The Yes Effect

yes effectI’ve looked forward to reading The Yes Effect for several years now, because the co-author, Darcy Wiley, is a real life friend of mine. Hearing about powerful interviews with missionaries from around the world, the writing process, and how the book took shape made me eager to read the final product.

And I was not disappointed. The idea for the book came from Luis Bush’s work in the 10/40 movement, a missions strategy that sought to bring the Gospel to the most unreached people groups. The Yes Effect tells the story of Bush’s lifetime of missions work, but also pulls in the stories of many other missionaries who have served around the world, from a wide variety of backgrounds. Structured around particular challenges to live and pray in a way that makes us open to doing God’s work wherever we’re called, the chapters are not only a fascinating look at modern missions history, but also a call for all of us–missionaries or not–to look for where God is working and make sure we are saying yes to the work He has for us to do.

As I mentioned in a newsletter earlier this month, one thing I really liked about this book was the way Darcy and Luis highlighted the ordinary sides of the missionaries, many of whose stories are amazing and totally outside the experience of someone living in comfortable suburbia. While not being prescriptive–how could it be, since predicting what the Holy Spirit is about to do would be foolhardy–The Yes Effect is a thoughtful invitation to pray a bit differently, think about the world a bit differently, and look for opportunities in a different way than we may be used to doing.

The Yes Effect is thought-provoking, compelling, and full of interesting stories of modern missions. I’d recommend it for believers as inspiring regardless of your current level of missions focus.

 

Disclosure: The author of this book is a friend, and I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Book links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Starting the day on the right foot

IMG_6950Convocation is, very simply, everyone showing up at the table to start the day together. It’s the sort of thing I would still do even if we sent the kids away to school, but since we homeschool, it’s also the beginning of the school day. This has evolved over the years, as I (characteristically) started out trying to cram too much in or be more free form, but ultimately I have found that in school and life the more I can make something a system and routine, the more likely it is to get done. And the more I can hone in on what is actually important, the more likely we are to continue.

This year, convocation only includes a few things, all spiritual, for a number of reasons.

1) It makes sure those things don’t fall off the table.

In years when I’ve put Bible, scripture memory, singing, and catechism at bedtime or during other reading time, I’ve been tempted to let it slide. We get tired, we have math to do, my voice is giving out… For the past couple of years, we’ve done spiritual things first, and it makes a good habit.

2) It keeps things simple and short.

My clipboard is set up to show me what I have to do for the school day from start to finish. Convocation is at the top and only has a handful of items. If people are dragging or we have places to be, that’s ok. Convocation doesn’t stretch on forever. Other important things like poetry and art and whatnot fit into other parts of our day. And because I know convocation only takes 20 minutes or so, I’m not inwardly panicked that we won’t get to everything else.

I will say that the only thing on my list before convocation is inspection, to remind me to check up that everyone actually handled personal hygiene, did their morning jobs, made beds, etc. Inspection is pretty fast, and maybe someday it will dawn on these people that tooth brushing is a daily requirement and then I will not have to ask. I’m not holding my breath. 🙂 At any rate, in case it’s of interest, here is our convocation list this fall:

Prayer – Sometimes one of the kids prays, sometimes all of them pray popcorn-style, sometimes it’s just me. We pray for teachable hearts and good focus, thank God for the day and opportunity to learn, and pray for missionaries or people we know who are sick or in trouble as those things come up.

Song – We sing a hymn or song a cappella. I have each of our songs printed out and on my clipboard. A sticky note pokes out the side to mark the song for that day, and we just rotate through. The edge of the sticky note that hangs out says, “Lift up your hearts” to remind me to say that. In the past, some of us have had a hard time remembering that we sing to worship, not to be noisy or annoy our siblings or practice our beat-boxing, so this reminds us to put aside any grumpiness or fuss to tune our hearts. After I say “Lift up your hearts” the kids respond, “We lift them up to the Lord” and then I start singing and they join in. Our song rotation includes:

  • How Firm a Foundation
  • All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
  • Come, Thou Almighty King
  • May the Mind of Christ My Savior
  • To God Be the Glory
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • Lead On, O King Eternal
  • Praise Ye the Lord, The Almighty
  • Holy Holy Holy
  • Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
  • Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
  • All Creatures of Our God and King
  • Psalm 1
  • Rejoice, the Lord is King

Review Passage – We review one Bible passage per day. I read along with the kids reciting, and I don’t require perfection or put them on the spot. I figure there is value to repeating Scripture over and over again and in the long run this puts more of it in their hearts. Our passages currently include:

  • 1 Peter 5: 1-11
  • Romans 8: 1-17
  • 1 Corinthians 13
  • Psalm 19
  • John 1: 1-18
  • Philippians 2
  • 1 Chronicles 16: 8-36
  • Psalm 16

Bible Chapter – On alternating days, I read a chapter from either the Old Testament, New Testament, or Proverbs. We’re reading through 1 Chronicles and Luke currently, and for Proverbs we just do the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month. Often, I will ask one or more of the kids to narrate (tell back) what happened in the chapter, unless someone has a question or observation.

Catechism Review – Each day, we review five of the questions and answers we’ve already covered. I keep a bookmark in Training Hearts, Teaching Minds to remind me of where we are, and when we get to the end of what we’ve learned, we start over with question one.

Catechism Biblestudy – Using the book linked above, we review the week’s new question and answer, and read the short Biblestudy for that day. In the book, Starr Meade helpfully has six short devotions written around the Scripture proofs for that question. So it gives us a chance to see where the Bible talks about that answer (ie, Why do we believe this? Because it’s in the Bible, not because someone else said so) and understand the idea from different angles. We often spin off into a short discussion here, too.

And that’s it. It looks like a lot in a blog post, but it’s only four check boxes on the list, and it’s done within half an hour. Then I send Hannah off to do independent work, Sarah to computer lessons, and Jack collects his things for teaching time, as I mentioned in my school day overview post. I sometimes use the transition to put Margaret down for a nap or switch a load of laundry, but usually we just proceed pretty smoothly to the next thing on the list.

How do you start your school day?

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Hodge Podge: Devotional Books

This week’s literary mix is made up of a variety of books about faith, theology, and Biblestudy.

Praying With Paul – In this excellent study of how Paul prays in his epistles, D. A. Carson both illuminates scripture passages and draws out excellent teaching and applications about prayer. Highly recommended.

The Good News We Almost Forgot – Kevin DeYoung’s well-written teaching on the Heidelberg Catechism would make for interesting family Biblestudy. DeYoung structures the book on a weekly framework, because he writes that the Heidelberg Catechism was originally designed to be preached through week by week. Because we’re still working through the Westminster as a family, I wound up using this on my own, but I could see handing it off to an older kid for their devotional reading. I especially appreciated the sections on communion.

Worship by the Book – Our church is looking for a new director of worship, so Josh and I have been talking more about it than usual (since he’s very involved in that ministry, we tend to talk about it a lot anyway) and it was interesting timing to read this book on worship. Presenting different viewpoints–Anglican, Free Church, and Presbyterian–the book highlights different ways that people approach biblical worship. Tim Keller’s section was remarkable, as was editor D. A. Carson’s opening essay. This book offers lots to think about and discuss.

Matthew for Everyone (Part 1 and Part 2), Mark for Everyone – I’ve enjoyed reading through N.T. Wright’s commentaries on the Gospels. He has a way of making the books come alive in a fresh way while sticking close to the text that I really appreciate. The books are written in an accessible voice (hence the “for everyone” moniker) but are a great way to facilitate slow, careful reading of familiar passages.

Gospel Identity – Our small group did this study over the last semester and it was fine. I wanted to love the book, but honestly, it wasn’t my favorite. Fortunately, we like our group and we’ll start something new this fall!

Have you read any good books of theology or Biblestudy lately?

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In Keeping: None Like Him

none like himI almost skipped None Like Him, because it has roses on the cover. In case you are likewise reluctant, allow me to assure you that in spite of its floral cover art, this book is not the pink-and-purple-butterfly-ish theology lite so often marketed to women. It’s by Jen Wilkin, so I should have known better. In actual fact, None Like Him is an excellent book of depth and richness that any Christian could learn from.

I highly recommend Wilkin’s book for it’s thoughtfulness and perspective. I took reams of notes, and so rather than a standard review I decided to make this a post of a few of the quotes I’m keeping from my reading.

Sanctification is the process of learning increasing dependence, not autonomy.

In the back of my mind, I keep waiting to grow up. So often, I look around in a moment of crisis and think, “Um, shouldn’t an adult step in?” Of course, with five children and a mortgage one might argue that this is about as grown up as it gets. Maybe there’s not some mythical moment when you figure things out this side of heaven. If anything, as the years go by, I realize more and more where I fall short and how much growth I still need. So I liked Wilkin’s note that sanctification–growing more Christlike–is a process of learning dependence rather than autonomy. It’s counterintuitive, but admitting need may be more mature than attempting to power through alone.

Sometimes it takes more than one lifetime for the ugly to be made beautiful…but this does not mean that what God is doing is not perfectly timed.

Isn’t this profoundly hopeful? So many problems are too big for my one small life. What a glorious hope to know that my timeline is not The Timeline.

Over what do I have control? A few very important things. My thoughts, which I can take captive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And if I can control my thoughts, it follows that I can control my attitude—toward my body, my stuff, my relationships, and my circumstances. If my thoughts and attitude are in control, my words will be as well, and my actions.

While I’m always telling the children, “Change your thoughts!” I’m not always as good at changing my own. This really does tie in with a desire for control–which Wilkin points out is really a form of idolatry. So often, life feels as though it’s careening out of control. At those moments, this reminder is sound. What can I control? Only a few things. My thoughts, my attitudes…and out of those flow my words and my actions. That’s a fair circle of impact, and that’s where my focus should be, not on the circumstances I can’t control and am not responsible for.

Long after the beloved generations that debate tattoos around my table have gone to dust, long after your generation fades like grass, the God of all generations will endure. Thanks be to the God for whom a thousand years are but as yesterday, the God who is from everlasting to everlasting. Thanks be to God for the limit of time, by which we are bound and he is not. Eternal God, establish the work of our hands.

I love this. What peace in knowing that God has my days marked out, and every one is a gift–not a prize or a punishment. However long I have, there is work marked out for me to do. Whether it be high impact or negligible by worldly standards is immaterial. I can work for His glory and rest in that grace and peace.

None Like Him made an excellent personal study, but would be great for a group discussion as well. If you read it, come back and let me know your thoughts.

 

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A perfect book for graduates, 30-somethings, and probably retirees, too

perfectgraduationgiftMaybe this is how selecting graduation presents goes at your house too.

Me: We need to get a graduation gift for so-and-so.

Josh: OK.

Me: I was thinking…something like…a journal?

Josh: Oh geez, a journal? That’s like the boring tie of graduation gifts. Get something they need.

But what do college students/grad students/young professionals really need? Cheapo Target decor? Caffeinated water? Their heads screwed on straight?

Since there’s really no way to predict where a person’s tastes run when it comes to spangled wall hangings and inflatable couches, and we trust that the aforementioned young person can source their own stimulants, maybe a tool for clear thinking would be in order.

And that is why I think from now on we will gift graduates with a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s excellent book, Just Do Something. I love the alternate title too, “Or: How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing In the Sky, Etc.”

As you might guess from the alternate title, Just Do Something is funny and wry. But it’s also incredibly solid, Biblical advice for a culture where a surfeit of possibilities and a deficit of responsibility inclines us to falsely spiritualize indecision.

Yep, I said “us.”

Because, when I first began reading I immediately thought the book would be perfect for graduates, but after a couple of chapters I realized that I was under conviction as a 37-year-old too. And really, the mirror DeYoung holds up in Just Do Something reflects our entire milieu, not just millennials, my nameless generation, Gen X, Baby Boomers, or whatever we’re calling ourselves.

We want to know God’s will, DeYoung says, for all the wrong reasons. We want to know what’s coming next so that we won’t be out of control or uncomfortable. We are obsessed with what house to buy, what job to take, who to marry, and so forth because we think those things are going to make or break us, but the Bible says God is after our sanctification. Instead of being frozen in indecision, DeYoung asks if we’re living 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

“Are you joyful always? Are you praying continually? Are you giving thanks in all circumstances? You ought to be. For this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.”

Basically, DeYoung boils seeking God’s will and looking for your purpose (which he discusses in very helpful detail) down to knowing God, praying for wisdom, and then, as long as our options aren’t unbiblical, just taking the leap so that we don’t waste our lives.

“If we had done something—almost anything, really—faithfully and humbly and for God’s glory for all that time, we could have made quite an impact.”

Because I’m a product of my culture and milieu just like everyone else, I really needed to read this book. I wish I had read it when I was 18/22/28/32 too. So I’ll be buying Just Do Something for graduation presents, but I’d highly recommend it for just about anyone on your list, and for yourself.

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Tools for deeper Biblestudy

To make a short story long, I inadvertently read three books about Biblestudies this summer. Theology is one of my usual reading categories, but this sub-theme did not follow my usual reading plan. In June, I went to a conference and wound up in a break-out session that I thought was going to be about ways to study the Bible in your own personal study time. But it was actually about how to get the women’s ministry at your church into deeply studying Scripture rather than relying on a lot of fluffy “Bible Lite for Girls” type programs. I read a lot on that idea a couple of years ago, so I felt in the wrong place entirely, but having parked the stroller with my (finally) sleeping baby at a point in the room furthest from the door, I couldn’t really slip away.

As it turned out, the session was really challenging and yielded several book recommendations. Through a confluence of circumstances, I wound up buying them and here we are.

dig deeperDig Deeper would be a helpful reference if you’ve never really dug into just reading the Bible for yourself. I found it to be a helpful refresher, but plan to use it more for my children, who are getting to the stage when deeper Biblestudy is the next step.

This would make a great book for a middle school or high school youth group–especially as the methods for study are nicely explained and easily synopsized. Learning to read deeply is not a given in our culture, so learning to do this with the Bible is helpful for faith but also just an all-around good life skill. I’m thinking about taking one of the book’s suggestions and making some sort of laminated card of study tools for the kids to put in their Bibles.

I don’t mean to make it sound like this is a book for children–it’s not. It’s just presented quite clearly so I think it would be helpful for a wider age range. It’s a good resource for close reading of the text.

one to oneOne-to-One Bible Reading takes less of an academic tack and explains how you can just get together with someone one-on-one (as opposed to a highly planned or off-the-shelf study) and read the Bible together. It offers a very simple framework you could use on your own, with a child, or with a very learned person, and still get a lot out of your reading.

I really like this model, especially for our culture of superficial community and runaway busy-ness. I wonder if one-to-one reading might be a great way to make a church more relational and more of a community, and also be a realistic way to answer people who are asking a lot of questions about faith.

I think this method would work really well for a family study–because different people can get different things out of it at their level–but it also might lend itself well to a small group in a situation where people aren’t sure how long they can commit.

There are several copies of One-to-One Bible Reading available on Amazon right now for a penny. I’m not sure why the glut in the market, but this would be a good time to scoop up a copy because this book is a great reference.

unleash the wordIn the past I have led Biblestudies and small groups, but for various reasons (primarily related to pregnancies and scheduling) have not done that recently. So I really didn’t intend to read Karen Soole’s Unleash the Word, although I wrote it down in that break-out session I mentioned. Our library doesn’t have it and it’s published in Britain, but apparently not in the US, so it’s about $40 on my version of Amazon.

(I know, there are SO MANY reasons I should move to England. Readier access to British publishing is only one of the myriad.)

Given the prohibitive price and lack of library availability I planned to skip the book, but while sadly perusing the conference book booths instead of listening to a speaker because Margaret was crying (note to self: do not try to attend cerebral events with an infant in tow), I spotted Unleash the Word on special for $5. So I bought it.

And I’m still not sure how I will use it, but I have to say that the book is quite good. If you’ve ever led or been part of a Biblestudy, you will appreciate Soole’s insights. One thing that I appreciated was her exploration of why canned study materials sometimes don’t work with a group, and how you can evaluate and use them more effectively. Her thoughts on how to handle group dynamics and how to promote deeper relationships while keeping a lid on distracting sidebars were also helpful. Most interesting to me–although this could be a British thing since it’s not the way most groups operate here, at least in my experience–was the idea that application is best done independently. That is, while in the group you read the Bible, discuss it, and pray about what you read, and then everyone goes home to ponder deeper application questions personally. I really, really like that approach, because it would keep people from jumping to quick conclusions and encourage people to really be open to conviction rather than assuming a text doesn’t apply to them based on a cursory reading.

If you lead Biblestudies or small groups I would highly recommend finding a copy of Unleash the Word.

studyOn a related note, Hannah has been working through Starr Meade’s The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study for her Bible reading over the past couple of weeks and I am really impressed with it. I think it’s designed for a middle to high school audience, and is a guided way to read through the entire Bible and really learn to study it. It’s not a quick program, and could easily take several years to complete, but I like the format and it has been a great tool for Hannah (age 10) so far. If you’re interested, you may want to watch the price–I found the set for a solid discount on Amazon this summer, although the price is a little higher now. You might catch it on CBD with a coupon code at some point, but the books are consumable so I doubt you’d get a clean copy used (but you never know!).

Did any of your usual reading categories run away with you a bit this summer?

Speaking of reading categories, here’s a brief update on the Book Atlas. I put together a 19-page ebook explaining the concept and how to set one up, which you can get for free when you sign up for the newsletter. If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll get a link to the ebook in your August newsletter this coming Monday. I’m so interested to hear what you think!

 
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Ordering the rhythms of our tables, calendars, and hearts

a-spirited-mind-1We live in a time in which we are fortunate to have lots of options. You can eat strawberries in November and wear sweaters in July. From where we live to how we eat, even to how we observe or ignore the weather, we pretty much get to chart our own course.

Because we have this freedom, it’s even more important that we pay attention to the underlying framework that drives our choices. I’ve recently been reading and thinking about this in light of seasons and rhythms.

I’m not against the convenience of modern life. I’m writing this post in my air conditioned office while it’s 94 degrees outside. I’ll be putting a can of tomatoes in tonight’s dinner, and I buy everything from books to pajamas to eyeliner on Amazon. But I do see a difference between using modern conveniences as tools and being blindly co-opted by our consumer culture.

As I read I began articulating some impressions of unease I’ve had about how (or if) my life reflects my beliefs on a number of fronts. I’ve made some steps to change our rhythms with things like moving to a term schedule for school (generally six weeks on, one week off), and we’ve always done a Jesse Tree for Advent. Still, in reading thinkers like James K. A. Smith and others, I’ve found myself examining our life looking for the liturgy embedded therein–we all live a liturgy, Smith says, it’s just a matter of what we base it on.

circle of seasonsIn a roundabout fashion this brought me to Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s excellent book The Circle of Seasons. Ireton didn’t grow up in a high church tradition, so her study of the church year as an adult gives her a valuable outsider perspective. Ireton avoids the temptation to create or uphold empty ritual, and digs into the value and symbolism of various church traditions.

For example, in looking at Advent as a season of waiting and preparation for Christ’s birth followed by a twelve day feast of Christmas, Ireton ties in ways Christians can move beyond the commercial Christmas to enjoy a season of peace and then extend joy and love when everyone else is tapped out and suffering a post-holiday slump. What if we had a Christmas party the week after Christmas? What if we invited people over for a Christmas dinner on December 28? How would that impact our family’s ability to enjoy Christmas and be a blessing to others?

Likewise, Lent offers a chance to think about the true purpose of fasting–not self-denial or being absorbed in yourself, but creating space for God to work in and through us.

I appreciated how Ireton thoughtfully examined ways that the church calendar can break us out of our tendency to passively trudge through life, and make us more mindful of our days.

irrational seasonI’ve already mentioned The Irrational Season, but it bears repeating here because in the book Madeleine L’Engle writes her reflections on the year in a way that is informed by and immersed in the church year.

L’Engle did a masterful job of showing how being aware of the church calendar can direct our thoughts and contemplation. Thinking about Jesus’ coming birth during Advent leads to being watchful for His return. Considering the events of our lives in light of Epiphany, Easter, or the Trinity helps us to understand them in a truer light, and orient our own experiences in light of a bigger story.

Reading The Irrational Season won’t be so much a practical primer on how to celebrate the church year as an inspiration for how being aware of seasons and traditions can be a rich avenue for study and contemplation. I’m thinking about this a lot as I structure our school terms for next year.

feastOne of the e-books in a bundle I bought recently turned out to be an interesting resource on the Christian year. Feast! is full of practical tips and recipes for aligning your family culture with church culture.

The first two sections–on Advent and Christmas–were particularly helpful. I liked the ideas for ways to build up to Christmas and make that our focus, but without seeming Scroogey or anti-Christmas. A lot of the tips were ideas that would help to keep December less frantic by spreading out all the things we love about the season into a longer and more relaxed celebration. I’ve always felt that Christmas was this weird abrupt stop after a couple of weeks trying to cram too much in. I really like the idea of a more restful Advent and then a great fun long Christmas with plenty of time to listen to music, make gingerbread houses, and read Christmas books rather than putting everything away. The authors suggest adding to your Jesse Tree until Epiphany, which I remember my mom trying to do for us some years. The Stewarts suggest adding the names of God or attributes of Jesus for those extra twelve ornaments. I have this on my list to try.

I will say that after the Easter ideas the book wasn’t as applicable for me. The authors are Catholic and so they have special saints days they celebrate at different times, which isn’t something we do. But there was enough good food for thought in the other sections to make Feast a worthwhile read for me.

life giving home

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-giving Home is arranged around the year too, although I didn’t take as many notes on practical things to do in January versus May or anything like that.  Those ideas are there, but I found the book to be more helpful to me in giving me a stronger vision for the way that my home and life can better express the truth and beauty I believe in, versus specific decorating or menu ideas.

I love the point the Clarkson’s make about how our homes and family cultures are ways to engage with the broader culture and a means to tell the story of what is most important to us. This is true no matter what we believe, and certainly worth serious thought. Are our lives–from our time to our traditions to our decorating aesthetic–telling the story we want them to? Are they restorative and life-giving for our families and friends and neighbors?

jameskasmith-youarewhatyoulove

If you want to dig more deeply into how our lives tell a story of what we love and reveal our vision of the good life, you should certainly check out James K. A. Smith’s latest work, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. This book is powerfully insightful and profoundly challenging.

Smith talks about the way that our worship must incorporate not just our minds, but also our hearts. If we fail to capture and reorder our hearts, our head knowledge will not be enough. “You are what you love,” Smith writes, “because you live toward what you want.”  When we have misdirected loves it’s not because we have bad ideas, but because “our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing. And that happens through practices not propaganda.”

So if we are formed by liturgies whether we admit it or not, we ought to devote careful consideration to what those liturgies are. As a parent and teacher, this gives me a lot to think about. Of course we want to give our children truth and sound ideas, but are we going beyond that to capture their hearts with truth and beauty? Does our worship and our family culture give them a vision for what it means to flourish, or are we giving them second-rate music and sappy stories and then wondering why their palates incline them to cartoons and the mall?

This has so many implications for how we structure our time, our family culture, our schools, our work…while the book may seem the odd one out in this post, it really forms the basis for why and how we follow (or don’t) seasons, rhythms, and traditions–Christian or otherwise.

There is so much in You Are What You Love that I can’t begin to touch on all of it, but I highly recommend it if you’re interested in habits, virtue, the good life, spiritual life…well, really I’d recommend it for anyone.

I haven’t finished thinking all of this through yet, so can’t give you my conclusions, but I’d be interested to know if you’ve considered these things and, if so, how you shape your family’s calendar or traditions as a result?

 
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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

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I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Devotional books for kids

gods namesI’m always looking around for good books to use for Biblestudy with the kids. God’s Names by Sally Michael (it was recommended in Tapestry of Grace) turned out to be an excellent choice for my elementary aged kids.

The book devotes one section to each of 26 different names of God. The lesson includes Scripture passages (written out in the text, but it also works to ask the kids to find the passages and read them from their own Bibles) that use that name to describe God, explanations of why that name was important in context, and application of how we can think about God and respond to Him based on our new understanding of who He is.

I really liked this approach. In the course of learning the names of God, kids (and adults!) develop a more complete understanding of God’s character–who He is and what He values. It was easy to make strong applications, and the lessons also built on each other, referencing names we had already learned about, so the way that different things work together was simpler to understand.

God’s Names worked well to do together with my group of kids, but you could also use it as an individual study if you have a kid who is ready for an independent approach.  I’d recommend it.

salvationI expected to love Starr Meade’s God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation–after all, we really enjoy her daily study based on the catechism (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds) and continue to use that each morning.

The information in the book is good, but I think the layout didn’t click with our family. Each day gives a passage to read from Galatians, and then has a short, loosely related story or series of thoughts based on one of the themes from the passage.  There are also application questions at the end. I think there were a couple of reasons why this set-up didn’t work for us. First, it didn’t seem like we were studying the passage–I was hoping for more explanation that shed light on the verses, or a structure that helped the kids learn about salvation in general–and the little readings were ok but not fantastic.  I guess overall the book seemed like something we were just reading to get through it, rather than really learning from. It could have been a case of the right book at the wrong time, or just a style preference.  We do still recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, though!

What devotional books have you tried and liked with your family?

 

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Rest Assured

Rest-Assured-CoverIf you’re coming from a place of extreme busyness and you feel that your online life is out of control, you might find good food for thought in Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls. But if you’ve already thought a lot about this topic and have made good progress in living your priorities, this may not be as rich of a resource.

The author clearly calls out social media use and online time wastage in general, which may be startling for 20-30 somethings. While I thought some of her points came across as biased toward life before ubiquitous internet-enabled devices, she did make a strong case for the fact that thoughtful technology use is now counter-cultural.

Of course, just because something is counter-cultural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. While I personally have cut back substantially on social media and non-work internet use this year, I see that as something I’ve done for my own season of life and out of a need to honestly live my priorities, not a moral imperative others need to follow.

It is interesting to think about how we could develop a coherent theology of technology use, but I think this might be one of those areas where lack of deep thought leads people to take their own methods and try to apply them as universal standards. I think with technology especially there is a lot of grey space where we have to know ourselves and our attitudes and callings and honestly evaluate it for ourselves.  That takes a lot of work, and a checklist would be easier!  I do think this book offers some good points to think about, as long as you can approach them with an eye toward filtering the author’s conclusions through the lens of your own tendencies and personality and situation.

There were a few drawbacks to the book. I had a problem with the tone in several places.  In what seemed like an attempt to be funny the author often put others down in a way that was not actually humorous–it was needlessly mean and catty.  In other places, the author wrote in a way that made suggestions seem like imperatives and it took away from her points.

There is a lot of good material in Rest Assured, so depending on your interest level you might find it worth a read, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite book in this topic area.

 

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