The Poverty of Pragmatic Gratitude and the Riches of True Thanksgiving


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

C’est la Vie

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

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

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

The Problem with Our Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Logically Speaking

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

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


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

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

Digging In

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

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

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

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

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

Then There’s the Really Good Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Lifted Eyes

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

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

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

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

What if?

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

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

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


Hands of the Aged


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

Wrinkled and withered

From work and years

Pained yet praising

Through the tears


Wearied and weak

Yet stretched out to give

Bearing the marks

Of a life well lived


With wisdom and grace

Picking up the lowly

Lifted in worship

Spotless and holy


The hands of the aged

Shaking and slow

Still powerful for Jesus

With much seed to sow


Christ is your glory

Your joy is His praise

His word is your wisdom

Your stronghold His grace


O precious treasure

To know such as you

Who’ve lived long for Jesus

Believing the truth


May the young embrace you

And hold your tired hands

And learn from your living

While they have the chance



Reformation Reflections 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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


Guiding Principles of our Discussion of the Reformation

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Reformation Books Hymns Romans

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

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

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

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

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

Sola fide – Salvation is through faith alone.

Sola gratia – Salvation is by grace alone.

Solus Christus – Salvation is in Christ alone.

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


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

What Do We Do with Doubt? [VIDEO]


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

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

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

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

God bless!  Soli Deo gloria.

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


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

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

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

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

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

That last point brings me to the current Lifetime Membership sale that I would be remiss not to share with you.  The price of membership is being raised on Monday to account for all the amazing additions to the program.  But today and tomorrow (Sept. 30 & Oct. 1) you can get 30% off the current Lifetime price–plus you can use the code LMJ to get an extra 5% off your Lifetime Membership PLUS 5% off anything in your cart–like the bells, or hard copies of workbooks or songbooks.  That makes the final cost of membership $329!  If you wait until Monday, the price jumps from the current regular price of $497 to $597.  So if you’re interested in what Prodigies has to offer for your family, now is a great time to join.


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

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

I hope this review has been helpful!  Don’t forget to use the code LMJ to get 5% off of your order, and if you want in on this program for your kids, order before Monday, October 2 when they will be raising the price forever!

First Day Confessional


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

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

That would be the first of my confessions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, before lunch.

Our first day of school started well but ended woefully.

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

I was thrilled.  This was easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signing off.  Checking out.  On day one.

Bravo, Lauren.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgive me, Father.  I repent.

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

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


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

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

Happy New School Year.

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And neither is life itself.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did you doubt?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Cheap or FREE Resources for Bird Nature Study


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Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase through that link, I will earn a few pennies, nickels, and dimes.  I only link to products I would happily recommend even if no compensation were possible.  🙂 

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Our family doesn’t completely follow the Ambleside Online (AO) free curriculum, but we pull heavily from it for our book list, among many other things.

One of those other things is their Nature Study schedule.  If I want to pick a particular topic of nature study for us to focus on for a while, why not start with their suggested schedule and tweak it along the way, if need be?  This way there is less choice-fatigue for me and I can find some community around what we are studying, whether with other AO families I know in real life, on the AO forums, or on the Facebook group.

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This summer and fall is for the birds, so I’ve been doing a bit of research and collecting materials that will prepare me to assist and inform my children in their own observation and enjoyment of our feathered friends over the next several months.

I’ve seen a lot of materials for purchase on the interwebs, and many of them were quite tempting, but I wanted to see what was available to me for free before punching in credit card numbers.

First, I searched my own shelves. 

We already own the Handbook of Nature Study, which will serve us for many years and topics to come, making the purchase price slim over the long haul.

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Birds are covered on pages 27-143.  The pictures are not the most impressive, but this book is chock full of information so that you, the parent, can be a literally walking resource for you children on the trail.  Types of birds, parts of birds, migration of birds, lessons with suggested questions, pictures, diagrams, and even related poetry are included.  I plan to read this section for my own knowledge and make a few notes on particular questions or topics to raise while I’m out with the kids.

Remember, the purpose of Nature Study is to get the child in touch with the world and creatures God has made and to enjoy it.  The Handbook of Nature Study is NOT a textbook of information you have to cram into your precious children’s little heads.  It’s a tool to aid the work of observation that the kids ought to be doing and delighting in on their own.

I found another volume that I may reference over the next few months:  Living with Wildlife: How to Enjoy, Cope with, and Protect North America’s Wild Creatures Around Your Home and Theirs.  I don’t think there’s much to say about this book now since the title is so descriptive!  We found this gem at a library cast-off sale for probably about 50 cents.

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The point here isn’t so much that any of you need THIS book, but that if you keep your eyes open, you may find something similar.  If I didn’t have the Handbook of Nature Study, this book (or some other like it) would suffice quite nicely.  Birds are covered on pages 180-252, if any of you by chance come across this guide or find it at your library.  There aren’t so many pictures or diagrams, and it’s not aimed at teachers or parents to instruct their children, but the information is valuable and would do the trick of providing a parent with both a general and some specific knowledge of birds.

My oldest has read many chapters in The Burgess Bird Book for Children, one of the great selections found on the AO booklist.

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It’s a narrative introduction to all kinds of birds, with animals talking and acting consistent with their particular habits and personalities.  Each chapter covers a different bird, and we may just read one here and there for fun if we’re interested.

My mom gave us a laminated Pocket Naturalist Guide of Arkansas Birds for Christmas several years ago.  This guide isn’t particularly detailed, but it does provide color pictures of a variety of birds, including their Latin names, size, and an occasional special note.  Listed on the back are bird viewing areas and sanctuaries, as well as a state regional map.

For very young children, a laminated field guide is almost a necessity!  Even when they can’t read, they love feeling like real explorers with a guide in their pack that they can pull out at will.  And you as the parent love feeling like it won’t be destroyed on the first expedition!  If you don’t live in Arkansas, you can look up the Pocket Naturalist field guide for birds in your state.

Even just one or two of the above resources is more than enough to get started with nature study.  Actually, all you really need to do to get started is step outside and pay attention, and maybe take along a notebook and a pencil!  But we’ve been at this for several years now and I wanted to add to our resource collection (and convince myself that I didn’t need to buy anything new or shiny in order to do so).

So…where did I go for new FREE resources? 

I went online.

Many of the paid resources I’ve seen lately were all ebooks and video courses anyway, so I thought I’d search in the same format–starting with websites specific to my home state of Arkansas.

The Audubon Society of Arkansas and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have a wealth of free resources for studying birds, among many other kinds of wildlife!  There’s a searchable database where you can find pictures, details, and songs of birds when you search by color, size, habitat, and more.  The Game and Fish Commission provides free printable brochures on birds and so much more, but they will also send you a hard copy for free if you send them your mailing address!

If you’re outside of Arkansas, check out the corresponding organizations for your state.


All I asked for was the Arkansas Backyard Birds booklet, but they sent the other three as well!  I suppose they figured someone like me would eventually ask for more booklets and they could save on shipping by sending them all at once.

There are two more ways I’d like to complement our focus on birds, and both can be achieved without spending a dime.

I’d like us to improve our artistic abilities in the area of drawing birds, so that our nature journal entries can better represent what we see out in the field.  Enter YouTube.  There are TONS of FREE video tutorials to help us hone our skills.  I think we’ll get a start with watercolor painting a saucy little wren like the ones we see every day around our house.

Finally, one of the greatest gifts I can imagine giving my children when it comes to nature study is to tie God’s truth to what they see.  The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and I want them to see it.  I just read the Sermon on the Mount this morning, and I think we’ll incorporate Matthew 6:26 into our memory work as we observe the winged creatures around us:

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

I hope this has been helpful to you, my friends.

Do you have any other super awesome free resources for bird nature study?  If you’ve studied birds already with your kids, what did your family enjoy most?

The Cashier at Walmart


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She was probably 15-20 years my senior, with bright eyes and her long brown hair, half pulled back and half resting gently on her standard navy blue shirt and coordinating vest.

She was still helping the customers in front of us when it happened–my antsy five-year-old, who had earlier decided to don gym shorts and cowboy boots, accidentally stepped backward–right on top of my seven-year-old’s sandal-clad foot.

The scream was ear-piercing.

We had already been in the store too long after spending far too long at our previous errand stop.  The boys were tired and so was I.  And when the wailing persisted for several minutes, I’m sure everyone else’s ears were tired, too.  I tried to calm my big boy down without much luck, and the whole situation was so traumatic that the five-year-old started crying because he was so sorry that he had apparently hurt his brother so badly.

It was a meltdown.  I looked up at the cashier and said something about missing nap time…not that my boys take naps anymore, but the downtime would have been good for them.

The boys were fairly well calmed down by the time the cashier started ringing up our order.

“I miss shopping with my boys,” she said with a warm smile.  “They’re grown and moved away and both married now.”

I paused a moment to consider her words (trying to decide if she’s crazy) before asking, “How old are they now?”

“They’re 24 and 26.”

Two years apart.  Just like mine.

“What I wouldn’t give to have them with me again–even on the rough days.  I just miss having them with me.  And tucking them in at night.  You know, all those special times together that you don’t think about much until they’ve grown up and you don’t have them around all the time anymore.”

I don’t usually handle other people’s sentimentality that well, but hers, in this moment, was a gift from God–a redirection of my heart away from the frenetic and frustrated mode that I was in to see the blessing it is simply to have my children near–with the sobering reminder that that nearness won’t last forever.

But she didn’t just make me see.  She made me feel.

I think that’s why other people’s emotional moments make me uncomfortable.  It forces me to feel something that I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with (because, to be honest, my own emotional moments make me uncomfortable).

But sometimes that can be a very good thing.  I may have been most comfortable feeling embarrassment or frustration in that check out line, but she made me feel affection for my kids, turning what could have been a nosedive in my attitude into a total rebound.

“Thank you for sharing that,” I expressed before pushing the cart way, “especially in the midst of a minor meltdown.”

She may not have realized it, but she changed the tone of the rest of our busy afternoon with her kind words and heart-felt nostalgia.  This was a little bit of Titus 2 in action, friends.  At Walmart.

Love those boys, mama,” she had communicated in no uncertain terms.  “Love them well–even when it’s tough.  You will miss them someday.”