You Don’t Have to Home School Preschool

Over the years many moms have asked me how to get started in homeschooling.  This post is basically a (prettier) copy of the saved email I send out to people asking about homeschooling preschool. ~Elizabeth

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The first thing I always tell parents is that you don’t have to homeschool preschool. I’m not the only one who thinks this. In fact, I don’t know any homeschool moms of more than one child who do homeschool preschool. After you “do preschool” with a four-year-old child and then the next year “do kindergarten” with that same child and realize that kindergarten was just a repeat of preschool, most moms decide to ditch official preschool lessons altogether. That goes especially if you have other children in the home, either older children who actually need lessons, or babies and younger children who need a lot of hands-on care.

Here is what you actually need for the preschool years: a home full of life and love. And books. Lots and lots of books. Kids learn so naturally at this stage, and they’re interested in so many things, that there’s no need to do anything formal. Today I will share my favorite resources for educational theory and practice. I’ll share my favorite books to read aloud with young children. I’ll also include a list of sturdy educational toys that are a good foundation for a home schooling family to own, along with the very first curriculum you might want to buy.

 

EDUCATIONAL THEORY AND GUIDES

Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. This book guides you through teaching and learning styles. It’s like a self-paced workshop to get you started on your journey.

Teaching from Rest by Sarah MacKenzie. This book is small but worth several re-reads. I also highly recommend her  Read-Aloud Revival Podcast which is one of my favorite home school podcasts.

Here are 7 educational principles from my education mentor in the States.

As your children, I have many more recommended books and podcasts. But these are the ones to start with.

 

TOYS AND GAMES TO INVEST IN

A soft globe that can’t be pierced by toddler teeth. Only has the most basic details but helpful in the early years. We actually still use ours.

Peg boards. Kids can’t get enough of these things, and even as an adult I love playing with peg boards.

Wedgits starter kit. Wedgits never get old.

Pattern Blocks. Kids love these.

Wooden Blocks. Lots of open-ended play opportunities here.

Catch the Match game.

Cuisenaire Rods. I’m big on manipulatives, can you tell?!

My kids still play with all these toys (except for the peg board, which we did recently retire). They are great for imaginative, open-ended play, either alone or while being read to.

It’s also important to have lots of paper, crayons, colored pencils, and paints lying around, along with glue, tape, and scissors.

 

BOOKS TO READ ALOUD

In the beginning you just want to play with your kids and read aloud to them. If you have access to a library — great! If you live overseas without good library access, you may have to purchase some of these titles and transport them back in a suitcase. Get used to it — you’ll be doing that a lot once you start homeschooling the elementary years.

Beatrix Potter’s stories — all of them. A wonderful way to introduce your children to advanced language while they enjoy the lush illustrations. As an adult I adore Potter’s stories. It’s better to get them as individual books, but if you can’t, a treasury will work (I usually don’t recommend treasuries because of their bulk).

Mike Mulligan and More by Virginia Burton — we all love these stories, and though it’s a treasury, it’s not bulky.

Make Way for McCloskey. Another non-bulky treasury with the funny stories and beautiful pictures of Robert McCloskey.

Reading Mother Goose rhymes to your young kids is also great for them — it introduces them to poetry, is enjoyable, and gives them some cultural literacy. This is the one we have, but there are other good ones out there.

Reading your kids Fairy Tales is also part of their cultural upbringing. A First Book of Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales are good to begin with.

Anything by Arnold Lobel, especially the Frog and Toad books, Owl at Home, and Mouse Tales. These transition nicely from read alouds to early readers.

I’m not a huge Dr. Seuss fan, but we really like Horton Hatches the EggHorton Hears a Who, and Sneetches on Beaches.

A read aloud book from Usborne that’s a lot of fun is Farmyard Tales. It’s a treasury that’s not too bulky, and the stories are fun for reading aloud and then later reading alone.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. A beautiful story about imagination and community.

Corduroy and Dandelion, both by Don Freeman and both about home and belonging.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. A deceptively small story about nature, introversion, and kind mothers.

The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban. More grown-up wisdom for the little kids (or is it little kid wisdom for the grown ups?).

Really little kids love Eric Carle books. We don’t have very many of them anymore, but they’re pretty much all good.

For preschool Bible times, I love The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor. Much more comprehensive than most children’s Bibles while including a picture for each story.

When your kids are a little bit older, they will enjoy these non-picture books:

Grandma’s Attic series by Arleta Richardson– fun stories that aren’t too moralizing. Better than Laura Ingalls Wilder and better than Caddie Woodlawn.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Fun and easy. There are two more by that author: The Dragons of Blueland and Elmer and the Dragon.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. A classic.

Also popular are Stuart Little by E.B. White and The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater is lots of fun.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary is also lots of fun. There are two others in the series: Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

Kids love Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Box Car books. They make great read alouds and then middle grade readers.

Another popular one with older readers is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

Of course we can’t neglect C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. You want them as separate books.

All these stories are just as enjoyable by parents and kids, which is what you want in a home library. To buy these books all at once would be a lot of money; but I didn’t buy them all at once. I bought them slowly over time. The idea here is to give your children a taste for good literature so that they aren’t satisfied with lesser quality stuff.

But you do want to make sure the books you buy are books your family will love — all families are different. If you have access to a public library, you’ll be able to more easily and more cheaply get a feel for which books fit your family. You can get a ton of great book ideas from Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart (or access the FREE book list at Read Aloud Revival).

When you invest money in good books and games and toys, you’ll want a special place for them, and you’ll want to teach your kids how to take good care of these items so they don’t get lost (or in the case of books, damaged). I like to keep books off the floor, mostly because of the constant risk of flooding in Cambodia.

That’s about it. In the beginning all you need are some of those building block sets, Play-doh (homemade or store-bought; good for open-ended play), the basic art supplies I mentioned earlier, and some good books to read. Take them to the park (if you have public parks — we don’t) and let them play outside. Give them basic chores to do like setting the table and putting their laundry in the bin and picking up their toys. It really doesn’t have to be complicated in the early years. They’re just learning what it means to live in a family.

 

BEGINNING CURRICULUM (FOR LATER)

As they begin reading and writing around age 5, you’ll want a good math program, a good reading program, and a good writing program. Focus on that for a year or two, then slowly add more “curriculum.” When your kids get older, Usborne and DK Eyewitness do have a lot of good science and history spines (spines are resource books that aren’t too “textbook-y”).

I use Singapore Math in the early years, but Math U See is getting consistently good reviews for being kid- and parent-friendly.

For teaching reading, I like The Reading Lesson because it’s got big print, and you can write and color in it. I’ve also heard very good things about All About Reading.

I also like the Bob Books Set 1 & Set 2 and the Sonlight Kindergarten and Grade 1 readers. Young children get a lot of satisfaction from reading an entire book, and each individual book is not too much work at once — you do not want to overtax the child’s mind.

Pretty much everybody I know uses Handwriting without Tears for handwriting. I think you can also buy the books on Amazon.

A good regular atlas and a good Bible atlas are important resources to have. The Student Bible Atlas is excellent. Nearly any atlas by National Geographic is a good one. I’ve got the World Atlas for Young Explorers. But there’s probably a newer, more updated one now.

 

Well, that’s the end of my “You don’t have to homeschool preschool” lecture. I hope this has been helpful to you. Feel free to contact me privately if you want more information or to talk about this more in depth.

Daughter

by Elizabeth

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This picture. I love it. Not because it’s particularly elegant or beautiful, but because of what it means to me. It means so much to me, in fact, that I taped it to our home school wall so I would remember and not forget.

We’d been studying China, and the art materials came from our curriculum’s China Kit. We mixed the ink ourselves, used special brushes on special paper, and stamped our work in red at the bottom.

Now, I’m not particularly artistic, but I thought I could paint some crude mountains. Mountains speak deeply to me about who God is, about His power and love, about His majestic greatness and His vast creativity. And they give me a place to meet God, in much the same way that mountains gave the ancient people of Israel a place to meet God.

The kit provided about a dozen examples of Chinese characters to try our hand at copying. Most of the characters concerned everyday family relationships. Brother, sister, Mother, Father. But when I saw the character for Daughter, I immediately knew it was the one that belonged on my mountain picture.

Of all the characters, it was the one I was drawn to most strongly. Magnetically almost. More than Wife and more than Mother, the way I most strongly identify myself is as a Daughter. Not necessarily as a daughter of my biological parents, though that’s true too, but as a Daughter of God. Most of my daily responsibilities revolve around Wife and Mother, but “Daughter” is, at my core, how I see myself and how I define myself.

Daughter: it’s who God says I am.

And Son or Daughter, if you are in Christ, is who God says you are, too. Your sonship is more important than your career, more important than your ministry, more important than your marriage, and more important than your parenting. It’s more important than any reputation or renown. It is an eternal identity, and valuable beyond measure. You have been born again. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are Sons and Daughters of the King above all Kings.

Remember this.

 

(Originally shared on Facebook)

8 Practices That Are Revolutionizing My Parenting

by Elizabeth

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The speaker at church was encouraging us to look to God for mercy and healing, and then when God has healed you, to remember to thank Him. And suddenly I stopped, because I thought about all the things I’ve asked God for in the past, and I realized that I’m currently in a season where I’m living into some long-awaited dreams and receiving help for some long-asked-for requests.

Most of those prayers have to do with my parenting. I’m always praying to be a better mother — because I so often feel like a failure of a mother. Looking back that day, I started seeing that I am a different Mom than I used to be. And I’m a different wife. Not in every way and not in every moment, but I’m a person much more at peace in myself and in my circumstances. This is the fruition of long-awaited prayers.

The changes were slow and imperceptible, and I didn’t even know it was happening at the time. I didn’t even set out for it, I don’t think. But I think I know some of the ways it was birthed. Many of the changes I’m going to talk about relate to homeschooling, but much of what I’m learning could probably apply to all parenting if you change some of the verbiage.

 

1. I started listening to different voices, and slowly I started thinking differently. I used to keep up on a lot of post-fundamentalist news like the falls of Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips (of Vision Forum), and the oldest Duggar son. I was obsessed with needing to know, after having read a book on fundamentalist home school cults several years ago. I feared being part of the same “machine” that created these home school disasters. I got lost in cyberspace any time I had the chance. I would fall down an endless rabbit hole of meaningless blog posts and podcasts.

I don’t do that anymore. Not that I don’t occasionally get lost in cyberspace, but that I am much more selective with my influencers. I don’t need knowledge of the most recent evangelical disasters in order to mother my children well, to nourish my own spiritual life, to connect with my husband, or to serve in local community. Instead I need encouragement and inspiration for the day at hand.

Now I listen to Sarah Mackenzie (of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and the book Teaching From Rest, which continues to do its work on me), Brandy Vencel (of Afterthoughts blog and the Schole Sisters podcast), Cindy Rollins (of the Mason Jar podcast and the book Mere Motherhood), and their influencers: the speakers and writers at the CiRCE Institute (my favorites are Angelina Stanford, Christopher Perrin, and Andrew Pudewa).

They’ve changed my thinking on education, its purpose, and its practical implications. They’ve stirred in me a hunger for discovery that I used to have, that got lost along the box-checking, high-performing, competitive way. They’ve inspired me to start reading poetry again.

And I listen to the artists and makers at the Rabbit Room (my favorites are Rebecca Reynolds and Andrew Peterson). They have pressed me further into the reality that I’m an image-bearer of God, and they’ve fortified my understanding of creativity and art. I’ve followed their lead in embracing the physical world, and as I’ve done so, I’ve become more fully human — and a more complete human makes a better mother.

 

2. I’m wrestling my perfectionism even more heavily than before. It pops up in the unlikeliest of places, doesn’t it? You think you’ve conquered it, but then you realize you are still drowning in lies. I was trapped in lies about what it meant to be a successful mother. I was trapped in lies about what it meant to send well-educated young people off into the world. I thought it had to be perfect. I thought there had to be zero educational gaps. I thought I had to prove my intellectual worth through my children’s performance. That’s a lot of pressure to live under.

I’m understanding more fully that we are not looking for perfection – in ourselves or our children. We’re looking for progress. For growth. My husband likes to say, “All learning happens one step at a time.” It’s plastered on the wall of our home school, in fact. But though we had pounded that fact into our children’s heads (with varying degrees of success), it had not yet reached down into mine.

I’m trying to put school in its proper place by giving it neither too much mental weight nor too little time. A bad day doesn’t bother me as much anymore. (A bad week, yes. But a bad day or two, no.) So what if the math assignment bombed? So what if the writing assignment took half the day? We’re not looking for perfection here, just steady work and steady improvement over time – and that means accepting setbacks with calm and patience.

Even if a child “loses it,” I don’t think the day is a bust. I know every day is a learning opportunity, and the days stack up to years, and there’s always tomorrow to try again. I’m staying calmer and speaking more gently so I can look back at the end of a hard day with less dissatisfaction and fewer regrets. But I remember that even if I lose it, I can acknowledge it, seek forgiveness, and start again tomorrow.

[BONUS TIP: Their education will have holes. Yours does. Mine does. Everyone’s does, no matter where or how their education took place.]

 

3. I’ve stopped putting my educational trust in curriculum. I used to want to find a curriculum that was “perfect” (see the pattern here?). And I wanted that curriculum to basically be the teacher. I wanted to leave it alone and let my children become educated by it. I was saving my brain space for writing, you see. It was all about checking boxes so I could get away and get alone and fulfill my “real” calling.

But over and over again, I became frustrated by published resources. They’re never exactly what I want, so I go looking elsewhere for perfection. It has taken me the greater part of 8 years to figure out that not only can I adapt a resource, but I must. I must tailor my children’s education to them. They are individuals. I have to use my brain. I can’t “save” it for later. I can’t get lazy.

I have to engage with where my children are at that moment, both scholastically and emotionally. Where they are is the only place to begin, the only place to build from. And in truth, my children are my real calling. Not writing. They, and any human being placed in my path. [Note: this also explains why I publish much less frequently than I used to.]

How I teach now is much more akin to coaching or tutoring — which is always what I said I enjoyed more anyway. And it’s much more satisfying. I see the struggle; I see the progress. I see the child. I’ve learned I don’t even need curricula for some subjects – I can make them up myself (like writing), be a more hands-on teacher, and even get to experience the joy of better results. I’m leaning into these ways and gaining confidence that I can do these things. I don’t have to trust a boxed curriculum.

[BONUS TIP: I had to stop thinking of my children en masse. They are not a herd. My family is a collection of individuals with differing temperaments and abilities. It’s easy to think of children as a group when they’re young, but as they grow, it becomes more and more important to see each child as an individual.]

 

4. I’m broadening my understanding of education. I touched on this in #1, the voices I’m listening to. I used to put my children’s education – or at least my contribution to it – in a box. Education equaled core work only. Education wasn’t art or creativity or movement or theology or finances or health or real life. I didn’t “do” real life. I did academics. But I’m realizing that these things are part of organic family life, part of all life.

If I’m engaged and not locked in a corner, I will naturally teach these things (alongside my husband who is already a natural teacher). I will encourage their creativity in art and architecture and storytelling. I will not think of these things as adjunct or auxiliary. They are central to becoming a fully human being. I don’t need to be afraid that art or sports or relationship will steal from my children’s robust-enough education. I can welcome them into our home and into our life.

 

5. I’m beginning to embrace assessment, and we’ve sought outside help for certain difficulties. I used to despise standardized testing as I thought it unnecessarily stressed students out. And I still believe it does, for young students. But for older students, it can be a learning experience in which they learn how to take a test that can give some reassurance to both parent and child for work well done.

Separately, we reached a point with certain issues where we needed some outside perspective. Reaching out for help was the beginning of a journey to accept my children for who God created them to be, not who I imagined they would be. These assessments have given me the grace to accept my children as they are, while also gently stretching their capacities. And armed with new knowledge, I have better strategies for teaching my students.

The testing gave me the courage to take a long, hard look at myself and see my own difficulties reflected in my children. It allowed me to embrace differences between how I assumed my children would behave, and how they actually behave. It’s helped me to better accept children who are the same as me as well as those who are different from me. And we have a lot more joy and connection.

 

6. I’ve purified the schedule, and I continually work to keep it that way. As is my custom, I chose a word for the year. This year the word was “Purify.” After last year, in which I “flirted with burnout,” I wanted to purify my schedule. And I did. What I didn’t realize was that God would also work to purify my beliefs, challenging me to confront and remove those lies of perfectionism I was still clinging to (see point #2). Believe me, that purification did not happen without intense times of prayer and many, many tears.

But anyway, back to the schedule. I’ve simplified my own schedule and commitments, along with our school schedule. I’m combining subjects, chucking some altogether, and giving ourselves much more manageable weekly assignments. We have more time to rest, relax, renew, and reconnect. And to ensure that this happens, I’m learning better how to unplug from the internet.

 

7. I’m remembering the importance of pre-teaching and review. Why I neglected this before, I’ll never know. One of my professors in college used the entire first 15 minutes of a 75 minute class to review the last class. Why didn’t I catch on to his tactic? We humans, we forget so easily. Minds need to be prepared to remember, to function, and to learn. I don’t need to get so frustrated by forgetfulness. I should expect forgetfulness. Why else would God tell us so often in His word to Remember?

Forgetfulness is in me, and I seem to be able to live with myself just fine. It makes me think I can learn to live with my children’s forgetfulness, too. I can work to reinforce their memory through review. Not rushed, exasperated review, but easy-going, happy review. I forget. You forget. Our children forget. It’s part of our nature, so take a deep breath and remember it will be OK.

I now allow more time for new concepts to sink in before I get frustrated with a child. Of course they don’t know understand the concept yet. It’s a tricky concept. And of course they can’t perform those operations yet. They can’t do it with ease yet; they haven’t been doing it for decades like I have. They’re not robots. They can’t look at or hear a concept once and understand it. Most people can’t. Rather, we must be exposed to it in different ways and at different times, preferably with a calm and unworried teacher. It’s my job to be that kind of teacher.

I give more encouragement over progress than I used to. I used to desire perfection and quick mastery and treat anything less as unsatisfactory. Now I see the mental effort and praise it. Now I see the improvement and point it out. I’m also more attentive to their signs of distress, and I don’t always push through. Tears, anxiety, hunger, fatigue, it’s more at the front than at the back.

[BONUS TIP:  I do more emotion coaching too. If someone had a poor night’s sleep, or the power is out, or it’s hot, or the work is just plain hard, I might say, “I know we feel like being cranky today. I feel like being cranky today. But let’s try not to.” I might repeat an old camp director’s saying: “Make it a good day.” I might tell them to switch subjects or get a snack or take a shower or do something creative or active for a while.]

 

8. And finally, I’ve started sharing and confessing in real life community. I see how other people deal with their issues, and they see how I deal with mine. I know what other people’s struggles are, and they know mine. And we don’t judge each other. In fact we are here to remind each other of all these things that I’ve talked about so far.

Looking back, I think partaking of closer-knit community probably predates these other changes. Being with other women who are on the same journey (cross-cultural living, ministry life, and homeschooling) has been the impetus I needed to make other changes in my life and in my outlook. I can’t speak highly enough about this. Parenting and homeschooling should be community efforts. We don’t need to fly solo.

 

I am by no means done learning how to be a better mother. And I will never, ever be perfect. I’ve called these 8 points “practices” precisely because I am not done learning how to walk in these ways. They are most certainly directional changes for me, paths I must choose to walk over and over again; I must keep practicing them. And I say they are “revolutionizing” my life because although the changes happened slowly over time, family life is markedly different for all of us now. It feels like a revolution, especially when I slip back into old habits and immediately know they are not how I want to live, because I’ve tasted the fruit of a different tree and felt the light of a different sun.

This is what happens when you take your children to church

by Elizabeth

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When you take your children to church, they’ll listen to the sermon. (Yes, even the little ones.) They will hear the Word of God being preached. Even when it doesn’t look like it, even when they fidget and squirm. But just wait, because after you take your children to church, you’ll take them home again. You’ll be sitting around the dinner table discussing life together, and they’ll bring up the sermon. And you will realize they were listening, and on their level, they understood.

When you take your children to church, you’ll be able to make theological connections and fill in missing pieces. Phrases and stories that you may know and understand but that you hadn’t gotten around to explaining, you’ll have the opportunity to talk about. Because they’ll whisper to you during the service, asking questions about sermon. They’ll bring up all sorts of topics you might not have addressed on your own. And you’ll have the opportunity not to shush them in the moment, but to answer their questions in brief and then dive deeply into them later.

When you take your children to church, they’ll pay attention to the songs you sing. They’ll ask you about the song lyrics they don’t understand, and right then and there, you can answer with the biblical truth for why we sing that part. And when they encounter God in worship, they’ll encounter their humanity too. The congregational singing will stir emotions in them that they may not entirely understand, emotions that need comforting, emotions that need talking through. And you’ll be able to take them into your arms and meet them in their need.

When you take your children to church, they’ll learn what it means to live in community. They’ll see people repenting through tears. They’ll see people on their knees, begging God for healing. They’ll see what happens when God touches someone’s heart, and they’ll see that it looks different from person to person. They’ll watch the different ways people worship, and they’ll be able to explore different ways of expressing their own devotion.

When you take your children to church, you’ll practice being patient with their impatience. You’ll practice not being embarrassed by their questions and their tears and their excitement. You’ll remember that you have a greater purpose than looking perfect or put together on Sunday morning: to engage your children with God and His people.

When you take your children to church, you’re committing to spiritual growth as a family. Of course church is not the only place spiritual growth is supposed to happen. It’s supposed to happen when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. But it’s also supposed to happen in church. As parents we are only one or two people in our children’s lives. We are key people, but we are few. We need others to walk with us in bringing our children up in the faith. And that is what happens when we take our children to church.

 

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*Children’s church is another wonderful option for the spiritual instruction of our children. In fact it’s often a life-saver for parents of young children. We have just found over the past 3 years that doing church together as a family has enhanced our family life and our spiritual growth. It goes without saying here that sometimes keeping your children in church can be hard. It can be wearying. It is not picture perfect, and it can interfere with your own communion with God from time to time. All that said, attending church as a family unit has been worth it for us.

A Few of My Favorite Things {July 2017}

by Elizabeth

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Visiting another local church. Jonathan was scheduled to preach there, and we all went along to watch and listen. The song service was especially meaningful for me as the lyrics chosen were rich, contemplative, and full of truth. The songs have continued to sink deep into my soul throughout the month, and I include links to them at the end.

4th of July Family Day. The U.S. Embassy used to host a 4th of July party, and we miss not being able to participate anymore. So instead, we took the day off school and work, went swimming at a special water park, and then ate sub sandwiches at our favorite sub shop. No fireworks though. We’re excited about next year, when we can celebrate with my Mom’s family in rural Iowa.

A day to celebrate 17 years of marriage. We got a babysitter for the entire day and finished with supper at a rooftop restaurant. (I do love this city’s skyline.) Marriage has been good to us. I know not everyone can say that, so I do not take this gift lightly. All I can do is give thanks for it.

Vacation Bible School at our international church. Missionaries from around the country, as well as tons of local kids, attend this VBS every year. Every year, my kids learn new songs (with motions!) that teach deep truths about the Christian walk. And every year, I get to catch up with friends I don’t often see or talk to.

Chamomile tea. I drank this while Jonathan was out of town, to help me relax and fall asleep without him. Actually I’m back into teas in general, with Peppermint Tea and Spearmint Tea along for the ride, as well as English Breakfast Tea and Darjeeling Tea. Mostly I prefer Twinings.

 

BOOKS

Poppy and Rye by Avi. Clever little social commentary on privilege, anger, and outrage, and injustice. For read aloud time.

Dandelion by Don Freeman, the author of the more famous Corduroy. “Come as you are.” Why have I never heard this story before??

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. Another read aloud, this one from our history curriculum. Such a good story. We can relate to life in 1920’s China because of living in Cambodia – a fact which I hope will be helpful this entire year as we study Eastern Hemisphere with Sonlight.

The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories by Dorothy Sayers (a contemporary of Lewis and Tolkien). Simply delightful. Sometimes I need a break from fiction that’s socially conscious, or from non-fiction that’s educationally or politically minded. I needed to get lost in a completely separate world, and one with delightful accents. Still working through these short stories.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. This follows right on the heels of Sayers’ stories. I finally finished this Velvet Ashes book club selection from last summer which I for some reason never finished. I thoroughly enjoy reading stories of the British upper classes in the first half of this century. These series are what I call “light reading” — they are not “twaddle.” Although easier to read, they still use language in delightful and surprising ways. I prefer to read them out loud when I can, and in my best British accent. This one is only $0.99 on Kindle.

What Falls From the Sky by Esther Emery. I’d heard really good things about this book but had avoided reading it for a couple reasons – neither of which was because I didn’t want to read it. First of all, at the beginning of this year I made a reading list that included all the print books I had laying around and all the Kindle books I had accumulated over the years but not read. I wanted to read books I’d already purchased before buying any new non-school books. (So basically I made it 6 months.) The second reason was because the easiest way to get this book was through Kindle, but since the book centered on disconnecting from electronic devices and communication, that choice seemed somehow “off” to me. I’d already been experimenting with disconnection from technology and wasn’t sure I needed a guide or story about it. But then Sarah Bessey linked to a $1.99 sale of this book, and I went for it. I am so glad.

Esther, like all good storytellers, somehow manages to tell her own very personal story while also telling the story of the rest of us. It takes my breath away, really. Then again, she is a former theatre director; storytelling is in her blood. Like all stories worth leaning into, this is a tale of brokenness and loss, healing and hope, and running from home and returning there. And the prose. Oh, the prose. There are large swaths of narrative that I just have to underline because the story is so compelling. Not just a pithy line here or there, but entire chunks of text. Note: it might still be on Kindle sale.

 

BLOG POSTS ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

On the Silence of God: When He Doesn’t Show Up Like You Need Him To by Rebecca Reynolds. Debunks two promises often offered to young people in American Christianity. Incredibly important.

Patrick Mead on lament.

Roll Away the Stone of Approval Seeking by Kay Bruner. Truth! Approval seeking is a way to control others’ opinion of me and their behavior toward me. And I have often been guilty of it.

Living the Dream by Anisha Hopkinson. All those things you’re wishin’ and hopin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’ for? They won’t fulfill, not really.

Pigeon Loaf, God, and Me by Renee Aupperlee. This post spoke to places deep inside me. If you want read more of my reaction, see my comment at the bottom of the post, which is especially relevant post for fellow lovers of C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.

Paul’s Uncomfortable Jaunt into Christian Mysticism by Rebecca Reynolds. I have always loved this passage from I Corinthians 1, and this post dives into important issues surrounding rationalism and empiricism. I’m especially interested in this topic as I want my faith (and my children’s faiths) to be both intellectually sound and experientially true. But this is untenable for a faith system. Instead we are left with the spiritual aspect to faith that is proved neither by evidence nor intelligence but is, I believe, supported by both.

 

BLOG POSTS FOR THE GLOBALLY MINDED

God Bless America! (and other dangerous prayers) by Jonathan Trotter.

Both and Neither: Exploring My Third Culture Kid Identity by Chris Aslan.

Celebrating Anne with an E: Orphans in Popular Culture, a 3-part series by Stacie Ellinger. Stacie is a friend who works with local NGO Children in Families. She examines our beliefs about orphans through beloved fictional characters and then offers actual research and data. Parts 2 and 3 are here: Resilience and Reintegration and Family-Based Care in Fiction. Long but thoughtful, especially for those interested in exploring a broader approach to caring for children at risk.

 

BLOG POSTS ABOUT SCIENCE

Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern version decays. Nifty, huh? Found through Brandy Vencel of Afterthoughts blog. With video.

Researchers Crack the Secret of the Moving Rocks of Death Valley on Interesting Engineering. Also fascinating. Also with video.

Pluto might be a planet again. Let’s talk about why this matters. by Sara Chodosh at Popular Science. I don’t have a nostalgic reason to want Pluto to be considered a planet; I’m perfectly fine with its relegation into dwarf planet or Kuiper Belt Object. I do recoil bit, however, at the implications of this new definition, which would make all moons orbiting planets into planets in their own right. We could have hundreds of planets in our solar system alone; this could get confusing.

All about magnetotactic bacteria, at Does God Exist? Design is evident in even the smallest of living things.

 

HOME SCHOOL AND PARENTING STUFF

Don’t Hate on TV, a 5-minute video by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.

Working Memory and Copywork, an hour-long interview with Rita Cevasco, speech pathologist and reading/writing specialist. Rita goes into the neurology behind why copywork matters, and I’ve revamped by copywork strategies because of this new information. By the way, working memory difficulties sometimes masquerade as attention deficits; but they’re not the same. Don’t forget to grab the free download.

Take Pain Seriously by Julie Bogart. I’ll be honest. I struggle finding balance with this. On the one hand I know pushing through tears and frustration can teach your child to dislike studying and learning and that we should pay attention to the cues they are sending us. And the younger the child, the more likely I am to pay attention because — on the other hand, I also know that in life we don’t just get to quit when we push up against something hard, and helping our children push through it can build their resiliency, which is especially important in children whose resiliency may be lower.

 

MOVIES AND PODCASTS

Ever After. So old but so good. I watch it with my girls when my husband goes out of town. It’s tradition! The accents are wrong, but everything else is so right.

Teach Us to Want Bible study series by Jen Pollock Michele on Right Now Media. All about desire and unmet desire and disappointment. Every time Jen talks I am in tears. How can a person so consistently speak to the deep places inside me, the places I’m mostly fearful to go??

Ella Enchanted. I had another slumber party with my girls while Papa was away. I remember seeing this movie when it first came out, but didn’t remember it at all, and I didn’t remember thinking I liked it. But maybe Lewis is right: “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Maybe I just had to grow up enough to return to the fairy tales. My daughters, on the other hand, have yet to outgrow them.

 

MUSIC

Hey, Annaliese by Hetty White. I responded viscerally to this song and initially, without words. But isn’t that the point of art, to communicate for us? Since then I’ve been able to put words to my feelings in some email correspondence. For now I’ll just leave you with the song, and the blog post that gives more insight to its genesis.

Bonus Song: When I shared this song with a friend, she in turn shared this song. To be honest it was almost too emotive for me. All the lost things we can’t get back. . . .sometimes it’s too much to consider. And the artistry in this video, oh, breathtaking.

The rest of the songs come from the church service we visited. All of these songs I have revisited and revisited this month. So rich and deep and meaningful.

Awake, Awake O Zion by Phatfish. Joyful, hopeful, and somehow solemn all at the same time.

Awake, awake O Zion
And clothe yourself with strength
Shake off your dust
And fix your eyes on Him
For you have been redeemed by
The precious blood of Jesus
And now you sit enthroned with Him

Our God reigns
He is King of all the earth
Our God reigns
And He’s seated on the throne
Lift your voice
And sing a song of praise
Our God reigns

The watchmen lift their voices
And raise a shout of joy
For He will come again
Then all eyes will see the
Salvation of our God
For He has redeemed Jerusalem

Come People of the Risen King by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend (authors of “In Christ Alone,” “O Church Arise,” and other modern hymns). I’m glad to have discovered more of the Gettys. Too good not to include all the lyrics here.

Come, people of the Risen King,
Who delight to bring Him praise;
Come all and tune your hearts to sing
To the Morning Star of grace.
From the shifting shadows of the earth
We will lift our eyes to Him,
Where steady arms of mercy reach
To gather children in.

Rejoice, Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!
One heart, one voice; O Church of Christ, rejoice!

Come, those whose joy is morning sun,
And those weeping through the night;
Come, those who tell of battles won,
And those struggling in the fight.
For His perfect love will never change,
And His mercies never cease,
But follow us through all our days
With the certain hope of peace.

Come, young and old from every land –
Men and women of the faith;
Come, those with full or empty hands –
Find the riches of His grace.
Over all the world, His people sing –
Shore to shore we hear them call
The Truth that cries through every age:
“Our God is all in all!”

The Power of the Cross (Oh to see the dawn) also by Getty and Townend. Many thanks to Pastor Peter for choosing these songs that Sunday.

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us,
Took the blame, bore the wrath:
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin;
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees,
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
‘Finished!’ the victory cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death,
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher. Not new to me but always good to sing again.

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely you bled, for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bow to none but heavens will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let your church proclaim

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
Our God is not dead, he’s alive! he’s alive!

17 years of marriage, and this is all we’ve got

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Welp. That was a fast 17 years!

In the last several years, both of us have written various pieces on marriage, relationships, and sex, and we wanted to take the opportunity here, at the inauspicious 17-year point, to share them with you. Our hope and prayer is that you would find marriage to be the great signpost to Christ that it really is. (We hope you find it really fun, too.)

all for ONE,
Jonathan & Elizabeth

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy 

What I want to teach my daughters about married sex

When Ministry and Marriage Collide

A Marriage Blessing

Love Interruptus

3 Ways to Care for Heart of Your Wife

Intensity and Intentionality (a note about motherhood and marriage on the field)

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

Paul, the Misogynist?

Weaker But Equal: How I Finally Made Peace With Peter

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Top photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash. Used with permission.

A Few of My Favorite Things {June 2017}

By Elizabeth

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The highlight of our month was definitely a trip to the Gulf of Thailand for an organizational conference. It had been years since I’d been to the sea, and I was desperate for some beach time. Beach time was somewhat limited due to the full conference schedule, but each morning after breakfast we were able to walk along the beach (which serendipitously coincided with low tide). Besides the nature fix, we enjoyed rich conversations with both teammates and other global workers, soul-filling worship with a well-known worship band, and an exceptional children’s program.

My friend’s Bran Muffins. At the beginning of the month we spent time with some friends who have now left on furlough. She served us her family’s old Bran Muffin recipe. They were filling and not too sweet, so I asked her for the secret recipe. Now I’m into muffin baking again, something I haven’t done for years.

An extended coffee date with another dear friend. We caught up in all things Life and dipped into some purposeful Life-with-Christ conversations, too.

I’ve also had a few really nice dates with my husband. And truly, that makes life so much more enjoyable, in spite of all the power outages we’ve been getting and in spite of all the things that keep breaking down and needing to be fixed.

BOOKS

Seeker by Helena Sorensen. I read the other two books in Helena’s series last summer but hadn’t gotten to this one yet. I knew it was supposed to be the saddest of the three and had sort of avoided it (doesn’t that just sound like pain-averse me?). Now that I’ve read it, though, I can say that this one was as beautifully written as the other two, if not more so. Certain sections just felt “truer.” The story is layered: as I read, I couldn’t help thinking that she was talking about more than just the story, she was talking about me. In some ways she reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle, with characters wiser and more self-aware than any of us mortals can generally hope to be, and whose theology works its way out through her (decidedly true) fiction.

The first and the third books in the series gave me courage and hope. This second book gave solace and kindredness. When I reached the end of Seeker, I was sobered and sad, yet glad for the chance to have read it. It’s one of those books that offers symbols for real-life situations. Do read it.

I haven’t made much other progress in the book department. The first week of summer break we basically just played with friends. The next week, we went to Conference, and anyone who’s ever been to Conference knows that it’s quite an energy investment. Which means that the week after conference I was still pretty wiped out.

In preparation for our upcoming school year, however, I was able to read some home school books — For the Children’s Sake most notable among them. Jonathan laughed when he saw me reading it, because growing up he saw that book around the house constantly. About the book: not only are the educational ideas lovely, but the language used to describe them is, too.

BLOG POSTS

A Walk Through the Tabernacle by Brian Phillips. This is a must-read article. I was already enamored of the Gospel of John, but this new information makes it even more breathtakingly powerful.

How Meditation Saved Me From Missions by Ann Hall. Ann is a personal friend of mine who recently started blogging, and when she talked about meditation on her own blog, I knew we needed her story at A Life Overseas. In this New Age-y world, Ann defines what biblical meditation is and is not while also offering a practical guide.

The Earth Between My Fingers by Glenn McCarty. This blog post reminded me of my friend Heidi Whitaker, the wife of a local Anglican priest, who explained sacrament to non-liturgical me. Our conversation a couple years ago was the beginning of a deeper journey to embrace the intersection of physicality and spirituality, something that fundamentalist-me had been running from for years. She told me:

“The Anglican Book of Common Prayer uses this definition: a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us. There’s also the pithy phrase “Matter matters.” It relates to the way God comes to us through matter (water, the bread and wine, etc) and to his value of matter (our physical bodies themselves and all of creation are precious to him – not evil or something to be escaped as in Gnosticism).”

Finding God in Fairytales by Tanya Marlow. Beautiful and experientially true (see: Shiloh and Till We Have Faces).

Existential Angst and the Creative Mind by Greg Wilbur. Thought-provoking post on Christian creativity and what it can be. I love the four points at the end. I hope my “art” can live up to these ideals.

No Moms, You Don’t Have to Wear a Bathing Suit. Just Be a Really Good You. By Rebecca Reynolds (author of this hilarious spring favorite). Everyone needs to be following Rebecca Reynolds on Facebook. The wisdom just pours out of her. Not all her posts are set to public, but here’s one example. Rebecca also wrote this piece, which I read several years ago, before I really knew who she was (but it apparently stuck with me). I love how she’s not afraid to go long-form, whether she’s on FB or in a blog. Rebecca is currently writing a book. I’m interested to see what it holds.

How Communal Singing Disappeared From American Life (and why we should bring it back) by Karen Loew (and found through Story Warren). Singing together was important to me growing up. And I miss it, which is one reason our family has recently begun singing together more often. As I heard Misty Edwards say once: “Singing is a spiritual experience that’s also physical, with physical sound waves leaving your voice box and traveling through the air to hit your and other people’s physical ear drums.” I personally think that’s why singing together is so bonding (there’s more to say on the subject of singing and sacrament, but for the time being I will refrain).

Member of the Family by Zach Franzen (for Story Warren). Beautiful little reflection on an Eleanor Estes story we read just last month. And don’t skip the poem at the end!

He Calls You: Beloved by Renee Aupperlee. Truth that is crucial to the Christian life — and, as one commenter noted, not cheesily delivered in the least.

Surprise! We Need to Learn from Christians from Other Cultures by Amy Medina. More important than I can say.

Your Short Term Trips Have Not Prepared You for Long Term Missions also by Amy Medina. Sobering and true. I am so glad Amy wrote this.

 

PODCASTS, VIDEOS, AND TELEVISION

Interview with Nell Goddard, author of Musings of a Clergy Child (and found through Tanya Marlow). I loved this interview so much. Nell is a “clergy child” — or as we Americans might say, a preacher’s kid. I have such an interest in this subject because all four of my children have been PKs since birth. Watch the book trailer here.

Christine Hoover interviews Jen Wilkin about the mistakes we make in friendship.  I love Christine and her book on grace. And I love the little I know of Jen Wilkin (see: her perspective on self-worth and her conversation on women in ministry with Russell Moore). A good listen, and some wise words.

Anne with an E. Not a favorite per se, but I figured this is as good a place as any to talk about the new Anne show, which I used my summer break to watch. (Hmm, maybe that’s where all my reading time went?) I read about the series before I began, so I knew what I was getting in to. I’m with other friends of mine who liked it, but didn’t love it. The story was darker and deviated from the source material. Now, to a certain extent I don’t mind darker (and this darkness wasn’t too terribly dark), and neither do I mind deviation from the source material. It’s just that the additional story matter seemed out of place to me, historically speaking. Don’t get me wrong; the story still resonated, but it was no longer whimsical. It was mostly enjoyable for me as an adult, but it certainly isn’t for children.

I can comment favorably on the characters, however: I loved this new Marilla. She had more depth of emotion and internal struggle (sorry Colleen Dewhurst, I loved your Marilla too, she’s just a different one!). Rachel Lynde is much more nuanced and sympathetic in this one, and I liked her better (in much the same way that Keira Knightley’s Mrs. Bennet is more realistic and bearable than Colin Firth’s Mrs. Bennet). Megan Follows is of course the very best Anne ever, hands down. But this new Gilbert, now, he’s exceptional. He seems more appropriately cast, age-wise, and he has more depth to his character too. Instead of just a boy in love with Anne, he has a life outside of Anne (but Jonathan Crombie, you are every girl’s dream-come-true: a man desperately in love with just one girl, and a finicky one at that). As for Matthew, well, I haven’t decided which Matthew I like better. I think I like both equally. Both are portrayed well, though differently. Ok, now that I’ve blabbed on and on, please give your Anne thoughts in the comments!

 

MUSIC

Did I mention the worship at Conference was fantastic? I did? Oh, let me tell you again: the worship at Conference was fantastic. Here are two brand-new-to-me songs that I learned there (although as usual I preferred the live versions to the Youtube versions). Both these songs were on repeat at my house all month.

The Lion and the Lamb by Leeland Mooring, Brenton Brown, and Brian Johnson.

Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before Him

Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain
For the sin of the world, His blood breaks the chains
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Oh every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb

O Praise the Name (Anastasis)  by Dean Ussher, Marty Sampson, and Benjamin Hastings (Hillsong). A gospel story-song more powerful than I can say.

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me.
I see His wounds,His hands, His feet.
My Saviour on that cursed tree
His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb.
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone
Then on the third at break of dawn, 
The Son of heaven rose again.
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
He shall return in robes of white, 
The blazing Son shall pierce the night. 
And I will rise among the saints,
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God