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

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???


If I be waspish, best beware my sting!

With the Kids, or Family Culture

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.

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!

MacMillan’s Mean Texas Chili — In a Family of Foodies, Recipes are Heirlooms


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The cold weather is upon us and few things warm from the inside out like a hot “bowl of red”.


In my Texas-bred family, chili isn’t just another recipe, it’s tradition.  And while I’ve been a displaced Texan for ten years now, I’ve made sure to bring a few things along with me.

texas girl flag state

The MacMillan family’s chili recipe began with my PopPop down in Austin, simmered in my parents house growing up in North Texas (without fail on Superbowl Sunday), and still wafts its delicious aroma in my home today.


My grandparents, who celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary last month. Aren’t they a handsome couple?

This is an authentic recipe for Texas chili, though the optional addition of beans may cause a stir in some chili-loving camps.  If I were to enter this into an official chili cook-off, the beans would be left cheering from the sidelines, but I have entered this in a private competition and won first prize–with the beans.  Have it how you like it.  This Texan won’t judge you.

MacMillan's Mean Texas Chili

A spicy but oh, so tasty chili recipe currently being passed down to the fourth generation.


  • 1-2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 lbs. any (or any combination) of the following:  sliced steak, chili meat, or ground beef
  • 3 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 8 Tbs good quality chili powder (I use Pendery’s, an authentic Texas brand!)
  • 3 Tbs ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1 cup of water (or more as needed during cooking)
  • OPTIONAL: 2 cans (about 4 cups) of beans (pinto, red, or kidney work well)


  1. Heat oil in pan.   Saute onions and garlic.  Add meat and cook until done.  Pour into slow cooker.
  2. Add diced tomatoes and all seasonings to the meat in the slow cooker.  Stir in one cup of water.  Cook on low for about 4 hours.
  3. About 20 minutes before serving time add drained beans, if desired.

Serve with crackers or over rice or corn chips. Top with sour cream and serve with canned pears on the side to cut the heat!

texas chili rice beans pears toppings cheese

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in real life who eats chili over rice like my family does from time to time, but I find it quite satisfying the way the rice soaks up the juices of this chili. Try it sometime if you haven’t.

texas chili rice pears

Now, what to do when you have leftover chili?  Of course you can keep eating it as usual or put it on a chili dog.  But have you ever tried it for breakfast?  A bit of chili over rice topped with a fried egg made my morning this week!

chili rice fried egg breakfast bowlchili rice fried egg recipe breakfast

What do you do with leftover chili?

What’s in a Name? (Announcement!)

It’s no secret that human beings like to name things.  We name our children, our pets, our businesses, our streets, our territories, our cars, our disorders, our churches, our ideologies, our families…you get the idea.

God made the first man and called him, well, “man” (Adam).  But after that, God gave this man a job.  Adam was to name all the creatures that the Lord brought before him.  He also named his female counterpart “woman, for she was taken out of man”.  And later, he gave her a more specific name:  Eve.

So it would seem we’ve carried on this naming practice uninterrupted ever since.

Apparently names can be important enough that sometimes God Himself intervenes.  Like when He told Abram and Sarai that they should start going by Abraham and Sarah.  Or when He changed Jacob’s name to Israel.  He’s even at times instructed that a baby should be given a particular name, as in the case of Ishmael and Isaac and Solomon, to name a few.

But what God-given name is greater than that of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus? His is the name above every name.


And then there are these silly little intangible things called blogs.  A collection of pixels in cyberspace that a person gets to name.  For a year now my own blog has been called Life Meets Jesus.  It’s a meaningful name, a good name.  But in the blogging world, your blog name is essentially your business name…you brand.  And in that light, it seems a bit trite for a mere human arranging words and pixels to slap the Greatest Name onto something so…miniscule? fallible? marketable?

Now, in my writing and attitude I strive to make much of Jesus, to bring Him glory.  But putting His name in what is effectively my brand name seems at best a bit presumptuous and at worst an irreverent attempt to sloganize the incomparable name of the King of kings.  Of course that hasn’t been my intention, but it has nevertheless been weighing on my heart for months.

“Did you see the latest post on Life Meets Jesus today? It’s about X…” and the conversation trails off into the details of whatever that post might be…maybe it was something overtly spiritual, maybe not.  But someone just rattled off the name of Jesus while thinking about my words rather than about His person.  I think I’d like to avoid inspiring that kind of situation.

This is one of those cases in which less is more.

I have no intention of dancing around spiritual issues, or even the precious name of Jesus in my writing—there will be no change in that regard.  But I am removing it from my blog title.  I’m not ashamed of His name; on the contrary, I exalt it.


So what will replace Life Meets Jesus?  Well, that’s taken quite a bit of time, meditation, and prayer to come up with.  I’ve actually had the name picked out since the middle of the fall:  Kept and Keeping.  A name that embodies the themes of two of my favorite passages of scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-9 and Romans 8.

It’s taken a bit more time to plan this switch and make it happen—and to sit on the new name for long enough that I felt confident it was the right one going forward, that it would be one I could keep.

I’m confident now that it is.

I hope that you’ll appreciate the change, and that you’ll explore all the meaning I see bottled up in this new name on the About page.  But even if you don’t like that I’ve changed the name of my blog or are completely indifferent to it, I have joy in knowing that I’m following through on something that the Lord has made clear to me.  The change was necessary, and here it is.

May you be blessed in this New Year and in the love of the blessed Lord and only Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.

No Story is the Same, No Pain Ever Wasted


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Here’s a guest post from my friend Tabitha Alloway who writes at Musings and Moments.  Tabitha is a fellow homemaking, homeschooling wife, mother, and electrician–well, we don’t have that LAST part in common!  She’s also a long-time family friend.  Enjoy!


Have you ever started into a set of books by a particular author and found that before long you could predict the entire plot before you’d even cracked the next book open?

I remember a set like this from my teen years.  I fell in love with the G. A. Henty historical fiction series, and for a while I devoured every book I could get.

But slowly I realized my interest was fading.  Every book seemed to have the same plot; only the names, faces and times changed: Boy goes on adventures.  Boy goes to war.  Boy is captured.  Boy escapes.  Boy becomes hero.  Boy meets girl.  Boy settles down and lives happily ever after.

Sigh.  Very idyllic.

And so predictably formulaic.

Now I’m not knocking the series—I still like the books and I’m looking forward to the day my kids can enjoy them.  But it’s sometimes amusing (or annoying) to see an author embrace a seemingly one-track plot.  A good writer is able to spin each story in such a way that, while it will always reflect their own unique style and voice, the story itself is fresh and new.

I think of God as a Master Writer, scripting the days and circumstances of our lives, inscribing our stories page by page.  He’s the Master Composer, ordering the “rhythm and rhyme” of our lives as an ode of praise.  He is the Potter who shapes our lives for our good and His glory.

While certain themes shine through every story He writes—goodness, mercy, grace, redemption or justice—each one is uniquely different.

Have you ever been tempted to question or wonder what God is doing in your life when you find yourself in difficult circumstances and trying times?  Or even perhaps to envy the way God is working in the lives and circumstances of those around you, rather than humbly accepting what the Potter is doing in and with your life (see Jeremiah 18:1-6)?

I have.  I’ve been tempted many times, when finding myself in less-than-ideal circumstances, to compare my lot with that of others and to envy God’s plan for and ordering of the lives of those around me.

One morning a couple of months back, feeling burdened and discouraged by the weight of recent trials, I poured my heart out to the Lord about it all.  I opened the Word and my attention was drawn to the passages that spoke of giving thanksgiving, honor, worship, and praise to God; of investing our trust in Him because He is good.   Not exactly the typical comforting passages you might expect.  These precious words comforted by lifting my eyes.

I began to think of the stories of the saints of the Bible as well as the experiences of modern-day saints.  No two are exactly the same!  God works in such a wide variety of circumstances and ways to accomplish His will in each of His children’s lives.

Look at Hannah.  She prayed for a child, and God blessed her with one.  Yet many Christian wives through the ages have prayed with the same desperate desire for children and have been told “No.”

Jabez prayed that God would bless him and keep him from harm and pain.  God granted His wish.  Yet Job was permitted to experience unimaginable grief and pain in his lifetime.

Daniel was saved from the lions’ mouths.  But many believers in the early centuries of the church were torn apart and eaten by wild beasts.

Under the reigns of David and Solomon, the saints and prophets rejoiced with gladness and singing.  Under the reigns of Ahab and Manasseh, the saints and prophets suffered, and served their God in hard times and discouraging circumstances.

The apostle John lived a long life in service to Christ while Abel’s life was cut off prematurely.

Paul could have been tempted to envy the many believers around him who experienced miraculous, physical healings, while he himself was given a thorn in the flesh and denied its removal.

So many people.  So many stories.  All of them different.

Had God denied Hannah her wish, or Jabez his, would He still have been good?  Would His people have continued to trust in Him?  Was God’s work in the lives of Hannah, Daniel, and Jabez better, more kind, or wiser than in the lives of Job, or Jeremiah, or Paul?

According to Hebrews 11 we see that trust in God is not (and cannot be) rooted in our personal circumstances, but rather in the character of a faithful God Who is working in His children that which pleases Him, as He orders our lives for our good and His glory (see Romans 8).

The Word tells us elsewhere: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity: just and right is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).  The Psalmist reminds us that “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psalm 145:17).

In declaring his trust in the Lord, the prophet Habakkuk indicated it was not contingent on any circumstances: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The Lord God is my strength…” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

We often see both Old and New Testament saints giving thanks to God even in the middle of painful circumstances.  While the personal testimonies and experiences are different, I imagine they would share one common sentiment: God is good.


Photo Credit: Tabitha Alloway

One of my favorite hymns is Day by DayThe first verse goes:

Day by day, and with each passing moment

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure

Gives unto each day what He deems best—

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Some of the most precious portions of Scripture to me are those in which God reveals His own heart of compassion toward His people.  It’s the theme that brightens even the darkest story.  We’re all familiar with the passage in Lamentations that speaks of the faithfulness, mercy, and compassion of the Lord.  Then Jeremiah goes on to say, “But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.  For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men”.

God does not cause pain or withhold desire for no good purpose.

Isaiah breaks out in thanksgiving: “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us…For He said, surely they are my people…In all their affliction He was afflicted…in His love and in His pity He redeemed them…” (Isaiah 63:7-9).

God sorrows in our sorrow; He is afflicted in our affliction.  We do not have a High Priest who   is insulated from our pain; He experiences it with us and has compassion on our weaknesses.

It is this God of love, kindness, and wisdom who composes my story and your story.  Do we trust Him to do what He deems best?  Are we content in His provision for and ordering of our life?

The Master Writer is weaving the days and circumstances of our lives into one story for His glory.  Every daily page whispers His goodness, and even the darkest chapters are traced with hope, pointing to the beauty of His eternal purpose.

And that eternal purpose hints at the fact that the Author’s story doesn’t end with us, with this life.  There is a “happily ever after” that’s already written, just awaiting publication.  If you know Jesus, aren’t you looking forward to reading that story?


Had You not granted Hannah’s wish

And given her a child…

Had You let Jabez feel anguish,

Not blessed with life so mild…


Had You not shut the lions’ mouths

When Daniel prayed to You…

Did You not save his friends, when, roused,

A despot gave death cue…


Had solitude been David’s lot

Instead of throne and crown…

Had Jacob not grasped riches sought,

Nor prosperity had found…


Had Hannah lifted empty arms

In worship to Your Name…

Had Jabez met some earthly harm

In showing forth Your fame…


Had Daniel died a martyr’s death

In service to his Lord…

Had fire snatched the faithful’s breath,

And death been their reward…


Had David sung in open fields

Instead of regal courts…

Had flocks and fields returned no yields

While Jacob sought the Source…


Your faithfulness would be the same,

Your goodness ever new,

Your mercy rich exalt Your Name,

And saints would hide in You.


You are the God of grieving Job,

Of joyful, dancing David.

Your ways and works across the globe

Will always be redemptive.


The God of weeping prophets and

The God of singing saints;

All things lie open in Your hand—

From You derive their fate.


You are the source of grace for Paul

When thorn afflicts him sore.

You save the cripple from a fall

And his weak legs restore.


You’re the God of brave queen Esther,

The God of humble Ruth;

To each his lot, Dispenser,

The One Source of all Truth.


In pain and gain, our love and loss

You are the Sovereign One;

You knew real sorrow at the cross

Now-risen, conquering Son.


You walked on earth in mankind’s shoes

You know heart’s deepest throb;

Appointing things as You so choose,

You hear the smallest sob.


You’ve cried and wept with broken heart,

Felt agony of pain;

When on the earth You shared our part,

Your loss became our gain.


To come to You a man must trust

You are the great I AM;

Your works are true and right and just,

And You reward the man.


Your ways are far past finding out,

No finite mind can see

Exactly what you are about—

Your great Eternity.


You are our life, our love, our light,

Our hope, our help, our haven,

Our Rock, Redeemer and our Right—

Praise God of highest heaven!

BLACK FRIDAY / CYBER MONDAY SALE: 40% OFF Prodigies Music Lifetime Membership! EXTRA 5% OFF with Code!


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This post contains affiliate links. 


My family LOVES the Prodigies Music Program, and now through Cyber Monday you can get the Lifetime Membership for 40% off!  Plus a FREE BONUS (see below!).  Plus an EXTRA 5% off when you use code LMJ.

The Lifetime Membership means you get online and downloadable access for your entire family to the entire program: from Preschool Prodigies (a great place to start, even for early elementary students) to Primary Prodigies to Recorder Prodigies (and whatever they come out with next!), including their Holiday videos and sheet music, all of their music books and workbooks (in e-book format), the Prodigies Melodies videos and sheet music, a complete scope and sequence, and fantastic customer support through their website and a Facebook group.



And, just in time for Christmas, they’re throwing in a FREE BONUS:  the new Holiday Songbook!  

T or T Alt Coloring

If this resonates with you (pun intended), head on over and grab the Lifetime Membership for your family!  And don’t forget to use the code LMJ to take an additional 5% off!  But remember, this 40% off deal is only good through Cyber Monday!

This colorful program has my kids singing solfege with hand signs, translating between solfege and the number or letter names of the notes, and applying that knowledge to playing a very accessible instrument: their desk bells!  On top of that, all of what they’re learning now builds smoothly into learning to read music (eventually without the color-coding system).  When my kids decide what instrument(s) they want to learn to play in the future, I know that the music theory they’re learning and the ear training they’re receiving from the Prodigies Program will give them a great foundation and a ton of confidence!

It’s a great fit in our homeschool, but it can also be a fantastic supplement to a private or public schooler’s music education!

For more information:  

You can see reviews plus a great overview of all they have to offer on the Prodigies website.

Want a glimpse of this thing in action?  Check out this video!

For a more detailed review of the Lifetime Membership and the specific benefits I see, both financially and in what my children are learning, check out my Growing a Love for Music post.

The Poverty of Pragmatic Gratitude and the Riches of True Thanksgiving


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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, so naturally our minds as Americans are turned toward things like pilgrims, gratitude, turkey, thankfulness, football, sharing, pumpkins, family, contentment, and working over our Black-Friday-and-Cyber-Monday-shopping strategy.

C’est la Vie

The intended theme of this week’s celebration is a hot lifestyle topic these days.  Whether it’s Ann Voskamp’s challenge to list One Thousand Gifts or Positive Psychology’s attempt to study and promote behaviors that increase well-being, our public consciousness seems to be pretty aware of the importance of being thankful.

The fact is, studies have demonstrated that those who count their blessings are healthier, sleep better, feel closer to others, feel better about themselves, are less likely to be mean…the list goes on.  It would seem that acknowledging the importance of gratitude for these reasons is a no-brainer.

But the emphasis in much of our online discussion of gratitude and Thanksgiving (and consequently our own day-to-day thinking) is terribly skewed.

The Problem with Our Gratitude

One fallout of the secular, scientific, pragmatic, and pluralistic approach that dominates the discussion is that we have by-and-large separated gratitude from the giving of thanks.  Politically correct pop culture’s prevalent penchant for leaving God out of the mix means that we’re focused primarily on what we can get out of gratitude rather than on what we can give (and Who deserves that gift of thanks).

After all, how else can you convince naturally selfish human beings to practice a virtue than to sell that virtue in terms of self-help?  At least, that’s the impression I get when I see opening lines like these and read about why I should be thankful from the perspective of a kind of rational reductionism and evolutionary emptiness in this  article from Psychology Today.

Here’s the deal.  The researchers aren’t wrong about the benefits of “practicing gratitude”.  They’re wrong in holding those benefits out as the purpose for it.

Even when acknowledging that showing appreciation for others can improve relationships, the focus is ultimately on the power of gratitude to improve your own relationships, not on the blessing or benefit the other person receives when you give them thanks!  Our public conception of gratitude is disgustingly self-seeking!

What is this holiday of Thanksgiving, anyway?  Is it merely for conjuring up feelings gratitude?  Or are we settling for a few crumbs from the table when there is a much larger feast to be had?

Logically Speaking

If we are giving thanks, then there ought to be someone receiving that gift, right?  Thanksgiving implies that there are two recipients—first, those who have received a blessing have reason to give thanks, and secondly, if they give thanks, that thanks is received by the one who blessed them.

To illustrate this in human terms:  we often feel grateful for things we receive or kindness done to us.  But how often do we pause the frenetic pace of our lives to actually say “thank you”?  To write a thank you card (or even an email or text!) and send it?


Scripture paints for us a vivid picture of the difference between mere gratitude and actual giving of thanks.  When Jesus healed ten lepers, as recorded in Luke 17:12-19, only one of them turned back to say thank you.  I’m sure the others felt gratitude.  How could they not But only one showed it, only one gave it.

Listing the things we are thankful for can indeed be a good practice (and to Mrs. Voskamp’s credit, she directs that thanks to God), but ultimately, if in our list-making we only feel gratitude and never actually give thanks, then the practice is, at the end of the day, self-serving.

Digging In

We know from what we’ve covered already that the world is snacking on dessert crumbs and missing the greater feast when it comes to gratitude and thanksgiving, but what is that bigger feast?  What does it look like to practice or celebrate Thanksgiving in a way that honors God?

Curious myself, I opened up E-sword on my computer and did a search on the words “gratitude”, “thanksgiving”, and “giving thanks”?

Interestingly, despite the current emphasis on having an “attitude of gratitude”, the words “gratitude” and “thankfulness”, that is, the nouns that describe the heart-felt disposition from which science tells us we may benefit, each only appear three times in my bible.  Colossians 2:7 speaks of our lives as Christ-followers “overflowing with gratitude“.  In 1 Timothy 4:4, we see food is being “received with gratitude“.  And in Hebrews 12:28 the exhortation to “gratitude” compels us to far more than a mere feeling:

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;

The three mentions of the word “thankfulness” convey an idea of giving thanks in general, thanks toward a person, and thankfulness bound up with singing praise to God.

Then There’s the Really Good Stuff

But this holiday we celebrate isn’t called “Gratitude Day” or “Thankfulness Day”, is it?  It’s called “Thanksgiving” and it’s intended (obviously) as a day of “giving thanks”.  When I searched for those words in my Bible software, I found a real feast!

“Give thanks” appears approximately 75 times in the bible!  Forty-nine of those occurrences are in the book of Psalms—the songs of God’s people.  The overwhelming majority of times this phrase is used it includes to whom those thanks are given—and over 95% of the time the recipient is God.

Our November holiday’s namesake has twenty-eight biblical appearances, many of which occur in the Old Testament referring to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving to God”, both in the Law and in the Psalms.  Hebrews 13:15 echoes this theme in the New Testament:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

The vast majority of the time that the word “thanksgiving” shows up  in the New Testament, it is in reference to prayer–and it is always directed to God.  You’ll also find it eleven times in the Psalms (this is the most thanksgiving-full book).

In God’s word, “thanksgiving” is something brought, produced, given, found…  It’s associated with telling, calling, singing, praising, honoring, offering; with voice and melody; with sacrifice and prayer; with joy and gladness; with celebration and charity.  Giving thanks in the bible is clearly a rich and blessed practice!  But we’d be blind not to see that it is unequivocally about recognizing God’s goodness and provision, not merely making lists, conjuring up a feeling, or promoting our own or others’ well-being.

With Lifted Eyes

How then does this affect the way we celebrate Thanksgiving?  The way we approach having an “attitude of gratitude” year-round?

For starters, we ought to see that our motivation for giving thanks isn’t just for our own benefit, or because it creates a pleasant atmosphere for other people, or because it’s good to be mindful of our blessings so that we don’t become grumpy and materialistic.  While those things are certainly good and true, we ought not confuse the effects of giving thanks with the reason for doing it in the first place.

For Christians, and ultimately for all people whether they realize it or not, we ought to give thanks because it is the right response for creatures made in the image of a benevolent Creator.  Because God is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving–for who He is and for all that he has made, all that He sustains, and all that He supplies.  Everything we have to be thankful for flows from Him.

God isn’t just another thing on my gratitude list.  He’s the one I submit my list to in praise and worship and thankfulness.

What if?

What if our thanksgiving was characterized by what we see in scripture?  Giving thanks for all kinds of things—spiritual, physical, relational—first and foremost and overwhelmingly to our good and gracious God?  And what if we communicate that thanks that we offer to God to those whom He has used to be a vehicle of blessing to us?  As Paul opened many of his letters, “I thank my God for you!”

Let’s begin our Thanksgiving in the right place:  aiming our gratitude at the Lord rather than at our own idols of well-being–and thanking Him again and again when we find that doing so brings blessing.

Our pursuit of thankfulness amounts to more than mere self-care and self-improvement.  Let’s give thanks to God who is good and who is the Giver of all good things.  And let’s give thanks to those whom He has used to bring that good to your life.  In this way, we can joyfully celebrate Thanksgiving, knowing that we are living out the two greatest commandments:  by turning our own blessings into a blessing to God and to others.


Hands of the Aged


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hand woman photography trunk old pattern finger tattoo sitting human arm muscle chest apron cool image hands fingers prayer age folded skirt resting cool photo wrinkled aged checkered joint abdomen wrinkles

Wrinkled and withered

From work and years

Pained yet praising

Through the tears


Wearied and weak

Yet stretched out to give

Bearing the marks

Of a life well lived


With wisdom and grace

Picking up the lowly

Lifted in worship

Spotless and holy


The hands of the aged

Shaking and slow

Still powerful for Jesus

With much seed to sow


Christ is your glory

Your joy is His praise

His word is your wisdom

Your stronghold His grace


O precious treasure

To know such as you

Who’ve lived long for Jesus

Believing the truth


May the young embrace you

And hold your tired hands

And learn from your living

While they have the chance



Reformation Reflections 2017


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October 31st is usually just another day for our family.  At times, when we lived in a city neighborhood, we’ve passed out candy and gospel tracts to costume-clad visitors at our door, and other times we have happily forgotten the sugar-coma-inducing festivities of the day all together.

We’ve also not necessarily done much in the past with the notable historical event that took place on this day.  We’ve recognized it as Reformation Day, and perhaps shared a “Nailed it” meme for laughs, but we’ve never, you know, dressed our two boys up as Luther and Calvin.

But today, October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther famously drove the nail that cracked Europe—and mainstream church history—forever.

This seems to call for more than just the usual nod.  Cosplay may not be necessary, but a deeper consideration of its importance certainly is.

As a history major in college, I took particular interest in two very world-changing narratives:  the World War II era and church history.  Having studied the Reformation in some depth over ten years ago (ahem, yes, it’s been a while!) and consequently having forgotten many of the details, now has seemed as appropriate a time as ever to refresh myself on the subject, especially as I have considered how to teach my children about it and determine what celebrating the Reformation looks like in our family.

As I’ve dusted off a few of my college texts, done some reading online, and discussed the subject with my husband, I’ve refined my thoughts and priorities when it comes to understanding the Reformation and passing on that understanding and perspective to my children.


Guiding Principles of our Discussion of the Reformation

Most of us know that the first three rules of buying a house are “Location, Location, Location”.  Similarly, the first three rules in rightly understanding history, the Scriptures, or anything we learn by written language are “Context, Context, Context”–both textual or historical.  The Protestant Reformation was in no way a stand-alone event.  One of my college texts is called Europe and Its Reformations, plural, because it seeks to demonstrate the continuum of social, political, and religious “reformations” surrounding the events of Luther’s life.  Despite the obvious fact that Luther’s actions and teachings set off a figurative bomb that changed the landscape of Europe forever, neither church nor political history were homogeneous, unchanged, or unchallenged before 1517.   And as we are probably more aware, neither did they remain so after the fact.  There have been throughout history pockets of believers, often persecuted, holding to the true gospel before the posted paper at Wittenberg, just as there were other movements from within the Catholic Church seeking to reform it, as well.  I believe it’s important that my children understand from the beginning that Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the Reformation they sparked didn’t take off in a vacuum.  Rather, in God’s providence and by His grace, Luther was at the right place at the right time to shed light on prevalent errors and bring the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone into mainstream discussion.

Connected to this idea of context, it’s important to remember that Catholicism isn’t the same today as it was in Luther’s day.  Seeing the reformation sparked by Luther’s Theses as one of many efforts to reform the Catholic Church and/or Christianity and discussing this fact with my children will (I hope) help them to grasp that ideas, institutions, and people change over time.  I want them to be able to have meaningful conversations with their Catholic friends because they have some understanding of what Catholicism is today.  In the United States of America.  To this end, we watched a video covering the main differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.  It was mostly over my kids’ heads, since they are only 8- and 6-years-old, but we paused the video when necessary to discuss and understand along the way.  I hope I can instill in them a desire to ask questions to get to know what others believe and not merely spout off what they think they understand from one video they watched and a handful of discussions they had with their parents.  I have a hunch this will be a long process…


For laughs.  Both in what this depicts and in how poorly depicted it is.

As the picture above seeks to humorously remind us, while technologies and power structures change, mankind is very much the same throughout the centuries.

Getting a bit more practical now, primary sources are a great way to look more directly into the past.  And they’re not just for college history classes!  Here are a few we’re using with our elementary-aged kids:  the book of Romans (which the Lord used to bring Luther to the understanding of salvation by faith); quotes from Luther himself, particularly a few lines from his Ninety-Five Theses and his defense at the Diet of Worms; and Luther’s hymns “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word”.  As our kids get older, it’s my aim that we’ll look more into Protestant, Catholic Church, and political documents and counsels, among many other sources and including many other key players and precursors to the Reformation.

As we engage with several kinds of source materials, I want us to remember that bias is ever-present and history is never simple.  While we can see glimpses of the hand of God weaving together the events of time into the meta-narrative tapestry of His choosing, we can only ever see a few of the threads at a time.  So we should be humble with our own narratives, recognizing that God’s truth doesn’t depend upon me spinning the events in a way that I think is favorable.  A single group’s human narrative can be helpful, but only if it recognizes it is incomplete.  (Yes, this definitely has application to the current state of upheaval in our society today.)

Confession:  Luther isn’t really on our list of personal favorite Christian heroes.  He did some really great things and God clearly used him mightily for His purposes.  But my husband’s favorite heroes of Christian history are the faithful, quiet plodders—you know, the type of people who aren’t flamboyant or famous enough to have a day set aside to celebrate them—and who maybe don’t ever make it into the history books.  This is a pretty good personal antidote to our world’s (and often the church’s) emphasis on “changing the world” and “doing big things”.  So often it’s difficult to see the line between godly motivation and mere self-promotion and glory-seeking.  Those of us who recognize this do well to slow down and consider the lowly servants of Jesus throughout the ages, or those who played a support role to the “main actors” on the stage of church history.  I’m thankful that my husband is leading our family in valuing the faithfulness that sometimes only God can see.  It’s spiritually healthy, and it’s right.

While our family certainly doesn’t care to over-emphasize Luther’s heroism, his stand for truth and for conscience is an example to be admired.  We may never find ourselves in such a life-or-death test for our faith or our trust in the Word of God as when Luther stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and gave his most famous declaration.  But we nevertheless need courage on a daily basis to do what is right, to share the gospel of grace, to serve and love the lowly, to choose faithfulness in the small things no matter the outcome, to say no to delusions of grandeur or inclinations toward comfort and safety that would bring us to self-preserving, self-exalting compromise and complacency.  Luther’s legacy is not only in the truth he taught, but in the courage he had to “stand, and … do no other.”

Reformation Books Hymns Romans

We’ve selected a few children’s biographies to read this morning along with singing hymns and possibly watching a movie on the subject this evening as a family.  But more even than the particular books we read or the media we consume are the discussions we have as a family.  Discussions of what the gospel, or good news, of salvation in Jesus is—and has been from the beginning.  Discussions of how the Catholic Church was in error in the past and which of those errors have been abandoned and which have been maintained to this day.  Discussions of error on the other side of the line and how we each must seek to faithfully follow the Word of God, being willing to stand even amidst pressure from “our own” institutions.  Discussions of how we should treat those with whom we disagree (hint:  we like the example of Jesus and His disciples better than that of either the Catholic or Protestant state-churches!  Eek!).  Discussions of how we can see God’s hand at work throughout history—preserving His word and His people, using imperfect men and women to accomplish His purposes, and His provision for the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth—to every tribe and tongue and nation.  These discussions contain far more than mere information—they include love for the Lord, for His word, for others, and for our children themselves as we help them understand their own place in the line of history and the world of people and ideas.

While much more could be said (and probably has been said elsewhere in this vast space called the internet), I hope these limited thoughts of mine have been coherent enough to be a thought-provoking blessing to you today as you contemplate the Reformation and remember it with your family, friends, or church.

And as for costumes, I think my kids might currently be more interested in dressing up as Calvin and Hobbes than Luther and Calvin.  And I think I’m ok with that.

In closing, I’ll leave you with the Five Solas of the Reformation, because I didn’t manage to fit them in anywhere else and it seemed wrong to leave them out:

Sola scriptura – Absolute authority for Christian faith and practice comes from God’s word alone.

Sola fide – Salvation is through faith alone.

Sola gratia – Salvation is by grace alone.

Solus Christus – Salvation is in Christ alone.

Soli Deo gloria – All of this is for the glory of God alone.


How are you remembering or celebrating?  What’s your favorite take-away from your contemplation of the Reformation?  Do you have an angle on it that I didn’t cover in this article?  I’d love to hear it!

What Do We Do with Doubt? [VIDEO]


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Look out, world.  I have a YouTube channel.  It’s still quite laughable in my mind, but alas, it now exists and I am now telling you about it.

All not-taking-myself-too-seriously aside, my first video seeks to answer the question, “What do we do with doubt?  Where do we go with it?”  I didn’t figure my channel needed much introduction besides simply jumping right in with something that matters to me, and I suspect, to many of you.

I hope you will find the discussion encouraging to you in your walk with the Lord, whether your current situation finds you steadily leaning on the everlasting arms or shakily hanging on for dear life.

You can find my first video here.  If it’s a blessing to you and you’d like to see more videos of this kind, along with some practical home, life, and school management videos, please consider subscribing to my channel.  Lord willing, this first video will not be my last.

God bless!  Soli Deo gloria.

Growing a Love for Music: A Review of the Prodigies Music Lifetime Membership (Plus a Discount Code!)


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In this review I’ll give a bit of history as to how we decided on the Prodigies Music Program for our kid’s education, discount code for my readers, and then some examples of how our kids have benefited from the program over the past nine months!  This post contains affiliate links, but I’ve been promoting Prodigies to friends long before signing up as an Ambassador–you’ll see some of the reasons why I believe in it so much in this post.  

My husband and I both love music.  And we love sharing it with out kids.  But it’s hard to find the time to introduce them to the basics of music theory with my husband’s busy work schedule and the fact that I’m already teaching them every other subject in our homeschool.

We looked at local general music classes, and probably would have gone that route if we hadn’t found Prodigies.  We sampled the videos they made available for free on YouTube, and I was impressed.  So impressed that after crunching numbers and comparing our options, we bought the Lifetime Membership for our family.

Here’s why the Prodigies Lifetime Membership beat the local class option hands-down:

  • We paid one price for the whole family for life–within just one year of weekly local classes for two children, we would have paid the same amount for FAR less instruction.  This would be even more economical for a larger family.
  • We can do music lessons every day in the comfort of our own home–this again ups the amount of instruction and guided practice, allowing kids to go deeper and practice regularly without mom having to muster up the energy or having to waiting on the next class day to roll around.
  • We have access to all the materials (videos, workbooks, songbooks) both online and as downloadable files for our computer.  This means I have an awesome curriculum (and my kids have a fun music teacher!) available any time it fits our needs or schedule.
  • While I’m sure the local classes are nice, they aren’t using the Prodigies program–which is colorful, engaging, and focuses not only on meaningful play with pitch to train a child’s ears, but also on learning to translate between the color names, number names, letter names, AND solfege names of the notes of the major scale.  Most teachers wouldn’t dream that teaching all of this at such early ages is possible.  But it is!  Mr. Rob does it!  And my kids are getting it!
  • The team at Prodigies Music is constantly adding to their program, which means that the money I put down for our membership goes farther and farther.  They now have a complete preschool program (what my kids are working through now), have started publishing lessons in the primary program, have tons of fun supplemental videos in their Melodies series, and are now rolling out lessons for the recorder.



Finally, here’s some of the benefits I’ve seen in my children over the past year that we’ve been using Prodigies.

  • My kids can translate easily between solfege, color, number, letter names, etc.  This is something I never knew how to do despite participating in choir as a kid.
  • They are learning the names of chords and what notes are used to build them.
  • My husband can pull out his guitar and the kids can pull out their bells and play together because they’ve memorized the melodies of a handful of songs.  It’s a family jam session!
  • The kids are learning to sing on pitch in a friendly, non-embarrassing environment.
  • ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I’ve seen so far is that my kids are not intimidated by music.  Or any instrument.  Though their practice at home so far is only with the desk bells and hand-signs, they have internalized the concept that music is made up of notes–notes which they have learned to call by name.  So all they have to do when they walk up to an instrument is figure out where the notes are, and then they can play any of the songs they’ve learned!  The boys will eagerly plunk out a melody on a piano whenever one is near–with no fear whatsoever.  While at a family member’s house, they spotted a harp and asked how it worked.  With no more instruction than “The strings are notes on the scale,” my eight-year-old guessed that the red strings were Cs and began to play the Imperial March from Star Wars.  On the harp.  When he’d never touched the instrument before.   And while some instruments like violin are inherently more difficult to play, my kids have also fearlessly picked them up and guessed at what notes they hear when they scratch away at the strings.  Point being:
  • The pump has been primed (and will continue to as they acquire the ability to read music from their Prodigies lessons) to have such an intuitive understanding of music that when we do sign them up for instrument-specific lessons down the road, they will be able to focus on the mechanics because the understanding will already be there.
  • Beyond all of this, they are learning to both understand and enjoy music.  And when you understand something, it’s a lot easier to love it, and when you love it, it’s a lot easier to want to learn and understand it more.  Thus, with Prodigies, our kids are being equipped for a literal lifetime of learning and enjoying music.

I hope this review has been helpful!  Check out the Lifetime Membership at the Prodigies site, and don’t forget you can use the code LMJ to get an extra 5% off your Lifetime Membership PLUS 5% off anything in your cart–like the bells, or hard copies of workbooks or songbooks.