our neighbor (see the parable of the good Samaritan), in today’s times, we tend to be over-exposed to people and needs via the internet and social media, skewing our sense of responsibility away from our nearest neighbors and toward those far from us.

The impact here is both quantitative in that we’re compelled to give emotional energy toward more people than we have capacity for and qualitative in that we’re tempted to prioritize (at least in the moment) people far away from us, for whom we are not most responsible. The issue here isn’t that caring for people far away is bad (it’s good to be concerned for people in different places than we are), it’s just unnatural to have a constant reminder of them and to be pulled away from the people literally right in front of us or across the street. The combination of those quantitative and qualitative elements makes for a rather big challenge, especially if we take seriously the call to “love our neighbor.” We’re left asking Jesus for clarification, “Who is my neighbor?”

This is where Titus 2 comes in. Some people hate this passage because they see it as limiting women to the home, keeping them barefoot and pregnant, etc. But I think we can see it in a different light. Here it is for your consideration:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Titus 2:3-5

If we are to love God and love people, the first place that we ought to practice that God-honoring people-love is within our own households. What Titus 2 (and a few other passages) implies to me is that this temptation to concern and even distract ourselves with people “out there” isn’t something only modern social media mavens have experienced. Even women in the first century needed the reminder that a love that isn’t fulfilling its duty at home first is a hypocritical love that can lead to the gospel being blasphemed, the good news being spoken of as if it’s bad.

Now before anyone throws stones because they think I’m promoting “the patriarchy,” let me be the first to say that this principle holds true for men as well. It’s why elders are supposed to be good managers of their own households before they are recognized as leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). It’s why a man that doesn’t provide for his own is called “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The call to prioritize the people right in front of us is universal. This responsibility to one’s own household is why singleness is, for some, an effective state to be in for the sake of ministry to others: because the man or woman who isn’t tied down has more time and energy to devote to the Lord, which may include serving others beyond the home in a way that the married person simply can’t (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). But that’s more the exception than the norm for believers. Most of us are called to marry and build families to the glory of God.

So the reminder in Titus 2 to love your husband and love your children and focus on the work that must be done to keep the home running well isn’t slavish or limiting. It’s a sane call to put first things first. The calling toward home and family doesn’t necessarily preclude other callings, but it does take precedence over them.

And, if you think about it, all of this makes sense in light of Dunbar’s thoughts on human social capacity. We each may vary in terms of our social capacity, and some of us may need to cut back while others may need to stretch themselves. But at the end of the day, we all have limits. And we all have to choose how we will use the limited resources we’ve been given.

How about you? Do you feel our modern connected world pulls your attention away from the folks that matter most to you?

We may not need to dump online community and resources altogether, but might it be helpful to imagine what our priorities would look like if those things didn’t exist. Join me for a thought experiment?

If the internet didn’t exist, what would you want your family life to look like? How might you prioritize your husband? Your children? If you are in a different stage of life: your roommate, parents or siblings, or extended family?

If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know your neighbors? To be a blessing to them?

If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know the people at your church better? How might you reach out to discover needs and meet them? In your church and your local community?

If the internet didn’t exist to make long distance relationships many-and-easy, who would you 100% want to keep in touch with–even if it meant more effort?

Commonplace: Susan Wise Bauer on Violence in History, Modern Times Especially

Tags

, , , ,

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a commission at no additional charge to you.

We’ve been reading The Story of the World series of history books for several years, and we’re now starting into the fourth and final volume: The Modern Age. I read the author’s foreword and was reminded why I love reading Susan Wise Bauer’s narrative of history.

history for children kids story of the world
Ruins in Columbia, S.C. No. 2 photograph by George N. Barnard, 1864, public domain

Having a degree in history myself, I’m turned off when materials aimed at children push political agendas rather than an understanding of history and human nature itself. Bauer does not disappoint. I’ve appreciated her handling of history from Volume One on. Reading the foreword to Volume Four, my appreciation has only been confirmed and strengthened.

Here are her words concerning the violence of history, and especially the brutality of our modern era–why this particular volume should be saved until at least fourth grade, but also why it should not be kept from children.

…A fourth grader hears the news on the car radio, on the TV, or in the conversation of his elders. He hears the words (“terrorism”) and senses the worry of the adults around him. A fourth or fifth grader who has a vague idea of what is going on in the world deserves to be started on the path to understanding. The shape of the world today is not random; it has been formed by a very definite pattern of happenings. To deny a child an understanding of that pattern is truly to doom a child to fear, because war, unrest, and violence appear totally random.

Even in this book [on the modern age], violence is not random. It is alarming, but not random. As you read, you will see, again and again, the same pattern acted out: A person or group of people rejects injustice by rebelling and seizing the reins of power. As soon as those reins are in the hands of the rebels, the rebels become the establishment, the victims become the tyrants, the freedom-fighters become the dictators. The man who shouts for equality in one decade purges, in the next decade, those who shout against him. Boiling history down to its simplest outline so that beginning scholars can grasp it brings this repetition into stark relief.

Again and again, while researching this book, I was reminded of the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent eleven years in the labor camps of the Soviet Union, and who, when he became powerless, finally understood that revolution never brings an end to oppression. Solzhenitsyn wrote, “In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. …Even in the best of hearts there remains…an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being. …And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them.”

Revolution shatters the structures; but the men who build the next set of structures haven’t conquered the evil that lives in their own hearts. The history of the twentieth century is, again and again, the story of men who fight against tyrants, win the battle, and then are overwhelmed by the unconquered tyranny in their own souls.

Bauer’s telling of history–in each of her volumes–gives this kind of instructive look into the patterns of human nature played out in the global theater. There is drama and interest and wisdom–without need for embellishment or politicized rhetoric.

This is why I love her books and I love reading them to my children. Because at my core I believe that history in itself is instructive if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. There is a bigger story than our current political drama. And there is a higher right and wrong than our current iteration of left and right. I want to give my kids wisdom and understanding so they can see straight in the midst of fearful and confusing times. Mere social studies or politically-driven books for children won’t cut it. I want to give them history.

Whether you homeschool or your kids are in public or private school, these books make for great family read alouds. My children have begged for them over the years: “Mama, let’s play Legos while you read The Story of the World!” We simply read, discuss, and sometimes find the place we’re reading about on a globe. Easy. A small investment that has reaped huge dividends in our family’s understanding and ability to have good conversations about all that is going on in our world today. It’s hard to grasp big principles without some kind of context. History gives kids (and their parents!) the story, the context, for understanding the patterns and principles at play in our world.

Bauer’s books are by no means our only source of history reading (reading more than one author is incredibly important), but these volumes have made for a delightful overview and they are a great place to get started if reading history with young children is new to you and your family.

If you have early elementary children (K-3rd graders), I recommend starting with Volume One: Ancient Times. The reading level increases a bit with each volume, and the story unfolds in a chronological sweep, so this is a great series with which to grow. If you have kids that are at least ten years old (or a mature nine year old), you may enjoy jumping in to Volume Four: The Modern Age. Just know that it’s like jumping into a movie series at the end. No worries, the movie may be enjoyed as a stand-alone. But it’s so much more meaningful if you know what led up to it! 😉

All four Volumes are available as audiobooks if you find that more convenient.

I suppose this post may have turned out to be something like an ad. That’s not really the point. If needed, go back and read the quote again and let it sink in. Bauer’s words are more the point of this post. Her books are just a great way to apply it, and I couldn’t help but recommend them because my family has found them so valuable.

Any other history read alouds that your family has enjoyed? Have you noticed the difference between giving kids social studies and giving them history?

Growing the Outdoor Habit [Especially in Arkansas]

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

The following article has been adapted from a talk I presented at the Natural State Charlotte Mason Retreat in April 2021.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. 

charlotte mason outdoor habit arkansas

Here’s a little literary puzzle for you: What do the following books have in common?

Literary nerds would say most of these are examples of “The Hero’s Journey”, but my husband says they’re all just backpacking stories.

Getting Outside to Live the Adventure

This spring my family reached the halfway point of the 223-mile Ouachita Trail.

We’ve been section-hiking the OT ever since I read True Grit back in 2018 and wanted to walk down where the story takes place.

True Grit book outdoor hike
2018: Had to bring the book along with us on that first trip!
100 miles Ouachita Trail outdoor habit backpacking
Fast forward: Reaching the 100-mile point! Others had marked this milestone and it seemed like a good photo op!
We’ve now logged over 115 miles on the OT.
hiking view mountain outdoors family adventure
Enjoying a rewarding view.

Backpacking has provided our family with many transcendent connections—literary and otherwise. When we set out to cover some ground on foot, we’re getting in touch with a very ancient human practice. When we do something challenging, we have a chance to grow in character. When we face a grueling, rocky climb, our books can inspire us: “It’s the steps of Mordor! Onward to Mount Doom!”

Backpacking isn’t for everyone, but I firmly believe that reading living books and spending time outside are the one-two punch when it comes to helping our kids experience and enjoy what Charlotte Mason calls the science of relations. Some of our best family discussions and most interesting ah-ha moments happen on the trail. And it’s beautiful. But the magic doesn’t happen if we don’t step outside.

Do you know the context for the familiar Charlotte Mason quote “…mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them?” It’s from Volume One, in the section on “Out-of-Door Life for the Children.” Miss Mason recognizes that getting our kids outside might require us to work wonders. It’s a high calling. And it may feel at times that we have to climb mountains to make it happen. But the payoff is worth it. The connections made, the character built, and the awe at our Creator’s handiwork are all worth the effort.

I want to address two attitude obstacles, drawing from my family’s journey into backpacking. Even if you don’t choose to get into backpacking, I hope these concepts will help you recognize your own obstacles to getting outdoors and think of how you might work wonders to overcome them.

Attitude Obstacle #1: The Anxious Mama

We have not always been a backpacking family. I’ve enjoyed hiking since my teens, but sleeping outside is another story.

Several years ago, my husband looked into hammocking as a more comfortable alternative to sleeping on the ground. One evening, he set up a brand-new hammock kit in our yard, complete with a narrow “mummy” sleeping bag, bug net, and rain tarp. He tried it out and thought it was great. I tried it out and literally started hyperventilating. I’d never slept in a mummy bag before, and it turns out, I’m mildly claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the sky, I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It was too much all at once.

hammock backpacking Arkansas outdoors
My hammock set-up with the rainfly folded back so one side is open.

My husband realized that we needed to start by just getting me comfortable being outside. So, he’d set up the hammock on a pretty day and suggest I go out to take a nap or read a book. That, I could do.

Over time, as I got more comfortable, we tried sleeping outside on mild nights with no need for rain tarp or bug net. But I would still sometimes go inside midway through the night. This was not my thing, but it was growing on me.

Fast forward to today: I find my hammock quite inviting after a long day of hiking. And I’ve even gotten to the point where I can sleep on the ground on an ultralight air mattress.

Your husband may not be the one leading the charge into the great outdoors for your family, and that’s ok. You may not be interested in backpacking, and that’s ok—I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my husband. But I hope you can see some of the takeaways from this story. 

First off, we need to be patient—with ourselves and with our people. We are all–moms, dads, and children–born persons. So, consider your people and their quirks.

Secondly, we also need to recognize that if there is a strong reaction to something, it may mean we’re doing too much too soon. Start small, with things you can enjoy, and build up gradually from there.

Thirdly, our fears and anxiety may also mean we need more exposure—not less—to the things that scare us.

Let’s say you’re terrified that a snake is hiding behind every rock, just waiting for you to walk by so it can strike. You go over the facts: “Snakes are as eager to avoid me as I am to avoid them.” But often the facts by themselves don’t govern our emotional response until we’ve had the experience of safely walking past 100 or maybe even 1,000 suspicious rocks, with no snake incidents.

Facing our fears and dealing with our hangups is part of practicing masterly inactivity. It’s well worth reading chapter three of Volume Three to get better acquainted with what that means. But Miss Mason does give us a short list of what masterly inactivity involves: authority, good humor, self-confidence, confidence in the children, and a sound mind in a sound body.

Miss Mason adds, “If the sound body is unattainable, anyway, get the sound mind.” 😉

Our anxiety can trip us up, but it can also trip up our kids if we allow it. If we don’t face our fears and cast our cares upon the Lord, we may fail to communicate “confidence in the children,” we may be more inclined to say no when we should say yes, and we may deny our kids opportunities to test their capabilities and to grow in grit and resourcefulness.

Instead of modeling anxiety, we want to model curiosity and wonder at the things God has made. Instead of allowing our fears to keep us inside, we want to show our children by example how to step out beyond our comfort zone and grow.

Attitude Obstacle #2: The Reluctant Child

We know we’ve got to deal with ourselves first, but we may find that our kids are just as hesitant as we are–or perhaps even more so. What’s a mama to do?

Here are some considerations that may help.

Make it Sensitive

My oldest son loves Legos. When we started more serious backpacking the thought of missing out on more than one day of Lego playtime almost brought him to tears. So, for his birthday one year, my husband bought him a minifig backpacker complete with accessories. There’s even a Lego bear, a fish, and some poison ivy. He gets it out when we stop for lunch or after we’ve set up camp, and it’s made our extended time in the woods much more enjoyable for him.

lego backpacking kids family outdoors
The beloved camping Legos.

It makes a big difference for a child to know that their interests have been considered. If there’s an activity that they already enjoy, taking it outside may be a good way to gently encourage a new love for the outdoors. Take read-alouds or poetry tea-time or something artsy out on the lawn. If your reluctant child can get more comfortable doing ordinary things outside, it can help the transition into more outdoorsy activities.

Make it Special

We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it special. There are treats we enjoy only while hiking—things like pre-packaged snacks or GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) or homemade apple leather or dried fruit. And this brings up the idea of special responsibilities. You don’t need to do all of the preparations, mama. It can be more fun for kids if they have some skin in the game and can say, “I made the trail mix!” or “I sliced the apples!” Give them the opportunity and see what happens.

We can also give our children special tools as appropriate. A well-timed gift of a compass, spyglass, or pocketknife can be a big boost to a child. If you have a garden or do landscaping around your home, let your kids use real tools as soon as they are capable of safely wielding them. Our kids are often more capable than we give them credit for. If we tell them “no” all the time when they’re little, we shouldn’t be surprised if they shrink from doing big person things when they’re teens.

In backpacker culture, people use special names that in some way describe who they are. My trail name is Persistent Turtle. 😉 My 9-year-old is ALP, which stands for Apple Leather Power. You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy coming up with trail names.

Make it Social

We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it social. My kids love having friends over to play in the woods or in our creek, and we enjoy hiking with other families. It can be a really great way to learn, too, as we observe and wonder at things with friends whose outdoor knowledge and skills are different than our own.

charlotte mason homeschool outdoor habit kids friends

Make it Seasonal

Make it fun by making it seasonal. Nobody really enjoys tick season. So, we do our backpacking mostly in spring and fall. In summer, we do more short hikes to swimming holes. Bonus points if there’s a waterfall to jump off of.

waterfall Arkansas gif jump flip outdoor family habit
My husband enjoys doing flips off of waterfalls. I’m good for about one jump and then I’m done.

And in winter, our day hikes might focus more on finding waterfalls—frozen waterfalls look really cool.

frozen waterfall Arkansas outdoor habit hike
If you can’t tell, that’s snow falling in the picture.

Other seasonal elements we consider are fall colors, spring blooms, and berry picking season. For years when my boys were small we would read Blueberries for Sal and then go and pick blueberries.

Make it Smile

Make it fun by smiling. This is simple, but powerful. When your kids make an observation or create something with mud or rattle off more snake facts than you ever thought you wanted to know—or better yet they bring a snake inside the house—acknowledge their discovery or creativity and smile, even if you’re simultaneously leading them and the snake out the back door. Miss Mason says it like this: “…if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.” Vol. 1, 58

So, keep that book of nature open by showing interest and smiling. Even if it’s gross.

Make it Screen-Free

Sometimes our screen habits are an obstacle to our outdoor habits. One may need to be cut back significantly to make room for the other—not just as a consideration of time but as a consideration of how our habits are training us. Charlotte Mason emphasizes training our children to really see when they are outside. The more we look at screens, the less practiced our eyes are at seeing depth and detail that isn’t pre-focused for us. Carefully consider screen habits in your home, as they can affect attitude on a general level as well as hinder our ability to really see and appreciate God’s world.

Once you’ve addressed attitude obstacles, the rest is just details.

This post isn’t going to go into all of the potentially relevant details, but I do want to briefly address hiking safety. The three most important things I can tell you about keeping your kids safe on the trail are these:

  1. Train the habit of obedience—when you have little ones on the top of a cliff, they need to be able to stop when you say stop.
  2. Train the habit of attention, of really seeing and being aware of their surroundings.
  3. Get every walking member of your family a whistle. In our family, one blast means “Where are you?” or, in response, “Here I am.” Two blasts means “Come here.” And three blasts is an international distress signal, used for emergencies.

Along with these safety tips, check out the principles of Leave No Trace–these are outdoor ethics which serve as an excellent guide to walking wisely, practicing good stewardship, and loving your neighbor while out on the trail.

Take the Long View

Remember that this goal of getting outside is not a competition. To whatever extent we lead our children out of doors, we’re setting their feet in a wide room, and it doesn’t get much wider than the big world God has made and the living books that we enjoy.

Three years ago my family set out on the first section of the Ouachita Trail. I was so sore and tired by the end of our third day that I suggested to my husband that he might need to hike out to the highway and hitch us a ride back to our car in the morning. But after a good night’s sleep in my comfy hammock I felt much better, and we set out to complete the last eight miles of our 24-mile trip. Toward the end of the day, we climbed to a peak and looked behind us. After diligently studying the map and the horizon, my husband told me to look at the furthest peak in the distance.

I asked, “Is that where we started four days ago?”

“No,” he said with excitement. “That’s where we started this morning.”

mountain view family backpacking hike outdoor habit Charlotte Mason Arkansas
Messy red arrow points to the peak we started at that day!

Remember that if you and your family just keep taking the next step, before you know it, you will reach a vantage point far on down the trail, look back, and be amazed at the ground that you’ve covered.

Looking for great places to hike and camp or otherwise explore Arkansas? Check out my friend Lindsey’s website: All About Arkansas.

Curious about Charlotte Mason? Check out this post: How We Homeschool: Hello, Charlotte. Hello, Classical.

Commonplace: Charlotte Mason on … Fad Diets???

Tags

, , , , ,

I’ve been reading Charlotte Mason’s fourth volume, Ourselves, and while it is full of wise words, this section I’m sharing here today struck me by its almost surprising timeliness.

It’s easy to get the idea that folks over a hundred years ago lived lives so vastly different from ours that they were somehow either more boring and serious or else more backward and superstitious than people are today. The reality is that humanity is humanity, no matter what the era. And apparently there were people getting obsessive over special diets in England at the turn of the 20th century. They may not have the same names or focus, but they perhaps share the same craze. And it’s the craze, the self-absorption, that Miss Mason calls attention to in her chapter on temperance. I’ll let her take it away:

Conscience is not, in fact, so much concerned with the manner of our intemperance as with the underlying principle which St Paul sets forth when he condemns those who “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” This is the principle according to which we shall be justified or condemned; and, in its light, we have reason to be suspicious of any system of diet or exercise which bespeaks excessive concern for the body, whether that concern be shown by a diet of nuts and apples, of peacocks’ brains, or of cock-a-leekie. England is in serious danger of giving herself over to the worship of a deity whom we all honour as Hygeia. But never did men bow down before so elusive a goddess, for the more she is pursued, the more she flees; while she is ready with smiles and favours for him who never casts a thought her way. In truth and sober earnest, the pursuit of physical (and mental) well-being is taking its place amongst us as a religious cult; and the danger of such a cult is, lest we concentrate our minds, not upon Christ, but upon our own consciousness. We ‘have faith’ to produce in ourselves certain comfortable attitudes of mind and body; this serenity satisfies us, and we forget the danger of exalting the concerns of the creature above the worship of the Creator. The essence of Christianity is passionate love and loyalty towards a divine Person: and faith, the adoring regard of the soul, must needs make us like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart.’ A faith which raises us to a ‘higher plane’ should be suspect of the Christian conscience, as seeking to serve ourselves of the power of Christ, less to His glory than our own satisfaction.
(Ourselves, Book II Part I Chapter III, p. 230-231)

Wow. Fad diets aside, isn’t it so easy to fixate on improving our physical and mental well-being apart from the glory of God? Our culture is drunk with this sort of thing. And while Christians certainly seek to learn and grow, our aim ought to be entirely different.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added,” Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew.

It’s good to be reminded that in all our living and striving, our eyes ought to be on Christ and not on …ourselves. Even when writing a book with that title, Miss Mason makes clear that self-knowledge isn’t an end in itself. And neither is self-improvement. In all of our growth, are we growing more “like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart'”? It’s a good question to grapple with before the Lord.

What have you read lately? Anything quote-worthy? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment below.

Gardening: A Prescription for Perfectionists

Tags

, , , , , , ,

It’s garden-planting time where I live. And that means I’m spending more time outside in the cool air and warm sunshine with my hands in the dirt. Time outside often gives me space to think, and time in the garden gives me a lot to think about–including the attitudes that I bring with me.

I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Wanting to get things just right. Spending way too much time researching a subject until I know it thoroughly enough to not mess it up (as if that were somehow possible). Perfectionism is a kind of obsession over performance and results. While it focuses on improvement and promises fulfillment, it actually tends to get in the way of both.

gardening cure perfectionist perfectionism

When I walk out into the garden and away from my other chores and plans and projects, I’m confronted by something very outside of myself. It’s easy to assume that my home and my work and my plans are all somehow a kind of extension–or at least a reflection–of who I am. But when I walk outside, I encounter something obviously other. There’s a wild beauty to things that grow. And in the presence of this wild beauty, I’m less tempted to delusions of control over it. Instead I’m drawn into wonder.

By the time I’m out planting our first seeds, the snow has just melted and revealed that under a thick blanket of frozen white, our daffodils have not only been surviving but actually growing–green and tall. And I didn’t do a thing to make this happen. I’m in awe of their happy refusal to stay dormant in our recent and unseasonable cold snap. Arguably not the perfect conditions. Yet they respond to the call to perk up–a call that doesn’t come from me or my plans.

daffodils in snow spring garden

Stepping outside of the four walls of my home usually gets me out of the four walls of my perfectionistic, all-or-nothing head. You could say that going outside prepares the soil of my heart to receive seeds of truth. To that soil, the garden adds images, active reminders of those seeds, of that truth.

As I plant and marvel at seeds in the dirt, my Father sows and tends seeds in my heart.

Here are a few of them:

  • Not every seed will sprout. When you have an all-or-nothing mentality, it can be discouraging to know that if I plant just one seed it may not work out. Planting more seeds than the number of plants I intend to grow feels potentially wasteful. I don’t ultimately control germination. I can help it along, but I mostly have to sit and wait and see. And be generous enough with my seeds to see something come to life. If I’m seeking perfect outcomes and efficiency, I might be upset that I won’t get a return on every little bit of my investment. But that’s just reality. God calls me to generously plant seeds anyway.
  • But somehow seeds DO sprout. We’ve been at this gardening thing for at least six years and yet it never fails to amaze me when tiny bits of green pop out of the ground where we planted seeds a few days or weeks before. God is good. He made this beautiful process and I get to take part in it. How much more delightful when God is at work in human hearts and invites me to participate and marvel at His work?
  • Frost may come and kill. Sun may scorch and burn. Those precious little seedlings that do sprout are up against the elements. I do what I can to protect and provide for them, but I cannot shield them from everything. In fact, a measured exposure to the elements is actually part of the process for these little plant babies to grow strong and learn to stand up on their own. Oh, how this speaks to me as a mama!
  • It pays to be firmly rooted. That exposure to the elements can benefit the plant only if it has a good root system–both for taking in water and nutrients from the soil and for keeping the plant sturdy enough not to topple over. When we transplant tomato seedlings, we burry about three quarters of the plant! It feels like a setback. Like we’ve now put ourselves behind in terms of growing a nice, big plant. But that apparent setback results in greater health and fruitfulness.
  • Bugs may devour. Vigilance is required. Whether it’s squash bugs or tomato hornworms or aphids, we’re always on guard. This is not a once-and-done thing, as though picking all of the bugs off in one day would keep us from having problems the rest of the season. A perfect sprint doesn’t work here, but rather faithful watchfulness. And even still, we will lose some fruit and some leaves to pests. That’s how we know they are there.
  • Pruning is hard. Cutting off potentialities doesn’t feel good. But we don’t have infinite space in the garden (nor does each plant have infinite resources). Despite aiming for high-intensity growing methods, there are still, by nature, limits within which we must work. Refusing to stay within the limitations of nature results in stunted growth and disease. That perfectionistic tendency to push for more-and-better often ignores the reality of limitation. If we don’t cull the excess seedlings, if we don’t prune the lower and non-productive branches, we aren’t helping our plants. I, like my plants, am finite. I, like my plants, have limitations. Culling and pruning are necessary and good.
  • Results will vary. With all these variables of seed conditions and weather and pests, it should be obvious that I can’t perfectly predict the outcome. I can’t guarantee the results. Sure, I plan carefully and consider quantities needed in advance. But the results simply aren’t that much in my control. We may get a lot, we may get a little. Our harvest may be beautiful or riddled with holes. Related to this fact…
  • Imperfect fruit still eats. In the store, when I’m putting down money for fruits and veggies, I inspect every piece, making sure I get the most perfect and untainted produce possible for my dollar. But when I’m harvesting out of the garden, a tomato that is only half-eaten by a worm is still good for half a tomato. A couple of these “bad tomatoes” can dress a salad or tacos. A bunch of them can make a batch of salsa or a tomato pie. It requires more work to make the most of the imperfect gifts from the garden, but they are gifts nonetheless. It’s an opportunity to grow in both thankfulness and resourcefulness–two things that I might miss if I continued to always insist on “perfect” produce.
  • God causes the growth. This is the real “capital T” truth. And it’s the truth that runs through the rest of these bullet points. I’m not in control, God is. I’m not on the throne, He is. I may plant the seeds and provide what I can, but God causes the growth. The reason gardening is so powerfully instructive, so beautifully corrective of my perfectionistic tendencies, is because it visually, tangibly illustrates the truth that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that He simply invites me to participate with Him in His beautiful work.

We read in the scriptures truth about God, truth about the world, and truth about ourselves. We know we are to respond to it properly. But sometimes the truth takes time to sink in. And sometimes it takes living the metaphor.

When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. He told them to “cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew words in this phrase from Genesis 2 mean something along the lines of “work or serve it and guard or attend to it.” Working in a garden was part of the original earthly paradise. And I think it’s interesting to note that God’s calling here is not to make things grow–that was His job. His children were simply to work and guard, to serve and attend. Basically, to show up and care for it.

It’s the same for me, whether in the garden or in life. My responsibilities, beyond staying firmly rooted in Christ and His Word, come down to these:

  • Faithfully sow
  • Faithfully water
  • Faithfully tend
  • Expectantly watch
daffodils spring garden growth

Every time I wander out into the garden, it’s an invitation to enter into the metaphor, to contemplate the truth beautifully woven into the fabric of Creation.

Here are a few of the scriptures that bring my garden time to life:

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Now when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

I’ll sign off with a quote my husband found in a gardening article some time back. He shared it with me, and I’ve made a point of hanging on to it.

The principle value of the garden . . . is to teach . . . patience and philosophy, and the higher virtue – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.

–Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in the Garden (found at this website: http://www.leereich.com/2012/06/every-time-i-go-near-my-apple-and-plum.html)

Post script: The day I started writing this article, I realized that our refrigerator went out. Nothing was cold. All the ice had completely melted. My day was not my own. We had to change gears, adjust, adapt. Within 30 minutes of wiping up the floor, I managed to drop a quart jar half full of coffee as I was attempting to put it in a cooler. Coffee splashed all over the floor, the fridge, and the cooler, requiring me to wipe up everywhere-again-and-then-some. I found myself saying, “Well! This is the day!” And then I laughed. And started singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made…We will rejoice and be glad in it,” inviting my kids to smile and laugh along with me. Yes, my friends, God is good. He graciously allows us many imperfections–and uses them to capture our hearts…if we but recognize the invitation.

Gardening is just one way God reminds us we’re not in control, that seeking to be perfect in ourselves is a fool’s errand. How else do you feel His gentle nudge?

Book Review: It’s a Numberful World

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. 

Scroll to the bottom for quick-reference information on the book!

A friend of mine lent me It’s a Numberful World by Eddie Woo a couple of years ago in case I might want to share some of it with my boys in our homeschool.

It’s a modern book with modern appeal, and that makes it a fun and very approachable read. Famed Australian math teacher Eddie Woo pulls from all over math history and modern technology while approaching subjects topically–finding math all around us and applying it to all kinds of situations and phenomena. Woo does a great job of communicating his wonder both at the beauty of mathematical patterns and at the way math works, striking an engaging balance between awe and practicality. Here are a few samples page spreads:

math book review woo
math book review fractals
math book review spiral eddie woo

For Eddie Woo, the wonder is inextricably linked to his Christian faith. The book is “Dedicated to the Author of Life” and quotes Galileo on the dedication page: “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” While Woo’s faith comes out in his dedication, the book itself stays very safely within the realm of secular discussions of mathematics.

I really enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the wonder at God’s handiwork hadn’t been limited to one page. I’d love to hear more of Woo’s awe of God directly connected with mathematics, as he is quoted in this article:

We talk about the fact that the universe is designed in this way and you can find all of these patterns; do you think that that’s a coincidence? One of the things I love to point out is we call the universe the cosmos which means ordered and structured and designed, as opposed to chaos, and the reason why we can find these mathematical principles is because there was a designer. We didn’t just spring into being. It has immense beauty.

I mean, how can it be that mathematicians and physicians – secular ones – all agree that one of the primary criteria for judging whether something is mathematically true or not is whether the equations are beautiful. Why on earth should the equations of the earth be beautiful? And the answer is we have a beautiful designer who designs things beautifully. So for me it’s a source of marvelling [sic] at the way that God crafted the Universe.

While I would have liked to see more of that godly awe, It’s a Numberful World was a really fun read. I appreciated the invitation to take a multi-disciplinary exploration of mathematics–and to play with it along the way. I haven’t really used it in our homeschool, but that’s partly because we already have so many interesting things (Fibonacci sequence, tessellations, using drawing tools, etc) that we’re exploring in our Right Start Math lessons. Wonder and play with math are already part of what we do. I might keep Woo’s book in mind for when we hit high school math, however. And I’m very interested in exploring his teaching videos on YouTube or …wait for it… WooTube.

Here are the fast facts:

Book Title: It’s a Numberful World: How Math is Hiding Everywhere …from the Crown of a Tree to the Sound of a Sine Wave
Author: Eddie Woo
Published: 2019 in North America
Originally Published as: Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths, 2018 in Australia
Pages: 307

Recommended for: High School to Adult
Uses: Supplement to math curriculum, enjoyable math reading.
Consideration: Chapter 25 “Why Aren’t Left-Handers Extinct?” refers to Darwinian evolution, specifically the theory of natural selection, as the author mathematically explores why certain traits persist.

How We Homeschool: Bible

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amazon links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I make no money from links to Christian sellers, but I encourage you to support them over Amazon whenever possible.

“What Bible curriculum do you use for grade x?”

It’s a question I get from time to time, and it never ceases to make me squirm a little.

Why, you may ask? Well, because the idea of “Bible curriculum,” and especially for a particular “grade level,” is foreign to me.

Now of course I’m aware of the fact that “Bible curriculum” and “Bible classes” exist in Christian school settings, but I’ve always wrinkled up my nose a bit thinking about the Bible being made to fit the mold of an academic subject, added on to a school day like just another textbook or workbook to get through. What affect does that have on the way kids approach the Scriptures? And do they give grades for those classes? What does that teach?

Our approach to the Bible looks a lot less like school and a lot more like discipleship. Reading the Bible together has been a part of our family culture since before our children were born. We haven’t ever felt a need to make sure we added Bible to the kids’ schooling because they’ve been getting Bible with their breakfast since they were tiny.

In fact, while every part of school is informed by the Scriptures, we like to keep the Bible itself separate from “school” in a sense so that they don’t get the impression that a day off of school is a day off from devotion to the Lord.

But what does that look like? And how can you get started with this holistic family discipleship model of Bible learning if it’s foreign to you?

Well, let’s start with why.

Our Why: Created Reality and Biblical Goals

Our children are precious creations of our Heavenly Father–and they are precious gifts entrusted to us as parents. We desire to give them access to the Truth that God has revealed in His Word so that they can grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, that they would begin to know and love their Creator.

Ultimately, we desire that our children would trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins and that they would love and serve Him all their days–for their good and God’s glory, both in this life and in the life to come. We don’t ultimately control this outcome. But we can be faithful to train our children in the way they should go.

Our Why Dictates Our How: Holistic Family Discipleship

Given the nature of our children, the nature of our relationship to them as their parents, and the nature of our goal (that they would have a relationship with God), it follows then that we ought to teach them in a way that is first and foremost relational. And decidedly not academic.

This means that interaction with the Scriptures comes woven into the fabric of our every day lives. There are no worksheets nor tests, no grades nor grade levels.

This doesn’t mean we don’t use printed materials to aid our children’s learning (I will link to some below), but we need to remember that the greatest resources we have to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord are His Word, His Holy Spirit, and our own lives lived alongside and before our children.

God’s Word: We must be in the bible ourselves and we must offer the Scriptures to our children.

The Holy Spirit: We must be seeking God to be at work both in us and in our children–apart from Christ we can do nothing. We may have had a direct role in bringing about our children’s physical life, but the spiritual life is of the Spirit–we cannot manufacture it in our kids. Prayer is indispensable.

Our Own Lives: We must model for our children what it means to believe the Word of God, to study it, to meditate on it, to practically submit our lives to it, and to receive both correction from it when we fail and comfort from it when we repent.

What does this actually look like?

Family Bible Time (what some call Family Worship)

Our current family Bible reading pattern, which we’ve had going for several years, is Proverbs at breakfast and Gospels at supper.

Now, this doesn’t mean each one happens every day. The reason we read the Bible over breakfast and dinner is because we often don’t read the Bible over breakfast and dinner. This is a scattering of seeds, not mechanical planting. We aim for faithfulness and perseverance rather than anything that resembles perfect consistency. But in keeping up the habit, we pretty reliably hit at least one of these each day, sometimes both. And before it was Proverbs and Gospels, we read slowly through the entire Bible at meal times–it may have taken a decade, but we kept going. The reason we’re in Proverbs and the Gospels right now is because the primary needs of our children are to receive instruction and correction according to God’s wisdom and to receive Jesus the Messiah as their Savior.

While we eat breakfast, my husband will read a few verses from the chapter of Proverbs that matches the calendar date (since there are conveniently 31 chapters in Proverbs), either selecting these verses ahead of time or asking for the kids to randomly select a number. He reads a verse and asks what it means. The kids give it their best shot and then we all discuss the meaning. He asks if they can think of any examples (a child may not use his brother as a negative example–this is a necessary rule, folks!). It has been fun over the years to hear the examples the kids come up with–sometimes from a fable, from literature, from a Bible story, from a movie. They are learning about wisdom and foolishness and learning how to identify each.

After Proverbs, we recite the Shema and the Lord’s Prayer. We switched up this recitation time over the holidays last year in order to recite and memorize Mary’s Magnificat. Now that we have the placeholder for recitation, we may use the time for other passages when they seem fitting.

Our evening Family Bible Time involves my husband reading from a passage of Scripture (currently Luke) at mealtime and then asking a few questions:

What did we learn? This is a good time for kids to either pick one thing that stuck out to them or simply narrate what they heard.

What can we worship God for? Sometimes, when we’ve been in the prophets, the answer is usually “That God was so patient and gave so many warnings.” Now that we’re in the first few chapters of Luke, the answer is usually “For sending Jesus to save us.” Sometimes the answer is different, but it’s no problem to worship God for the same things over and over again–in fact, it’s right to do so. Once answered, we pray and praise God based on what we saw in the passage–even if it’s simply for preserving the genealogy of Christ (which is pretty amazing when you think about it). Sometimes there may not be an obvious answer. When we were in the middle of Job as a family, it was admittedly hard to find any answer from the text–so we felt Job’s desolation a bit but worshipped God anyway.

What can we do with what we have learned? This is where we pay attention to the right response(s) to what we have read. Sometimes it is simply to worship as we did in the second question. Sometimes there is a command that we ought to obey. Sometimes there is something for which we ought to be thankful, something that ought to amaze us, something that ought to cause us to care for others, an example to follow or an example not to follow.

Now, these questions aren’t magical. They’re just the tools we have used for discussing the Bible as a family and for attempting to respond to it properly. Sometimes the kids are fully engaged and wow us with their insight. But sometimes the kids aren’t super excited to answer. Sometimes we get blank stares. But we don’t read the Bible and ask the questions in order to get perfect responses from our kids. We do it so that they are regularly interacting with the Scriptures and learning by modeling how to respond to them. It’s not perfect, but it is worthwhile. We are planting seeds.

Other Applications and Resources

The seeds we plant in Family Bible Time are watered by a lot of other practices and experiences.

We pray together as a family before meals and before bed. We try to remember to include intercession: to pray for neighbors, friends, family members, etc–sometimes on a weekly rotation so we don’t forget (but let’s be honest, we sometimes forget and go for long stretches with just basic bedtime prayers).

We have also made sure to include Bible time for our children to enjoy independently, even from a very early age by listening: Dove Tales (with cassettes–yes, we inherited these from my in-laws), Jesus Story Book Bible (with CDs), and a dramatized audio Bible from Faith Comes by Hearing. Now that our boys are 11 and 9, they are expected to read a chapter of the Bible first thing in the morning before coming downstairs for breakfast. This doesn’t mean it always happens, but that’s the goal and the general habit.

We’ve also enjoyed watching videos by The Bible Project–edifying for parent and child alike.

This emphasis on the Word of God being integrated into all of life means that it also influences our school day–just not in the graded-Bible-curriculum sort of way.

We read church history: Little Lights Biographies (for very young children, from a Christian seller), Christian Biographies for Young Readers (from a Christian seller), and Trial and Triumph (from a Christian seller).

We read aloud some theological books for children: A Faith to Grow On, Sammy and His Shepherd, The Attributes of God for Kids (from a Christian seller), and The Ology (from a Christian seller). As the kids grow older, their school reading list will include many Christian books that encourage them to walk with God and know Him more deeply.

We have listened and sung along with scriptures put to music: Hide ’em in Your Heart and Seeds Family Worship.

We have enjoyed singing many hymns in our Morning Time (currently singing along with this channel), and we have also enjoyed music by Sovereign Grace Kids (from a Christian seller). Even as adults, when we listen to music with lyrics, we generally choose music that is spiritually edifying. Our kids take this in as well.

The Scriptures inform the other books we choose–and how we read them–whether literature, tales, history, poetry, nature, etc.

The Scriptures make it into our kids’ copy work and dictation, too (that’s language arts).

Keeping It Real

We don’t do all of these things all the time. The most regular parts of our every day life are family Bible time, listening to hymns and other spiritual songs, family prayer, and good discussions on all kinds of things as we go about our days together. And these discussions aren’t just aimed at our kids. My husband and I discuss books, current events, and so many things with each other, seeking to apply God’s Word and His wisdom to everything we encounter. Our kids are audience to these adult conversations, too.

The aim is holistic, not check-list driven. And it is gloriously free from pressure to “get through it” on any kind of annual school schedule (thank God!).

The point of this post isn’t to say we’ve got it down, nor to set any kind of expectation for anyone else. The point is to demonstrate the many ways in which we can spiritually nurture and disciple our children–without boxed curriculum. And to remind all of us (myself included) that we may sow seeds, but the Lord causes the growth. Our dependence upon Him is central to our efforts at training up our children in the ways of the Lord.

All of the things we do have begun as small habits. A little here, a little there. If you are just starting to bring Scripture into your home and homeschool, don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed. Pick one thing. One habit that you and your children can enjoy. Plant a seed. And then another. Water where you can. The Lord causes the growth.

I hope this post has helped to somewhat answer the “What do you use for Bible curriculum?” question. It’s not a short answer, but I hope it may encourage some to think outside that proverbial box … of curriculum. 😉

How do you nurture your children in God’s Word? What resources have you found helpful?

Other posts in this series (so far):

Why We Homeschool: Our Top Seven Reasons

How We Homeschool: Hello, Charlotte. Hello, Classical.

Five Intentions for Christmas Break

Tags

, , , ,

Today marks the first day of Christmas Break for my family. My husband is off for the next two weeks (which has never happened before!), and the kids and I are off from school. Over breakfast we discussed what we want to do with our holiday time off—but the notes we took down didn’t turn out like your typical Christmas Break Bucket List…

My husband and I are both project-oriented people. We’ve been building mental to-do lists for the coming “break” for a couple of months. So our family’s little exercise could have easily turned into another one of mama and papa’s project lists—without much room for margin.

That’s why my husband had us start our breakfast planning session with more general intentions: How do we want the next two weeks to feel? Not just, what do we want to do, but how do we go about it? What atmosphere are we trying to achieve?

This turned out to be a great place to start, guiding our hearts before drawing up schedules.

christmas break bucket list five intentions

Here are our intentions for Christmas break in five words: Celebratory, Connected, Contemplative, Peaceful, Prepared.

Celebratory  You would think that celebration ought to go without saying (and maybe that’s why it was the first word to come to mind!), but it’s easy to forget that a lot of our chores during this season have celebration as their goal. We want all our doing to be consistent with festivity, with celebration, with joy!

Connected  The people God has put in our path are important. Family and friends near and far, neighbors, our local church—we want to strengthen these connections, sharing with them the joy of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Contemplative  Amid the hustle and bustle, we want to take time to listen, read, learn, and consider. To think deeply, to pay attention. To share what we’re learning and thinking in a leisurely manner with one another.

Peaceful  It’s good to be reminded that our break is not just an opportunity to get more work done! Even while we still want to tackle a few projects (especially between Christmas and New Year’s), we know we need to slow down. To rest. To be still. And to come at all our work and activities from a place of rest rather than rush.

Prepared  We want to both enjoy the fruit of our labor (by being prepared for things in a timely manner) and enjoy the preparing process itself. We can enjoy the process if we remember that our preparations—of food, cards, gifts, etc—enable us to better celebrate and connect with others. And taking the time to calm our hearts, by contemplating the meaning of Christmas, we can more meaningfully engage in the work—even when it seems tedious or overwhelming. Making room for rest is as much a part of our preparation as all of the physical logistics.

It’s been fun to rethink our to-do list in light of these intentions! Making Christmas cookies and taking them to friends becomes an opportunity to connect, to share in celebration, to provide scripture on a card for contemplation! Our meeting over breakfast this morning was an important part of preparation for the coming weeks, so that we could set our hearts and then plan our days accordingly. Our Advent devotional listening to Handel’s Messiah invites us to contemplate the life of Christ as we sip eggnog together on the couch (connection). The kids are preparing Christmas songs on the piano, and we’ve been memorizing Mary’s Magnificat, providing contemplative and celebratory riches to share with friends and family—some in person, and some virtually. Even activities like hiking and cleaning and reading and playing board games and finishing up a few random projects take on fresh new color when we consider how they work toward the intentions we have stated.

As we’ve thought over our list today, we’ve also realized that each of these intentions are a part of our devotion to Jesus during this season. We are celebrating the birth of Christ, seeking to stay connected to Him in prayer and in the Word, contemplating what it means for God to become man, thankful for the peace that comes because our sins are forgiven in Jesus. And we are preparing our hearts to welcome the new born King—as a reenactment of history but also as a foretaste of things to come. The King will come again, and we must be prepared to receive Him.

May every heart prepare Him room…

Merry Christmas!

What are your intentions for your holiday season? What kind of atmosphere are you aiming to cultivate?

Cyber Monday Homeschool and Homemaking Deals [expired]

Tags

, , , , , ,

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. 

This is not at all an exhaustive list, but I wanted to pass on a few deals for things that I myself use and deeply appreciate!

Prodigies Music has steep discounts on memberships during their Cyber Monday Sale [sale is now over]. As a reader of Kept and Keeping, you can get an additional 5% off with coupon code KEPT.
Our family has enjoyed the Lifetime Membership for four years now! We started learning on desk bells and are now dabbling in recorder, ukulele, and piano! The Prodigies team keeps adding more colorful sheet music and more fun instructional videos. My family’s music education library keeps growing and growing!

Playing a Right Start Math Game
Exploring Geometric Solids

Right Start Math is having a sale on gently used curriculum, manipulatives and instructional/tutoring kits [sale now over]. We’ve used Right Start in our homeschool for over six years, and it is giving my kids a fantastic, hands-on foundation for understanding and enjoying math. If you’re not sure if this program is for you, they have tutoring kits that you can use to supplement your child’s math education or use to get a feel for how Right Start teaches math–it is different, but I have found it is worth it!

Grace & Truth Books

Check out Cyber Monday discounts at Grace and Truth Books–a great source for Christian books. We have especially enjoyed the Little Lights Biographies (for early elementary school) and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series (for upper elementary) in our homeschool. They also carry Teaching from Rest–a great encouragement for Mom!

Mystie Winckler over at Simply Convivial is offering her Homemaking 101 Course for only $17 (regularly $36) [sale over]. All of Mystie’s courses are such a blessing. This Homemaking 101 course is practical and purposeful but definitely NOT perfectionistic! You’ll find real Christian encouragement for managing and enjoying your home, not someone else’s.

Thanksgiving: A Holiday Made for Unsettling Times

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

We’re all familiar with the modern traditions surrounding Thanksgiving in America: parade, family, turkey, football, pumpkin pie, and …shopping like maniacs the following day.

We may even take a few moments to give thanks or remember that iconic feast shared by the Pilgrims and American Indians nearly 400 years ago.

But for most of us, our understanding of the holiday doesn’t go much deeper than that.

And now it’s 2020.

We’re living in a pandemic, watching tensions mount between different groups of Americans, and trying to see straight in the aftermath of a vicious and confusing presidential election.

For some of us, this Thanksgiving may look like holidays-as-usual. We’ll gather with all the family, thankful for our health and thankful that our state hasn’t locked us down again.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

For others, we may begrudge the restrictions in place that cramp our traditions–or maybe we’ll voluntarily cancel trips and gatherings.

For still others, there’ll be at least one empty chair at the table. A chair that was warm just last week.

We Americans have some common experiences this year in that we’re seeing history unfold before our eyes more than we usually care to.

In light of this, I’d like to share a peek into the past that I have found encouraging. Thanksgiving is indeed a holiday made for unsettling times. There are three key moments in Thanksgiving history that can help us to understand both the holiday and our place in the story today: the colonial period, the founding of our nation, and the Civil War.

Thanksgiving in the Colonial Period

The colonial period of American history involves a complex interplay of different people groups and different motivations. The Native Americans consisted of various different tribes and customs while the Europeans likewise were represented by explorers and settlers from Spain, France, England, and Holland.

There could be peace or war in any and all directions.

There could be prosperity or famine and plague.

There could be–and there was–kidnapping of Native American youth to be sold as slaves in Europe.

Against this tumultuous backdrop, the coming of the English Pilgrims and their warm and life-saving reception by Squanto and the Wampanoag Indians radiates hope for peace and provision in the midst of very uncertain times.

It’s also an incredible picture of forgiveness: Squanto was one of those youths stolen from his home and sold as a slave in Europe. He escaped to England and eventually made it home to find that his people had been wiped out by plague. What had been done to him was terribly wrong and deplorable. But in the process, he acquired the English language and faith in Christ.

What was the Pilgrim’s response to this incredible provision of practical help and a mediator with the native people? They set aside time to celebrate a harvest feast, giving thanks to God for His protection and provision–even after nearly half of their company had died in the previous year. Their neighbors, the Indians whom God had used to preserve them, joined them in the feast.

Giving Thanks for a New Nation

Let’s fast-forward 160 years to the first proclamation of a national “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789. The fledgling United States of America had won their independence from Britain just a few years earlier in 1783, the Constitution had just been peacefully ratified in 1787, and President George Washington, with a nudge from both houses of Congress, saw fit to give thanks.

Washington’s three-paragraph proclamation begins by recognizing “the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” He continues to summarize reasons for a day of thanksgiving and prayer before dedicating the remaining two paragraphs to 1) a call to thanksgiving and 2) a call to prayer. I highly recommend you take the time to read Washington’s address in its entirety here.

As you read, you’ll find an aim at uniting as a people around both thanksgiving and prayer. You might be surprised to find no reference to the pilgrims. And you might also be surprised to find that the call to prayer includes a call to plead for forgiveness:

…that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions…

There’s a lot more food for thought here than “pilgrims” and “family” and “football.”

Before we jump ahead in time, I think it’s important to recognize that the Pilgrims and George Washington alike were not perfect people, nor were they living in perfect times. The early days of our American republic set the stage for the drama that we’re about to discuss–by raising the standard of liberty while simultaneously failing to fully apply its ideals. While their blind spots are tragic (just as our own are today), they gave us the language with which we have continued to pursue liberty and justice for all throughout the following two centuries. To mock at their ideals and their giving of thanks is to cut ourselves off from the very things we ought to bring forward.

With that in mind, let’s look at the third moment of Thanksgiving history for our consideration today: the Civil War.

Thanks and Praise in the Midst of War

While Washington made the first presidential proclamation of thanksgiving, and while pockets of Americans (particularly in New England) celebrated a thanksgiving feast from year to year, President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 was the first in what would become a continuous string of thanksgiving proclamations by US presidents up until our times.

Sarah Josepha Hale, best known for writing “Mary had a Little Lamb,” had been writing to presidents for decades, pleading with them to create a national thanksgiving holiday; and for decades she was ignored. When she sent a letter to President Lincoln, however, she found a listening ear.

Within a week Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Thanksgiving–nine months after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and one month before delivering his Gettysburg Address–and smack in the middle of a war that would become a five-year scar on the face of American history.

Lincoln’s proclamation (actually written by his Secretary of State, William Seward), contains only one substantial paragraph, weaving back and forth between poetic consideration of blessings from “the ever watchful providence of Almighty God” and the context of “a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.”

Of the blessings listed he declares: “They are all the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Like Washington’s proclamation 74 years earlier, Lincoln’s call to thanksgiving and prayer is not without reference to sin. In fact, after inviting all Americans to unite for this purpose on the last Thursday of November, he continues:

 …I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity [sic] and Union.

The Civil War saw more American casualties than all other wars combined up until the Vietnam War about a century later. The need to remember “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” was palpable.

And while there is always more than one motivation at play on either side of such a conflict, it is undeniable that the continued enslavement of Africans and black Americans played a central role. It’s not at all a stretch to read this cause into “our national perverseness and disobedience,” and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address makes this soberingly clear.

It would be nice to be able to tie this up with a pretty bow. To demonstrate that changed laws and a presidential proclamation of thanks, prayer, repentance, and a call to unity could indeed make all things right.

But Lincoln was shot. And his expressed desire for repentance and healing left unrealized.

And there’s no reason to believe that had Lincoln lived to serve his second term repentance and healing would have come any more easily. These kinds of changes start in hearts not heads of state.

Bringing it Home

So here we are now. Twenty-twenty has been quite a year. But we aren’t alone in facing “unprecedented times.” These are the things history is made of.

I believe we can better find our place in that story if we remember where we’ve come from, if we remember that what is true and good is worth pursuing in any age, and if we repudiate the cynicism and resentment that work against these ends.

In a holiday season thrown off balance and stripped of some of its usual charm, may we look back to find our bearings and the traditions that are most important.

In the face of a pandemic and its associated isolation, may we remember “widows, orphans, mourners [and] sufferers.”

In a social climate rife with vitriol, may we “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation.”

In the fierce clamor for control of the political sphere, may we seek the “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience” that comes from the work of God in the hearts of individuals who look to Providence more than presidents.

What human beings on this continent have needed in 1621 and 1789 and 1863 is the same as what we need today: hearts humble before God and man, hearts that are quick to repent of sin–in all its forms–and do what is necessary to truly love our neighbor. Our Thanksgiving holiday, both in history and today, is an invitation to practice that humility and cultivate that love.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sources to explore:

https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/thanksgiving-proclamation-of-1789/

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-proclaims-official-thanksgiving-holiday

https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving

http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-casualties

Further reading on this blog:

The Poverty of Pragmatic Gratitude and the Riches of True Thanksgiving

Remember and Rejoice: Thanksgiving Meditations from the Book of Deuteronomy