Build a Path for the Soul: 12 Poems, 12 Hymns, 12 Scripture Passages

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Morning Time, Motherhood2 Comments

12 Poems12 Hymns12 Passages

The goodness of a well-loved walking path…

When I attended the University of Richmond, I walked around the beautiful Westhampton Lake almost every day. Sometimes, I’d walk by myself listening to music or sermons. Sometimes I’d run, while thinking or praying. Sometimes I’d walk with friends, talking, laughing, or crying together, sometimes singing.

I thought we had traced that path so many times that the earth would wear thin and the lake would suddenly fall through. But, it never did. Instead, it strengthened me each time I made my rounds. That walking path – the loveliness of the water, the trees, the sky – became a part of me… and the round and round about-ness did me good.

We all need a well-loved soul path, too…

I’ve decided to create an internal “walking path” for our children: a path of poems, hymns, and scripture that we can store in our hearts and minds, repeating them round and round again. This path will mark the terrain of what we speak, sing, and think about together over the years. I’m hoping that as we repeat these words around the table, in the car, upon our pillows, they will never wear thin, but rather deepen our affection for beauty and truth.

The plan to build a path for the soul…

The path is 12 poems, hymns, and Scripture passages that I want our children to have well-established in their heart-of-hearts by the time they graduate from our homeschool.  Every month, we’ll review one of each during our Morning Time.

In a year’s time, we’ll cycle through all 12 poems, hymns, and Scriptures. My dream is that the following year, we’ll walk about the same path again. And the year after that, and the year after that… etching, savoring, and treasuring this goodness in our minds.

For now, I’m simply printing each one out as we need it, slipping it into a plastic sleeve, and filing it in our morning binders. I’m daydreaming about having them printed in a hardback book for each graduating child.

It will be something to to take down and slowly read and dream over the years.

12 Poems:                 

  1. Jabberwocky – Carroll (To imagine! To triumph!)
  2. Custard the Dragon – Nash (To have a story on hand to tell a child.)
  3. If – Kipling (To persevere through labor and every difficult task.)
  4. The Gettysburg Address (To honor the people who sacrifice on our behalf.)
  5. Shakespeare Sonnet 116 (To better understand love.)
  6. The Apostles Creed (To join our voices with the saints of old.)
  7. Shakespeare Sonnet 29 (To wrestle down the jealous, discontent soul.)
  8. On His Blindness – Milton (To rest in God’s grace.)
  9. Sonnet 43 (“How Do I Love Thee?”) – Browning (To better understand love, that baffling mystery.)
  10. The Charge of the Light Brigade – Tennyson (To charge into literature and charge home with valor in our hearts!)
  11. God’s Grandeur – Hopkins (To murmur words when the beauty of the earth would otherwise render us speechless.)
  12. In Memoriam (Ring Out, Wild Bells) – Tennyson (To say with hutzpah when the year is ending and a new one is around the bend.)

12 Hymns:

  1. In Christ Alone
  2. He Will Hold Me Fast
  3. Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God
  4. Be Thou My Vision
  5. Before the Throne of God Above
  6. Be Still My Soul
  7. Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
  8. This is My Father’s World
  9. My Heart is Filled With Thankfulness
  10. Compassion Hymn
  11. My Worth is Not in What I Own
  12. Fairest Lord Jesus

12 Passages of Scripture

  1. Psalm 23, The Lord’s Prayer  (for prayer…)
  2. Romans Road/ John 3:16 (for salvation…)
  3. Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 3: 1-13 (for womanliness and manliness…)
  4. Hebrews 11 (for heroes and friends…)
  5. Matthew 5 (for a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven…)
  6. 1 Corinthians 13 (for love…)
  7. Psalm 91 (for peace…)
  8. Psalm 51 (for repentance…)
  9. Romans 8 (for security…)
  10. Romans 12 (for relationships…)
  11. Deuteronomy 5:6-21, 6: 4-9 (for holiness and gratitude…)
  12. Psalm 139 (for faith-as-a-child…)

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What would you include in your internal “walking” path?

 

Does Bible Study overwhelm and intimidate you? Me, too.

LauraAll Posts, Bible Study2 Comments

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I used to study the Bible with fervor…

Just one year ago I was joyfully teaching two women’s Bible studies – one in the morning, one in the evening. I was daily studying Scripture, loving every word. The Holy Spirit carried me from precept to precept, and I loved sharing what I was learning: the connections between the Old Testament and the New, the meanings of complicated words, the excellencies of theological truths, and the hopeful application to everyday life.

Until now.

Now, Bible Study feels impossible…

Eight months ago, we welcomed our fifth child. Now, caring for a newborn and homeschooling our other children takes everything I have to give.

It’s odd to write this post – just a year later – as a woman who feels like Bible Study is a foreign language, a foreign skill, even a foreign interest. Instead of Bible Study feeling as natural as my own heartbeat (as it used to feel), it now feels more like wrestling a lion.

Although I read a few verses while I’m nursing the baby, if you were to sign me up for a weekly Bible Study with a workbook and a pile of multi-colored highlighters, I’d cry because I’m sure I can’t do it.

I’m learning that when a woman is not studying Scripture it may be due to reasons far more complicated than “will-power”, “priorities”, or “scheduling”.

Bible Study gives me flashbacks about being on a boat…

I can best describe this struggle by taking you back in time to my childhood visit to an amusement park. I asked to go out in one of the bumper boats in a little manmade pond.

I realized pretty quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. Everyone else zipped around, making waves, maneuvering surprising bumps into other boats, and throwing their heads back in triumph. They were having so much fun.

But there I was, a little girl, stuck in a boat I couldn’t drive, being splashed about by happy, happy strangers.

My boat bobbed over to the opposite side of the pond, nudged up against the guardrail, and sat there.

Three minutes later, the attendant blew his whistle and beckoned all of the boats back to the dock. The other boaters collectively sighed that the fun was over. They easily turned their boats in the direction of the dock and zipped back obediently.

But I was still sitting on the opposite side of the pond, trying to figure out how to run the engine, not to mention the lofty task of steering the boat back to shore.

It was abundantly clear: I was stuck fast.

With wild desperation in my eyes, I looked up at the attendant.

“You’re supposed to bring your boat in!” someone yelled from shore.

That unleashed an explosion of instructions from the eager boaters waiting in line. “Put your foot on the right pedal!” “Turn the wheel to the left!” “Now turn it to the right!”

The pedals, buttons, and steering mechanism were puzzles I couldn’t solve.

I tried to steer left, but the boat moved right. I tried to reverse, but the boat lunged forward.

I tried to listen to the instructions hurtling over the water, but to no avail. It didn’t matter how well the people on shore yelled, I was completely unable to operate that boat and drive it to the dock.

I remember giving up, raising my hands in helpless surrender.

That’s when the attendant effortlessly jumped into a docked boat, zipped across the pond, and towed me to shore.

I was so embarrassed as I got out of the boat and wondered, why couldn’t I do that? What’s wrong with me?

Needless to say, I lost all of my interest in boats that day.

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do Bible Study?

Lately, I feel like the girl in the boat when it comes to Bible Study.

I feel confused, overwhelmed, and incompetent. Meanwhile, women everywhere are studying the Bible and loving it. They’re doing their homework, learning, discussing, and thriving while I’m sitting on the sidelines, stalled out.

I don’t want to sit here anymore.

If you happen to feel overwhelmed by Bible Study, but want to move, I have a plan to get us unstuck.

How to get unstuck…

My former enthusiasm for Bible Study is in my memory instructing me that it is possible to love and engage in Bible Study. I offer this to you: it really is possible to learn how to study the Bible even when it feels impossible.

If you’ve never tried to study the Bible, you may not grasp how much it will benefit your life. You may not know how the Holy Spirit will use it to heal, encourage, equip, and correct you in ways you never dreamed possible, or how you will become acquainted with Jesus more intimately than ever before. But I can remember that all these things are true: when I diligently studied the Bible, I reaped blessing upon blessing.

I am asking God to restore my ability, confidence, and joy in Bible Study. Would you like to join me?

We’ll need to do 3 things:

  1. Adjust our mindset.

Bible Study is not an optional recreation or a lark for bookish people. You and I must study the Bible, even if it’s difficult. God’s Word is our nourishment and fortress. It’s how we know Jesus. That means we need to adjust our mindset to believe Bible Study is a necessary thing for us to do, though it may require significant sacrifice and investment.

  1. Ask someone to help.

Do you know someone who is enjoying Bible Study lately? Ask her to sit by your side while you read a few verses together. Listen to her wonder, watch her highlight and take notes, repeat the words she looks up in her Concordance, and look over her shoulder when she prayerfully applies the verses to her own life.  

If you make a weekly date of this apprenticeship, you’ll start to acquire some skills and will grow in understanding and interest.

More importantly, ask God Himself to spark your interest, to increase your ability, to instruct you, and to help you. He will.

  1. Apply ourselves to consistent, high-quality practice.

The “younger me” could have learned how to drive boats if my life depended upon it. Of course, I would’ve needed hours of instruction and practice in order to forge pathways in my brain that were not there before, but I could have mastered it eventually. (Who knows? With enough exposure, instruction, and practice, my impossibility might have turned into a life-long passion.)

The experts say that anyone can learn anything if she practices consistently with high-quality instruction. In fact, 99.9% of people who perform with excellence, do so because they received high-quality instruction and practiced well, consistently.

In our culture, we typically practice the things we’re naturally able to do, but in this case, you and I must practice the thing we’re naturally unable to do.

If we practice Bible Study –  say, for 10 high-quality minutes a day – we will rattle the walls of impossibility and… improve. We’ll get our bearings within that big book, we’ll learn the vocabulary, and we’ll gradually discover the everlasting pleasures tucked within those pages.

God graciously invites each one of us – especially those of us who feel like Bible Study is impossible – to begin.

After all, He knows best that “with God, nothing is impossible”.

Here we sit, confounded in our impossibility.

We want to study the Bible, but it seems so difficult.

What’ll we do?

Let’s lift our hands in helpless surrender.

Our Attendant – God Himself – will come to our aid.

As we apply our hearts and minds to the hard work of learning how to study the Bible,  we will soon join the Psalmist in saying, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” Psalm 119: 48

I’m sure of it.

The Cord of Three Strands: What God Does in Marriage

LauraAll Posts, Marriage

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At weddings we hear these words from Scripture, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  We remind one another that a husband and a wife must partner with God and all three of them must work together as the threefold cord.

Intertwined together in marriage, these three beings will create a strong bond that can endure life’s ups and downs.

Well now, I’ve been wrapped up in that holy cord for almost-fifteen years.

I’ve pulled away from it in selfish seasons, fraying, untangling, tugging away.

I’ve clung dearly to it in blessed seasons, intertwining, connecting, and burrowing in.

I’ve discovered that, in all seasons, I’m happiest when I assent to it in the light of Scripture.

I’ve come to rely on this Love that will not let me go, as desperately as I rely on oxygen.

After these fifteen years of marriage, I’m sharing something quite dear about this threefold cord… something so true and constant, so humbling and so good.

This truth comes to mind in the quiet of daily life, while I’m brushing my teeth or switching the laundry or driving into town.  It comes to mind when the man sleeping next to me is warm and breathing and strong.  It comes to mind when, day after day, we somehow work side-by-side to keep five children fed and clothed.

It comes to mind whenever I wonder (and I often wonder), How in the world have we stayed together all this time?

How in the world have we endured through these hardships, differences, stresses, flaws, and unimpressive humanity? 

How in the world are we waking up and living each day, then falling asleep again side by side? 

How in the world are we still intertwined? 

This truth comes to mind and quietly grounds me.

It’s this: that the Third Strand has done – and is doing – all of the work.

The Third Strand is God Himself and He has been wrapping us up, for fifteen years.

He Himself has moved in and around, before and behind, holding two frail, inconstant, and deeply grateful humans together.

That glorious, constant Third Strand.

That Source of all strength and endurance, wrapping around and around and around us, gathering us, tucking us, hiding us, and treasuring us inside of Himself.

Maybe someday, as the Third Strand keeps wrapping Himself around, Jesus will be all you see of us two.

Maybe someday.

 

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17 

2 “Secrets to Scholastic Success” for High School and College Students (Pass it on!)

LauraAll Posts, College, English Literature Education, High School, Homeschooling

Stacks of books

While high school and college students are on my mind, I thought I’d share these two secrets that, I believe, are secrets to scholastic success.

Pass them along to the student you love. 🙂

1. Go to office hours.

Going to your teacher’s or professor’s office hours can change your life.

At the very least, you’ll improve your grade. At the most, you’ll learn something that will enlarge and encourage you. That’s a pretty good range of possible results.  The chance that your professor will share personalized insight and instruction is like gold offered every week during office hours. Take the gold! It will be more valuable to you than your diploma.

I did not know how amazingly powerful this one little habit could be until I was teaching at Penn State University and saw for myself that students who attended office hours got better grades than they would have otherwise.

It’s a simple formula, and I saw it work in real time.

Besides, I discovered that I liked the office-hour students the best. I found myself rooting for them. I was happy when their papers improved and when they “got” a concept that we discussed during office hours.  To make up for my shortcomings as a biased teacher, I’ve been passionately disclosing the secret to becoming one of the favorites ever since.

Here are a few helpful Office Hours Rules and Regulations:

  1. Do not go to office hours to ask for a higher grade or to whine about anything. That’s not what office hours are for. Besides, there are so many articles going around about “whiney, incompetent students  who can’t handle a B-” and every teacher/ professor is prepared to resent the whiner. You are forewarned.
  2. Do go to office hours with a genuine question about the content of the course. If you don’t have a genuine question, you haven’t engaged in the content enough. Open your text book, take some notes in class, and you’ll discover a question or two.
  3. Do go to office hours in search of specific feedback on your work. Bring along the working outline for the paper that is due next week. Bring along a paragraph that you don’t quite love yet. Bring two math problems and extra scrap paper, prepared to work them out with your professor, side-by-side.

Whatever you do, just go. Stop in and say, “Hi! Thank you for the lecture today!” Then take it from there.

2. Read Picture Books.

If you’re not in the homeschool world and/ or if you do not work at the local library, you might not know that your library is stacked with accurate, well-researched, and memorable picture books (and chapter books, for that matter) about every topic under the sun.

Homeschoolers call them “living books” because they take incorporate facts into stories, into real life. Many of us opt for living books over textbooks 90% of the time.  Not only are living books far more accessible than your textbooks, but they’ll also help your textbooks make sense.

For example, if you are an English major and you are about to embark on a new Shakespeare play, first read a good quality picture book rendition. This will get you acquainted with the characters, setting, and plot.  It will take you 2 minutes to reserve the book through your libary’s online service, 5 minutes to pick it up from the library, and 10 minutes to read the book. That 17 minutes will spare you from being confused and overwhelmed when you begin reading the play the day before your 5-page response is due. That’s 17 minutes well-spent.

Or, if you are a geology major, camp out for 45 minutes in the “Rocks and Minerals” section of the children’s library and gain some of the scope, terminology, and ideas that you’ll need to thrive in your 101 class.

‘Same’s true for history, anatomy, poetry, chemistry, foreign studies, business, animal sciences, agriculture, math, philosophy, and every other subject you may pursue.

Picture books will prepare the soil of your mind so that more complex ideas and details have somewhere to land, go deep, and thrive.

I’ve spent countless hours hunched over textbooks, highlighting and index-carding my way to a B.S. in Biology, a B.A. in English and a M.A. in English Literature.  And yet I feel as if I’ve gained a more enduring and fruitful education from reading beautiful picture books to my children.

Don’t miss out on enriching your education with personalized insights from your professors and your picture books.

(photo credit: http://lithub.com/in-praise-of-the-book-tower/)

 

How to Have a Delightful Group Discussion: Make Trail Mix

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Learning at Home, Motherhood, Motherhood Hacks

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I want to teach my children how to be active participants in group discussions.

This skill will bless them (and everyone around them) at the dinner table, around the board table, in the Sunday School class, on public transportation, in the dugout, at the office, in the Senate, and just about anywhere the Lord will lead them.

I had seen snippets of some beautiful candle-lit discussions from Jenny Rallens’ middle school students and I thought, “I want that.” I loved the way the students were prepared for the conversation, listened to one another, offered thoughtful responses, referred to the text, and referenced one another’s comments.

love great discussions when everyone is engaged and offering their own nuggets of gold. Very few things thrill me like the magical occasions when an entire group of people works together to understand the truth. (Didn’t Socrates love that, too? And the Apostle Paul, for that matter?)

These humble yet meaningful conversations are gold fibers in the tapestry of our lives – and ultimately history itself.

I could clean 3 bathrooms, puree a freezer-full of baby-food, and change out all of the Spring/Summer clothes for Fall/ Winter clothes on the energy that I get from a good conversation.

So, I began scheming about how I could teach these conversational skills to my children.

One particular day, I wanted to begin intentionally teaching them how to listen to one another, affirm one another, and connect their comments to one another.

Start with snacks…

I thought I’d start with snacks. (Snacks are “Step 1” to learning almost anything.)

I gave each child one ingredient for a Trail Mix + an empty snack bowl.

Explain the rules…

I told them that we were going to make Trail Mix together by talking. Every time they participated in the conversation and connected their own comment to someone else’s comment, they would exchange a handful of ingredients until they had a bowl full of Trail Mix.

For example, Malachi might say, “I agree with Viv that the fox should have been kinder. If he had been kinder, he would have survived.” Quite practical, my lad! Then, he’d give Viv a handful of his raisins and take a handful of her almonds.

Lia might chime in here and say, “But Malachi, survival is not as important as the kindness itself. We can’t be kind for selfish reasons alone, but because Jesus is kind toward us and tells us to be kind to one another.” (No joke. This is something she would say. She’s that sweet.) Then, she’d give Malachi some of her pecans and take a handful of his raisins.

Gradually, as we all work together, each child will have a nice mix of ingredients in their snack bowl.

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Then read a short story…

I read a fable (a picture book would have worked just as well) and… we discussed. Each child made observations about the story, guessed the meaning, and worked to connect their comments with one another. They ended up with bowls of Trail Mix and I considered it a good first step.

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How’d it go?

Afterward, we chatted about the experience. How’d it go? What’dya think? 

They were happy with their bowls of Trail Mix, a little of this and a little of that. And they were pleased with our interesting conversation.

But, Lia was a little downcast.

“Why, honey?”

“Well, because no one really seemed interested in the pecans. Everyone seemed to want to connect with your comments, Mom… because you had the bowl of chocolate chips,” she confessed.

“Ah. You’ve made a very good observation.” (How’d I miss this??)

Then I continued, “Come to think of it, this reflects a reality about most group discussions. Usually, there will be a certain person that everyone wants to connect with more than others, for all kinds of reasons. I think the secret is to be generous when you happen to be the girl with the chocolate chips and humble when you’re not. But never give up. Besides, pecans are much healthier for everyone in the long run.”

(So, note: if you happen to try this lesson at your kitchen table or classroom, consider giving the chocolate chips to the wall-flower in your group, the one who never participates, the one who is typically over-looked or forgotten. He will suddenly find himself in a new and interesting position. This could change everything!)

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This is just the beginning of something great…

Of course, we’ll have several hands-on examples like this with glass beads, yarn, Skittles, what-have-you. We sure need to practice often, but we’re on our way toward profitable group discussions… and that is a treat.

 

3 “Back to the Basics” Ideas for the High School English Teacher

LauraAll Posts, College, English Literature Education, High School, Homeschooling

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(My current PreK/ K students experience a lesson in fractions after a rousing 1-minute mathematical lecture by yours truly…)

Years ago, I taught literature and English composition to high school and college students. I reminisce about those days often, fondly remembering my students who are “all grown up” now. To this day, my students remain dear to me.

After all, I taught them how to pronounce “Beowulf” and enlightened them that he wasn’t actually a wolf.  I was one of the people who taught them how to read Shakespeare, punctuate sentences, throw their heart into peer reviews, and compose slam-dunk business letters.

It was a fun job and I truly feel like I contributed in a small way to their well-being.

But if I were to go back to the classroom, I think I’d do some things differently.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve learned a great deal about, well, learning.  I’ve read endlessly about what really matters in a person’s development. I’ve learned more about my preferred style of teaching, my method of organizing a curriculum, and the vision that would drive every choice I’d make in the classroom.

I’m discovering that homeschooling my own children is enriching me as an educator.

Though I often think about how teaching at the high school and collegiate levels has given me some advantageous perspective for my own children, I more often consider how teaching my own children has enriched me with perspective for education at large.

If I could go back in time, or if I have the opportunity to return to the classroom at some point in the future, here are 3 “back to the basics” things I’d pursue, especially at the high school level.

So, what would I do differently?

  1. I’d prioritize Copywork.

    Most of my students – high school and college level – had not read much over their lifetime. Their writing reflected this poor diet. But there was a deeper weakness: many of them didn’t yet know how to think, make connections, draw conclusions, or demonstrate that they cared about ideas.

    Nor did they know how to identify good writing. I always found it interesting that they championed the artsy classmate who over-used the thesaurus: they swooned at his pretty 4-syllable words even though his papers rarely made sense. Meanwhile, the “math guy” who wrote succinct, well-appointed papers because he had been trained how to think logically was completely overlooked. (Surprise! The “math mind” usually receives high grades in English class. This is why.)

    It’s not that my students had lousy teachers in the past. It’s just that they hadn’t yet read enough “good writing” to acquire a comfort level with ideas, sentence structure, and communication.

    One of the best ways to assimilate into “good writing” is to read good writing (lots of it) and to copy it (lots of it), word-for-word. It’s the way great men like Benjamin Franklin taught themselves to think, write, and speak effectively in the past.Why wouldn’t this classic learning habit benefit our beloved students, too?

    For the Freshmen and Sophomores…

    I would require my freshmen and sophomore high school students to hand-copy copious amounts of the best-of-the-best writing in literature, poetry, science, history, politics, philosophy, and mathematics.

    I’d require very little original writing during the first two years of high school, and would focus most of their writing assignments on copying and studying great writing across the disciplines.

    For the Juniors and Seniors…

    By their Junior and Senior year, the students would be ready for original composition instruction. Their minds would be full of great ideas, sentences, and organization; they’d be ready to craft their own great ideas into sentences, too.

    Just to keep them investing in Copywork, I’d teach my junior and seniors Commonplacing, by which they’d copy selections from their reading. Some of them would looooove it, most of them would endure it. I’d be the meanest teacher and check their books regularly, requiring accurate and daily copying from their own studies, reading, and interest.

    I have a hunch that twenty years later, 90% of them would thank me for being such an old-fashioned stickler. That’s worth it.

  2. I’d compose each course with “experiences”, “discussion,” “research”, and “lecture”.

These four elements resonate with most learners in one way or another, and I truly believe that the ability to learn in these four ways is more important than the content itself.

I’d invest time teaching my students how to

I don’t think I spent enough time teaching my students how to engage in enriching experiences, or how to have profitable discussions about books and ideas, or even how to listen to a lecture. But in the future, I intend to invest as much care as it takes to strengthen my students with these abilities.

  • Participating in a large-group experience – whether it’s acting out a scene from Hamlet or preparing a feast of medieval proportions – requires humility, creativity, cooperation, flexibility, appreciation, and curiosity.
  • Engaging in a discussion requires students to prepare, listen well, attribute quotations, disagree, use evidence from the text, and work as a community to grow in understanding.
  • Diving into research is a highly valuable skill, requiring curiosity, hard work, discernment, and faithfulness.
  • Sitting in a lecture requires attention, memorization, engagement, appreciation, and patience.

I would tell my students as much and we’d work on these skills together, recognizing that there is so much more to a classroom experience than checklists, worksheets, and grades.

3. I’d only offer extra-credit for reading, including audio books. 

My mantra would be, “read, read, read, read!”

In most school settings, I’d probably be beholden to a set list of literature selected for the curriculum, so I’d set up the most motivating extra-credit reading challenge I could conceive and afford.

I’d encourage each student to choose a series to complete by the end of the year: “Narnia! Tolkien! Harry! Laura Ingalls Wilder! Ralph Moody! Beatrix Potter!”

I’d provide an expansive list of great books, good books, picture books, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. I wouldn’t bat an eye if a Senior chose to read 50 Caldecott Picture Books to raise her C+ to a B. I’d gladly add those points to her grade, knowing that those picture books were probably some of her best – and most enriching – memories of Senior year. Or, what if a Junior’s father read “The Hobbit” to him every evening through the month of February? Extra credit, baby. What a golden experience that would be.

Whatever you do, “Read, my darlings! Read!”

So. Now you know. These are the daydreams that spin around in my mind some days. Consider these “notes to self” or “food for thought” that I just had to get down on paper. I’d love to know your “back to the basics” tips for teaching high school and college students so that I can store them away for the future. ‘Cause in 18 years, you know, our baby will be graduating from our homeschool and I may be looking for a job. 🙂

 

5 Simple Choices for Postpartum Well-Being

LauraAll Posts, Healthy Living, Motherhood, Motherhood Hacks

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My postpartum experience had gotten progressively worse with each baby: increasing in depression each time. The worst was when I experienced unusual fear, paranoia, and disturbing thoughts after having our fourth child.

So when I found out I was pregnant with Baby #5, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

With five children relying on me, I knew I had to do everything in my power to protect my health.

I couldn’t afford for postpartum depression to get worse.

So, I prayed and asked God to help me.

I invested those nine months in preparation for the postpartum season. I’m so glad I did.

Now that our sweet baby is 7 months old, I can honestly report that I have felt better and thought better than during any other postpartum season.

I want to pass along the 5 things that have made the biggest difference for me, in case they may help any new mom out there who is googling, “postpartum health”.

  1. Take a high quality prenatal and postpartum vitamin. 

    We invested in New Chapter Perfect Prenatal Vitamins during my pregnancy and are now investing in New Chapter Perfect Postnatal Vitamins. They have never made me feel sick and seem to impact my energy, mood, and vitality.I actually think that these would be an amazing thing to add to a gift registry!

  2. Talk to people about postpartum depression.

    It was so helpful to say out-loud to someone, “After my fourth pregnancy, I was thinking very strange thoughts that bothered me…” Until then, I had kept it to myself because I didn’t want people to jump to conclusions or make a bigger deal out of it than necessary. But I felt so much stronger once I allowed myself to admit the truth to my husband and a few friends.

    I asked them to check in with me during my postpartum months after Baby #5.

  3. Eat walnuts, almonds, and blueberries every morning.In my research, I discovered that these three power-foods were just what I needed to build my health, physically, mentally, and emotionally. A few hours of research helped me to uncover some “best practices” for the way I wanted to feel and heal postpartum.

    I made sure our freezer was stocked before the baby arrived and I simply made a habit of eating these foods every day.

    This made such an impact on my wellbeing that I actually filled a bag with these goodies for my sister’s baby shower a few months ago. (From a baby’s perspective, what good is anything else if Momma’s not feeling well?)

  4. Go outdoors and walk.

    When I’m at the hospital, I try to stay in bed as much as possible. Then once I return home, I (finally learned to) take it easy as much as possible.

    My highest priorities are to rest and to get outside to walk. It’s odd that the two have to co-exist: rest and exercise, but they do.

    The first day, I walked to the barn and back. About 50 yards.

    The next day, I walked to the other end of the barn and back, 75 yards.

    Every day, I try to go outside and walk a little farther than the day before.

  5. Avoid screens at night.This choice has benefited me so greatly that I’m actually considering making a sandwich poster about this and wearing it around for the next 10 years.My husband did some research about sleep and discovered that postpartum mothers damage their emotional and mental well-being when they read from a screen when they get up to nurse their babies at night.

    Sleep doctors say that something about the glow of the screen stimulates the mind so that even if you fall right back to sleep, the sleep you get is jeopardized.

    This made so much sense to me because when I was nursing our fourth baby, I was so happy with all of the READING I WAS CRANKING OUT AT NIGHT ON MY KINDLE. I’d fall back to sleep afterward, not knowing that my sleep was less-than-less-than.

    So this time, I do not look at a screen at least a half an hour before bedtime and I did not look at a screen when I got up to nurse through the night.

    I keep the lights low and enjoy praying and resting during that time.

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    What a refreshing difference this postpartum season has been! Sure, I’ve had a few dark days, but that’s normal and to be expected. Overall though, I’ve felt energetic, hopeful, clear-minded, and content. And that is like gold!

    I just had to share the good news with you.

    If you’re about to have a baby, congratulations! I hope that one or more of these suggestions is helpful to you.

    If you’ve had a baby, what has benefited your postpartum experience?

     

What It Takes to Float: Motherhood

LauraMotherhood

It recently dawned on me that I have no regular obligations outside of motherhood.

For the first time in my life, I have nothing extra on the calendar: no weekly Bible study, no music team practice, no book club, no monthly homeschooling co-op, no boot camp class at the YMCA, no writing obligations, no teaching dates, nothing.

This has happened gradually as I’ve wrapped-up, stepped-down, or backed-out of one commitment at a time. Now that we have 5 children, I feel like I’ve been in sink-or-swim mode. It’s as if I surprisingly found myself in deep water and had to remove everything that weighs me down, just to float. (Each former obligation is like an adorable – yet heavy – pair of sneakers that had to be pried off my feet.)

No one – except my husband and children – regularly relies on me. At the moment, I’m “at capacity” simply building my home. It is glorious rigorous work that is taking everything I’ve got to give.

And, surprisingly, I like it most of the time. I like the beauty and dignity that bolster a focused motherhood.  Some days, I’m actually giddy about it.

It feels great to breathe a little. 

Other days it feels unfamiliar, barren, and lonely and  I wish I could do so much more!

But, I’m floating.

(I’m floating!)

There’s nothing quite as glorious as floating, even if it comes at a cost.

I know it won’t always be this way, so I thought I’d share this here while it is my reality. I want to be honest in this space, saying “hey, there” to any other woman out there who is struggling to do any more than love her husband and children, struggling so much that she is gasping for air and feeling like she is drowning.

If you need to know that you have permission to focus solely on the few people within your little walls, consider me for one.

If you need to know that removing cumbersome obligations is “okay”, consider me for one.

If you need to hear that floating is possible and rewarding…

it is.

 

All I Want for our Children

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Motherhood

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While we simplify our homeschooling schedule to make way for lots of Christmas preparation and celebration, I’ve taken some extra time to read, pray, and think about our day-to-day lives. Heading into the new year, I’m asking, “What adjustments do we need to make here at home? Specifically, what do we want for our children?” I’ve been looking closely at how we invest our time and energy. I’m wondering why we do the things we do… and why we don’t do other things?

This afternoon, I discovered a printed copy of an old brainstorm in my cookbook while I was looking for a rogue granola recipe. It struck a chord with me and I plan to sit with it a while. In the meantime, I thought I’d share it here.

What would be on your list?

All I Want for our Children

First and foremost, I want our children to pursue holiness. I pray that they will be given a strong and sincere faith in Jesus Christ and a deep love for the Church.

I want them to be virtuous and passionately in love with God, well formed in their understanding of Scripture and well-practiced in their study of it.

I want them to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ who share the gospel and make disciples wherever they live. I want them to love their neighbor as themselves.

I want them to give thanks in all circumstances and pray about everything at all times.
I want them to respect leadership and elders, submit to one another, keep godly friendships, speak up for the oppressed, and love and nurture children.

I want them to know how to thrive through good times and bad. I want them to know how to support and help other people through good times and bad, in Jesus’ name.

I want them to be pleasant to be around- having the skills to converse and interact with people of various ages and walks of life.

I want them to enjoy reading- to do it for pleasure and in pursuit of knowledge. I want them to be well-read and have the ability to discuss Great Books. I want them to write and speak well.

I want them to be able to transact money dealings and everyday calculations with ease.

I want them to know how to acquire the skills and expertise they need to accomplish the work God puts in their hands. I want them to be vibrant, diligent, faithful workers who work unto God and not unto men.

I want them to have a grasp of the people in history and understand how their lives affect ours today.

I want them to respect and care for God’s creation and to retain their sense of wonder for the natural world.

I want them to appreciate great art and pursue artistic endeavors for pleasure. I want them to be exposed to the world’s greatest music and be proficient at playing at least one instrument.

I want them to be able to use their hands to create useful, practical, and beautiful things.

I want them to be active in promoting Godly principles within our culture, be financially responsible, and have good solid habits that will carry them well through their lives.

I want them to fondly recall their childhoods, to uphold the value and dignity of family life, and, when they experience warmth, comfort, and beauty- to be reminded of home.

When Parties aren’t Perfect

LauraAll Posts

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We placed the white candles in their silver candlestick holders down the length of the burlap runner on our farm table.  A galvanized pail sat in the center of the table, full of greens that we brought in from one of the pine trees in our woods.  The beautiful little flames warmed the room and made it look so Christmassy.

Ten chairs waited expectantly for our guests – a handful of friends who would join us for our first (hopefully annual) “Little Women Christmas Party”.

Our oldest daughters helped to prepare the menu – inspired by the March’s own Christmas breakfast. We grilled pork sausages, arranged juicy slices of Florida oranges, warmed dinner rolls, and smoothed whipped butter into a crock.

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The Chocolate Pave’ came out of the oven in just enough time to cool. Our 8 year-old lovingly sprinkled powdered sugar across the crackled cake and arranged holly leaves and a few berries for decoration. While we scurried around the kitchen, I felt the excitement of the occasion. And yet, something was wrong. My heart ached for the friends we couldn’t invite – the many, many friends we would have loved to gather in our home, but simply couldn’t because of our capacity and abilities this year. Besides, I knew this type of party thrives with a small, intimate gathering, but still it hurt to think about the friends we were missing.

Minutes before the guests were to arrive, we found a “Little Women Film Score” Pandora station that played the most fitting background music. We weren’t wearing time-period dresses or hair-do’s, but the music made us feel like our skirts were swishing and we could rightly describe ourselves as “bustling about”. The atmosphere was just right for this delightful evening of a Little Women dinner and movie with our dear friends. It had all of the makings of one of childhood’s dearest memories. As the crowning piece in our feast, our vintage copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was propped against the white bowl filled with oranges.

And yet, something was wrong. I could hear my two-year old throwing a fit upstairs. Her stomping feet and dismal cries echoed through the floor boards and overpowered the beautiful background music. Her nap had gone late and she was positively melted down. I grabbed a dinner roll and snuck upstairs, crawling hands-and-knees to greet her in the most non-threatening way I could imagine. “Hey, Sweetie… I brought you a dinner roll… Do you want to come downstairs yet?” For the past 15 minutes, I had been working with her, trying to calm her down and get her in the mood for a magical Christmas party. Needless to say, she wasn’t feeling the magic.

Once the guests arrived, the little girl forgot her troubles and came downstairs meekly. She had that look – you know the one – totally worn out from her pre-party fit, but truly wanting to leave it all behind her and move on into the magic. I couldn’t blame her. It was going to be a great night.

The meal was delicious, and the view of such darling faces gathered around the table touched my heart. We shared favorite Christmas traditions – one girl said, “Eggnog!” another said, “When we all pile on the couch at my grandparents’ house”. A third said, “Getting there.”

After dessert, we moved into the living room and started the movie, which is its own work of art. Half-way through we paused the movie so we could ladle the mulled apple cider and pop the sweet-touch popcorn. We truly were bustling about at this point. And yet, something went wrong. One girl ladled the apple cider while another held the mugs. Suddenly, we heard an “ouch!” and realized that some of the simmering cider had splashed on a little one’s hand. She quickly plunged it under cold water, but it hurt. And sticky cider dribbled over the countertop onto the floor. We washed it up. The ladler felt so terrible about the accident that she hid behind her mother. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” we were able to say, thankfully.

And yet, something else went wrong. Two minutes later, my oldest daughter ran into the kitchen and said, “The little one just threw up!” I grabbed some paper towels and ran into the living room where our poor, sweet two year old lay on the couch, looking very very sad. I stooped down to clean her up, to clean the couch, the ottoman, the pillow, the floor. While I disinfected the couch, I wondered if our friends would want to stay and finish the movie? Or would they want to grab their coats and scurry out the door?

They stayed. I tucked the babies into bed, we finished popping corn, ladling apple cider, and gathered back in the living room for the beloved conclusion of the movie. Needless to say, I was the only one who sat on the couch after the intermission.

After all was said and done, the tears wiped away, the sighs of relief about Jo’s fine engagement to Professor Baer, we said “good bye” to one another and sent our guests on their way.

I lay in bed that night wondering if it was a good party or not.

Was it magical?

Was it special?

Or did the vomit ruin everything? Would the mothers now have to worry for the next two days if their own broods would start vomiting all over their couches, ottomans, pillows, and floors?

Would it ruin the entire holiday season?

I felt that age-old ache of remorse and regret when special things – like parties – aren’t perfect. In those moments, all I can do is focus on that one thing that didn’t go right, and I can’t make it go away.

I turned to our Heavenly Father and asked – like a little girl who had maybe ruined something or broken something – “Is it okay?

I immediately remembered this…

“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

I realized that if Jesus hadn’t made a special effort to celebrate the Passover with his friends – to speak to them dearly and to fellowship and feast with them – that night would simply be “that night, he was betrayed”.  The specially-chosen room, the food, the wine, the sitting close, the conversation, and the blessing… all transformed the tragedy of “he was betrayed,” into history’s singular celebration dinner: the Last Supper, a glorious and ageless tradition amongst family and friends, honoring our Savior, Jesus.

“He was betrayed,” fades into powerlessness when the cup is lifted and the bread is passed amongst friends.

On the same night… Jesus took the bread… and gave thanks.

And our humble night, gathered around the farm table? Well, without the party maybe it would’ve just been “the toddler threw a fit.”

Or, “they left people out.”

Or, “the girl burnt her hand”.

Or, “the friend hid behind her mother in embarrassment”.

Or, “the baby vomited all over everything and potentially contaminated three families full of children and pets. At Christmas time.”

But, there was candle light. And laughter. There was real, delicious sausage and orange slices. There was Chocolate Pave with holly berries and a sugar shaker. There were stories and snuggling, tears, and laughter. There were mothers and daughters, gathered together at Christmas time. A small glimpse of redemption.

I’ll take it.

So, if your party isn’t exactly what you imagined and wanted, shift your perspective toward the heavens: see that every good and perfect gift comes from God. His goodness – and the glories of celebration – make life’s inevitable mistakes, regrets, and disasters bearable. They remind us that a perfect party is coming…

Merry Christmas, my friends!