Materialism, Faith, and the Heart of the Matter

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I tend to be swayed, not by the arguements of atheists, but by their habits of mind. Just going on autopilot I end up living out my “Christian routine” with a heart set on this world, as though this were all there is.

Materialism in the existential sense gets hold of me by way of materialism in the pragmatic sense.

I slip into a callousness to spiritual things quite easily when distracted by my own work, relationships, etc–and by the many voices to which I daily choose to expose myself.

But they aren’t voices making logical arguments. They’re voices saying, “You want this” or “You need that” or “This is urgent” or “important” or “valuable”.

These voices slip in by emotional or physical appeal and sheer force of influence. And I let them in without thinking because they come at me so fast and so many that my defenses are worn down. Viewing and deleting an email advertizing more make-up from the brand I prefer seems harmless, but when I deal with ten such emails a day, plus ads and other people’s posts on Facebook and Instagram, every image and urging builds in me more and more of a materialistic worldview. Circumventing my reason in a sheer battle of attrition, they go straight for the heart.

It’s hard not to be a default materialist in a world of constant consumerism.

But when I examine my hands–real, tangible, sensory things–and consider that these real, non-digital hands can bend and move and twist and point and snap and anything else I might think of the moment I think of it, I can’t hlep but marvel at the ingenuity.

Not mine, of course, but God’s.

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Ah, but it takes a very intentional pause from my daily routine and my daily news and email feeds to be able to remind myself that I am not a materialist.

Every time I stop long enough to examine that perspective, to try it on, if you will, I find it utterly untenable. I don’t beleive that what I see is all there is. I don’t believe my hand, with all its precision and dexterity, could have come about by mere chance. It’s too beautifully and brilliantly crafted. Like a machine, only so much more than a machine. Like a work of art, only so much more than a work of art.

So why this disconnect between what I know to be true (not just in my heart of hearts, as the expression goes, but in my most clear-headed moments of the mind) and the flying on agnostic-at-best autopilot? Why this practical atheism?

While I could again mention the nature of our modern world, it seems this is a human problem afflicting the ancient world as well. Why else would the Apostle Paul find it necessary to exhort his readers to “keep seeking the things above” if not for the fact that it is so darn easy to fall for lesser things?

Worldliness, idolatry, and the patterns of thinking and behaving characteristic of each are not a new enemy of faith and reason.

Col 3 Materialism Faith Heart of the Matter

It’s hard to set your mind on these things when you’ve sated your senses on the world, leaving no room–and no taste–left for the things above. Even this time of meditation and writing has not been entered into without a struggle.

But it started with prayer. Or rather with fighting for it. And praise–though I have to admit I’ve been out of that practice as well, outside of the usual routine.

Trying to pray and praise when your heart is cold–and because you know that your heart is cold–is an uncomfortable and difficult place to be. But, praise God, He met me in that place and is answering my cries for help to pray and to praise Him.

I started off praying, “God is good,” etc, while wondering inside whether I actually cared.

If He is real and He is good, then I ought to care. The dullness I felt on the matter led me to examine my hands and question my base assumptions, and finally come out aright again.

He is real. He is there. He is good. He is personal. He is a magnificent, intelligent Creator.

Yes, I care about those things. Yes, I want to know Him. Yes, He is worthy of praise.

That may not amount to a deep theology, but it is the foundation for everything else, at least in my experience. All the details of salvation are moot points if I’m not sure about spiritual reality to begin with.

But once I am, all the rest of it matters.

 

 

 

The Homeschool Review: Summer 2018

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It’s time for another homeschool review post in which I give you a peak into what homeschooling looks like in our very real day-to-day life.

Springing into Summer

Summer is officially here now, though we’ve been relishing summertime activities for a good month-and-a-half already.  You might as well when you live in the south, right?

This is our third year of gardening, and it’s our best yet. We decided not to start seedlings indoors this year, since we neither have room for this nor success in hardening plants. That’s made for a much easier time just planting cucumber, lettuce, spinach, carrot, and green bean seeds directly in the soil.

lettuce garden homeschool review summer

We’ve also put in tomato plants and sweet potato slips. The boys helped with the process and we’ve all enjoyed harvesting the lettuce and spinach before it died off or got eaten by deer.

 

We now have cucumbers and tomatoes aplenty and anticipate we’ll be learning to can this summer!

 

Along with regular work outside and chores inside we kept at schooling consistently through all of April and half of May. Activities always tend to pick up in the late spring, and this year has been no exception. We attended the Red Fern Festival in Tahlequah, OK;

homeschool review summer spring red fern festival

the kids and I started attending a once-a-month Archeology and Plant-Use History class an hour from home;

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our Schole Sisters group continued meeting once a month—twice at a park and once for swimming this quarter; there was our homeschool group’s curriculum share, where I got to take a peak at other people’s favorite curriculum and win a few items to use next year; I helped coach a group of little girls at a local running clinic, which culminated with a 5K in mid-May; and Nathaniel and I were once again in charge of our homeschool group’s Field Day event, which also took place in mid-May, meaning the time leading up to it (basically this whole period I’m reflecting on) had its fair share of planning and delegating going on.

After Field Day, I needed a break!

I tried crunching numbers to see what kind of break I could justify while at the same time wondering about scheduling and planning for the coming year. After working over several ideas I’d seen on interval planning, my husband suggested we start counting out weeks from January (to keep things simple), and then I can take off a certain amount of time every eight-week period. Doing the math that way, I could see that we’d been pretty faithful through the beginning of 2018, despite quite a bit of sickness. Based on the paradigm we came up with I had 14 days to play around with!

I immediately took ten days off at the end of May. 😊

We kicked off schooling again in June with a morning of blueberry picking and an afternoon of easing back into our regular lessons. The next day we decided to throw Vacation Bible School in the mix! It is summer, after all. 😉

Along with the paradigm shift my husband and I came to, we also firmly decided that we would now school year-round. The schedule we’re working from will give ample time off on a regular basis, and the eight-week terms are fixed on the calendar, so that I can plan material for us to cover in that definite chunk of time. Having had a very unpredictable schedule in the past, this is such a relief to me! I’ll share more about how we’ve got this set up in another post…soon!

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For now we’re continuing on in Right Start Math Levels B and C, First Language Lessons 1 and 2, McGuffey readers, Story of the World volume 2, and lots of good books. I have also introduced a new way to narrate—the boys have been retelling what they’ve read with their Lego minifigures. Suffice it to say, this is a big hit.

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Christopher Robin (the astronaut) is up in a tree looking down at Pooh and saying, “Silly old bear!”

We recently finished reading Pilgrim’s Progress in Morning Time and have now moved on to Archimedes and the Door of Science.  Admittedly, this is a bit beyond my kids, but they were interested, so we’re giving it a go. We’ve also started going through a Health text book that I snagged for free at a curriculum sale. It’s been a good springboard for discussing a topic that we haven’t directly addressed at all yet—and it’s been a good, simple refresher for me on the basics of healthy food and exercise habits.

Over the past few months of family bedtime read-alouds we finished both Swiss Family Robinson and The Phantom Tollbooth. The latter was definitely our favorite of the two. We just began reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, thus arriving at a major childhood milestone: entering into Narnia for the first time.

Our Preschool Prodigies Music lessons are back in the afternoon again, especially since this season we’re needing more time outside in the mornings given the heat we encounter later in the day. In addition to the progression of music lessons with singing and bells, we’re now also starting Recorder Prodigies!

Where we’ve sometimes struggled to get to these wonderful lessons (among other lovely things like art and nature study) after lunch, I recently set up afternoon activity checklists for my kids so that they don’t ask me 4 billion times a day if they can play with Legos yet. Now they have to make sure they’ve done several other activities first.

homeschool afternoon checklist kids

This has been a win on so many levels.

They still love their Legos, but they’re also enjoying a broader variety of fun things now that I don’t let them just automatically default to their favorite interlocking brick system when I can’t think of what else to tell them to do. I’ll post more on this little sanity-saving tweak again soon!

Some of the other activities we’ve enjoyed this quarter have been watching a variety of flowers come up in our wildflower patch, dog sitting, building swings, watching a string quartet concert and a magic show, canoeing and kayaking, keeping track of the different birds we see each season, attending several other live music events in our community, and most recently swimming lessons.

We also caught a luna moth caterpillar last week and it promptly hid itself away in a lettuce leaf and began spinning its silken sleeping bag. We’re eagerly awaiting the change.

Shadows in the Sun

While we’ve had many bright, fun outings and adventures in the past few months, there’s also been a shadow cast upon our days: a shadow of grief.

I wrote last time about how we gave our dog away to friends in February and dealt with sickness and an impending job change in March. Those were trying times in their own right, but things have gotten a bit heavier since.  In April, my in-laws’ dog Freckles, regarded by all in the family as the best dog in the world, died. As we told the boys and all shared tears, they remarked that this was worse than giving Luther away.  At least they knew there was a possibility of seeing Luther again. They understood that Freckles was gone.

Fast forward to the end of May, and we received news that my grandfather, my PopPop, died at home in his recliner. He was 95 years old and his heart just stopped. It was his time. The boys were precious as they tried to take this in, each in their own way. One burst into tears immediately, the other sat quietly as his lip began to quiver. They loved playing games with their Great PopPop. And they knew this was a bigger deal than a dog dying. They knew it would hurt for longer.

And it has. Partly due to the nature of losing a loved one, and partly due to the fact that the Celebration of Life and military burial were scheduled to occur three weeks later, in mid-June. 20180619_144041

Grief is compounded when it is shared. Not in a bad way, it just is. Especially when you finally get to mourn with those who are most deeply affected by the loss. And so we grieved in our own way for three weeks as we waited for our trip down to Texas.

When we finally arrived it was a joy to be with so much of my family—it truly was a good time. But we also grieved together, and that was good, too, but hard. The boys got to pass out programs at the Celebration of Life, looking simultaneously like little gentlemen and silly boys. I know they prompted a lot of smiles as guests arrived.

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What does any of this have to do with homeschooling?

Well, everything.

And no, I’m not referring to the “learning experience” of getting to see a National Cemetery and witnessing the giving of military honors, as though I’d try to reduce something so momentous to the level of a field trip.

If the goal of education is character formation and ordering the affections–learning to care about what is worthy of our care–these times of growing and grieving together are at the core of the curriculum. A curriculum we didn’t choose, mind you, but one we follow nonetheless.

I can see God’s hand in our lives preparing my boys for the new and difficult experiences they have faced so far in 2018. And I can see how He has been building us up as parents so that we can gently lead our children through hard times.

I marveled that the boys were wrestling with the loss of dogs in Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows prior to experiencing those same emotions in real life. And the loss of beloved animals paved the way for grasping and bearing the loss of a dearly-loved great-grandfather. All the while, Nathaniel and I have gotten lots of practice not only at grieving ourselves, but of walking with others through grief—and especially with our children. It’s new territory for us, as well.

This has everything to do with homeschooling because our schooling has everything to do with living out this life together with our children until we launch them into whatever may come when they are grown. The literature they read isn’t just for practicing literacy. It’s helping their little hearts and minds prepare for real-world challenges. The time at home with us isn’t just so that we can shield them from harm or bad influences. It’s an opportunity for us to walk with them in these formative years, guiding them and encouraging them as they learn to navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of life.

It’s easy to get lost in the seemingly endless number of lessons we have scheduled. A man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. We get to spend our days in God’s classroom with the children He has given us and with the freedom to respond to the lessons He chooses.

What’s He teaching in your homeschool lately?

Dear PopPop

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My grandfather passed away on Sunday evening, May 27th.  I have been processing the grief, gratitude, and flood of other emotions this week in many different ways; this is one of them.  

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At Christmas, 2017

Dear PopPop,

There are many in the wider world outside our family who I expect can offer grand and wonderful stories and accolades for your life’s accomplishments, and I intend to soak up every single one of them.

But while some have called you “Captain”, “friend”, and “hero”, there are very few people–three to be exact–who know the distinct honor of calling you “PopPop”. My most treasured thoughts of you will always be through a child’s eyes.

20180531_140545.jpgYou have been a constant in my life from the day I was born, a rock in our family. A year has not gone by that I haven’t seen you at least once, if not many more times.

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My first Christmas, 1984

 

You were always faithful to make a child smile–with magic tricks, golf-cart rides, jokes, story-telling, homemade rootbeer, pretending–and sometimes NOT pretending–to steal the food off our plates, playing pool and card games, the “shlabashka”, references to the “huntin’ lodge” and scrapple, homemade cookies and peanut brittle, and making sure each grandchild had a few quarters to take home every time they left your house.

Your Navy uniforms and plaques haven’t lost their glow in my imagination, and I still look on your many beautiful paintings with big, 5-year-old eyes, inlcuding the one that hangs in my kitchen today.

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“How does he do that?”

Grandfathers have a way of being larger-than-life to their grandkids, and PopPop, you are no exception.

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You and Grandma attended every one of my softball games that you possibly could. And graduation. And my wedding.

And I’m so thankful that in recent years my two boys have had the privelege to know you, though some of the old antics have been replaced by games of “hide and seek”:  you clanking your way around the house with your cane or walker while the boys picked out terribly obvious hiding places. You always found them. They always found you. Their boyish giggles and unhindered smiles rivaled only by your own.

2016 Christmas in November (5)Just as you did when I was a kid, you always tried to make sure your great-grandkids went home with quarters in their pockets–only this time there was the chance of getting a double helping since you might forget you’d passed them out already.

Watching you with my own children has helped to keep my child-eyes open. I still see you in awe and wonder with a heaping dose of playfulness and fun.

And while we commit you to the Lord’s keeping, honestly not quite ready to let you go, we hold tight to every precious memory and give thanks for the 95 years of life you were given on this earth. I’m especially thankful for the last 33 of them.

I love you, PopPop. And I miss you.

Love,
The Pumpkin

An Honest Blog Post

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Well, friends, I seem to be at an impasse.

I have so many ideas spinning around in my head that I can’t seem to get any of them out on paper (or in pixels) in any way that makes sense or can be tied up with a pretty bow fit for a blog post.

starbucks writing blank page blog

Some things I have the writing for but no pictures, and some things I have pictures for but nothing written. Other things are half-written or half-baked.

Despite the fact that I’ve been working hard to catch up on many of my real-life responsibilities–and have been quite successful, praise the Lord–I still can’t seem to get my writing out-put to match my intentions.

What does this mean for the blog? Well, not a whole lot, really. I have no intentions of quitting. On the contrary, I have felt a lot of upward momentum in terms of the ideas I have that would be fun, encouraging, and hopefully helpful.

But having more ideas has only lead so far to further decision fatigue and my writing productivity has fizzled out.

My goal has been to post to the blog twice a month. It’s not a lofty goal, but it’s been difficult to crank out even as my own ideas and expectations are eager for even more.

I’ve sat here at Starbucks for an hour attempting to work on one particular writing project to no avail, so instead of trying to force something beautiful when it isn’t happening, I’m writing this post from precisely where I’m at.

Ending sentences with prepositions and all.

I’ve heard this is life as a writer sometimes. It doesn’t come easily. It takes work. And sometimes the most necessary work is simply to start writing, whatever comes.

Well, here you have it.

Nothing crafted, nothing planned. Except perhaps a slice of humble pie which the Lord is serving as a side to all of my grand ideas.

Honestly, as I take a bite, I think it tastes better than I would have thought. It’s refreshing, at the least, to know that even when the page I wanted to write is either empty or jumbled beyond sorting out, the Lord is at work in me to accomplish something better than my own plans.

Perhaps in being honest with myself and with you, my readers–in this post that is neither planned nor pollished–I’ll be free to begin to really write.

I hope you’ll stick around to see what comes of it. Somehow I don’t think the wait will be long.

God bless.

 

 

40 Things I Love More than the Internet

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The interenet is a blessed tool of information-hounding and long-distance connecting. But if we’re honest, we know it can literally suck the life and love out of our day-to-day existance.

Whether it’s bouncing from one interesting article to another, scrolling through a newsfeed, browsing a slew of pins and pictures, or succombing to the seemingly endless litany of emails, private messages, and texts that come at us, we have to be intentional to pull away from it all in order to enjoy moments of fully present, unplugged living.

That’s what prompted me to list all the things I love more than the internet. As though I have to be reminded, right? But I’m finding that I do. And it helps.

40 things love more than internet list unplugged

If the way I choose to spend my time doesn’t reflect the things I love most, something’s amiss. This list will look different from person to person, but I hope what I’ve come up with will be relatable and at least get the juices flowing for exploring what you think is worth unplugging for.

The top ten are people–my people–because while the internet does often help to connect us with others, it can also distract us from those with whom we ought to be most concerned (read: who should receive our greatest love and attention).

  1. My husband

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    Credit: Capturette Photos

  2. My kids

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    Credit:  Capturette Photos

  3. My parents
  4. My brother
  5. My grandparents
  6. My other extended family
  7. My in-laws
  8. My church family
  9. My friends
  10. My neighbors
  11. Reading a book with real pages

    A person reading a book under a blanket

    Credit:  Alice Hampson

  12. Writing, especially with a pen
  13. Running
  14. Walking
  15. Biking
  16. Hiking
  17. Creating something tastyIMG_0002.JPG
  18. Sharing something tasty
  19. Journaling (Bullet or otherwise)
  20. Drawing
  21. Singing
  22. Teaching
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  24. Live Music
  25. Shared Meals
  26. Deep Conversations
  27. Organizing
  28. Storm Watching
  29. Playing Games
  30. Camping/Backpacking20170916_102750.jpg
  31. Taking a hot bath or shower
  32. Literally stopping to smell the roses (or any other lovely flower)DSC_0029.JPG
  33. Thinking my own thoughts
  34. Quiet moments on the front porch
  35. Book Store Browsing
  36. Hand-written letters
  37. Deep Breathing
  38. People Watching
  39. Planning and Problem Solving
  40. Not being behind on financial record keeping (or other area of life management)

    Credit: Oleksii Hlembotskyi

The internet may at times be a means to some of these ends, but it is not one of the ends itself. That distinction is an important one to keep in view.

What I’ve listed above are wonderful but temporal things. Let’s not forget the transcendent, the eternal. As a Christian, the greatest privelege I have is knowing God through the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the good gifts of this life (many of which are listed above) come from Him and are vehicles through which I can appreciate and adore Him.

Beyond (or should I say above?) these things, seeking the Lord in prayer, worship, meditation, and Bible study are to the spiritual life what eating and breathing are to the physical. And while the internet does indeed provide tools that can enhance these activities, it is at best no replacement and at worst can rob these pursuits of the quiet that is necessary for discerning God’s voice above any and all others.

So what about you?  What do you love more than the internet?

If you would like to dive deeper into this subject, I highly recommend 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke.  It’s a fantastic read.

Wisdom in the Book of James

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I’ve recently begun a Bible study in the book of James. Unlike other guided studies which lean heavily on leading questions, this one focuses primarily on prayerfully engaging with the Word of God itself–allowing the Holy Spirit to be the only intermediary. It’s been a blessing to shut out other voices and tune into God’s voice alone speaking through the pen of James the brother of Jesus.

letter book of james proverbs wisdom bible study

One of the earliest themes to arrise in this epistle is that of wisdom. Muddy-headed from an exhausting week and not-quite-enough sleep, when I came to my bible time this morning I wasn’t sure where to jump in. I read the first few vereses on wisdom, and it hit me–that is just what I need!

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.

Well, that seemed a great place to start.

As I pleaded with the Lord to give me wisdom, I remembered that James deals with it twice in his short letter–in chapters one and three. I thought perhaps I should take a closer look.

Here’s the passage in chapter one:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

And again in chapter three:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Words of Wisdom

I have the book of James printed out so that I can highlight, circle, and underline to my heart’s content. My pages were already marked up before today’s time of study, so I began taking notes in my bullet journal based on patterns and connections I had observed previously.

wisdom book of james bible study

Jotting down all the words associated with wisdom in the book of James proved to be very helpful.  Some are prerequisites, like recognizing our lack of it, having faith in God’s goodness and unchanging nature, and asking Him for the wisdom we so desperately need. We can also see very clearly wisdom’s source: “from above”.

Many of the rest of the positive statements about wisdom help us to understand what it produces. Good conduct. Meekness. Purity. Peaceableness. Gentleness. Reasonableness. Mercy. Good fruits. Impartiality. Sincerity. Righteousness. These aren’t too far afield of the fruit of the spirit, now are they? It struck me just how relational most of these words are. Some uses of the word wisdom in the Old Testament imply doing things with skill. It seems a big part of what wisdom is in the book of James involves skillfully (and righteously) relating to other people.

There are also a few things we can discover about wisdom that aren’t directly stated. Since doubt and a lack of wisdom produce instability (James 1:5-6), we can infer that faith and wisdom produce stability, so that we aren’t tossed about by every wave. This has immediate relevance to how we hold up in times of trial and testing (that’s the context of these verses!).

Later in chapter three, we learn that two of the characteristics that are opposed to wisdom, jealousy and selfish ambition, lead to disorder, allowing us to infer that true wisdom will lead to order. I can’t help but relate this to the classical concept of ordering the affections, meaning this has much more to do with how our hearts are alligned (read: what we love most) than with the amount of clutter in our homes (though it’s wise to stay on top of that, too). Godly wisdom will help us to prioritize, and as we can see from the words James uses in this letter, people are higher on the list than things.

Many of the words James uses in chapter three illustrate what wisdom is not. These are every bit as instructive as the positive list–perhaps even more so considering how easy it is for us to assume we have wisdom by simply agreeing with its propositions. This intellectual assent can blind us to the ways in which our lives demonstrate the very opposite of godly wisdom. Spend some time with this list of what wisdom isn’t and ask yourself the question James posed to his readers: “Who among you is wise and understanding?”

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Wisdom Hits Home

This little letter is humbling. But that’s a good thing. It reminds us to throw ourselves on the grace of God offered to us through Jesus Chirst, seeking Him as we plead for wisdom to live in a way that’s worthy of the gospel.

As this exhortation meets my daily life, I know I need to be grounded in the foundational truth that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Also, consistent with James chapter three’s focus on taming the tongue, it’s good to remember the example laid down in Proverbs 31:26: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” My husband and children have a front-row seat to my application of godly wisdom. When it’s lacking, they feel the effects of it.

book of james wisdom proverbs

Ultimately, what I see in the book of James is this: To be wise and understanding is to be like Christ. Jesus is the answer to James’ question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?”

Seeking wisdom merely for our own benefit or as an intellectual exercise misses the point.

The heart of wisdom outlined in James chapters one and three speaks to every other issue in the epistle: trials, temptation, relating to others in either anger or peace, doing rather than just hearing the word of God, keeping ourselves unstained by the world, not showing partiality, putting hands and feet to our profession of faith by loving others in deed and truth, using words appropriately, loving the eternal God rather than the temporal world, using our money to bless others rather than take advantage of them, being humble before God and others, submitting plans to the Lord’s will, waiting for the day of the Lord, and praying for and lifting up the lowly.

Whew!  You bet I need God’s wisdom and grace for these things!

Seems to me that at the end of the letter of James, we ought to circle back around to the beginning:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach.”

Our good, gracious, dependable God will answer this prayer. He’s the one who has invited us to pray it, after all.

 

What have you been learning from the Word lately?

The Homeschool Review: Spring 2018

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

Ever wondered what homeschooling looks like in our family? Here’s a peak into what we’ve been up to since ringing in the New Year.  Since this is the first post of its kind, I’ll include a bit more detail about our usual daily routine.  Just make sure you scroll to the end to find out about some of our more exciting learning adventures since they don’t quite fit into a “usual day”.  😉

A Graceful Start

This semester began much like fall of 2017–with me landing on my rear.  Literally.  There’s just something about that first day back to school that makes me miss my step, aparently.  Or maybe it has something to do with fuzzy socks on a carpeted staircase at dark-thirty in the morning.  At least I wear shoes to go down my stairs now.

At any rate, once I’ve picked myself up off of the floor at the bottom of the staircase and limped into the kitchen to make coffee, our day moves along fairly smoothly:  from quiet time for the parents, to breakfast and Proverbs as a family, then to chores and personal Bible time for the kiddos (while Mama gets her homeschool game face on).

My boys have enjoyed listening to The Jesus Storybook Bible and the free dramatized audio bible available from Faith Comes by Hearing.  In the past few months, C-age-8 has begun to read about a chapter a day from the New Testament in his own bible, so the transition from bible listening to bible reading is going pretty smoothly so far!

Then there’s this lovely thing called Morning Time.  A dear local mommy friend who’s a little further down the road of motherhood than I am turned me onto this idea several years ago.

Do things together as a family first!  Then split up to do independent work.  That way you’re not having to corral everyone back together multiple times throughout the day and you can start with things you value and enjoy most.  Like prayer, music, poetry, a fun read-aloud…

 

I latched on to this idea and went searching the interwebs, eventually finding further inspiration from Pam Barnhill’s Your Morning Basket podcast and resources (and she has a new book available on the topic if you’re interested!).

homeschool morning time books

That groundwork having been laid and tested over the past couple of years, we usually start out our school day with lighting a candle, going over our calendar and plans for the day, prayer, singing a hymn, reciting from our memory work binder, poetry reading, and currently reading aloud from Story of the World Volume 2 and a children’s adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress.

This week, I’ve also re-attached our Preschool Prodigies Music lessons as well as 5-10 minutes of Spanish to our Morning Time routine.  I tried to shorten Morning Time by moving these things to the afternoon, but found that they simply didn’t get done!

music lessons homeschool

Confession: there have been many days in the past quarter that I have skipped Morning Time to dive right into math because we were just short on time, but I have been finding lately that when life has gotten heavy and my energy reserves are running thin, starting the day with Morning Time ministers to my soul, helping me to take a deep breath, enjoy the time with my kids, and humbly move forward with my heart more focused on the Lord.

Turns out biblical truth and delightful learning are a great way to start the day.

The Three R’s

Moving on to math, D-age-6 finished Right Start Math Level B in February and has moved on to Level C after a well-earned week of playing math games.

homeschool math games right start

My older son, C-age-8, is half way through Level D, currently working on mastering multiplication facts and applying them to solving area problems.

homeschool right start math area

As for me, I’m learning to read ahead in our math books and plan our lessons accordingly.  This subject has been the hardest for me to keep to short lessons.  Partly because my kids just take longer than expected, and partly because the lessons sometimes require two days rather than the one day suggested by the book (or more realistically speaking, the one day expected by their mother).

I started out last semester working with a timer, keeping our math lessons to 20-30 minutes.  That worked well until I stopped using the timer (oops).  This quarter, I still haven’t been using the timer so much, but I am learning to repent of the pride that drives me to want to push my kids further and faster.

I’m teaching my kids, not a lesson.  This is not a race.  Our math curriculum itself is built upon understanding and enjoying math, not racing through to the next thing.  Embrace the time it takes to grow.

When I keep things in perspective, it’s a lot easier to see how much work is reasonable for a given day (it’s a lot less than what I used to think!).

For language arts, we’re continuing to work through First Language Lessons levels 1 and 2. My oldest could have been into level 3 by now, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after level 1, so we stalled out for a year.  That means his brother is only one book behind him.  Oh, well!  They’re both learning and enjoying their lessons on basic grammar, poetry, story and art narration, copywork, and dictation for my oldest now in level 2.  I love that this curriculum has been a gentle introduction for me to these classical methods of teaching.

homeschool language arts mcguffey first language lessons

We also have enjoyed these free copywork resources from Simply Charlotte Mason this quarter.  They include scripture, poems, and hymns.

Overlapping a bit of reading and language arts, C-age-8 reads aloud to me from McGuffey’s second reader about once a week, narrates the story to me, and then says and spells the words listed at the end of the lesson.  D-age-6 is reading aloud to me almost daily from McGuffey’s pictorial primer in order to continue progressively practicing his budding reading skills (we used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons to start the process).  I use these readers because they’re progressive, they use older English so that we’re starting out in the direction of classic literature, and because they were hand-me-downs (read: free).

Living Books

Any further discussion of reading blends into everything else we’re learning:  history, literature, nature/science.  C-age-8 has recently finished The Tale of Desperaux, The Secret Garden (with some guided discussion on the ideologies presented), Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Great Brain, Julie of the Wolves, The Little Prince, Because of Winn Dixie, and The Burgess Animal Book, among most of the books in the Boxcar Children series (these are free reads).  I can hardly keep up for record-keeping purposes!  Nathaniel decided to give him a more challenging read to slow things down a bit:  G. A. Henty’s For the Temple, historical fiction covering the Roman sacking of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD.  We just covered this event and the diaspora in Story of the World, so he’s got some points of connection with it already.  He’s also reading a chapter a day in Seabird by Holling C. Holling for geography and natural history.  I ask for him to narrate, or tell back in his own words, what he has read on days when I’m paying attention.  Admittedly, there have been several days (weeks perhaps?) in the past quarter that I have been too busy to ask for a narration for every bit of school reading!

D-age-6 has recently enjoyed moving from Frog and Toad readers to The Boxcar Children and Amelia Bedelia books.  He’s enjoying reading more fluently for himself, but soon I think he’ll be ready for more assigned books.  I think Whinnie the Pooh is in order next.  We’ve read it aloud many times over, so I think he’ll be delighted to read it for himself!

Learning from Life

This section could be a post all its own, so I’ll try to let pictures do most of the talking with a few extra words here and there for things not pictured.

We enjoyed a Little House book club party with a local Charlotte Mason group.

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Exploring historic Ft. Smith after mama read True Grit.

 

 

New strategy games: Risk, Battleship, Ticket to Ride

We took in a stray German Shepherd dog that followed me home last fall–right after the 500th anniversary of Luther posting of his 95 theses, so naturally we named him Luther.  C-age-8 had almost full responsibility for feeding him each day.  There was plenty of character development in caring for a dog, and even more when we decided he needed a family who could care for him even better.  It was hard to let go of Luther since he had been a part of our family for three months and had in that time doubled in size and made it through the coldest winter we’ve had in years.  It was hard to let go, but we all learned a lot and are thankful for the part we had to play as a doggy foster family.

german shepherd dog boys

Hiking in 20 degree weather to see this 95 foot waterfall when it was mostly frozen.  Petit Jean State Park.

petit jean cedar creek falls frozen

Bird poster and Calendar of Firsts helping us to learn to pay attention and take note!

 

Gardening, listening to classical music, watching the ants in our ant farm.

Our four-day backpacking trip on a 24-mile section of the Ouachita Trail in the Winding Stair Mountains of eastern Oklahoma.

 

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Field trips to animal shelters and to learn about hippotherapy (that’s with horses).

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Ice and roller skating and get-togethers with our Schole Sisters group–watercolors, poetry and tea, fish feeding and nature walk.

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Homeschooling through Chaos

The past two months have been a bit crazy.  There were many times I said to my husband, “I just don’t think we can do school next week with all we have going on.”  He gently encouraged me to try.  And we did.  We kept going through sickness (though we did take a week off when it was really bad), a job change and consequent change of insurance and all other such things, two grandmothers in the hospital, a car wreck, among other things.  I think I would have given up somewhere along the way, so I’m thankful for my husband’s gentle encouragement to just keep going.  Like I said above, our scripture and praise-filled Morning Times were a balm to my soul during a such a hectic season.

Up Next

I suppose in terms of the average school year, we should be wrapping things up in about two months.  We plan to keep going with our current routine, and we’ve got some fun activities planned with our homeschool group, including Field Day which my husband and I coordinate.  Should be a fun spring!

How about you?  What’s up in your homeschool world?

Self-Doubt, God-Doubt

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We humans are funny creatures, we can look at our own performance and find it wanting and then look up to the heavens and ask, “God, are you even there?”

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I originally wanted to wax eloquent on this topic, but I’ve recently found myself smack in the middle of it.

Life has been a bit heavy lately.  February brought with it several weeks with a houseguest, an impending but yet-unsettled job change, my grandma in the hospital, and a whooping cough scare in our family and close friends.  Just when things seemed to ease up, there’s more emotional heaviness, my husband’s grandma in the hospital, a running injury, a minor car accident, and my house is a wreck as we prepare for my husband to start working from home.

I can count my blessings, to be sure—the Lord has been good to us.  But the past few days as I’ve been trying to keep up with schooling the boys, supporting others, reorganizing all the things, and nursing my physical injuries, I’ve just come up short.

This out-of-control season, with its full load of stress—good and bad—has gotten to me.

I’m not strong enough to bear it.  I’m not together enough to catch up on the cleaning, the cooking, the financial planning, the interrupted school days, you name it.  It seems there are so many plates spinning and people needing and I’m failing them all.

Yesterday I couldn’t really enjoy anything.  I was dull to any feeling but sadness.  Emotionally needy.  Physically hurting.  Spiritually exhausted.

And my pride doesn’t like the feel of it all.

At times like these it’s easy to get discouraged.  My glaring limitations stare me down, and I allow my personal gloominess to cloud my view of the Sovereign God who loves me.

The truth is, I’m finite.  Limited.  Small.  That’s part of what it means to be a creature in contrast to the Creator.  And while it might shock me at times when I’m faced with my limits, God isn’t surprised.  “He is conscious of [my] frame, He is mindful that [I am] but dust.

But all too often instead of looking up to see the One who is strong for me, I continue to look within and mourn my lack of God-like power over my circumstances.

When my self-confidence wanes, I find my wayward heart can project that same lack of confidence onto the Lord.  Have you ever done the same?

“Things aren’t going my way!  I can’t get control of this!  I can’t seem to get control of myself!  God, are You even there?

That’s not exactly a rational train of thought, is it?

On our good days we might think of ourselves as “independent”, “self-sufficient”, “got-it-together”, “responsible”, “emotionally stable”, and, let’s be honest, just plain “awesome”.

And then when things fall apart, “I’m failing at everything.” “I’m a burden to others.” “I’m a hot mess.”  “I just can’t even.”

Been there?

Sometimes our confidence fails because it was misplaced to begin with.  Sometimes our faith falters because we took our eyes off the Lord long before things went sour.

I’m not necessarily saying the hard times and our failings are caused by this misplaced confidence (though sometimes that might be the case).  What I’m saying is that when our confidence is shaken, it may be that we’re upset with God not because He has failed us, but because we aren’t as awesome as we thought we were.

When we’re brought to the end of ourselves, the world’s counsel is often to dig deeper within. “Believe in yourself!”  “You’re stronger than you think!”  “You’ve got this!”  And while it’s healthy to silence the voices that accuse and condemn with the promises of forgiveness and life in Christ (see Romans 8!), we can’t ultimately combat our short-comings by looking within.  God doesn’t intend for our struggles to lead us to despair of ourselves and then stay there.

Check out the exhortation in Isaiah 40:26-31:

Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

When you feel out of control, don’t project that uncertainty on the Lord by thinking that you’re the only one who can fix your situation.  Look up!  Your God is the sovereign Lord over all the universe!  He made and sustains the stars and He made and sustains you!

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

When self-doubt strikes, don’t project that doubt onto the Lord by continuing to wallow in your own weaknesses and failures.  Look up!  Your God is strong and gives strength to the weary!

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

When you’re afraid and think no one notices, don’t project human ignorance onto the Lord by assuming He’s forgotten you, too.  Look up!  Your God knows the hairs on your head, and He who watches over the sparrows cares even more for you!

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

When help is hard to come by and your situation and yourself seem helpless, don’t project that hopelessness onto the Lord by forgetting to run to him with your need.  Look up!  Your God is your “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46)

While this season has been hard and humbling for me, bringing with it more than a fair share of tears, I’m riding the waves more smoothly than I have in the past because these truths have been much more at the ready and I’m quicker now to cast my cares on the Lord.

I’ve heard it said recently, “Trials can make you bitter or better.”  For the Christian, the “better” God intends for us is to be strengthened in our confidence in Him.

Our human resources may fail us, and while it humbles us to realize that we can’t ascribe greatness to ourselves, let’s not forget to ascribe to the Lord the greatness due to His name (see Psalm 29).  We’ll find our confidence will return when it is grounded in the right Person.  And we’ll find the next storm of self-doubt and disappointment, while still painful, will have less impact on our faith when it is firmly rooted in a God who doesn’t disappoint those who hope in Him.

Here’s to growing in grace.

In a Vision, I Walked… — A Poem on Isaiah

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Here’s a guest post from my thoughtful and thought-provoking sister-in-law Abigail Scott. She’s been writing tight poems for a couple decades now (yes, she started quite early). I find this one of hers, inspired by the book of Isaiah, to be particularly moving.  Enjoy.

isaiah poem time past future

In a vision, I walked through the annals of time
And the past and the future all merged in one line
With the threads of the nations’ existence entwined
Like the strings of an instrument God had designed.
I saw many powers who reigned on the earth.
They were arrogant, loudly proclaiming their worth.
Yet they rose and they fell, like the swells of the tide
Each self-proclaimed lord overthrown in his pride.
Man repeatedly sought for a warrior to reign
To unite all the earth in one glorious name,
And they worshipped themselves and the work of their hands
So the Sovereign God wasted their works and their lands.
Yet the whispered refrain, resonating through space:
A call to the humble to worship by grace
And a promise that Yahweh would sovereignly raise
A Prince to bring peace, who is ancient of days.

Then I saw through the struggle, the war and the loot
From a root that was withered, God raised up a shoot.
While the world, in each palace, sought humanly might
The eternal King came among cattle at night.
For pride wages war and it antetypes trust
Which worships the God who has made us from dust.
The Creator thus came, weak and helpless on earth
Despised and rejected and lowly of birth.
In the suffering flesh, He came to us humble
And this was the form that caused proud men to stumble
For Greeks search for wisdom, Jews ask for a sign
But eternity’s King laid aside the sublime.
No sign did He offer, but three days of death
And the wisdom that yields up immortal God’s breath.
So the rulers of earth found Him quiet and still
Yet they never imagined the Sovereign God’s will
For they missed the refrain, resonating through space:
A call to the humble to worship by grace
And a promise that Yahweh would sovereignly raise
A Prince to bring peace as the ancient of days.
As a servant, He claimed what was His from the start:
The birthright to reign as the King in each heart.

Ah, but time leads the way to a permanent reign
That fulfills all the thrills of the whispered refrain.

And I saw, in my vision, the scope of all history
Not a line, but a circle, eternity’s mystery.
The Alpha, beginning, the ancient of days,
Once born as a man and thus knowing our ways,
A King who is gentle, and humble, a lamb
Will return as a lion, a sword in His hand
To execute justice and overthrow pride
Of the kingdoms that rise and that fall like the tide.
The beginning and end both meet in one place
In the person and work of the God of all grace
Who touched time in humility, born of the dust
To bow every knee to a King we can trust.
His reign is eternal, His crown won’t rescind
For the annals of time will conclude with this end:
The refrain, a crescendo that overturns space,
When the whole world will worship, forever, His grace,
His Sovereign compelling our eternal praise
For the Prince who brings peace as the ancient of days.

Books Read in 2017

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Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of these links, I receive a comission that goes to support this blog and my children’s home education.  

DSC_0010I’m a little late to the party with this post, what with major blog changes last month and major life changes this month, but I hope you’ll nevertheless enjoy these micro book reviews as much this year as in past years when I have been more prompt.

New for this year, I’ve divided up my list into two categories–things I’ve read for my own benefit or interest (what could be called “Mother Culture“) and others which have directly involved my children (sometimes for school and other times for what I suppose you could call our “Family Culture”).

Happy reading!

Personal Reading or Mother Culture

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Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie  I’ve had many friends in the homeschooling world read and recommend this book, so I thought I’d check it out. Teaching from Rest certainly lives up to its praise and its name. If homeschooling has become a chore or you feel caught in the educational rat-race, this book will be a game-changer. Sarah offers a gentle challenge to homeschool moms to re-evaluate our perspective and our curriculum so we can start from a place of resting in the Lord, see our children for who they are, simplify our to-do lists, and focus on what really matters. This is a book I’m quite likely to revisit.

Knowing God by J. I. Packer  This book is on my reread-it-every-few-years-until-I-die list. Packer manages to lead the reader on a tour de theology without getting weighed down by heartless intellectualism.  Quite the opposite, every turn along the path is a new opportunity to have your heart encouraged to adore, worship, and live for our great God.  Highly recommend, as usual.

The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien Can’t go wrong with a little Tolkien on the list, now can we, precious? I think my favorite theme in this book is that of friendship.  As Frodo prepares to leave the Shire and the only world that he has ever known, he discovers that his closest friends are better to him than he had ever anticipated.

You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.

The fact that the book is essentially a story of one great, big backpacking trip is not lost on me either.  I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about Orcs when our family hits the trails!

Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life when Death Visits the Womb by Jessalyn Hutto  I met Jessalyn when she started attending the church I went to during our college years, and I got to know her better through fellowship, a missions trip, and many games of Ultimate Frisbee. I’ve followed her writing over the years and was quite excited to finally get my hands on her book. I have never experienced a miscarriage, but I have stared down the very real threat of stillbirth before my second child was thankfully born alive. Many times over I’ve wondered how different things would be had he not made it. On that level, I found this book incredibly, biblically encouraging.  

Despite my own experience, however, I really can’t identify with the pain that my sisters bear who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. That’s the other reason I was drawn to Inheritance of Tears. Jessalyn shares not only truth-based encouragement, but also her own heart and experience through two miscarriages of her own—giving a window for others into the world of a suffering mother. If you have lost a child or know someone who has, I encourage you to check out Jessalyn’s offering of tenderness and truth.

Led by the Spirit by Jim Elliff  My husband read this short book this year and suggested I do the same.  How do we make decisions in our lives as Christians? We know we are to submit them to the Lord, to let Him lead, but how does that work? Led by the Spirit seeks to answer this question. If you’ve ever slogged through Decision Making and the Will of God, it might help to know that this book has much the same premise—proposing what Jim Elliff calls “sanctified reason”—but Led by the Spirit is far more succinct! And along with greater brevity comes, I believe, a greater balance between reasonable, scripture-based decision making and humble, prayerful dependence upon the Lord (if only for the way the subjects are proportioned).

The hazards of becoming a mere rationalist are obvious. You must be as vigilant to avoid running aground on that sandbar as you are of being swept over the waterfall of mysticism. The guided believer recognizes the decided value of appropriately relating to Christ and not just assuming, in a casual way, the blessing of God on his thinking. You need God.

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay  I read this book 2016 (and thus wrote a micro book review last year) and then again in 2017 with my local Schole Sisters group. For a great full-length review of For the Children’s Sake, check out this article by my friend Jessalyn (yes, the same one mentioned above).

Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by Andrew Murray  Mystie Winckler recommended this book while I was taking a run through of her Art of Homeschooling course. Humility was free for Kindle (and still is!), so I jumped right in. Murray is a bit mystical at times and apparently really likes the word “secret” (which makes for a few statements that seem a bit over-the-top), but it would be a shame to allow those rather minor differences in word choice and emphasis to overshadow Murray’s incredibly edifying–and truly humbling–message.  I loved reading this highly-quotable book and will likely come back to revisit it again in the future.  Here’s just one quote that I find particularly poignant at this time in my life:

He prays for humility, at times very seriously; but in his secret heart, he prays more, if not in word, then in wish, to be kept from the very things that will make him humble.

Yep.  That’s me all too often.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will, by William Shakespeare When I’m able to keep up, or when it aligns with the direction my reading ought to be going anyway, I have loved reading along with and listening to the Circe Institute’s Close Reads podcast. I wish I could join in on every book, but alas, in 2017 Twelfth Night was the only “close read” on my list.
I listened to this dramatic reading available on Librivox (the voices were all fairly well done, with the exception of one character’s voice seeming a bit out of place). Duke Orsino thinks he loves Olivia, who thinks she needs to mourn her brother’s death for the next seven years (a task which leaves no room for romance, says she). While these two sink deeper in their own delusions, other characters weave their way into the web of romance (or lack thereof)—and some of them in disguise! While I loved the language and the humor of the social and romantic twists and turns of the play, the podcast really brought so much more to light for me, including the significance of the upside-down ridiculousness that features so strongly throughout. Some of my favorite lines from the play came from the rather witty fool:

Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus?
‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

I suppose I could nearly add The Taming of the Shrew to my list since we saw the play at an open-air performance this summer. It was our boys’ first experience with Shakespeare, and boy was it memorable—from the popcorn, balloon animals, and face painting before the show, to the live cracking of a whip on stage. But…you tell me. Does watching a Shakespeare play count on my reading list???

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If I be waspish, best beware my sting!

With the Kids, or Family Culture

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Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace  My family and I listened to a Librivox recording of this book on a road trip in early 2017. Ben Hur is a tale of historical fiction in the time of Christ. Lew Wallace put a lot of research into his descriptions of places, beliefs, and customs of the time, and this shines through his narrative. Part one provides an in-depth introduction to three desert travelers following a star. Finally in part two we meet the title character and begin to follow his life story as it weaves in and (more of the time) out of the biblical accounts of the life of Christ. While there is a bias toward a fair-skinned, light-haired Madonna and Messiah, much of the historical world-building is an incredible help for those eager to get a sense of the cultural climate that Jesus entered into. It’s also an incredibly moving and faith-building story, though I will leave it at that so as to avoid any spoilers. Suffice it to say, the recent movie rendition, though it was fun to watch, didn’t do it justice.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney  This was another lovely road trip listen-through. I never read about the Pepper family growing up, so this was my first introduction to the joy-filled but impoverished home of Mrs. Pepper and her five children.  There’s work to be done, fun and adventures to be had, and trials to overcome.  My kids really enjoyed this story (and so did I).

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner  Road trip listening strikes again.  I DO remember reading this as a kid, so it was fun to experience it again with my boys.  Four as-good-as-orphaned children are trying to get away from what they suspect to be a bad situation when they find an abandoned boxcar in the woods and decide to make it their home.  This book was a good introductory survival story, despite the fact that every subsequent book in the series falls in the mystery genre (but my eight-year-old has no complaints!).

Heidi by Johanna Spyri  Yep, we listened to this one in the van, too. Seeing a pattern?  We did a fair amount of traveling with my husband for work this year.  Heidi is the classic story of the impact a cheerful little girl can have, both to soften hard hearts and strengthen the weak.  While there are some explicit lessons on learning to trust God will answer prayers in His time and for the best, which contributed to good discussion with our children, there is also in the background an immersive experience of the Alps in all their beauty, grandeur, and health-inducing fresh, open air.  The story of Heidi refreshes the soul with cheerfulness, hope in God, and the mesmerizing beauty of His creation.

Flowers are made to bloom in the sun and not to be shut up in an apron.

The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter  Finally, here’s one I read aloud to the kids (for probably the third time).  Most people are familiar with The Tale of Peter Rabbit (though don’t count on modern video interpretations to give you the original story).  Have you heard of simple-minded Jemima Puddle-Duck?  Of cunning and conniving Mr. Tod?  Rude Squirrel Nutkin?  Tom Kitten?  Timmy Tiptoes?  The stories and their characters are a lot of fun, and Beatrix Potter’s illustrations are lovely.

Arkansas Autumn by Tim Ernst  This fall I gathered a grand collection of seasonal books from our local library, including this gem. Tim Ernst is an avid hiker and the foremost nature photographer in Arkansas.  We enjoyed gawking at all of his beautiful fall pictures, reading about where and how they were taken, and guessing at the types of leaves featured close-up throughout the book (answers were in the back of the book).
As an added bonus, we got to meet Mr. Ernst at a presentation he gave this fall.

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If you love nature photography in general, and if you love outdoor adventures in Arkansas in particular, you ought to check out the many photography collections and guidebooks Tim Ernst has published.  Our family loves them.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson  Christmastime calls for its own kind of reading.  I’m pretty sure I watched the movie based on this book as a kid, but this was, to my knowledge, the first time I’d read it for myself (and out loud to the boys).  I bawled my eyes out through the entire last chapter.  This is a beautiful story of the hardest of childhood hearts being softened by an honest encounter with Jesus.  We’ll be adding it to our read-every-Christmas list for sure.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens  Here’s another classic Christmas book that will stay in the rotation for many years to come. I’m sorry to say that I had never read Dickens’ ghostly Christmas tale before this year, either!  I didn’t care much for Dickens when I was in school, but I came to appreciate his humor and style in A Christmas Carol and hope to give his other works another try.  I think I’ll be able to “get” them now.

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.

We also watched the Muppet Christmas Carol to, you know, make sure we had a well-rounded experience with Mr. Scrouge.  😉

Hallelujah: A Journey Through Advent with Handel’s Messiah edited by Cindy Rollins  I snatched up this Advent guide with birthday money I received in November. Our family doesn’t have many long-established Christmas traditions of our own, and our kids are old enough now that it seemed like a good time to explore some different options.  I never grew up celebrating Advent, so Hallelujah provided both a focused tradition (listening to and meditating on Handel’s Messiah and the scriptures it was based upon) and some background information on the season from several different perspectives.  Our family does not feel compelled to follow any church calendar and we do not attend a liturgical church, but still we found great value and encouragement in these pages for making more of the Christmas season than we have in the past.
While we unfortunately were unable to keep up with the devotions toward the end of the season due to a bout with the flu, we have this resource and some experience now in making much of Christ in our anticipation of His coming, and I think these will serve us well in years to come.

A Tree in the Trail by Holling C. Holling This was me trying to keep up with at least a small amount of my eight-year-old’s reading.  We have read Holling’s Paddle to the Sea several times over as an enjoyable way to learn about the Great Lakes.  A Tree in the Trail traces the history and ways of life on the Santa Fe Trail by following the life, death, and repurposing of one special tree.  Native American mysticism is present in the story, but it’s a good opportunity to discuss what other people believe.  I enjoyed having a window into a part of the country and a time in US history with which I am less familiar.

There are many other books that I read this past year, but these are the ones I actually finished… Sometimes I think I start more books than is good for me.  At any rate, I’ve got a good start for 2018.

What did you read in 2017?  What are you reading now?  I’d love to hear about it!