What 20 years of homeschooling has taught me

This summer I find myself re-reading some of the earliest books I ever read on home education. Turning the pages of these old friends makes me nostalgic.  My level of ignorance in the homeschooling department was matched only by my fear of pursing it in those early years.  I hardly knew how to parent, let alone, teach. These book mentors taught me so many principles that were not simply for “education” but for nurturing people.

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In my ignorance, I was looking for the “right way” to teach English or Math, but God redirected me and taught me big picture stuff about reaching hearts before minds. I learned that education is a misnomer without nurture and I had five little image bearers to consider.

Let’s start at the very beginning.

You are educating a person and their personhood is worthy of respect and love. That’s what Susan Schaeffer MacCualey explains in For The Children’s Sake. She gets this truth from one of the core tenants of the Charlotte Mason method: children are born persons.

Children are born persons.

This principle that a child is a person and deserves respect as a fully functioning, capable person permeates the Charlotte Mason method.  Schaeffer explains that in order to truly educate a person, you have to respect them enough to give them excellent information and assume that they can digest, process, and draw their own conclusions based on that relationship with the idea.

So correct information alone is not enough.

Methodology Matters

A perfect curriculum in a toxic environment will “educate” a child as the school of hard knocks will educate surely enough. A stove that burns can educate a child. The facts might be correct but the methodology matters and must be right as well. We’ve all heard or lived the horror stories. Teachers who wield fear or humiliation as a weapon. I’ve seen it too many times to count. “Excellence” on the altar of results and the child’s personhood is sacrificed and spirit crushed.

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If the atmosphere in the home or school is not filled with love and respect, then what exactly are you trying to teach the child? What’s the point?

Take a small child on your knee. Respect him. Do not see him as something to prune, form, or mold. This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels. He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become. If his choices made now and in the future are to be good ones, this person must understand reality and see the framework of truth. In the shorthand of language, we call this “knowing.” The child is a person who needs to grow in knowledge…

We are told by many in our generation that this small child is cog in a machine, or even that he is a possession like a pet animal. Many adults now “have” a child in the same way they “have” a washing machine or a collie dog.

We must answer: NO. You are holding a person on your knee, and that is wonderful…

Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours.

For The Children’s Sake, pg. 13

Trusting the Method

Looking back, I am so thankful I trusted the wisdom of Charlotte Mason and Susan Schaeffer MacCauley. And if you have young children, I’d encourage you to read For the Children’s Sake,  because no matter what type of education you pursue, the atmosphere must be conducive to the child flourishing. Institutions of learning that seek to control, conform, intimidate, bully, or simply don’t allow the freedom of thought apart from answering multiple choice answers is not nurturing a mind that is interested in the world around them. The WHY of education is as important as the WHAT of education.

What this looked like on a daily basis.

Now that my children are all older and I only have two students at home, I’m more convinced than ever that the Charlotte Mason method works beautifully. It’s a natural and nurturing approach to learning. It still requires careful work and rigorous reading, but it’s never shoved down a child’s throat.

Charlotte Mason wanted the child put in contact with the best books. Nothing dumbed down. First hand accounts and living books were a must. After short lessons, the child was to tell back what they learned from the interaction. She called this narration. It was the precursor to written and oral reports. She insisted that children be exposed to music, nature, and art, things that many children in 19th century London were deficient in. (Amazing that art is still seen as an extra in many schools today!) The goal was education as a life.

It gives me such joy to see my adult children pursue many areas of interest.

My oldest daughter (my homeschooling guinea pig, poor thing!) excels in calligraphy, creative homemaking, and practicing hospitality in her home.

Years of music practice (okay, violin practice was OFTEN painful!!), enjoyment, and exposure produced kids who were interested and who enjoy singing, composing, and practicing together on the piano, violin, or whatever instrument they pull out of the closet.

My son and husband landscape our home and make it beautiful for all of us. My younger daughters enjoy writing, decorating, art, nature, photography, etc…

Early Attempts Were Messy

In the early years, like learning to ride a bicycle, our artistic attempts were messy. Violin intonation was off, sketches were unrecognizable, muffins were burnt, tea cups were broken, milk was spilled, tempers flared, and table manners less than exemplary.

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But every shared attempt was accepted, acknowledged, and appreciated as “relationship building.”

(One of my favorite memories is of Matthew as a cute toddler surprising me with a chubby little handful of my red geraniums that he had picked from my planters! Eek!)

If it’s shared, appreciate it, moms. (Your kids don’t have to share their ideas or attempts with you, you know. That’s a trust. Steward it well.)

Simple things are the big things.

Simple things like tea time or reading time allowed us to exchange ideas and see where our kids were coming from while enjoying great literature.

Small actions that showed care were encouraged. Cookies were baked, and lemonade squeezed. We oohed and ahhed over ideas and someones attempt at drawing.

Little by little, small interactions cement relationship norms, for good or for bad.

We encouraged family times and traditions. Decorating for holidays together. Traipsing through the woods for Christmas greenery and picking the perfect plaid ribbon for our front door.

We ate dinner nearly EVERY night, making time in our schedule because we believed dinnertime to be sacred.

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Ideas were talked about and our values passed down around dinners of spaghetti or garlicky roasted chicken, or bowls of beef soup with LOTS of cheese. We spoke of God in terms of friendship and glory and goodness and read the Bible at the table with our kids.

Of course, our Christian worldview was the basis for all we did (and still do.) We prayed “Thy kingdom come” in general, yes! But we prayed “thy kingdom come” to our family specifically as we lived and honored the teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (We are FAR from perfect so with seven sinners living under one roof and bumping into each other, we really needed grace and enablement and forgiveness many times a day!)

Hospitality was intentionally practiced so we could share our lives and hear stories from different people with different life experiences. Outsiders were always welcomed in.

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We’d have missionaries stay with us for days or weeks and our kids would pour into their kids. By their teen years, our kids could entertain without us if someone dropped by. I recall coming home to Emily who had prepared and served shortbread and tea for grandma when she stopped over while I was out.

What does any of this have to do with education, you ask?

Nothing if you’re talking in terms of textbooks or SAT scores.

Everything if you are talking about nurturing children while they learn. Over 20 years of “home education” has taught me that education should be about life and should never suck the life out of children. Education should leave the child wanting to know more, wanting to care more, and interested in the world around them.

Additional books you might enjoy::

Educating the Wholehearted Child

Charlotte Mason: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning

What have you learned about homeschooling that you could share with our community?

 

*Next post, I’m going to talk about adding the arts to your day, even when you feel unqualified and artistically challenged.

**This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for reading and supporting my blog.

 

Why I Take Pictures and Weekend Favorites

The pursuits of motherhood are often undone minutes before they are completed, aren’t they? (Laundry, anyone?) It can be a little discouraging to look back on your week and wonder what you actually got done. Yes, the house is still standing. Yes, my children are all in once piece, but WHAT did I do with my time? There’s nothing to show when you are driving kids to work and washing, dirtying, and re-washing dishes over and over again. So, I’ve purposefully documented a few of the domestic things I’ve done over the last month, as a reminder of what did actually get done and as an encouragement that though my work is “here for a moment, then vanishes away” it WAS done and it did count, even if my foggy mind can’t recall what I did two minutes ago.

Today, I thought I’d share a few of those domestic pursuits from this past week, plus some favorite finds from around the web. One of the reasons I love taking pictures with my iPhone is because it helps me remember and give thanks for the life we have.

If you’re a young mom wondering what you actually do with all your time, TAKE TIME TO SNAP A PICTURE. It’s wonderfully encouraging to review and see the moments where you were shaping your family culture by caring for others, cooking, cleaning, spending time, or serving the Lord together. It’s also a reminder that time passes and though there are no awards for the mom who sat up with the croupy kid all night, we know that God sees every small deed done for Him and we will be rewarded by Him.

Domestic Pursuits::

This week I made Marcella Hazan’s delicious bolognese sauce, a recipe that people across the internet swear is THE only bolognese sauce you’ll ever need.  It was fabulous. It cooks for hours on the laziest of simmers and the whole house smells divine in the process.  I served it with pappardelle and lots of fresh pecorino Romano.

(Please forgive the mediocre iPhone pics!)

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I also made some homemade ice cream using this coffee ice cream recipe based on David Lebovitz’s recipe, and of course, I used Starbucks Morning Joe as the coffee of choice.  It came out delish! I also made mint chip , though, next time I will steep my fresh mint in the milk a bit longer.

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We had overnight guests, so I made my favorite waffle recipe and added berries and whipped cream. (You all know about Trader Joe’s shelf-stable whipping cream, right? You store it in your pantry until you want to use it, then stick it into the fridge for a few hours to chill and viola! Whip it with your Immersion blender and it takes less than 3 minutes to make delicious whipped cream.)

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I also made this crustless quiche which is a great recipe to make when you are cleaning out your fridge and have a mishmash of leftover veggies.

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To make, saute 4 cups of fresh, cut up veggies. Sometimes I use thinly sliced zucchini and onion, but today I used pepper, onion, mushroom, scallion, and tomato.

I put all the sauteed veggies in a 9X12 pan. I then whisk together a dozen eggs and a bag and a half of shredded cheese. (12 oz.) Today I used mozzarella and cheddar, but you can use whatever you like. Pour the egg/cheese mixture over the veggies. I then add a tsp each of fresh chopped basil, oregano, and parsley. (If you don’t have fresh, use 1/2 tsp of basil and oregano and 1 tsp of parsley. You can use whatever savory herbs you like.) I add a little garlic salt and pepper and stir that in as well. Then I bake it for 18-22 minutes or until the edges are browned.

Of course, you can also add chopped ham to this recipe or tweak it however you want. I make this when I am having a friend over for lunch and serve with a nice salad.

We just finished up a bit of landscaping around the yard (happy!) and I am thrilled that our rose topiary (that Peter bought me after our trip to England last year) is thriving and in full bloom. I was pretty sure I had killed it after I knocked it over once and over pruned it this past fall. Little B likes to help me water all the flowers first thing in the morning.

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I also had a few hours to pick up a paint brush and start a watercolor of my little one at the beach. It’s not finished and may not be for another month, but here’s the start of this work in progress. IMG_3120
Articles I Enjoyed::
This Harvard study tracked the emotional well-being of two groups of men from 1939-2014, and found the #1 single most predictor of happiness in the results. Fascinating read.

This article entitled “Peaches in Paradise” about Elisabeth Elliot was inspiring.

This article entitled “Throw Away The Lumps and Enjoy the Sweetness” was a great reminder to not focus on the negativity of life.

This sermon by Mark Minnick on the power of the flesh is a helpful reminder that the flesh is often underestimated and has a complete life of its own. Also an encouragement to say “Yes” to the Lord whenever He prompts you to do right. Thankful for the powerful and effective preaching of God’s Word. It’s a grace in our lives!

I enjoyed this sermon by Paul Washer “Recovering Biblical Womanhood”, though I have to admit that his “style” is not one I love. This sermon will either make you mad or make you cry at how far our culture has come in its pursuit to destroy women and femininity. He also shows what a loving marriage looks like as far as loving/respecting goes and how that intersects with leading/submitting. Helpful!

I loved this podcast on How Humility Nurtures Your Soul by Hannah Anderson. Great to listen to as you wash those dishes! Redeem the time! :)

 

When Trials Meet A Specific Need

The Christian life should never be marketed as the way to an easy life. In fact, we should be honest and admit that taking the name of Jesus Christ will bring trouble of all kinds.

Once you are “born again” and God’s new “DNA” pulses through you and the Spirit of God prompts you towards Christ-like living, the struggle gets real.

You can’t lie on your taxes. You won’t hate that neighbor. You follow Christ wherever regardless of who likes it or who opposes. You stand up for the oppressed making waves with the powerful of this earth. You won’t do what you used to do, isolating you from family and friends.

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Everyone has trouble in varying degrees and the trials themselves are “varied.” 1 Peter 1:6 uses the word “manifold” or multi-colored, multi-faceted. Layers upon layers. Too messy to explain. Different from anyone else but “common”.

Some trials meet a specific need. 100% tailored for you. What about when God sends you a gift that He chose specifically for you and you open it to find out that it’s a great big trial? 1 Peter 1:6 says that sometimes they are needed. “If necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”

This is hard to swallow, isn’t it? We want all the good without the bad. Gifts without the gall. But God knows the big picture and allows a trial for our betterment…  because it’s the VERY thing we needed.

As Christians, we aren’t living for the here and now. We are being prepared for a future, our life and inheritance in heaven. We’re also being prepared for future ministry at the revelation of Jesus Christ. If we could keep that in mind–that this trial, if responded to properly– will help me to praise God and show His glory more accurately now and at His coming, we’d see things a little more clearly.

If you’ve been alive for any period of time, you’ve seen people make the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe they fail to consult Scripture and make poor decisions. Maybe they say no to obedience or compromise on the “little things.”

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I’ve watched as Christians enter and exit failed relationship after failed relationship like a revolving door. The details may change but the root causes are all the same. They leave a church or a spouse or a longtime friend or a job. It’s never their fault. They’re always the victim. They’re always disgruntled and vocal. They’re usually pretty blind and oblivious to their own struggle and how others perceive them.

In my own life, God has used various trials to teach me lessons. When people fail me, I’ve learned to stop looking to people to meet my needs and to put my trust in God. When people have hurt me with words, I’ve learned to look at my own speech, and watch my own words fiercely because word-sins are far reaching and we pay “double” the price here and in eternity as we lose respect and relationships on the altar of saying whatever, and we give account at the judgement for every idle and evil word we’ve dished out.  When people don’t have the capacity to love me because of their own junk, I can look to Christ who loved all the unlovely at His own expense and still choose to reach out to them because my needs are already met in Him. Whenever trials are recurring, God is working at something deeper than the “surface” issues we assume. He’s trying to release my death grip on some idol, or cause me to see Him as greater. He wants to kill my pride and grow my humility and love.

Perhaps you are someone who struggles to forgive and you seem to have an endless list of offenses to forgive. You work at it and pray about it and spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing over wrongs done and then praying for a forgiving spirit. This is a trial. The people you are offended with may change, and the situations may change, but at the end of the day (or the decade!) you still hold a grudge and fail to love. You still have malice and jealousy rooted firmly in the soil of hate in your heart. You feel discouraged because you try, but God continues to bring “manifold” people into your life to rub you the wrong way and you are still on Satan’s short leash in the forgiveness department.

Of course, unforgiveness is not a Christian virtue so God brings another trial. “If necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” God is going to bring you to the point where you see that your unforgiveness is not ultimately the problem. He’s going to wear you down and show you that the pride in your heart that causes you to be so constantly offended and unloving is what He’s going for. You might be content to work on forgiving. God says that a humble man in un-offendable and He wants your deeply rooted pride gone.

Whenever you are in the middle of trials, remember that this moment is not all that there is. Eternity is coming and today’s trials are the schoolhouse God uses to prepare us for living today and for eternity. Trials are a grace, friend. They’re hard, yes. They hurt, sure. But they are controlled by God. That’s a comfort. We have hope. He’s not trying to “kill us” or make our life miserable. His intentions are for your betterment and His glory. He desires to make us just like His Son, Jesus. What could be better than that? Who better to emulate?

What do you need to let go of or put on in order to be conformed in these needful trials to God’s will and the image of His dear Son, Jesus? Are you willing to do it? Let’s face it. Sometimes our flesh rules and we don’t listen to the Spirit’s still small voice prompting us. If you want to follow the Spirit more than your flesh, say “Yes, Lord” whenever you are prompted to obedience or are reminded of a convicting Bible verse.

Humble yourself. Be watchful and aware of whatever short chain Satan has you leashed to, be it unforgiveness, addictions, anger, laziness, whatever. Resist and persist.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

 

 

My Toy Purge Experiment

After reading This Mom Threw Away Her Kids’ Toys and Got Her Life Back, I got rid of most of my toddler’s toys.

I wasn’t “drowning” in toys but little B had too many and he didn’t seem to be handling them well. Our little guy seemed to be losing his ability to focus on what was in front of him, a habit essential for learning and school success.

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This really concerned me.

Before the toy purge, I encouraged him to focus on one item by placing him in his toddler chair for a few minutes with a project like painting or legos, or on a rug with cars or building blocks. I’d set the timer and tell him that he was going to do “paint time” or “block time” until the timer went off. Nothing worked. He wandered and I continued to redirect him back to his activity. This wasn’t working. I even sat in the same room with him as he played as he sometimes has separation issues. Not happening.

So, I decided to give the toy purge a try. Why not? At least my living room would be decluttered for a few days, right? One day while he was out, I bagged up all of his toys but 15. I hauled them down to the basement: two trash bags and one Rubbermaid tote FULL. (Don’t judge. When we first got B, people gave us a ton of toys because we didn’t have any in the house. Okay, and we like to buy him toys, too. ;))

I arranged a few open-ended toys on his little bench: a play silk, a ball, blocks. I also left his favorites: his Woody, a few Matchbox Cars, a Playmobil train set, an Octonauts playset, lightsabers and a Woody dress-up hat.

Bonus: My living room was gloriously uncluttered!

When he came home, I waited for his reaction. He sometimes freaks out at change. But, lo and behold, he ran into the living and exclaimed, “I found my Octonauts!”.

He sat on the rug in the uncluttered room and played for 20 minutes. I was intrigued and wondered if it was just the newness of the set-up.

The next morning, he sat and looked at his Cars and blocks on.his.own. for about 15 minutes.

This morning he came running out with a play silk around his neck pretending to be Superman.

I’m happy I tried this because I think he is the type of kid that needs an uncluttered environment to concentrate. (Aren’t we always trying to figure out how each child ticks?)

Also, having too much limits our creativity. Aren’t we most creative when we have to be? If we had everything at our fingertips, we wouldn’t need to be creative. I think this applies to imagination and creative play as well.

Seems this approach is not as uncommon as I thought. Apparently, some preschools are getting rid of toys.

The program grew out of an addictions study group that worked directly with adult addicts. They determined that habit-forming behaviors started in childhood, and that these adults used toys to distract themselves from negative feelings. As they got older, they turned to other things.

 

I know these are small steps, but I’m encouraged to see him sitting and interested again. I’ve always believed that typical children can be taught to concentrate in the right environment.  (Obviously, I realize that there are exceptions to this!) With my older children, I kept a low-key atmosphere in the house. They weren’t bombarded with television that was too hyper or allowed to sit passively and be entertained on a regular basis. (It’s impossible to compete with the TV, am I right?)

I encouraged lots of play time, crafts, outdoor play, and audiobooks as I felt that it was very important to learn to “listen”, especially for school.

I’ve also realized that our little guy’s viewing habits need to change. He came to us loving movies that were fast paced, and I’ve tried to slow the movies down. Like, way down. Did you know that you can get several seasons of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood free with an Amazon Prime Membership? They aren’t as “flashy” for sure, and the first time he watched one he reported that it was “boring” but I like that the child can be thoughtful as they watch. Some movies are like trying to get a drink from a gushing fire hydrant. And with the constant barrage of images, who can process or make any kind of judgment about what you are seeing? It’s hard to keep up. (YES, I realize how old-fashioned this sounds.)

So, I’ll let you know how we progress. Have you found that too many toys actually limit your child’s creativity? Do you think limiting toys and “noise” is extreme? How have you encouraged your kids to learn to focus? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Family Photos and Updates

It’s been a while since I updated this space with family updates so this post will be news-y.

Our biggest life update is that our daughter Emily is engaged to be married to her childhood friend, Sam. Sam surprised her by proposing two days before she was scheduled to leave on a missions trip. Though they haven’t set a date yet, we’re excited for them. Also, please pray for Emily as she travels with the Musical Missions Team again this year.

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18447218_10154466345245785_8847105110921616241_nMany have asked how things are going with our foster son. There are really no changes in our situation, but he is doing well and thriving.  He’s learning basic three year old stuff (no means no, whining isn’t acceptable, obey the first time, focus) but I’m also unlocking the pieces to his puzzle, and I’ve come to realize that this little guy is a quality time person who just loves to be right with people. His heart is reached through praise and he lights up as soon as you mention that he obeyed well, or colored well, or did a good job shooting hoops. (He’s in a home with 3 adoring teen girls who are constantly telling him how cute he is and doting over everything he does.) Please just pray for his little heart and that God would meet his every heart-felt need as time goes on.

I’ve been reading Adorned and highly recommend it and also,  The Friendships of Women at the recommendation of a friend. It’s excellent so far and has been liberating in a sense. In a world where women are told that we need to be like men, it’s been a great encouragement to use the gifts of intimacy and connection that women as nurturers generally possess. One statistic I didn’t know from the book: both men and women report feeling connected and encouraged when they spend time in the company of female friends over male friends. Hmm.

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Do you find that you read in a certain place? Over the years my reading spot has changed from my couch to the bedroom, and now to this lovely old a chair that a friend gave me. I love opening the breezeway door and hearing the birds in the morning.

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I’ve been enjoying my roses and love taking a few blooms inside to pretty up the table.

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IMG_5650I also tried my hand at some moisturizer because my skin is changing and it’s hard to find a moisturizer that worked. I had heard so much about the Boom Stick makeup, so I looked at the ingredient list and tried to duplicate it. I REALLY love the way it makes my skin feel. I am “forcing” it on my sisters on Sunday because that’s what good sisters do, and if they like it, I’ll share my recipe here. If it burns or irritates their skin, I’ll post pictures of their “after” results.  JK

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I entertained a few times this week and shared my scone recipe.

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What are you reading? What creative pursuits have you tried your hand at this week? Are you planning a garden for summer? I’d love to hear your comments, or if you blog, drop your link so we can all visit your “home”.

 

 

Strawberry Lemon Scones

This is my go-to scone recipe. Until our recent kitchen renovation, this recipe was taped into the cupboard door where I could have quick access to it. I made it so often over the years whenever we needed a pick-me-up during a long, tedious school day.
I still recall all of my children sitting on our old, long Queen Anne’s couch watching an old version of The Railway Children with a table of tea and these scones spread before them.
This recipe is a “base recipe” and can be adapted for whatever fruit is in season: a generous handful of cut strawberries, wild blueberries, or juicy peaches.
I copied the recipe out in watercolor for a friend and thought I’d share it with you here.

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~Old Fashioned Scones~
2 cups flour
3 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 T. shortening
1/2 cup milk
whatever “add-ins” you want, about a cup’s worth total: strawberry slices, blueberries, peach, Craisins, nuts, chocolate chips, etc. You can add a teaspoon of lemon or orange zest as well.

My favorite variations: lemon zest and strawberry, lemon zest and blueberry, white chocolate chips with chopped Craisin and a few crushed walnuts.
Preheat oven to 400. Sift dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Stir in milk and form a ball that just holds together. Press in your “add ins”.  Press into a 1/2″ circle shape on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cut into 8 wedges. Brush with egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until slightly browned.

Though these are sprinkled with sugar, you can also add a glaze made of powdered sugar and lemon juice or water if you like, as well.

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Enjoy.

Weeding Wisely to Increase Joy

I spent most of the day outside, tending my herb and flower garden while my 3 year old played nearby.

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It’s warm enough now to plant, so I bought a few herbs to replace several that didn’t survive the winter: parsley, mint, and basil. I spent hours pulling weeds and showing Brayden how to find and eliminate them so we could replace them with something better.

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Among the herbs, I also added pansies (a favorite of mine), freesia, pink flowering ornamental strawberries, and violets.

While I worked, I listened to my Bible App (Hebrews) and also enjoyed a podcast.

I also tried my hand this week at propagating roses for our yard. Though there are detailed YouTube videos on how to do this, you basically cut a piece of new growth under a leaf node off at a 45 degree angle, dip it in water for a minute, scrape the outer layer of the stem off with the side of scissors, dip it into rooting hormone, and place it in a cup full of potting soil or perlite. It is then misted with water until moistened and placed in a ziplock bag to make a small greenhouse environment for each plant. They’ll require misting every few days and in 6 weeks, roots should form. I’m very excited about the possibility of propagating some of my grandmother’s roses and bringing them to my yard. I have a bleeding heart bush from my husband’s childhood home that I propagated using root cuttings and it makes me smile whenever I see it. There’s something satisfying about connecting times and places and people through flowers and conservation.

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Whenever I garden, I’m reminded of how much it parallels life. Jesus used gardening terms when he taught: branches connected to the Vine, sowing, reaping, various types of soil and ground, broadcasting seed, mustard seed sized faith, plants thriving near rivers of water, and the life of the godly being compared to watered garden.

Especially as I pull weeds, I’m reminded that so many areas of life need to be removed in order to make room for what is truly life-giving. Weeds easily overtake and crowd out those aspects of life that bring beauty, nourish your soul, and feed and heal your body.

Weeds will choke out your joy if you’re not alert. “The cares of this world.” It’s a slow creep, barely noticeable. Weeds crowd and steal space and use necessary oxygen.

We may need to weed out busyness where we’ve over-committed and run ahead of God. We may need to plant ourselves still before Him so we can worship.

We may need to weed out the hidden-in-plain-sight sin that has so entangled us that we believe it’s just part of our DNA –who we are.  We may need to plant the Word before our eyeballs and meditate on Truth in order to get back on the righteous path.

We may need to weed out friendships that are mediocre or toxic, or worldly influences that are not honoring God nor helping us thrive spiritually. We may need to plant ourselves with godly friends, older women, and those who are doing right and acknowledging God in all their ways.

We may need to turn off the noise, the social media, the books, the TV, the hobbies, the chatter that steals our attention from the One who truly deserves our undivided devotion. We may need to rearrange our time so that God gets the first fruits.

Weeding is tedious, hard stuff, but it makes space for the crop that you want to harvest in the end.

Saying no to one is saying yes to another. Weeding wisely increases your success and your joy.

Summer is right around the corner, and I want to challenge you to do some weeding so your life can flourish and grow with grace.

Might you have a few weeds to pull? Ask:

  • What is sinful, ungracious, and unlovely?
  • What is hindering me from following God and pursuing His best?
  • What is keeping me from loving others first and best?
  • What is weighing me down?
  • Where am I easily offended and where does Satan enjoy tripping me up time and time again?
  • Where am I easily angered and frustrated? Again, where does Satan keep me defeated by pushing my buttons?
  • What friendship leaves me depleted? Which one is not based on mutual respect and edification?

To purposefully plant, ask:

  • Lord, what do you have for me in your Word today?
  • Lord, where is my first circle of influence and what jobs have you assigned only to me? How can I be most influential there?
  • Where is God burdening me to act?
  • Who needs my kindness today?
  • What is God teaching me through this thing?
  • What virtue is the Holy Spirit asking me to put on?
  • Which friendships refresh and encourage me? Which friendships are based on mutual respect? Whose life points me to Christ?

I hope these questions help you to navigate the maze of your own heart and encourage you to seek the important and eternal aspects of life that will bring you joy.

Have a lovely week tending the garden of your heart and hearth,

Sarah

“I am enough” and other lies Christian women believe.

The church seems to be confused about the concept of truth.

We say we believe the truth, but I believe we’ve been conditioned by our culture to think that it is more educated/enlightened/accepting to believe that my truth is as relevant as yours.

Just believe what you want. Believe in yourself if you want. Who am I to criticize your truth? If we each have our own truth then there is not truth or right or wrong.

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In Christian circles, I see confusion everywhere: from the books pumped out of Christian publishing houses, to the bloggers we follow. When they deviate from the Bible, we’re quick to write it off as a misunderstanding or just “their experience”, when in reality they are breaking rank with Scripture and we are giving them a thumbs up as the world watches on. Recently a big name blogger divorced her husband and married another woman. Instead of grieving this woman’s vow-breaking and disobedience, Christians bought in to her “journey” as though that was the ultimate thing. Some jumped on board and applauded her because she’s happier now, when women who know God’s word should be grieving that yet another public figure tossed obedience aside for desire.

This is a silly example, but Christians memes filled with error are EVERYWHERE.

This morning, scrolling through my FB feed was this meme: “I am enough.” It was from a Christian page. Christian women were liking and affirming this feel-good three-word statement. But the meme is not true from a Christian’s worldview. What’s the problem with “I am enough” you ask? We’ll, obviously, if I were enough, I didn’t need Christ and he died in vain. If I were enough I could have saved myself and taken care of all my own need in my self-sufficiency. God’s Word teaches the absolute opposite– that I was so lacking in EVERY area, morally and spiritually destitute, it was like I was a dead corpse, and Christ reached down to help me. No, I am not enough and neither are you, and people who believe they are enough will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as it is only for those who recognize their utter spiritual poverty as detailed in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt.5:3) (Good news & spoiler alert: Christ is enough.)

We’ve elevated feelings and demoted God’s Word as a take it or leave it smorgasbord.

Are you uncomfortable with the word “truth”? The church is called the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Do you relate to Pontius Pilate who mused, “What is truth?”

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus claims to be THE Truth.

Truth is an indisputable fact. It’s reality. Truth transcends culture and time.

As Christians, we’re commanded to speak the truth in love, but do we understand what this means?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

 

The verse doesn’t say to speak YOUR truth. Many like to imagine that this verse is their straight-up mandate to vent all.their.feelings, and let you know everything that you EVER did to them that they didn’t like about you. That might be speaking your truth but, just to set the record straight, it’s not speaking the truth. It’s having no filter. So, NO, you shouldn’t tell Sally that she really should lose some weight or let Jane know that you don’t approve of the length of the skirt she’s wearing.

Speaking truth is to edifying another believer towards Christian maturity by promoting Scripture as TRUTH that can be depended upon. It’s to promote sound doctrine and to build up a discouraged (or even sinful) believer with the promises of God’s faithfulness.

It looks like this:

“I know you’re discouraged that you used your tongue in a less than gracious way again, Sally, but God is faithful to forgive us when we ask and He’s promised to give us a way to escape the temptation if we look to Him. Why don’t you just ask Him to forgive you and return to Him?”

“Yes, this heartache seems unbearable, Jane,  but God is the God who is near to the Brokenhearted, so He is right here with you.”

“I know it’s disappointing when people don’t respect you, but ultimately humility is a place where we can embrace the lowly mindset of Christ. Could this be another opportunity to kill pride and become more like Christ?”

In Alive in Him, Gloria Furman, states it this way:

“Speaking the truth in love” has…everything to do with building up someone else with good doctrine in a loving manner. Solid doctrine is our building material, love is our disposition, and maturity in Christ is our aim.” pg.117

“Truthing solid doctrine with each other wars against our flesh while it strengthens our souls. If a toe gets stubbed, the whole leg smarts, and the body walks with a limp. Ephesians teaches us that the ascended, victorious Christ is creating in himself one new man of which we are a part…every member, then, is a minister to every other member.” p.117

Sometimes speaking truth means that over my dead body will you go this direction while I remain silent.

Do we feel all “weird-ed out” to hold anyone to a biblical standard of truth even as Christians? It’s risky, isn’t it? Because often times Christians are offended when other believers hold them to the Biblical standard by which they claim to live.

We have to also speak up when truth is trampled by erring Christian teachers who are not discernible from the world. God’s grace is bringing us toward’s greater goodness and holiness every day, my friends, and we have to expect that pursuit from the people we look to for leadership.

In 1875, when Hannah Whitall Smith penned a book entitled The Christian’s Secret to A Happy Life, it became an instant best seller, well before the days of the internet or celebrity blogger. She was a big ticket and her success set her up as a prominent speaker on the “higher life” idea of Christian victory. People bought into it and sought her out.

Behind the scenes though, there was a huge disconnect between what she wrote and what she lived. Her personal life was a total mess. In 25 Surprising Marriages, William Peterson recalls the unhappy nature of her marriage to her husband, Robert. He traveled a lot, leaving her alone and they fought. He accused her of being a cold, frigid wife. Her journal reveals that she doubted God, especially after the death of her little boy, and years later she described herself as an agnostic. The year her book was published was also the year her husband had to step out of ministry for adultery/infidelity. The year she wrote another book about child raising (1894) was the same year her younger daughter married atheist Bertrand Russell. And her older daughter left her husband and two children for an artist.

My point is not to glory in Hannah’s failure’s. Not at all. But to warn that though she wrote this:

 If we are to walk as Christ walked, it must be in private as well as in public, at home as well as abroad. It must be every hour all day long, and not at stated periods or on certain fixed occasions. We must be Christlike everywhere and to all. It is in daily living that practical holiness can best show itself, and we may well question any “professions” that fail under this test of daily life. An anxious Christian, a discouraged, gloomy Christian, a doubting Christian, a complaining Christian, an exacting Christian, a selfish Christian, a cruel, hard-hearted Christian, a self-indulgent Christian, a Christian with a sharp tongue or bitter spirit, may be a very earnest worker and have an honorable place in the Church. But, he or she is not a Christlike Christian, and knows nothing of the lessons of this book concerning the higher Christian life.

her life was different behind the scenes. Did her reader’s catch that in her book? Did they overlook it?

I have to ask myself how someone with so much knowledge of scripture, and with a vibrant public ministry like Hannah’s, with the wherewithal to write the above excerpt could have turned away from God?

What truth did she deny? What truth are we denying? Where are we skeptics when God’s Word has spoken it as truth?

Do we believe that God is who He says He is?

If so, what responsibility do we have to His Word?

Are we living as though God’s Word is Truth?

EVERY word of every book, teacher, pastor, speaker, blogger, should be examined through the sieve of Scripture to see if it aligns with the Truth.

Every thought and motive in my own heart should be tested as well, to see where it stands.

Often we have to peel back the layers of our own thoughts, words, fears, emotions, to see the lies that are buried in our own hearts that we are holding on to as Gospel Truth.

If we want to be women of the Word, we have to KNOW the Bible inside and out. We have to read it. A lot. We have to let it infiltrate our mind and change our pre-conceived notions.

“Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.”

Then we need to meditate on what it says. “What does it say and mean?” Simple questions. “What am I doing about this information? Am I living this truth?”

Don’t read for knowledge’s sake. Read to obey.

And please, please, don’t confuse interest in the knowledge of Biblical things with being teachable by the Holy Spirit. A teachable heart is pliable to the truth of God’s word.

“All you have said, we will do.”

“Sanctify (set them apart) with thy truth. Thy word is truth.”

I’m praying for you this week as you get into your Bible. If you have little kids in the house like I do, I know it’s hard to make this happen. I have to set aside time every day to read or it doesn’t magically happen. Five minutes is better than nothing so don’t let time restraints keep you from even a little. Put your Bible in a prominent place, like the kitchen counter so you can glance at it on your way by or when you have a free minute to stir your soup. I know you know all this already, but I wanted to encourage you today to put away any distractions that would keep you from getting into God’s Word. It’s not something that’s celebrated in the world, so I want to cheer you on as you learn to love and value God and His Word a little more each day.

Praying for you as we seek Him together and believe HIS Truth.

Sarah

Two books I’m loving on the calling of motherhood

I don’t quite remember the first time I felt self-conscious and embarrassed when I told someone I was a full-time housewife and mother, but I’ve had lots of experience with that feeling to date. Mostly feelings of inadequacy and second-guessing what I was doing with my life.

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It usually plays out something like this:

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I stay home and take care of my kids.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”—subject change needed because, WHATEVER. “Err…Where do your kids go to school?”

“We actually home school them.”

“What does your husband do for work?”

“He works at a church full-time as the youth pastor/business administrator.”

Crickets.

If you’re a stay at home mom, you know the stigma. We do nothing all day. We’re wasting our life. We’re wasting our talent.

Thankfully as I’ve aged, I don’t care about the current feminist rhetoric du jour and I’m more comfortable with my own choices. As I look around at the landscape of our troubled society, one thing is clear: people need to be cared for and children need guidance like never before, plain and simple. Who better to pour your life into than your own cherished husband, children, extended family, neighbors, and church?

I’ve been reading two books on calling that have resonated with me. The first one that I’m reviewing is entitled Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God, a book about our stay-at-home work and re-thinking the value of it. Courtney Reissig says,

“What I’ve learned is that God is glorified in the mundane work as much as he is in the magnificent.” (Kindle loc. 171)

“You image God uniquely when you work. You tell a story to the world about his goodness and glory through your work.” (loc. 234)

“We take the good things that God has given us (work, the home, etc.) and make them seem pointless. But for those in Christ, the futility of the ordinary chores isn’t the end of the story. Our work is meant to be a means of loving God through loving our neighbors, so the greatest love we can show them (even the neighbors in our own home), is to bring some sense of order in a broken and chaotic world. Sometimes this looks like opening your home to a friend who is weary and sometimes it looks like disinfecting the whole house after a stomach bug makes its way through.”

The chapter on imaging God by preparing and providing food for the people at your table really inspired me. We think of Jesus teaching and preaching, but the Bible shows Him eating and drinking with his friends and feeding His own manna, fish, milk and honey and more.

I’m also making my way through a gut-wrenching book written by a woman who has fostered over 100 children, Another Place at the Table which shows the devastating results of children who are *not* cared for and end up in the foster care system. It’s not for the faint of heart and as you can imagine. It is riddled with stories of physical and sexual abuse. It’s heartbreaking and convicting and inspiring and maddening all at the same time. It makes me want to care for my own and then some and has made me thank God for the service I can do for Him that come disguised as mundane and thankless jobs.

It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of comparing ourselves to others. But it’s imperative to know that the only thing that matters is the job that God has called us to.

If you are a mother, God has given you children to lead and guide. So much of what we do behind the scenes impacts generations. Our integrity in the home is no small matter and our kids pick up on our attitudes. These verses from Psalm 106 always convict me:

“They forgot God, their Savior…then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord.” (21a,24,25)

These verses remind me that forgetting God leads to discontentment in our place and with His provisions and plans, which leads to complaining–which God hears, even when it’s in the quiet of our own house where we think nobody hears.

If you get a chance to read Glory in the Ordinary, I think you’ll really enjoy it. It will help you as you care for your home and family. Let me know if you pick it up.

 

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links at no cost to you. I get a small kick back when you purchase through these links. Thanks for supporting this blog.

 

For when you are not okay

Summer awakens my senses. After a cold New England winter, the warmth of the softened ground gives way to growth and I love everything about it. The smell of freshly cut grass, the sounds of Katydids and frogs in the pond on summer nights, the smell of sunscreen and salt water as we watch the ocean crash wildly in front of us. It soothes, mentally and physically.

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I’ve been alive long enough to know that some seasons are like this, full of robust growth. Kids are thriving, I am thriving. Life lessons sink in deep with grace. My inner man is aware of God. My heart is rooted in His word, grounded in truth, and the fruit is evident. Change is happening and I know it.

But other seasons, wilderness seasons, are different. Growth is hard. Appetites are dull. Senses seem unaware. Hearts are numb. Trouble abounds. The inner man is cold and soil of the heart un-tillable. Nobody seems to learn their lessons. Everyone is hurting and out of sorts. Life is plodded through instead of lived alive and joyfully, and getting through the day is the main goal.

Many of my friends are RIGHT NOW in the midst of trials, and it breaks my heart to know they are hurting. We can all struggle for a while and be “okay”, but when the struggle lasts for years on end, we get worn thin and depleted. Though I can’t write about specifics (nor would I) I am sobered by their pain, knowing we will all go through unbearable heartache at some point in our life. Sometimes husbands don’t pan out to be the knight in shining armor we married. Sometimes church members act dumb and hurt others. Kids rebel and make life altering choices. Health leaves. Money is short. Resources sparse. Sometimes people never change. Or maybe our own loved one is self-destructing and there’s nothing we can do about it.

For all my friends who are hurting and struggling, who are going through tough seasons and are basically non-existent emotionally, I hope this post is encouraging to you. Nobody wants to hurt or be depressed, and it’s torture when you know you just “aren’t right” and don’t want to be this way. What now?

I know you don’t want to feel this way. You are usually “fully alive” and this season is wearing you down.

For my friend who just recently told me that she doesn’t really desire anything right now,

and for the lady who wrote that her faith is wavering,

and for anyone out there who is waking up to their own foolishness and realizing that your own actions landed you in the place you are,

and for the woman who has been numb so long that she’s wondering if she’ll ever come through the hurt,

can I just encourage you to hang on a little while longer and to stop adding to your grief by beating yourself up for being human? To stop assuming that your grief is not okay with God, as though sorrow and mourning and downright lamentation is some sort of sin?

Can you believe me for a minute when I tell you that God was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and that the brokenness of this life is sometimes just plain overwhelming?

Can you trust me when I say God is still good even when our life seems to be in disarray?

Can you believe that your performance didn’t matter before and He’s not disappointed in you or your situation now?

Can you hang on just a while longer to the fact that Jesus loves you first and best and longest and forever? That He’s always faithful even when we are faithless and faltering?

Can I just say that emotional dullness is part of life?

And can we all just admit that our culture’s “get over it”–grit your teeth and just move on–mentality is not helpful when you are truly hurting?

Remember, we are physical and spiritual beings. and feelings aren’t facts. Wilderness times are not always things we can control and obviously, these times are not always because of something we’ve done. However, even if you are where you are because of your own foolishness, please remember that in Christ, you are justified, which means that God looks on you and sees Christ, and that’s good news because it’s as if you’ve always obeyed His Word.

Can you just hope in the nature and character of God a little longer and realize that He’s going to hold you until this is over?

I’m so sorry you are struggling. I wish I could sit with you in your grief. I don’t have much else to say except to point you to Christ and the verses that help me when I am discouraged and fearful.

When you feel like God doesn’t care:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me. 

Isaiah 49:14-16

When you feel stuck:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3

When you feel like giving up:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;

though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

Ps. 37:23,24

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

When you feel like God doesn’t like you

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12

When you self-justify and fall short:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Romans 4:4-5

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Romans 8:33-34

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Heb. 4:16

On a practical level, these are some things that have helped me during times of discouragement or heartache. They may or may not help you. Take or leave what you will.

  • getting extra rest or extra exercise, depending on how I feel.
  • eating healthy, small meals.
  • setting aside time to visit a friend.
  • purposefully slowing down to notice life around you: the smell of your child’s hair, listening to the noises of nature, watching the sunset or waves at the beach, feeling the warm water as you wash dishes.
  • doing something you enjoy at the moment. Antiquing, crafting, baking, drawing.
  • praying. When we pray, our voices go straight to the ears of God. It’s comforting to know that He hears our heart.
  • helping others. It always helps to cheer someone else up.
  • listening to Scripture, especially the Psalms. You’ll find lots of true prayer about every sort of struggle, and you’ll be refreshed as you see the Psalmist hope in God in his trouble.
  • meditate on one verse at a time.

I’m praying for you today. When you are weak, He is strong on your behalf. Rest in Him.