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!

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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.

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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. 

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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!  

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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?

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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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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

 

COPYRIGHT LAUREN SCOTT 2009

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.

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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…

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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.

Amen.

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.

 

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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.

First Day Confessional

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Many of the public schools in our area started back yesterday, and so did we.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you might be a little confused since I posted about our “First Day” back in July.

That would be the first of my confessions.

I thought that in the middle of all of our remodeling craziness it would be a good idea to re-institute some order by starting back to school.  We made it a whopping four days before a trip and life in general took over again.

So yesterday was technically something like day five (or six if we’re counting the immersive day of water color painting last week–hey, I’m counting it!).

I’m just thankful that my husband encouraged me not to worry about it.  Now that the living room is, well, livable again, we can start to throw some school into the mix.

His support has been invaluable since we would, in theory, like to have our kids keep going with at least math and reading through the summer months.  I planned to just take June off, and keep a bit of review going even on break, but it stretched into an extra month-and-a-half and our review became non-existent.

And it’s ok.  Really, Lauren, it’s ok.

But those scheduled intentions are just surface-level.  I’ve got some deeper issues to confess, as well.

This is our fourth year of officially homeschooling and yet I have felt less prepared than ever.  I gave up on a traditional homeschool planner this year, opting to build my own system for planning and record keeping (a combination of Plan Your Year, a bullet journal, and clipboards for the kids).  I hope to share some reviews, articles, and videos about it sometime soon once the dust clears and the wires are all rigged up in our remodeled office/studio.  But the process has been like stepping out on an invisible floor, hoping there is something to stand on when you land.

Unlike Indiana Jones, however, on our first day of school yesterday, instead of finding a firm footing, I literally slipped on the slick, wet front steps, finding that gravity still works and that landing your rear on the corner of the step an entire foot lower than your feet began makes for a very purple derriere and quite a stiff and sore neck.

This didn’t exactly quell my fear of more figurative slips.  Again I’m reminded of the only truly firm footing I have in the first place–and that gives me strength to press on.

I know that the end result will be a good one–having a completely customized system that meets our needs better than any pre-fab planner ever could.  But with a new arrangement on paper comes a new arrangement of habits–both mental and physical–and building those habits takes time.  I need to have patience with the process, trust that it will be worth it, and simply recognize the little adjustments that have to be made along the way as a part of what makes it better.

All of that said, our first day went wonderfully well!  My well-laid plans did pay off!

At least, before lunch.

Our first day of school started well but ended woefully.

In my planning I took into consideration the longer-than-ever-time-off from which we would be recovering, and I tweaked our curriculum accordingly–especially math.  My big boy would do only half of the worksheet.  My youngest would copy numbers, do some basic math facts, and then we’d play a math game.  The almost-six-year old finished his work in no time, blazing through math, reading, and copy work so he could go to town with his beloved watercolors the rest of the morning.

I was thrilled.  This was easy.

The just-turned-eight-year-old, however, struggled to focus.  His work certainly should have taken longer than his little brother’s, but it drug on and on and on needlessly.  I told him time didn’t matter, that he didn’t need to set a timer, just work diligently.  But he set the timer anyway and then stressed himself out with it.  Long story short, he was anything but diligent, even when I gave him breaks to go outside or read and then come back to it with a fresh mind.  His score in the end was near perfect, but it was well into the afternoon before he finished and then there was language arts to do.

I was patient for the morning.  But eventually my patience ran out.

I had planned fun activities for our afternoon.  A game, read-alouds over Afternoon Tea.  Things my children LOVE.

But a dawdler was messing up my plans to do him good.

I escaped into my own projects and spent some time online to boot.

“I’ve tried to help you.  You won’t be helped.  I’m done.”

Signing off.  Checking out.  On day one.

Bravo, Lauren.

Over dinner my husband asked us each how our day had gone and how we felt about it.  There was good, there was bad, and there was ugly.  But it was good to get it out in front of us as a family.

He sweetly encouraged me not to base the success of my day on other people’s performance–especially little people.  Control what I can control–my own responses.

That’s hard, isn’t it?  But it’s exactly what I needed.

After further consideration and prayer last night, I realized that I had judged my children worthy of my time and patience during the morning hours–I had even decided this long in advance.  It’s my job, after all, as their mom and teacher.  But with one child dragging his half-sheet of math work beyond any reasonable time frame, and with the other testing my patience at lunch time, I came to judge my children as unworthy of my time and patience for the rest of the day.

Forget my God-given role as their mother and teacher, I measured them against my plans and expectations, found them wanting even after patient instruction and care, and since I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted, I decided they didn’t deserve my effort–I decided I needed a break.

There is wisdom, at times, in walking away from a situation so that both parties can get fresh air, deal with what’s in their hearts, and come back in much better spirits.  But I can’t say that was what was going on this time.  I was resentful.  And it took ME “beyond a reasonable time frame” to get my heart right.

Math work or heart work, my son and I were both taking too long to learn our lessons.

I suppose I could steal a quote from my reflections on planning above since it seems to fit this character-growing, relationship-building process, as well:

“…building those habits takes time.  I need to have patience with the process, trust that it will be worth it, and simply recognize the little adjustments that have to be made along the way as a part of what makes it better.”

The goal of education isn’t ultimately results or getting things done anyway.

As I wrestled with my own bad response–with my sin–the Lord kindly reminded me of His love and patience toward me as His child.  I cowered at the thought of His great love and my great lack.

Father, You chose to love me while I was yet a sinner when You sent Jesus to die for me.  And You choose to love me still even when it takes me years to learn a lesson, even when my attitude and actions are quite like a distracted and unruly child.  

Because You have chosen to love me, because You have made me Your child, Your patience and Your love never wane…like mine so often do for my own children.  

Forgive me, Father.  I repent.

Thank You for being a GOOD Father.  My need for Your love and patient correction is ongoing.  And the work You’ve called me to do for my children is ongoing.  Oh, please produce in me the same patient, diligent love with which You parent me.  

I saw yesterday morning that I could choose to be patient with my children.  But O how I need Your Spirit, Lord, to choose to be patient even beyond my good intentions!  When my planned patience wears out, show me Your patient love, and please help me to then pass it on to them.  

Amen.  

For those of you who also started school recently, I hope your first day fared better than mine (and you should read that as “I hope that your patience lasted more than four hours”).

But it’s just the first day.  And it’s now behind us.  Sins repented of, mercies new this morning …and every morning hereafter.  We’re in this for the long haul, aren’t we?  Let’s do it with patient love, remembering the One who continues to lavish us with it.

Happy New School Year.

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand

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Upheaval.  That seems to be a good word for what I’ve experienced lately.

The landscape of my life seems to always be changing.  It’s hard to find a firm footing.

Some good friends of ours moved away a few months ago, and we’re about to bid farewell to another couple of friends within the next several weeks.

Another one of my closest friends may be moving out of state in the near future as well.

We’ve grieved a loss in our extended family this year, and felt the weight of failing health in other precious family members and friends.

We’ve known the despairing sting of futility–in making our own plans and seeing them fall through, no matter how hard we tried to work out the logistics–in gardening, in homeschooling, in trying to get enough sleep, in family visits, and in many other projects and pursuits.

In the same moments that we are (by the grace of God) learning to plan and manage our lives more effectively and efficiently, more responsibilities and cares pile themselves like memorial stones set to remind us that we are not ultimately in control.

And the current state of our home is an analogy for all of the above–our one-room remodel project is stretching into its second month–and, try as I may to ignore the mess and mayhem, a simple walk from the kitchen to the front door brings it screaming to my attention.  Because if I don’t survey the landscape and watch my step I might trip over a paint can, run into a stack of boxes, or knock over the bed and box spring leaning against the couch.

This maze of a house we are living in right now is not for the faint of heart.

And neither is life itself.

 

If I try to stand on the good gifts God has given me in this life–blessed relationships, material possessions, good health, intellect and abilities, position and influence, the experience of all things temporally enjoyable, comforting, and familiar–I will predictably falter when they begin to wane.

My self and my circumstances are ultimately unpredictable and unreliable.  They make for a feeble and faulty foundation, indeed.

But I have a Rock, a firm foundation in Christ.  Those who hope in Him will not be disappointed.

While mowing this morning I listened to a few chapters from Knowing God by J. I. Packer, finishing with the chapter on adoption into the family of God.  It moved me to the core.  When I struggle spiritually, when I am tempted to despair, it is most often rooted in a forgetfulness of God’s promises and love for me in Christ Jesus, usually clouded over with self-condemnation and a focus on the temporal things that have me confused, cast-down, and unsatisfied.

I know my sin and my need for a Savior.  I know Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sin so that by faith I can be forgiven and escape eternal condemnation, but as Packer so richly reminded me today, Jesus not only purchased my pardon but brought me into the Family.  And the love which the Father has had for His Son throughout all eternity is mine now as a child of God.

Justification–having a declared righteousness and peace with God through Christ–is glorious because it brings me to Him.  And, as Romans 8 so emphatically reminds me, nothing can separate me from His love.

And beyond the amazing solace that brings me now, how quickly I also forget the hope of glory that is to come–to be in the presence of God, free from sin and death and suffering, but not merely as one who is tolerated in God’s presence, but as one who is loved, welcomed, embraced, and delighted in as a beloved child.

I can’t really begin to express all that this means and its effect on me as I continue to walk the maze in my living room and in the world-at-large.  I still slip and fall when, like Peter did on the sea, I look at the storm around me and the unsettling terrain below me.

“Why did you doubt?”

There was nothing in the waves holding Peter up.  It was the Lord Jesus Himself.  All he needed to do to literally keep his head above water was to look to Jesus and believe.

And I suppose at the end of the day the same goes for me, too.

Would you sing this hymn with me?  Let’s declare the truth that our hearts so often forget.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.