Time Management

Meditating in the “Night Watches”

A few weeks ago, I talked about the importance of feeding our souls even when we feel like we’re too tired to eat, and today I want to share some practical ideas for how busy/sleepy mommies can find time when no time is to be found.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)

The Bible, On Reading the Bible

One of my favorite motifs in the psalms is this idea of meditating on God “in the night watches.”  David was on the run for so much of his life as a military man, and he mentions repeatedly how much he enjoys finding time to spend with God in the night.  Psalm 63:6, Psalm 4:4, Psalm 16:7, and the non-Davidic Psalm 119:55 and Psalm 119:148 all talk about meditating on God’s word at night, on their beds or during their watches.  Mommies of infants have many “night watches,” and I have found it a very useful, quiet, contemplative time to dive into Scripture.  My mind might not be as fresh as it is in the morning, but the general stillness compared to the day is a great value.  The Proverbs 31 woman thought nighttime was a redeemable time as well; in verse 18 we see that “her lamp does not go out at night.”  (And we also see that she rises early—this is a woman who burns the candle at both ends!)  So, despite the strong cultural push to read Scripture first thing in the morning—I have read some authors who say resolutely that the only way to be a well-fed mother is to get up at 5am and have that time marked out before the children get up—Scripture is not so rigid.  Reading “in the night watches” is valid, too.

There is another Scriptural precedent that is worth looking at, though: in Daniel 6:10, we see that Daniel had a plan.  He had a custom, a habit, of marking out regular time.  It wasn’t haphazard and he didn’t try to work it into his day at the last minute.  Again, one can be far too rigorous about this, but, for me personally, I have learned that I am a person who definitely needs to make a plan.  If I am just expecting to spend time in Scripture and prayer “sometime,” then it isn’t going to happen.  Don’t underestimate the value of thinking ahead and doing things in a regular order.

Lastly, while Scripture talks about clear times when people sat down and actually read the word, there is another word that comes up frequently: meditate.  Joshua 1:8 commands the Israelites to “meditate” on the Book of the Law “day and night.”  Psalm 1:2 says that the righteous man “meditates day and night” on God’s law.  Isaiah 26:3 says “you keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.”  We cannot just read our chapter a day, mark it off our list, and go on with our own pursuits and thoughts for the other twenty-three hours of the day.  Rather, God’s word should permeate us and be continually before our eyes and hearts (Proverbs 4:21).  Keep thinking and praying, even when the book is closed.

When to Read

Wake up early – If you are busy dawn to dusk and can’t imagine finding time in the middle of your day, then, by all means, follow the suggestion to simply move your alarm earlier.  It is worth the fifteen minutes of lost sleep if you get up and spend that time with God.  This is a solution that works for everyone.

With your coffee – Most of us have morning routines of some variety or another.  Mine involves coffee!  Many of us reach for our phones or computers to check our email or Facebook.  Whatever you do in the morning, put off the Facebooking, and get some time in the Word first.

At lunchtime or naptime – If you have a child who still naps, this is an easy time to set apart.  I have taken my tablet in with me as I sit with a child who struggles to nap, I have read in a nearby room while my children eat lunch, and I very often sit and read while my younger kids nap.  I just prioritize it above the other things I might want to do at naptime, like laundry or homeschool.

In the car – Perhaps you have a car drop-off line to take your kids to school, or maybe you drive somewhere regularly and can listen to Scripture as you drive.  Most of us spend a lot of time on the road.  Use it.

While you’re waiting for dinner to cook – If you’re a fan of the Instant Pot, then once you push that magical “start” button, you’ve got at least twenty minutes before you have to be ready to plate it.  Use that 20 minutes.  If you’re making scrambled eggs for dinner, bring your Bible and prop it up on the counter and read it while you stir.  Even better, listen to an audio Bible and keep your hands and eyes free for the food.

After dinner – At our house, everything kind of calms down after dinner.  Daddy is home, the children are tired and settling down in advance of bed, and the baby is asleep early.  Great time to sneak off somewhere and read.

After bedtime – Just like anyone can set their alarm to get up fifteen minutes earlier, anyone can stay up fifteen minutes later.  Again, it’s useful to grab a tablet and sit down with Scripture while urging a toddler to sleep, or waiting and working with a preschooler to stay in their beds… or failing that, before you lie down for your own night’s rest, take those minutes to spend with God first.  I am most often an after-bedtimer, because our kids go to bed early and I find I am less distracted than at any other time in the day, and I’m a “night owl,” meaning my brain is wired to be most attentive at night, even on my most tired day.  I read earlier in the day if a good opportunity came up, but my “dedicated” time is before I go to bed.

The bottom line of every single scheduling idea is it is worth it.  It’s worth it to get up early, stay up late, get behind on the laundry, miss a bit of socializing, whatever.  The time is there, we just have to make the decision to take it.

Planning to Read

One thing I have realized recently (as I read through the Bible, ironically! :)) is that people in the Bible read chunks of the Bible.  In 2 Kings 22, Hilkiah the priest finds and they read the entire Book of the Law to King Josiah.  Ezra does the same in Nehemiah 8.  In Daniel 9:2, we learn that Daniel has been methodically studying Jeremiah.  The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 has been reading through Isaiah.  None of these people were just reading a verse here and there; they were reading whole vast sections, and God blessed their efforts.  There is a lot more to Scripture than just little soundbytes that make it on Instagram quotes or get printed onto bookmarks.  Context can hugely change the meaning and depth of those verses, even widely quoted ones like John 3:16.  Don’t just read the Bible in little tiny pieces.

But at the same time, reading a whole book like Isaiah can take a really, really long time.  Time that many of us really don’t have in our day, at least not without arranging babysitting in advance.  Here, too, I don’t want to be legalistic and say the right amount is XYZ.  I have learned that the “right amount” hinges on many different factors.  To me, if I am reading such short segments that it is hard to get the gist of the passage, I’m not reading enough.  If I am trying to read such long segments that I fail to do it at all, then I’m trying to read too much.  There are different seasons and different situations.

Similarly, there is a time to read the Bible through cover-to-cover, and there is a time to stop and realize, hey, I need to read Job right now.  Or I need to read the Psalms.  I need to read the Gospels.  Romans.  The New Testament.  Be purposeful.  Don’t be one of those people who never reads Haggai–Haggai has some convicting illustrations about how sin taints every thing we do.  All the books are God’s word and all of them are useful and helpful to us.  But, again, Scripture doesn’t tell us to read it according to the table of contents!  Pray and seek the Spirit’s leading about even which book to read.  There are some great reading plans out there (one featured in that post, a bunch more linked at the bottom).

Other Moments to Seize

Beyond the simple time we spend reading God’s word, there are many other ways in our days that we can purposefully turn our focus on Him.

Put Scripture in our houses.  I mean this literally: write it on notecards and stick it above your sink.  Put it over your washer.  Get mugs and decor with Scripture.  Keep it before your eyes.

Listen to Scripture-saturated music.  Worship music, in general, is very helpful for keeping us centered, but I love Scripture-based music even more!  Seeds Family Worship, Songs for Saplings, Jamie Soles, Scripture Lullabies, Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em in Your Heart, Rain for Roots, Shane & Shane… all good names to look up to start with, and I’m sure there are many more.

Read Scripture with your children.  Whether it’s family worship, “Bible” class in homeschooling, or mother-and-child Bible studies, it’s amazing how much of an impact “simple” presentations of Scripture can have on me when I’m presenting it to my children and trying to answer their questions.

Listen to it in the car.  All those minutes of driving can be turned to worship!  Audio Bibles, Scripture music, worship music, sermons—redeem the time!

The word of the Lord is bread.  It is more to be desired than fine gold.  It is life-transforming, sustaining, encouraging, sanctifying, useful, practical, supernatural, and completely effective.  Just like we make healthy meals for our children, it is essential that we be attentive and make sure we are getting fed spiritually as well.

Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part II)

Two weeks ago, I covered the first three things I’ve found helpful in large family homeschooling, and today I’m covering the last four. 🙂

Identify who needs the most help, and schedule it.

Along with independence and check-ins, sometimes students just need direct teaching.  Especially first-graders and below.  Or in later grades, they may need help with particular subjects, or help to get started for the day with particular subjects.  I make a list of “with Mommy” needs, and then I make a block schedule so that those “with Mommy” times don’t overlap.  I don’t plan to teach the first grader how to read as I simultaneously make sure the fourth grader is understanding her grammar lesson!  It’s important to plan ahead on this, so that we don’t end up, indeed, in the middle of phonics, and an older student is unable to move forward because they need my assistance.

I think of our schedule blocks in one of three distinct ways: either totally independent, semi-independent, or with Mommy.  I match up the “totally independent” times with a single “with Mommy” time, but it’s usually okay to have many of them working semi-independently at the same time, so I schedule those together.  For example, math.  Even first graders can “independently” work through math problems, and even twelfth graders are sometimes going to need some pointers.  So we all do math at the same time, and I bounce around from one to the next as they need me.  I’m there.

The key thing is to use your time carefully, and plan ahead.

Do things together.

Every day, we have a “circle time” (or some families call it “morning time”), which seems to work best for us perched in the middle of the morning—so it’s kind of a break—and we do some subjects together, or partly together.  We work on a hymn.  We do exercise.  We read the Bible.  And then the lower grammar stage kids and I do history together, while the upper grammar kid reads her version (a more advanced version, but the same historical topic) nearby.  They also do science in large groups, and sometimes literature can branch across multiple grades.  Basically, if something can be combined, and then worked at slightly different levels / with slightly different expectations, then that’s a big time-saver.  If all of my school-age kids were doing completely difference science, history, phys ed, and so on… it would be chaotic.  It’s a lot easier to have a unified subject and then do different testing options, different essay assignments, etc. per grade level.

Notably, this has limits.  It doesn’t work for all subjects—grammar, math, spelling, etc.—just the more subjective ones, and even those, it will probably reach a limit of usefulness around high school.  But for the younger grades, it’s a good way to save energy, keep our focus, and build sibling relationships while we’re at it.  Also—this is how homeschooling groupwork is possible!  Working in groups is a great feature of traditional schooling, and in homeschooling, it’s further enhanced by being able to reach across grade levels.  It also provides opportunities for those top tiers on Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, as older students can begin to think about how to explain and formulate things to younger students, or even invent fun projects to help the younger ones understand better—a process which fosters their own understanding in a very natural way.

Farm things out.

Homeschoolers are often quick to encourage one another that if you can’t teach a subject (like high school math or science), find someone who can.  And a huge proportion of homeschoolers do that.  But it has a special benefit to large families—it frees up our time!  For the past couple of years, my kids have been doing a science class through videoconferencing.  I’m perfectly capable of teaching elementary science, but… it was hard to find the time to teach the lesson, much less do the experiments and lapbooks, etc.  Now they have a videoconference session every week with a real teacher who actually walks them through the experiments and expounds on the lesson.  They have a quiz at the end of the week that requires them to have read and understood not only the chapter, but also the “classroom” lesson on the subject.  They know how to do the experiments from her demonstration well enough that they can do it without my help!  It’s awesome.

There are also in-person classes—piano lessons being the only one our kids currently do outside the house—but there are also much less interactive but equally useful ways to “farm things out”: DVD lessons, websites, apps, etc.  I was writing spelling words on our board for about twenty minutes a day before I realized… man, I bet someone videotaped this.  And, sure enough, the company had a DVD!  Twenty minutes saved—and that was just one student.  Now three of them are doing the same kind of spelling, so I’m saving an hour a day by using the DVD.  Flashcards are another good example of something that took so much teacher time and is done just as well, or better, by using a website.  Preschool is something that is not necessarily accomplished in a busy large family house, but… there are whole DVDs of preschool programs!  Our fifth child dutifully did about two hours of “preschool” via a sort of one-way videoconferencing type of thing every single day through 150 lessons.  We also “farm out” typing, and sometimes phonics reinforcement (Reading Eggs and Headsprout).

I do find kids don’t learn as well remotely as they do in-person, so I try to keep it fairly limited to either things that are super interactive (videoconferencing) or strictly drillwork (typing, math facts, spelling), and I try to follow-up regularly and make sure what I think is happening is actually happening, and useful.

Pick curricula carefully.

There have been many times when I have looked at a curriculum and thought, wow, that looks great, but will absolutely not work for us!  Some of the things I started out with–A Beka K5, Teacher-Led, for an example—are just far too teacher-intensive and time-consuming to be tenable now that I have older students.  I find something that has worksheets for review rather than oral drills for review works better, simply because it allows me to move on to another student.  Much homeschool curriculum is written with the expectation that you’re going to have hours to work one-on-one with your student.  And in large families, of course, we simply don’t.

So sometimes classroom material works better, especially classroom material that was designed for a one-room schoolhouse.  In addition to, you know, actually old curriculum like McGuffey and Webster, there are many Amish and Mennonite schools that actually still operate that way and produce curriculum that is designed for brief teacher explanations followed by independent student work for reinforcement and expansion.  These pretty much universally work well for us, although they are not always necessarily what we want—the math, for example, starts to turn into consumer math rather than college-bound math once you get into high school.  Still, many of the subjects are very useful.

In short, the main thing to watch out for is that some curricula that is written expressly for homeschoolers incorporates a lot of teacher time because it anticipates one-on-one interaction continually.  So it is something I have learned to watch out for right at the beginning—a curriculum may be fantastic and get excellent reviews, and yet be simply beyond our grasp.

Now, though, a caveat: some teacher-intense curriculum is worth it.  I tried doing The Logic of English a couple of years ago, decided it was waaaaaay too teacher intense, and set it aside.  But I came back to it, eventually, because my more independent-working curriculum was just simply not working with my son, and I was spending more time trying to get him to be independent than I would have if I had just stuck with the teacher-intense curriculum!  It’s also possible to modify curricula so that they are more independent.  So, I really don’t mean that this is a “rule” so much as something to be aware of—whenever I sit down to evaluate a new curriculum (or even to consider how an old one is working for us), I take careful note of how much time it will demand from me and how it will fit into our schedule and schooling method.

 

Value: wisdom.

Old Wisdom, Time Management

When You Get Out of Bed

One of the things I much enjoy doing is taking some bit of the Puritans and trying to make them more accessible to modern audiences—a habit that began with my trying to translate a systematic theology into a five-year-old’s vernacular.  There is so much wisdom from long ago, but sometimes it’s so hard to get to.  Even tiredness can make reading the Puritans impossible.

Anyway.  This little piece sprung out at me.  It’s very loosely based on “Meditations for the Morning” by Lewis Bayly. 1611.  Things to think about when we get out of bed in the morning—little reminders to our souls.  I love how Bayly makes little, mundane things echo with eternal significance.

~*~

Six things to ponder when you get out of bed in the morning…

sunrise-sun-morgenrot-skies-163255

1: The gift of awakening.

Just as God kindly awakened you from sleep this morning, one day, He will awaken you from the sleep of death.  Just as the rising sun makes the morning sky a glorious delight of color and the joy of a new day filled with possibilities, one day Christ and all His angels will come in a morning far brighter and greater when He comes in judgment.  As the animals this morning can see the ordinary light of day, you, with the eyes of faith, keep your eyes on the glorious light of that great coming Day!  Just as God awakened you this morning, so the last day is coming when we will awaken into eternal redemption.

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28)

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)

 2: God’s provision for you in your sleep.

The enemy is as a roaring lion, walking about to devour you (1 Peter 5:8, Job 1:7); who knows how near he came in the night when you slept, and yet God hedged you and watched over you and guarded you with His angels.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

3: The alarm clock.

pexels-photo-280254 When your alarm clock wakes you up, remember Peter, and how he repented when he heard the “alarm clock” of his day—the cock crowing (Luke 22:61-62)—and consider the final call of the last trumpet, which will wake us all up at the last day.  Consider your state if God called you this very morning, and change your habits so that you would be ready!

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44)

4: God is watching. Angels are watching.

Remember that God sees your lying down and your rising up and knows all your ways (Psalm 132:2-3).  Remember that the angels, who guarded and watched you all night, are also watching how you awaken and begin your day.  As you go through your day, remember that they are watching you, and the Lord God is watching you.  Remember that you are in the fearsome presence of God and in the sight of His holy angels.

Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24)

5: Getting dressed.

holiday-trip-packaging-8434 As you put your clothes on for the day, remember that clothing was a gift God gave Adam and Eve to cover their shame—the shame of their sin.  God made the first clothing from the skins of dead animals—another sober effect of human sin.  Therefore, don’t be proud of your clothes.  It should be humbling that they are necessary.  Even the prettiest clothes are still just a covering-up of that shame of sin and fallenness to which we are born. Remember that He still provides our clothing, just as He does for the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28).

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31)

But just as your clothes cover the shame of sin and keep you warm, remember and be certain that our souls are covered with the righteousness of Christ (Matthew 22:11, Romans 13:14, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:9, Revelation 19:8; Ephesians 4:24).  Take care that despite being richly dressed in human terms, that you are not naked and filthy in the sight of God (Revelation 16:15).  But, with His righteousness as a robe, our shame may be covered! Our souls may be shielded from the firey cold that will bring eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13).  Consider how blessed our nation would be if every fine set of clothing covered a soul similarly sanctified—and how heavy the judgment for those with such outward blessing and adornment who are yet so inwardly naked and filthy.

6: The coming day.

Think of your plans for the day.  Consider that God’s mercy is renewed to you this morning, every morning, bringing you new life (Lamentations 3:23)!  This morning, He made the sun rise again to give you light.  Don’t let today’s sunlight burn in vain!  Give Him thanks.  Plan to glorify Him in obedience and devote the day to following His commands.  Take a moment even as you roll out of bed, or before, to honor him as the day springs forth, confessing your sins, asking pardon for all your shortcomings, thanking Him for all He has done for you, and asking His protection over the day for the church, yourself, and everything belonging to you.

Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part I)

This year feels different than ever before.  I have finally realized: I am not limitless! 😉

I am a second-generation homeschooler—and an only child.  My mom was an amazing teacher and it seemed like we did everything.

Life as a larger family has meant my kids have many advantages in the form of their built-in siblings that I didn’t have as a kid.  They learn many things.  They can do group work, and big projects.  Sometimes they learn something better by explaining it to a younger sibling.  Sometimes they can learn by each others’ insights.  Many, many advantages.

And yet: I am a teacher of many, our own little one-room-schoolhouse environment, while my own student experience was with a 1:1 teacher-student ratio.  I cannot teach the way my mother taught.

Here are the first two of six guiding points that I continually come back to as I homeschool our kiddos (currently 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, and preschool).

Foster independence.

Homeschooling preschool through first grade takes a lot of teacher time.  There’s no way around it!  Kids can’t read directions until they can… you know, read.  But as a mommy when I have seven kids nine-and-under wandering around, I can’t take two hours for each kid one-on-one to do their school.  Not if I still want to sleep, or to feed anybody dinner!  So, from the very beginning, this is a major priority: work towards independent learning.  Initially, this is impossible.  With some kids, it remains impossible for longer than others!  But it is something I consciously have in the back of my mind at all times, and I try to encourage them to try to do it yourself before asking me for help.  If they ask me for help—“did you read the lesson?” “did you read the directions?” “did you try to do it?”  Important questions!  I also give them rewards and incentives.  And also, “I will gladly help you, but I want you to try  it by yourself first.  I want to see you try.”  Magic words.

There is, however, an important balance here: I have to be available for questions, and make it crystal clear to them that I am available for questions.  Otherwise, you end up with empty workbooks and, “but, Mommy, I didn’t understand and you were busy!”  Ask me how I know! 😉

Independent learning is a great skill to have, so I have no regrets trying to impart it to our children… but there’s a balance.  It does take attention to see how children are reacting to independence.  How responsible are they with their work?  With remembering to ask questions when they need to?  Do they need pushed toward more independence, or do they need reminded to stay in close?  Most importantly, how does the child deal relationally with independence?  We have some children who really benefit from quality time—whose learning ability absolutely skyrockets when they are sitting next to us one-on-one.  It’s important to notice that and be intentional about that quality time to make sure it still happens.

It’s also good to consider the best way to implement a specific curriculum for independence.  Sometimes all the instructions are right there in the lesson for the pupil to read, and they really only need help if they don’t understand something (more on this in part 2!)… other times they might need some real, dedicated instruction before setting out on their own part of the learning quest.

Plan check-ins.

When you’ve got kids learning independently, there is one area that is bound to turn into trouble: they can get off-track, and you can miss it.  Sometimes kids won’t tell you they don’t understand, and plow ahead anyway.  Sometimes they think they understand, so they go on.  Sometimes they’re doing fantastic, but would still benefit from you noticing it and encouraging them!

So it is necessary to check in.  Every subject, every kid.  Regularly.  What it looks like may be wildly different from one kid to the next: with our oldest (who excels at independence and enjoys it), I mostly only check her output, that is to say, I read the papers she writes, and for many of her subjects, I make sure she does the quizzes/tests and I check them, myself.  I mostly don’t check her daily work.  She is motivated and capable and, importantly, she usually does actually come to me and ask questions if she isn’t sure she’s understanding something correctly.  So it’s rare that she gets off-track.  With her younger siblings, depending on the subject and the kid, I may check the quizzes (most of our subjects have a quiz every week or so), or I may actually check every single day’s work so I can provide more immediate feedback.  Worst-case scenario, they get to sit next to me at the school table and I keep a sneaky eye on them through the entire subject (or even the entire school day).

It varies.  But regular check-ins are essential.  Think about how often each child needs a check-in, and on what subjects, and actually write it on your calendar, unless you’re relying on a periodic check like quizzes.  Not only do regular check-ins prevent your school year from getting seriously off-track, but they teach accountability: your child knows they are going to be called to account for what they have done.  This also teaches them responsibility and honesty—sometimes the hard way!  If I find out someone has been shirking their work, and not for a good reason, they make it up… specifically, they make it up at a time that they would have otherwise been free… on the weekend, in the evenings, etc.  I try to be kind about it (no missing exciting outings or guests) but also insistent enough that it is a drag that they don’t want to repeat again.  Or I’ll remove other privileges (like computer time) until they get their work caught back up to where it should have been.

Importantly, regular check-ins also help make sure I am aware of how they are doing.  What is their learning style? How are they coping with this new curriculum?  What is not working?  How can we fix problems and make everything run more smoothly?  It’s a chance to sit back, give them my full attention, and see what I might need to be doing differently.

Coming in Part II…

In two weeks, Lord willing, I’ll be coming back to this subject to add four more things that I’ve found crucial to large-family homeschooling… including thoughts on choosing curriculum, knowing our kids, spending quality family time together… and other things.

Mothering, Old Wisdom, Studying God, Time Management

Too exhausted to read the Bible (or pray)…

Julie / February 22, 2018

Written October 2017.

Most kind and loving people have admirably low expectations for mothers of young children.  People constantly reassure me that my failures are okay, whether it’s that I forgot to bring something, do something, answer an email quickly, or even if it’s something more important: “Nobody can be perfectly patient all the time.”  “I didn’t read the Bible for years when we had littles.”  “They won’t remember the bad times.”  “The important thing is that you’re trying.”  “God knows what we need even when we’re too tired to pray.”

Even great pastors like D.A. Carson and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are hasty to reassure us of the legitimacy of our struggle, the impossibility of being a mother of young children and a devotee of Scripture at the same time.

There is much kindness in such reassurance.  I have no doubt that it is well-meant.

But while pithy reassurances are comforting, they aren’t necessarily biblical or helpful. My heart is bleak; I am not strong enough to stop burying myself in the Word of God.  And letting go of my desperate hunger for it is not what Scripture teaches us to do.

God didn’t tell David to stop writing psalms while he was on the run for his life.  Job, in the midst of his incomparable affliction, tells us (23:12) that “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”  The prophets were persecuted, starved, locked up, and dumped into muddy wells, yet God continued to call them to very active servanthood.  In Scripture, we see so many situations that were so much worse, so much more time-consuming, so much more emotionally demanding than motherhood, and yet there was no message to those people saying “okay, maybe you’d better cut back on the morning prayer time.”

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In fact, one of the most stunning examples of hardship in Scripture I can think of—Jesus in the desert—is also one of the clearest.  When Satan attempts to get Jesus distracted by His physical needs, Jesus answers him very clearly, pointing out that hunger isn’t satisfied by “bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Though His hunger was physical (v. 3) and acute, His most necessary food is spiritual!

This is us, too.  When we are exhausted from a lack of sleep, we need “rest for our souls” (Matthew 11:29).  When we “eat the bread of anxious toil,” we need the blessing of the sleep God alone provides (Psalm 127:2) to ease that anxiety.  When we are struggling with impatience from relentless toddlers, what we need is not a momentary break, but the fruit of the Spirit which is patience (Galatians 5:22).  When we are sad and downcast, we need the joy of the word of God to lift us up (Psalm 119:2).

Our physical and emotional challenges require spiritual solutions.

J.C. Ryle, in his little pamphlet about the importance of Bible-reading, specifically addresses those who struggle to find the resources to read the Bible, and his words are convicting and ring true:

You are the man that is likely to “get little comfort from the Bible in time of need.” Trials come at various times. Affliction is a searching wind, which strips the leaves off the trees, and exposes the birds’ nests. Now I fear that your stores of Bible consolations may one day run very low. I fear lest you should find yourself at last on very short allowance, and come into the harbor weak, worn and thin.

You are the man that is likely “never to be established in the truth.” I will not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, and the like. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. Like the Benjamites, he can “sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16). He can quote Scripture easily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to be able to fight a good fight with him. Your armor does not fit well. Your sword sits loosely in your hand.

You are the man that is likely to “make mistakes in life.” I will not wonder if I am told that you have erred about your own marriage—erred about your children’s education of spiritual things—erred about the conduct of your household—erred about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, and reefs, and sand bars. You are not sufficiently familiar either with the search lights or your charts.

You are the man that is likely to “be carried away by some deceptive false teacher for a time.” It will not surprise me if those clever, eloquent men, who can “make the lie appear to be the truth,” is leading you into many foolish notions. You are out of balance. No wonder if you are tossed to and from, like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable things. I want every reader of this paper to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you this day. Do not merely read your Bible “a little,” but read it a great deal. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Do not be a mere babe in spiritual knowledge. Seek to become “well instructed in the kingdom of heaven,” and to be continually adding new things to old. A religion of feeling is an uncertain thing. It is like the tide, sometimes high, and sometimes low. It is like the moon, sometimes bright, and sometimes dim. A religion of deep Bible knowledge, is a firm and lasting possession. It enables a man not merely to say, “I feel hope in Christ,” but “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).

I have seen this in my own life over and over again.  I have seven children, and, oh, they are small.  They are relentless.  If you are a mommy of small or needy children, you know what I mean.  I understand why wise men like Lloyd-Jones and Carson think we mommies don’t have the time to read Scripture.

But what happens when I stop?

The well dries up.  See, when I do find time to be in the Word every day, there’s this fresh ever-bubbling source of spiritual nourishment that is continually applicable and new.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; God still uses it.  He promises in Isaiah 55:10-11 that His word is like rain:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Even when I’m doing a lousy job of reading—when the words begin to blur together because I’m so tired, when my brain is so fried that I would have zero insights to offer to a group study, when I’m distracted by screaming toddlers—still God’s word does not return to Him empty.

Truly, it is amazing.  As I write this, I am exhausted.  Baby seven was born three days ago after a difficult and long build-up to final labor—which was itself a very rough time—and our days since then have been consumed with more medical appointments and stresses, and I am at the point where I can barely remember what day it is.  I’m a wreck.  But I have been able to read the Bible passage that is programmed to arrive in my email inbox every day, and spend a little bit of time praying (albeit fairly incoherently!), and in return, there have been many—three or four—incidents every single week of the past month when something I have read right now has been immediately applicable to my life.  Either it has served to encourage me, or been relevant to a spiritual conversation I’ve been having with someone else, or it has provided a great example of a principle I’m trying to illustrate to my children… in short, even my very bad Bible comprehension right now is bearing a lot of fruit, and it has been a powerful testimony and encouragement to me of the inherent usefulness of reading Scripture.

Even in the midst of my exhaustion and physical struggles, the time and energy that I invest in the Word are amply repaid, over and over again.  And not just in little soundbytes of encouragement here and there.  So often God enables my feeble mind to snag on some item in the text that I hadn’t noticed before, and make tiny little gains in spiritual knowledge and understanding.  Scripture feeds me in the now, when I desperately need it, and it builds up spiritual food-stores that God will continue to use and grow for His glory in the future, too.  Though I feel like I have the I.Q. of a turnip and struggle to comprehend some of the Bible’s longer sentences, time in God’s word and time in prayer bear fruit.

But if I don’t find that time?  If I decide I’m too tired, or that it can’t possibly be worth the effort to even try?  Nothing happens.  There are no fresh spiritual insights floating into my brain, no recent flash of biblical wisdom to share with those around me, no encouragement waiting to shore up my soul.  There’s no growth.  The things of godliness are not lurking in my mind ready to help me deny sin and pursue righteousness; they’re buried deep in somewhere that I’ve been “too tired” to think about recently.  I may still retain the head knowledge that being impatient with my children is wrong, but it’s been a while since I’ve been reminded of the consequences of that kind of sinfulness.  God’s justice and fearsomeness are not freshly impressed on my mind.  The well—the very well which gives us life and leads us to holiness—is running dry.  The Christian cannot live like this.  The Christian Mommy cannot live like this.

The times when we don’t have the energy or motivation to spend time in God’s Word is the time we most need to do so anyway.  The person who is too parched with thirst to drag themselves to the stream is the person who most needs a drink; the person fainting with hunger who can’t contemplate the effort of cooking a meal is the person who most needs nourishment.

So, when you are too exhausted to read the Bible, read it anyway.  It will give you life.  Find a way, find a time, because God’s word is more essential than food, and times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord.  He is the answer to our exhaustion and inability, and He is faithful!

Mothering, Studying God, Time Management

Always prepared to give an answer?

Julie / January 22, 2016

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)

Homemaking

How-To: Sew Children’s Pilgrim Costumes for less than $5

Julie / October 25, 2013

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Please excuse the unironed costumes.  I didn’t want to wait until Halloween to take the pictures for my quasi-tutorial here, but today turned out to be very, very chaotic.  You can still totally get the point, I think. ;)  I should also add that I can’t tie bows for anything, and someone else will have to tie them on Halloween so they aren’t sticking out everywhere!  Haha.

I thought it would be really cool for the children to dress up as pilgrims (and Squanto) for Halloween this year—there are many qualities of the pilgrims and Puritans that I find very imitable for young children, and thought dressing up as such would raise their curiosity in a rather good historical subject—and pilgrim costumes are not very hard to find on Amazon.  But even at the relatively affordable costume prices, with four children, we were looking at $80-$100 for costumes that were made of cheap material, which would tear easily and not make good additions to the dress-up bin.  I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it!

Then, after I started trying to figure out how to make them myself, I realized that pilgrim costumes must not be a very common DIY, because I could find very little information on Pinterest or elsewhere on how to make… anything.  I was hoping for a bonnet pattern.  A collar pattern.  Anything.  Nada.

I eventually found this page from Plimoth Plantation on what pilgrims actually wore (most specifically, that they didn’t particularly wear black), and this page for a simple, more-accurate-than-most-costumes bonnet (pilgrims don’t seem to have worn the frilly brimmed or gathered bonnets that they are often depicted with now).  I was afraid, however, that if I dressed them like completely accurate pilgrims, then no one would realize they were supposed to be pilgrims at all.  And that’s no fun for kids.  So I decided: no black, because I had no idea what I would do with black dresses after Halloween was over; and I would do the simple bonnet, and make the “simple” theme a pervasive one and an opportunity to talk about dressing as for God and not for man or fashion; but otherwise I would somewhat loosely abide by modern ideas of pilgrims, i.e., the bib-type collar, the stark white, the slight flare on the bonnet, the buckles on the (anachronistic) boy pilgrim hat, and so on.

I also ordered a Native American costume for our Squanto.  I figured making three pilgrim costumes would be quite enough for a somewhat last-minute dash!

Bearing all that in mind, practically, I wanted to write down somewhat what I did, in case someone else out there would also like to make a non-paper pilgrim costume for their child! 🙂

DSC06307Girls: the dresses
The need was for a long-sleeve dress, which is surprisingly hard to find a pattern for, and also something quick-ish, because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time sewing a dress in a plain color that was unlikely to be “pretty” enough for everyday wear.  I soon settled on a peasant-style yoke, which are soooooo easy, but they tend to be a bit poofy and unfitted and I thought it might be worth a little extra effort to find a pattern that would be a bit more tightly drawn (and useful for making other dresses in the future that weren’t destined for the dress-up bin).  I finally settled on the Molly Peasant Dress, which cost me $10.  Although I could have made a regular peasant dress for free, I think it was a good decision; the Molly takes very little fabric (the entire pink dress is made from one single curtain panel) and is indeed more fitted, and I look forward to using it for more dresses in the future! I think the cap sleeve version (which is included) is really cute. I made the brown dress mostly according to the pattern, DSC06337with a $2 sheet from the Goodwill store, and long sleeves with elastic at the bottom (as per the pattern).  I made the pink dress (from a $2 curtain) without a lot of the “tack in place” sewing (which is to say, when the pattern said straight-stitch and then finish the edges, as two separate steps, I just serged it all in one), and cuffed the sleeves instead of elasticizing them.  Now, here’s the huge caveat with this pattern: pilgrim dresses definitely should not be high-waisted. I had originally planned to make a vest-like cover of the same fabric, ideally with buttons, to make it more realistic, but once I actually tried the dress on the girls, I think the giant pilgrim collar distracts from the high waist and that it’s fine for a Halloween costume.

Girls: the bonnets
DSC06317DSC06331All the white stuff was made from a single large new 99¢ sheet from Ikea.  Doesn’t get any cheaper than that! And it’s an extremely cheap sheet, so the fabric is rough and “matches” the pilgrim milieu. I followed the general idea for bonnets in the post I linked above, basically measured the girls’ heads side-to-side, to made sure my DSC06318rectangle was adequately wide, and then folded the brim back (and basted it down, except for about two inches on each side, so that it would flare out as seems more typical with pilgrim costume bonnets) with it on the girls’ actual heads.  I didn’t include side ties because they don’t seem historically accurate.  The bonnets were fundamentally very easy.

 

DSC06307Girls: the aprons
DSC04284Aprons are soooo easy.  Especially the ones from this era, which are basically giant rectangles.  I had made pretty much identical ones for their colonial costumes in February, but those had been eyelet lace (which doesn’t fit with the pilgrim-simplicity theme, obviously) and since aprons are so easy, and I had the fabric already, I made two new ones.  I should say at this point that the outfits as a whole, including the aprons, are rather less poofy and full-skirted than a lot of depictions.  I’m not sure which is more historically accurate.  If I had it to do over, though, I would have added some extra yardage to the skirts of both the dresses and the aprons, so the skirts would look more like the colonial ones did.

 

DSC06322Girls: the collars
And here we come to the part I really struggled with!  Again, what is historically accurate seems quite broad, but mostly it seems like there weren’t these extraneous giant white things hanging around their necks for no obvious reason.  But this also seemed to me to be a key to making the kids look like pilgrims to random viewers, since it is so much a part of our modern conception.  So I made collars.  I couldn’t find a pattern for these at all, so I made my own:

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You can download it—click the picture.  There are lots of extra lines, obviously; think about what your collar will look like (round or elongated) before you decide which lines to cut! Children’s necks are not very differently sized in diameter, so I was able to use the center hole unaltered for everybody from my 1-year-old to my 5-year-old. (It looks big on the one-year-old, but that’s actually an optical illusion because his shirt is a turtleneck.) You can easily add extra seam allowance on the outside lines for wider shoulders, and cut the inside hole a teeny bit bigger (or just sew with a deeper seam allowance) for older kids.  I did the circle collar for our boy pilgrim and the elongated one for the girls; if I had more time / less costumes, I considered doing buttons down the front… I ended up doing ribbon ties at the top instead.  The really easy thing would have been to cut these out of white felt or fleece, single-layer, no sewing.  But I didn’t have white felt and have been too busy/tired to go to the store to get some!  So instead I used my reliable old sheet, cut two layers, sewed them together around all the edges (leaving a hole on the inside back of the neck area to turn), turned them right side, top-stitched all around, and sewed up the hole.  I should have left the hole at the end of one of the straight parts of the collar to turn, and then been able to tuck it back inside, and top-stitch, all very neatly.  Live and learn!

DSC06291Boy: the outfit
Since I was dealing with a one-year-old, and dress-up is pretty meaningless at that age… I hunted and found a plain black shirt and plain black pants out of his drawer.  That said, you could make a peasant type shirt and simple elastic pants, if there are no plain clothes in your boy’s drawer.  Lose the ruffles and the skirts and they’re workable enough boy patterns, especially if you used a drawstring tie on the shirt instead of elastic. :)  For Halloween, I need to find him some kind of belt!  And tall white knee socks.

Boy: the collar
DSC06298The same as the girls’, but in the fully round version.  And I left both ends open to turn it right-side, and then tucked the ends in at an angle before top-stitching so that there is a bit more of an upside-down V shape at the front.  This is much easier than the bib style I did for the girls.

DSC06338Boy: the hat
This was an ADVENTURE, let me tell you!  I’ve never made a hat and couldn’t find anything remotely like instructions or a pattern online.  Nothing.  I finally decided to just go for it and see how it turned out.  This was an attempt at a fully stereotypical pilgrim hat, not an actual in-any-way-accurate one…

First I made the tall part.  (See, I’m so hat-ignorant I don’t even know what that’s called.  The non-brim.)  I measured my kiddo’s head, about where a hat would seem to fall, cut a piece of felt a little bigger than that (and what seemed a good height, in the other direction), serged it up the side, and stuck it on his head.  Felt stretches a little, and it fit.  Obstacle one complete; I now had a big black tube that fit snugly on my son’s head.  But how to get the brim and the shaping?  DSC06342Shaping:  I experimented a little and kept sticking it on the poor child’s head to test, but since it’s black, just for Halloween, and he’s a baby, I think it’s good enough by far.  You can see what I ended up with (right, picture of the hat inside out), and when it’s right-side I kind of punch it down on top a bit and round it out to make it look even a little better.  If he wasn’t going to outgrow it right away, I think this could be a pretty decent way to go about it, and add some starch or something to keep it from folding flat.  Of course the great thing to do here—which was way too much trouble for me—is to make a proper cone with a tiny circle for the top, like a birthday hat with the very top part cut off and replaced with a flat piece.  Brim: I suggest using actual math for this step.  If you fold the tube flat, measure, and double, you have a circumference, which you can use to find the diameter of the circle you should cut for the inside of the brim.  Add about six inches (three all around) more to get the diameter to use for the outside of the brim.  I didn’t use math, DSC06341because I wasn’t near a calculator.  Trial and error also worked but it was a lot more work!  Anyway, you’re going for a shape pretty much like the collar shape, except without a cut down the middle—you want a solid, flat, wide ring.  I should also add that the little felt rectangles at the store will not be big enough, you want felt by the yard, which is quite cheap but I’ve only found at an actual fabric store.  Then turn your hat-top right side and slide the brim over the end of it, matching the inside of your newly-cut felt ring with the right side of the hat-top-tube.  If you’ve done the math right, this will lay flat with no gathers or folds (see right, the fabric to the right of the seam, and under the seam, is flat).  Pin as much as necessary (I’m not a fan of pinning, DSC06339and even I used four!) and stitch around, continuing to make sure fabric lays flat.  Buckle: This doesn’t really need instructions, but I was pretty pleased with how it turned out for as simple as it was.  It’s just a piece of tan felt with two slits cut in it, and then a long strip of the white fabric sewn into a belt and made to fit just above the rim.  Easy.  Again, white felt would have been even easier.  Also, glue would have been easier.  One last thing: The brim is really floppy.  It would look better stiffer.  I think this might could be accomplished with schoolglue-and-water-mixture, or spray starch, but I haven’t yet experimented to figure out which.  It would also work to cut it down to less width.

Boy: the cuffs
DSC06298Again with the sheet; I just made two simple white rectangles, turned right side, and then basted the center of them over the center (inside) seam of his shirt sleeves, at the very bottom.  They are actually sewn on, until after Halloween.  Then the “cuffs” open on the outside, where you can see them, and are pinned so they make a V rather like the collar.

The great conclusion:
Three Halloween costumes, including a fairly pricey pattern that I’ll be able to use in the future, and fabric (about 75% of which I didn’t even need, and folded back up for future projects): $15.  Less than the single costume I decided to buy for Squanto. :)  If I hadn’t bought the pattern, this would have been 3 costumes for $5 total.

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