5 Things I’d Tell My Newly-Wed Self: And Notes for Marriage Today

LauraAll Posts, Marriage

After 16 years of personal experience, Ryan and I wholeheartedly believe that God is for marriage and He wants us to make it.

That’s why He faithfully helps one frail human being love another frail human being, day after day.

For us, this has been a miracle of epic proportions.

Every June 8th, we celebrate our anniversary with the same prayer, “Lord, thank you. You have done great things in us. What would we do without you?!”

Ryan and I recently had the opportunity to encourage a group of newly-weds. We each shared a list of “5 Things I’d Tell My Newly-Wed Self”.  Here’s my list.

Dear Newly-Wed Self,

1. Be honest with yourself, your spouse, and God.

“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Psalm 51:6

It can be terrifying to share anything that reveals weakness, regret, need, or inefficiency, but I urge you to face this fear! Instead of working hard to maintain a strong, confident, got-it-together exterior, work hard to slow down, reflect deeply, pray openly, and speak clearly about yourself.

You will never regret being transparent and vulnerable with your spouse, no matter how hard it is to choke out the words or work through your humanity together.

2. Learn how to keep healthy boundaries.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Do not give your affection, approval, time, or energy under compulsion, manipulation, or guilt. This is not loving, generous, or submissive: rather, it’s dangerous and destructive to you and your spouse.

We all coerce and manipulate one another to some extent. Learn how to identify and overcome this unloving element in your home.

Enable and fortify healthy forms of communication.

Continually develop your own thoughts, desires, expectations, and voice. Share these valuable aspects of yourself with your spouse. Anticipate – and work toward – mutual respect.

Prayerfully figure out what you want to give so that you can give it cheerfully, healthfully, wholeheartedly.

3. Pride and self-righteousness are lying to you.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Don’t waste a moment thinking you are better than your husband.

Don’t think that you would make a better “spiritual head of the home”.

Don’t think that you know everything about your husband’s heart, motives, or spiritual journey.

You’re not more righteous because you have completed more Bible study workbooks than he has.

You’re not more righteous because you stay awake and take pretty notes during the sermon and he *ahem* dozes off. You’re not more righteous because you read infinitely more theology books than he does.

Attending a weekly women’s Bible study, keeping a more-regular daily devotional time, and building more orphanages does not mean that you love Jesus more than your husband does… nor does it mean that Jesus loves you more than he loves your man.

Oh dear girl, be humble.

Continually ask the Lord to search your heart. Indulge in confession and repentance of your own sin; then you’ll be free to notice your husband’s surprising spiritual strengths. You’ll be free to cheer him on!

Pray for your man, thank him, and notice the unexpected ways that God works in his life.

4. Be generous with yourself.

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer, another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” Proverbs 11:24

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38

Ask God to help you overcome your guardedness, your trust issues, and your stinginess. Your marriage will blossom insofar as you give life to it!

Be generous with your smile.

Be generous with your stories, your strengths, and your support.

Be generous with your hugs, kisses, and affection.

Be generous with your hope, your joy, and your song.

5. Stop criticizing asap.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for the building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

Take this 30-day “Husband Encouragement Challenge” asap and create a new normal.

(The challenge: “For thirty days, don’t say anything negative to or about your husband. Also, say something positive to and about your husband each day.“)

By Day 3 of your negativity fast, you will be AMAZED by the frequency of your urge to say something negative. As God gives you the grace to refrain from criticism, complaining, and negativity, He’ll also give you the grace to choose encouraging words that build up your man and your home.

This is going to rock. your. world!

Get to it.

And finally, dear newly-wed self, 16 years from now, you’ll write a little blog post about marriage and you’ll think, “Ooo, I want to keep growing in these things! I want to be more generous! I want to take that 30-Day Encouragement Challenge again!” But this time around, you want to – not because you need to – because you’ve grown to love your man.


Can You Combine Sonlight D+E with Sonlight 100?

LauraHomeschooling, Middle School, Sonlight

One of the beauties of homeschooling is learning together as a family.

As our children get older, I’m always looking for ways to gather everyone around the table to learn a common subject together.

History continues to be a great source of interest and unity in our homeschool. Every afternoon, we mix our ages and stages to enjoy a beautiful blend of stories, facts, maps, and watercolors.

(Just so you know, I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion. This is one way that I can help provide for our family while sharing helpful information with you!)

Good news! Sonlight D/E + Sonlight 100 pair well together.

With Sonlight, elementary students and junior high students can study the same historical time period, while being challenged appropriately.

This past year, I taught Sonlight 100 to my 7th grader and Sonlight D to my 4th and 1st graders.

We didn’t intend for things to work out as well as they did. We were just plugging along with our beloved Sonlight D studies of Early American History when we received a wonderful opportunity for Vivienne – our 7th grader – to begin Sonlight 100. I knew she needed more of a challenge, but I didn’t want to send her off into another historical time period or topic. Sonlight 100 was the perfect solution to our puzzle.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

“The abundance of sea-fish are almost beyond believing.” – New Englander 1630 from The Landmark History of the American People Volume 1

Viv tackled the Sonlight 100 curriculum while the rest of us – the 4th and 1st grader – continued to work through Sonlight D.

The beauty occurred when we realized that Viv’s Sonlight 100 history correlated perfectly with Sonlight D.

In the mornings, Viv read the Sonlight 100 assignments by herself – digging more deeply into the historical time period – and then joined us in the afternoon for tea, snacks, Sonlight D history and read-alouds.

Often, I would read the day’s selection aloud and all of the children would watercolor a scene in their art books from the reading – whether it was a prayerful George Washington, New England fish, or Sacajawea’s sweet papoose, Pompey.

While they worked, Viv would talk about her Sonlight 100 reading. Most of the time, she contributed quirky and lesser-known facts, which added interest to our studies and enriched our understanding of the era like, “Did you know that Benedict Arnold was fascinated by shoes?” and “Once, James Madison lost his hat and wouldn’t leave his room for two days until someone got him a big, fur hat he could wear.”

I LOVED that we could still share our history reading together and I plan to continue this plan next year.

Sonlight 100 spans early and modern history, so you can partner it with Sonlight D, Sonlight E, or Sonlight D/E.

(In our case, because Viv didn’t begin Sonlight 100 until mid-year, she’ll be completing the curriculum in the fall of 2018. It just so happens that when she picks it up again, she’ll be very close to the time-period of Sonlight E, Modern American History, that my 5th and 2nd grader will be exploring.)

Now I’m wondering, have you discovered a way to gather your children to learn together? What works for your family?

Help for the Child Who Internalizes Other People’s Negative Emotions


I am so thankful to be part of a generation of adults that aims to build empathy in children. Most of our kids need to learn how to identify with someone’s struggles and sorrows. They need to learn to jump in, speak up, and give life.

But some kids internalize too much.

They all-too-easily feel all of the pain and heartache; they shoulder the burdens of the world. They need to learn how to process and respond to negative emotions in a healthy and biblical way. These kiddos have a natural inclination toward empathy – maybe even a God-given gift of empathy – they just need to grow in wisdom.

Christians walk in the light of both Galations 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” and Galations 6:5 “…for each one should carry his own load.” It takes discernment to know when – and what – to carry for another person, and when to help a friend bear up under his own load.  (I first grasped this concept from Cloud and Townsend’s life-changing book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.)

How do we help a child who unnecessarily feels responsible for another person’s bad feelings or bad behavior?

Here’s one idea…

It was late afternoon.

I was cranky and hungry.

The kids had just shared a huge bowl of buttery popcorn while watching a summer afternoon movie.  I took the quiet minute to fix myself some apple slices, pub cheese, and crackers. I placed it on the table next to my book, sat down with a sigh of relief, and savored a bite.

On cue, the toddler released a high pitch scream from the other room – as if a herd of rhinos were kidnapping him. While I jumped up to save the day (there were 0 rhinos), one adorable four-year-old girl took my place at the dining room table.

When I returned crankier and hungrier than ever, she was dragging a cracker luxuriously through the pub cheese. She tipped her chin up and dramatically descended the cheesy cracker into her mouth. Ironically, she was dressed up in her pink satin princess dress, complete with a beautiful tiara.

The poor girl had no idea that the scene was about to change dramatically.

Evil Queen Mother, enter stage right: “Hey, that’s my snack!” I snapped. “You kids just had your snack! This is MY snack! Please go play somewhere else.”

She froze, mouth still open, cracker suspended in the air. As quick as a wink, she removed the cracker from her mouth and skittered away.

The other kids who had gathered, presumably in hopes of their own turn at the pub cheese, skittered away just as quickly.

I sat down with a sigh of remorse.

The abandoned cracker was propped awkwardly in the tub of cheese, looking surprised at its simple twist of fate.

I ate my snack in high dudgeon and unusual quiet.

After I swirled the last cracker around the bottom of the pub cheese container, I went outside to make peace with my sweet daughter.

She was now dressed up as cowgirl, leading her pink scooter-horse to its stall. Happy as a lark, she had moved on from the incident.

I sat down on the porch swing and my 7-year old son climbed up beside me, snuggling close.

“I”m sorry, Mom,” he sniffled. 

“Sorry for what?” I asked, ruffling his hair.

“I’m sorry for what happened in there. Sorry that you don’t get to eat enough snacks. We kids eat so many sacks, but I want you to eat all of the snacks.” He cried big, unashamed tears.

“Oh, my sweet tenderhearted boy,” I said. “I appreciate that you care about me, but I need you to know that this is not your fault. It’s my own responsibility to feed and take care of myself throughout the day. I got too hungry and I let my crankiness take over. My angry response toward Audrey was wrong.”

He sniffed a big old sniff and lay his head against me, burdened.

“You know,” I added, “My snack-fit had nothing to do with you. You didn’t eat my snack. I didn’t yell at you. And you certainly don’t need to feel badly or to apologize.

There were bad feelings swirling around in there, but you don’t have to take them. Just because other people are mad or sad doesn’t mean that you have to take those bad feelings on as your own burden.

“Really?” he asked, wiping a tear off his cheek.

“Really.” I answered.

We swung back and forth for a few minutes, thinking.

Then I got an idea. “As you get older,” I began, “You’ll learn how to tell the difference between bad feelings that are your responsibility and the ones that aren’t.

It’s kind of like getting your luggage from the baggage claim area at the airport.

You get off your plane and you have to get your luggage from that big conveyor belt, right? Think about all of those suitcases that are rolling by! Black ones, blue ones, red ones. Big, little. It’s important that we know what our own baggage looks like so we can take responsibility for it and carry it home. But we don’t take the other people’s bags, do we?

Bad feelings are kind of like luggage: some are yours to carry, others aren’t. Sometimes you do need to take responsibility for bad feelings, maybe you need to apologize or to care for someone in a special way. But other times, you do not. You’ll grow in wisdom, learning how to discern the burdens that God wants you to carry.”

By now, that sweet boy was sitting up tall, almost ready to hop off the swing and return to his bike.

I took two more minutes to add,

“What would we do if we were at the baggage claim area and we saw someone who couldn’t lift his bag off the conveyor belt and get it into his car? We would help him, wouldn’t we? Sometimes, we are called to help people figure out how to carry the burdens of life, we come alongside them and help them in many different ways. I think you’ll be the type of friend who helps others to grow stronger and wiser so they can live well.”

I could tell: this particular burden was lifted. He smiled at me, all toothless and cute, and ran off to play.

This is just one little conversation in an ongoing discovery. How do you help your child to understand empathy, boundaries, and compassionate love? I’d love to know.


How to Be a Mom When You Have a Cold


I’m fighting a cold as if it’s the dead of winter and the germs are flying everywhere. I’ve been up all night, propped up on pillows, breathing through my mouth like Napoleon Dynamite. When my throat begins to tickle, I dive for a spoonful of the honey on my nightstand to preempt a coughing spell. A couple of our little ones have the same cold, so it’s surprisingly convenient that I’m awake so I can pop up and get them a sip of water when they are in the midst of their own coughing fit. (The blessings of motherhood can be peculiar.)

Meanwhile, the calendar says it’s June, but it’s chilly and wet. In our town we don’t sing, “April showers bring May flowers”; we sing, “April showers bring May showers,” but now we’ll all have to add on a phrase to sing, “April showers bring May showers and May showers bring June showers…” There’s just an awful lot of showers, rain pouring down these farmhouse gutters, as if we’re running a very popular waterpark. But we’re not.

Where’s the sunshine?

Where are the flowers?

When the morning birds herald the beginning of each new day, my sinuses finally decide to drain so that I can breathe. When the alarm goes off, I’m just beginning to feel like I may finally fall asleep. I want to pull the covers over my head and try. Under the covers, my thoughts are muffled. If I do this, I’ll still be cranky and it will be even harder to fall asleep tonight…

SO, I get out of bed and go for my morning walk. Even in the rainy season, the sun still rises, the mercies of God extended to His creation. I see the same hills and valleys every morning. The same cows, the same barbed wire, the same grass growing lush as anything. I take it all in and begin to pray. I will never tire of this country walk. I let my eyes take in the scope of its beauty.

When I get home, I open my Bible for a few minutes. I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew – just a couple of verses at a time – and asking myself, “What does this passage tell me about God’s heart for people?” I’ve discovered that behind every command, every parable, every story, God demonstrates that He loves people and wants us to thrive, that Jesus is our saving grace.

And just like that, the kids wake up, windows are opened wide, breakfast is served, and dreams are discussed (Oh, not dreams like, “One day, I will save poor, dying children,” but literal dreams, like “I dreamt I wanted to help Malachi to pull his tooth out, but it was weird because his tooth was in my mouth, so I just kind of sucked it out and said, “Hey Malachi, I got your tooth out!” Yep. That sort of dream.)

It’s summer break! It’s June! And yet I’m wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and wool socks. My nose is stuffed. I’ve lost my voice. The sun seems dim.

Yet, my calling persists: to be Mom today.

To love children, nurture them, fight for them in prayer, teach them the ways of God, and point them to Jesus. To care for myself and their daddy so that we can thrive as a family. Yet it feels like an impossible calling.

I raise my hand to rub my aching head and am reminded of the gift God has given me to guard me in weary seasons like this. The helmet of Salvation rests miraculously over my congested, muddled head. I remind myself that my hope is in the Lord. Jesus guards my thoughts and makes me confident in a battle that otherwise would turn my head. On this particular chilly summer day, I’m reminded of the song that the Israelites would sing when they were making the weary trek to the temple. They’d be almost there when a daunting hill would loom before them, the temple glittering on top.

How are we going to make it to the top? They’d wonder.

Then they’d sing,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel 

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

Psalm 121

Are you looking upon the day ahead as if it’s a hill looming high and ominous? The Lord will keep your life today. He has always kept your yesterdays. He will always keep your today.


Feeling BLAH About Homeschooling? How To Keep On When You Want to Quit

LauraAll Posts, Homeschooling, Sonlight

For the first time in my life I feel uninspired about homeschooling.

There’s no magic. No sparkly feelings. Nothing.

This is odd for me because I’ve been a homeschool enthusiast since I was a child.

While other kids dreamed of becoming the POTUS or the first person to set foot on Mars, I gazed starry-eyed at the prospect of gathering my children onto my lap for heartwarming songs and beautiful stories.

When I gave birth to our first child – a tiny little girl, born 5 weeks early – the doctors put her under a heat lamp and hooked her up to monitors. I pulled a rocking chair up to her warming crib in the NICU, leaned my chin over the plastic sides of her bed and read the Bible to her. (That sweet baby was Vivienne, my thoughtful, creative, sincere daughter who will be turning 13 years old any day now.) She was just starting out in the world, wearing a stylish purple band across her eyes to protect them from the heat lamp and a gold heart sticker covering the heart monitor on her chest. That was Day 1 of our sweet homeschool. That NICU was our first classroom.

(Almost) every day ever since then, my heart and mind have been full of enthusiasm for homeschooling. I’ve researched curriculum, planned field trips, dug elbow-deep into art projects, read countless books, designed tot trays, created file folder games, orchestrated schedules, and have felt so thrilled by my calling as a homeschool mother.

But all of a sudden, I have no inspiration whatsoever.

There is no brainstorming.

There are no field trips.

Art projects seem like mountains to climb.

Field trips seem like punishments.

To top it all off, I’ve become very cynical about all of the exhausting Pinterest ideas out there and am like, “You’ve got to be kidding me….” regarding all of those enthusiastic homeschool bloggers out there (oh, the irony).

It’s all understandable: I’ve been going through a season in which I’m just tired, not to mention that I’m working at my full capacity. We can’t always feel like a million bucks. So I get it, but I just don’t like it.

One thing is for sure: I now respect anyone who home schools without a natural interest in homeschooling! Wow, is it tough to slug through without all of the feelings.

Having to continue homeschooling without my typical drive or enthusiasm is extremely difficult.

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

Here’s what’s keeping me on track until the last day of school:

Our Sonlight curriculum.

I appreciate our Sonlight curriculum more than ever because it tells me what to do.

The quality of my children’s education isn’t dependent on my ups and downs; it’s not limited by my oscillating feelings, my unpredictable bursts of creativity, or my fragile energy level.

In the past, I’ve chosen Sonlight because it’s a springboard for all of my ideas. When I’m feeling inspired, Sonlight provides a firm foundation on which I can build, accessorize, and enrich our homeschool education.

Now that I’m feeling uninspired, Sonlight provides a firm foundation that is specific, high quality, and complete with or without my enthusiasm. On my worst days, the younger children and I just keep following the well-planned curriculum (this year, Sonlight D), completing what we are able. My oldest daughter – who is totally enjoying Sonlight 100 – keeps a copy of the curriculum in her binder and keeps herself on track. 

I am so so glad that we are following such a lovely curriculum, otherwise, honestly, I’d still be in bed.

And all of the little ones? Well, they’d be raiding the pantry and watching Daniel Tiger. Or Spy Kids. Or Animal Mechanicals. Which, of course, they’d love, but just think how much richer they are because we are reading aloud The Lewis and Clark Expedition and watercoloring scenes of the rugged heroes crossing the Rocky Mountains? (It’s true that I feel like I’m the one crossing the Rockies as I gather everyone around the table to read one more chapter. Sonlight is my Sacajawea in the midst of the Shoshones, my Old Toby on the Lolo Trail.  Each day, despite the struggle, my children and I arrive at a satisfying vista. I am deeply thankful for the guidance and encouragement.)

(Did you know that Sonlight is a full-service curriculum provider, so you can get the best options in a single, customized program? From Preschool to High School, you can get every subject and every grade to teach your children. Each curriculum comes with a thorough Instructor’s Guide that walks you through the assignments, the concepts, and the conversations that you can have with your child. It is so user friendly and created with an honest-to-goodness human parent in mind.)

Most importantly, God Himself is keeping us in the palm of His hand.

Every day, I rely deeply upon the grace of God, which He extends to me and my children regardless of our feelings or accomplishments. What would I do without His guarantee that He holds all things together? Our Heavenly Father is the one who has gathered us here and He is singing songs of love and telling a grand story about never-ending, never-changing faithfulness and love.


Enrich Your Middle Schooler’s Socialization Through Literature: A Tom Sawyer Book Club

LauraAll Posts, Books, English Literature, Homeschooling, Sonlight

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

Build homeschooling socialization while reading a good book together!

When an author tells you straight-up what he wants you to do with his book, you pay attention. Especially when that author is the renown Mark Twain.

This year,  Vivienne’s 7th grade Sonlight literature curriculum includes The Adventures of Tom Sawyer In the preface, Twain writes,

“Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account,  for part of my plan has been to try pleasantly to remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.”

Viv and I figured that if, way back in 1876, Mark Twain wanted her to get a kick out of Tom Sawyer’s adventures, we would read the book just like that. We intended to have some fun with this one.

It’s even more fun with friends!

We wanted to invite some friends along for the ride and we didn’t have to look very far.

It just so happens that I teach a middle school literature class for Viv and her peers once a week. We agreed that this would be the perfect fit: we’d devote the third quarter to a Mark Twain book club.

Fifteen enthused peers read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer together. It was my job to guide them toward, well, entertainment the whole time.

We read the book over the span of 8 weeks, covering 4 – 5 chapters each week. In the end, I can confidently say that the students thoroughly enjoyed the book together and I was honored to sit in on their laughter and discussions.

Ideas for a Tom Sawyer book club:

Whether your student is reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as part of Sonlight 100 or another curriculum or you are simply wanting to connect with your child in a meaningful way, creating a book club around such a fun masterpiece will be worthwhile.

Have fun, have fun, have fun.

“There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I kept my eye on Tom’s antics and looked for any way we could simulate his adventurous spirit in the narrow basement classroom where we meet each week. Our options were very limited, but that didn’t stop us! One chilly day in the middle of February, the students worked together to escape through the windows. They helped each other up and out of the narrow openings, tromped through the snow back into the classroom. When they returned, their cheeks were rosy and their spirits were high. That simple little escapade primed the for a thoughtful discussion about adventure.

What’s so great about adventure? 

They could answer this question because they could still feel their blood pumping.

When Tom whistles, take a whistling break.

When he does gymnastics, see if anyone will imitate his antics

When he eats an apple, eat an apple.

Hold a memory-verse competition, dig for treasure, take a field trip to a cave.

Talk about the countless superstitions. How are they similar to our own superstitions?

Appreciate Twain’s powerful use of satire. Then, take a look at some modern-day satire (try The Babylon Bee) and try your hand at writing some satire of your own.

Keep a Tom Sawyer Trading Bag

Viv suggested that the students keep a trading bag with “Tom Sawyer-esque treasures” to trade with one another and it ended up being a fun addition to the class. Students kept stashes of marbles, corks, toothpicks, and licorice. I kept a stash, too – including a disinfected chicken bone – and let the students riffle through it now and then.

This all came about early in the book when we read an irresistible and poetic description of the treasures that Tom Sawyer has traded with his friends.

And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had, besides the things I have mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jew’s harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool-cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar – but no dog – the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.”

The book is full of intriguing knick-knacks that fill the boys’ pockets and that come in handy in almost any circumstances. So, with explicit rules about one-eye kittens and fire-crackers, we joined Tom Sawyer in his collecting of treasure.

Read aloud.

Twain wrote in the vernacular, which means he gives his characters authentic expressions and accents that may be difficult for your students to read at first. We listened to the first chapter on a top-class audio recording so we could jump right into the story without being turned off by the difficulty of unfamiliar language.

Throughout our meetings, we would often listen to scenes from the audiobook.

One week, we wanted to practice using the vernacular ourselves so we listened to the scene first, then divided into groups and read the scene aloud. After practice, we shared the scene with one another, appreciating the difficulty of really sounding like a character from that place and time.

Keep a commonplace book.

Encourage each student to jot down favorite quotations each week. Some students will copy the humorous tidbits, others will copy the descriptive writing, still others will copy the life lessons. These commonplace excerpts are a great way to spark conversation.

Simply ask, “What did you write in your commonplace book?” and let the conversation evolve from there.

Be sure to keep a commonplace book, too! Your students will want to know what catches your eye.

Enjoy conversations about the book.

Sit back and guide the students with a few good conversation starters.

What did your students like?

What made them laugh?

What made them shiver? (Believe me, there is plenty of shivering in Tom Sawyer.)

I am a Read-Aloud Revival fan, so I use Sarah Mackenzie’s helpful questions to prompt conversation. In her newly released Read-Aloud Family, Sarah provides 10 poignant questions that you can ask about any book and expect to connect with your student. I stick with these and am never disappointed. (Amusingly, the one question that you can apply to every chapter of Tom Sawyer is “Should he have done that?”)

Try Reader’s Theatre.

To introduce my students to reader’s theatre, I distributed the script from Chapter 2 – the famous whitewashing scene. I divided them into groups and let them practice. They loved sharing their scenes with the class. Then, in small groups, they  took responsibility for transforming a scene from Tom Sawyer into their own reader’s theatre script. They included sound affects and shared their performances with an audience of peers and parents. For the performance, we just lined 5 stools across the front and they read the scripts as if they were on radio.

Several of them have been asking to do it again and again! I think reader’s theatre helped them to step into the story, without the pressure of memorizing lines or blocking.


What about the racial issues?

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain

It’s no secret that Twain’s portrayal of racism in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn presents difficulty to educators.  Some educators opt out of the novels. Others look for revised editions that modify some of the racial words. You will have to choose how to address this topic with your students.

Here’s how I approached it: I asked the students to copy Twain’s quote (above). I told them that Twain carefully chose his words in an effort to speak out against racism.  He lived in the South in the 1800’s when there was more racial tension – and infinitely more inequality – than there is today in America.

Mark Twain was undoubtedly anti-racist.

In both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain intentionally wrote about the racist outlook of the 1800’s because he strongly opposed it. (Did you know that Twain was friends with African American educator Booker T Washington, he co-chaired the 1906 Silver Jubilee fundraiser at Carnegie Hall for the Tuskegee Institute – a school run by Washington in Alabama to further “the intellectual and moral and religious life of the [African American] people”. He also personally helped fund one of Yale Law School’s first African American students, explaining: “We have ground the manhood out of them [African Americans], and the shame is ours, not theirs, and we should pay for it.”)

In his writing, Twain chose to use the vernacular – including words like “nigger”, “injun”, and “half-breed” – so that we could hear the characters exactly as they were. He wants us to examine a community of people and be able to to identify the racism, the ignorance, and the hatred. He wants us to be smart, discerning, and gracious.

Here’s how I chose to approach it:

I chose to lead the students through the classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as Mark Twain wrote it. Before we read the inflammatory words and descriptions, I prepare the students. I tell them that these are serious and powerful words and attitudes that were present in the  in our society.  I tell my students that Mark Twain is trusting us with these words – that I, their parents, and God are trusting them with these words.

I ask, Will you see these words for what they are: a window to the soul of a society that dehumanized people who were made by God and in God’s image?

Will you handle them wisely?

Or, will you use these words – and others like them – to put people down?

I hope that each one of us handles these words wisely and lovingly.

I hope that this sparked your imagination for ways you can invite some students to join you in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer! You’ll have a wonderful time together.

The Heartbeat of My Social Media Addiction

LauraFaith, Healthy Living

I sat down for my morning devotions with the Lord, opened my Bible, and immediately heard a “ding” on my phone alerting me that I had received an email. My mind began the well-rehearsed inner dialogue that goes on whenever my prayers or Bible reading is interrupted by social media.

It can wait. You’re here to worship God.

But what if it’s important? What if it’s something I need to pray about? What if it’s someone who needs me to help? Ministering to people online counts as devotional time, too.

Nice try, but you know that’s not entirely why you want to check. Distraction feels good. Escape is easy. All you really want to do is see if anyone loves you.

Sometimes I don’t check social media when it interrupts my devotions. I continue with my Bible reading and prayer, waiting to engage in the online world until afterward. Praise God for the grace to make that hard choice! Other times, I do check and am glad I did. I learn about something that requires prayer, I am able to encourage someone, and I am able to return quickly to my Bible reading and prayer. Then, of course, sometimes I check, get totally absorbed online, squander my devotional time, and live to regret it.

I am continually amazed by the way social media can distract me! I’ve been asking the Lord to help me see what’s at the heart of the matter. What fuels my personal draw toward email, texts, Instagram, and Facebook?

The Valley of Vision

One morning I was despairing over my struggle, wondering if I should throw my computer out the window, bury my phone in my sock drawer, fast from social media, or ask a friend to hold me accountable. Then I opened a well-worn copy of The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions and read a few prayers of the Christians who lived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The prayers were so relevant to my struggle! I tilted my head and thought, These prayers feel like the Puritans had social media. It sounds like they struggled with a desire for social significance, longing to be YouTube stars, Facebook phenoms, and Instagram idols.

Consider this excerpt from the prayer, “Man’s Great End.” Maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Most men seem to live for themselves,
Without much or any regard for thy glory,
Or for the good of others;
They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue
The riches, honours, pleasures of this life,
As if they supposed that wealth, greatness, merriment,
Could make their immortal souls happy;
But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these!
And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them,
For all our happiness consists in loving thee,
And being holy as thou art holy.
O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities,
The sensuality and folly of the present world!
It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness;
Time is a moment, a vapour,
And all its enjoyments are empty bubbles,
Fleeting blasts of wind,
From which nothing satisfactory can be derived;
Give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee.

What a poignant description of my own struggle with social media! And yet the Puritans didn’t have computers to throw out the window or phones to hide from themselves. They didn’t have social media, but they did have the same desires for wealth, greatness, and merriment warring against their devotion to Christ.

This helped me to see that my problem isn’t social media; my problem is my sin. I prayed:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

The Heart of the Matter

I asked the Lord to help me see what is at the heart of the matter. Why do I turn to social media instead of to You, Lord?

From what I can tell, I struggle with a longing for significance. I want evidence that I matter and that I’m making an impact on the world. I want to see that people like me, value my thoughts, and need me.

I’d rather find my significance on Facebook than in Scripture. I’d rather look for contentment on Instagram than in Christ.

Click here to read the rest of this post at Revive Our Hearts’ True Woman blog…

The Awesome Perks of Reading Aloud to Your Middle Schooler

LauraAll Posts, Books, Homeschooling, Middle School, Motherhood

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

Our leather couch is sagging in the middle.

It came into our lives when we were poor newlyweds with a 2-year old toddler and a baby-on-the-way.

One Saturday, we strolled the aisles of Sam’s Club and spotted a sturdy 4-piece leather living room set: a couch, 2 chairs, and an oversized ottoman. It was exactly what we were looking for: attractive, easy-to-clean, and durable! It just so happens that we were currently taking Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” course and we wanted to bargain for a big-ticket item. With our cash-filled envelopes on hand, my otherwise non-bargaining husband offered the store manager a deal: “I’ll pay cash if you’ll drop the price.”

The manager said, “ok.”

At Sam’s Club! (Who bargains at Sam’s Club?? Well, we did and scored!)

We brought that beautiful set home on the back of a friend’s pick-up truck and arranged it in our living room. I sat down in the middle of that firm leather couch. Our 2-year old daughter climbed up onto my lap with her favorite picture book. I read aloud Goodnight, Moon as her head bobbed in rhythm and her curls tickled my cheek.

That was 10 years ago.

Since then, we have logged hours, days, maybe even years reading on that couch. I’ve sat smack-dab in the middle (hence the sagging), and I’ve watched in amazement as that couch has filled up with children. A baby on my lap, one hanging on my leg, a few at my sides, one balancing on the back of the couch like a belly-surfer. Oh, they’ve squabbled plenty over who gets to sit where and whose book gets read first, and so on, but those hours – those many, many hours – have been some of our dearest family treasures.

Our love for reading aloud is what drew us to Sonlight curriculum in the first place. With an emphasis on historical literature, Sonlight has provided books for us to read through ancient civilizations to the civil war and beyond. Some of our favorite history read-alouds have been Across Five AprilsLittle Britchesand Justin Morgan Had a Horse.

We’ve read light-hearted books like Gooney Bird Greene and heart-wrenching books like Adoniram Judson: Bound for Burma. Each grade-level curriculum is packed with top-quality selections that appeal to all of us, that’s the beauty of a good story. We’ve been learning side-by-side on that lovely, squishy couch.

Why read aloud to older kids?

Reading aloud to middle schoolers can seem kinda odd. By 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, kids are encouraged to read independently. We want our middle schoolers to be investing in their own books and school assignments.

Not to mention, it’s *almost impossible* to find the time to read aloud to our pre-teens, and – to be honest – sometimes we wonder if they wonder if it’s “too babyish”.

Before you and your middle schooler move away from reading aloud forever, consider 3 perks that may be reason enough to invite your 12 year old to the couch when you read aloud.

Your child is still learning to read, and may learn best by listening to you read.

When I asked my 7th grade daughter, “Is it still helpful for me to read aloud to you?”

She said, “Definitely! I learn how to read! Of course I know how to read, but when I listen to you read rich, interesting books every day, I learn how to pronounce tricky vocabulary words and handle complex sentences. And I learn how to read aloud, which is actually pretty important in my world. Whenever I have to read a script at Theatre Camp, or read Scripture in Youth Group, or contribute to our co-op, I feel confident that I can do it because I see you doing it every day.”

Experts would say that she’s onto something. In fact, Andrew Pudewa instructs parents to read aloud a level or two beyond their student’s reading level to model the vocabulary and decoding skills that are necessary as the student grows.

Your child still needs to connect with you, and may thrive within the safety of a shared book.

Maybe your 11 year-old is suddenly picky, distant, and moody, but he or she still needs to connect with you every day.

Reading aloud together provides a nonthreatening way to sit side-by-side.

You can wrap your arm around your cool kid. He can hear your voice. She can feel your skin.

You can laugh at the same character. You can cry at the same tear-jerking ending.

You can consider the same universal themes, spiritual questions, and wisdom.

Stories provide a table for fellowship – like a feast that you are sharing together.

Guards are down. Hearts are open.

Your child still needs to fall in love with goodness, truth, and beauty. 

“Good books, like good friends are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.”

– Louisa May Alcott

Middle school students are learning how to navigate friendships and other social pressures. We know that these tender years will shape their relationships for years to come. That’s why we pray, offer to drive the car pool, stay up late at night chatting, and help our pre-teens establish a healthy appetite for true friends.

Similarly, our pre-teens are just beginning to establish their relationships with books, art, and thought. By reading aloud to our child, we are developing their appetite and affection for the good, true, and beautiful. In fact, we may be laying the foundation for a life-long love of good books.

For read-aloud encouragement of any age-or-stage, you’ve got to connect with Sarah MacKenzie and The Read-Aloud Revival. (In fact, be one of the first to devour her new book, The Read-Aloud Family.) Like us, you will feel so encouraged to read to your children! Sarah never makes you feel like you should be reading aloud, but she always helps you to see that you could be reading aloud and that it could be awesome.

What we’ve been reading aloud…

Lately, I’ve been gathering the 7th, 4th, and 1st grader around books from Sonlight D – we’re reading through Johnny Tremain, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and others. (I’m all about streamlining: these early-American read-alouds compliment my 7th grader’s Sonlight 100 studies perfectly.)

Then there’s this magical time in the afternoons around 3 p.m., when you’ll find me sitting in the middle of our sagging leather couch with my 12-year old daughter – just the two of us. For 15 minutes, I read aloud from one of her Sonlight 100 books. She sits next to me, all gangly and lovely, both of us treasuring our age-old tradition of reading aloud together.

And I, of course, remember that day when she sat on my lap and her curls brushed my cheek.

10 Tips for a Happy Toddler

LauraAll Posts, Motherhood, Preschool, Toddlers

Hey there, Mama!

Are you wondering how to raise a happy kid?

Are looking for practical strategies to resolve conflict, build character, and create peace in your home?

Here are 10 random-but-helpful tips and tricks that make my day-to-day life with a little one happier. I use these on a regular basis because each one brings a bit more peace to my child, to me, and to our home.

Try them on for size, take what is helpful, and share with a friend!

  1. Don’t grab.

2. Blankies stay in bed.

When I was a new mom, I loved the way my daughter’s silky blankie would comfort her in bed, but I didn’t love how that blankie affected her during the day. She’d drape her blankie over their head, roll around on the ground with it, whap her little sister… Blankie seemed to lull my otherwise spunky kiddo into a slow, mushy, moody, whiner.

Also? Every evening at about 5-minutes-before-bedtime, blankie suddenly disappeared. Just when we were ready to dial down for the evening, we’d have to embark on an epic blankie hunt and find it in some obscure place like under the neighbor’s couch or in Grandmom’s cookie jar. (Not really, but close.)

That’s why 10 years ago, I made one of my most significant motherhood decisions ever: blankies stay in bed. We always know where they are (in bed!) and they don’t slow my kiddos down or cause pesky problems during the day.

3. Change your mind.

4. Don’t ask if you really don’t want to know.

When you want your child to play outside because you know it is good for your child, don’t ask, “Do you want to play outside?” Your child will say, “No”. Then you have a battle to fight. Simply say, “Let’s go outside!”

Don’t ask, “Do you want to clean up your toys?” Say, “I’ll help you clean up your toys!”

Don’t ask, “Are you ready for bed?” Say, “It’s time to say “good night!”

Don’t ask for your child’s opinion or preference if you cannot honor their answer. Of course, we should offer our children options and help them to make choices throughout the day, but we mamas need to discern the difference. Show your child that you can make wise decisions on her behalf and that you love things to go her way when possible and beneficial.

5. Give your child 2 options.

6. Make funny sounds when clipping fingernails.

Sometimes my child’s fingernails grow so quickly that I wonder if we should pursue a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.  But I just can’t bring myself to go for it, so fingernails must be clipped eventually. But it can be such a dramatic hassle, right? My sister gave me this tip: Tell your child that each fingernail is going to make a funny sound when it is clipped. Then, when you clip a nail, moo like a cow, beep like a truck, boing like a bouncy ball. Your kiddo may love it and you may get through it with less drama than ever before!

7. Ask, “Will you obey?”

My life was forever changed when I read an article by Ann Voskamp about the power of giving a child the choice to obey. Instead of demanding immediate obedience without grace, verbally offer your child the choice that he or she must make. This is how our Heavenly Father pursues us, offering us the dignity of a choice and appealing to our affection, always asking, “Will you obey?”. I have discovered that when asked in a loving way, children often – and gladly – respond, “yes, I will obey”.

8. Help your child to stop whining by asking “What’s the solution to your problem?”

9. “Yes, please or no, thank-you?”

A friend of mine was serving lunch to her kiddos, asking them if they’d like some apple slices. In one breath, she said, “Would you like apple slices, yes, please or no, thank you?” Her children politely said, “Yes, please!”

I was impressed by their manners, but I was more impressed by their mama’s wisdom in equipping them for success. She was giving them the words to say, equipping them with the correct response. This is marvelous for little children who are still learning the social norms of manners and are quite forgetful when it comes to adding “please” and “thank you”.

10. Pray Luke 2:52.

The Bible says that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. It describes Samuel the same way (1 Samuel 2:26). I want my children to walk with God, to be like Jesus, and to love others well, so I ask God for these specific blessings often.

May each of our children grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people. Then, they will be happy in the best sense of the word.

(BTW, I still have little ones at home and would LOVE to know your tips for a happier tot. Would you share them in the comments? Thanks!)

The Proactive Pursuit of Humility

LauraBible Study, Marriage

“…Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” Colossians 3:12

My husband thought that I was sitting down to write “the first chapter in a book about humility.”

“No way!” I said. “I’d have to be crazy to write a book about humility.”

I was joking-not-joking, because everyone knows that when you write a book about a godly virtue, God makes sure you know what you’re talking about first. He sifts and sanctifies you, wrestles and wrangles you, until your message is purified. Writing an entire book about humility is asking for trouble . . . if you know what I mean.

Even sitting down to write 1,000 words on the topic is problematic. I’m sure that while I’m writing this blog post, God will sift my pride. He’ll convict me and surprise me. I’ll wonder why I ever embarked on this project in the first place. But I must admit that I’m heartened to keep plowing ahead with this post anyway because I know that His purpose is to make me more like Jesus. Who could ask for more?

I’m hoping that as you read this, He’ll captivate, convict, and surprise you, too.

Let’s trust Him to teach us with absolute love and affection.

Longing to Be Humble

I’m not writing this post as a humility expert. I’m writing as a regular person who can be embarrassingly proud and self-focused. My interest in humility comes from poignant Scriptures like Proverbs 3:341 Peter 5:5, and James 4:6 that all say, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I shudder to think about God Almighty opposing me, yet I must admit that my pride sets me up as God’s enemy. As the Creator and Ruler of the universe, God must resist me when I foolishly live according to my own will and worship myself.

Proverbs 16:18 warns that “pride goes before destruction.” When God resists the proud, He is saving them from danger; even His opposition is kind, alerting us of our grave sin.

I long to be included in the body of believers who are “humble,” the ones who receive unmerited grace from God—the grace that is able to help us to love Him and other people, overcome our struggles with sin, and to live for His glory. I want to be among the humble saints who bow before the Throne of Grace, hands open to God’s provision, protection, and smile.

Whenever humility is mentioned in Scripture, the Holy Spirit uses it to shake us out of our everyday selfishness and to remind us that there is a God in heaven, abounding in grace, who deserves our worship.

Be Intentional

A bird’s eye view of humility throughout Scripture reveals that we are to choose humility, put humility on like clothing, and intentionally humble ourselves. Consider this sampling of verses that command us to be humble:

  • “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2 NIV).
  • “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

Over and over again throughout Scripture, we are told to intentionally, proactively humble ourselves. Of course, we rely on God for the faith to humble ourselves, but these Scriptures seem to imply that we can take ourselves by the collar and pull ourselves to our knees or look at our prideful selves in the mirror and intentionally cover over our shameful haughtiness with humility.

continue reading at Revive Our Hearts!