our role as authority, part 1

Many parents today, possibly due to their own negative experiences, view exercising authority as a power-hungry act rather than a gentle and firm act of love, protection, and connection.

Others focus merely on behavior and don’t tend to their children’s hearts. It’s all too easy to fall into one extreme or the other, and I have certainly spent time parenting in both camps.

A lack of boundaries and heartfelt discipline is a common theme.

Parents feel frustrated and helpless while their children are frustrated as well, disrespectful, and often entitled.

Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting and The Soul of Discipline, wrote, “The current parenting trend, which assumes that a young child has the emotional and decision-making capacities of a teen or adult, is misguided. When a child is given too many choices, serious behavioral problems result.”

The pressure of too many choices overwhelm and upset them.

It’s a weight they weren’t meant to carry. Contentment and gratitude are hard for them to come by. The array of choices also makes it more difficult for them to submit to authority.

The message is clear: they are the ones in charge.

We mistakenly believe we’re being kind to a child by asking them what plate they want, where they want to sit, what they want to drink, when to even eat and sleep, when in actuality we are burdening them. This doesn’t mean we take away all their options, but as they slowly grow and mature, so do their options.

We may believe we’re being kind to kids or teens by allowing them to live their life through a screen if they so choose. But this sets them up to be disconnected from the family, and they will likely suffer in many areas of character development as their brains are adapting to immediate gratification and overstimulation.

They will not have learned how to live life balancing the pull of screens.

It’s a common theme today – to retire our parenting role as soon as we have teens and resistance swells, but our role as parents must not end with adolescence, or once they can drive.

Children and teens need our unconditional love, guidance, encouragement, boundaries, and sometimes consequences.

They need to feel it deeply – that we are for them and believe in them, because we take the time to seek out their hearts and support their interests.

They feel secure, rather than restrained, within healthy boundaries.

In his book, The Soul of Discipline, Kim John Payne writes, “Many parents are even wary of presenting themselves as authority figures within their own family: They worry they will squash the will of their child by introducing boundaries and providing direction. However, there is a significant difference between a Malevolent Dictator, who forcefully bends others to his or her will and a Benevolent Governor, who acts out of caring to bring safety and calm to the family estate.

Limits and boundaries instill feelings of safety, trust, and above all orientation in your child. Compliance to a parent’s direction further solidifies your child’s orientation. The compliance I refer to here is very different from the ‘blind obedience’ many children experienced growing up in the fifties and sixties. Your child must not be forced to accept an edict from a rigid, overpowering authority. Soulful disciplinary compliance is firm, yet loving. Furthermore, it is vital to a child’s social and emotional health. In learning to comply, a child accepts his or her parents’ warm but unwavering direction and develops inner flexibility.”

“Discipline should not simply be about being corrective.  It should be a definer of family values.”

Sally Clarkson said, “A child who is not trained and taught to exercise strength in righteousness, truth, work ethic, relationships with integrity, will often be at a disadvantage his whole life, because instead of his character serving him, his lack of training and ignorance will detract from his ability to live an excellent life.” 

“Teaching your child little by little to be patient, to control his spirit, to exercise self control, is training your child to wait on God.”  

It is important to remember to not only look at our children’s behavior, but to assess the situation as well.  Has our schedule been busier than it needs to be?  This will likely result in behavior issues.  Have I been paying enough attention to this child or is this a cry for connection?

We have to be careful that we’re not making excuses for a sin issue that we need to deal with, but we do need to look into the situation.   

When our 3rd child, Quinn, was 3, he walked over to Gavin and Ellie who were sitting on the floor playing.  Quinn has always been a rough and tumble kind of boy, but he acted visciously pulling their hair and stomping all over their toys.  As I was walked toward him to remove him from the situation and discipline him, I heard the Holy Spirit speak so clearly.  “You have not paid attention to Quinn in days.  He is running on empty. He needs your love.”  

I calmly carried him away and asked if he’d like to snuggle up with books while I read to him. I could see how surprised he was as he eagerly said, “yes Mommy!”  I decided I would pour into him before I discussed his actions with him.  

After I read a couple of his favorite books to him, he jumped out of my lap and ran over to Gavin and Ellie.  WITHOUT ANY PROMPTING FROM ME, HE APOLOGIZED TO THEM AND HUGGED THEM!  I stood there, dumbfounded, and thanked the Holy Spirit for His guidance.  It was an eye-opening experience.  

The vital importance of one on one time became crystal clear that day.

Again, this does not mean we regularly dismiss sin, but just that we tune into the heart of the situation, leaning into God’s insight as to what is really happening.

Just as continual sin causes a rift in our relationship with God, so disrespect between parent and child distances us.  

But wholehearted discipline deepens our connections with our kids and teens..  

We take the time to listen and hear their hearts, and when needed, correct them gently and firmly, requiring respect.

Without requiring honor, kids are taught that parents aren’t worth honoring, and the possibility of a deep connection to them is not likely.  When this habit of disrespect takes root in their hearts, they won’t likely honor God or others.  

Fear based parenting..  fears that consequences and boundaries will harm the parent/child relationship.  Children may be allowed to be rude to the parent and others with little to no consequence.

But this lack of healthy boundaries results in a sense of injustice and helplessness within the parent, and rebellion in the child, which often stirs up frustration as the child is acting out, resulting in anger from the parent..

And this damages the relationship – the very thing the parent was trying desperately to prevent.  An angry parent teaches the child that the parent is the problem, rather than their behavior. 

I’ve been that parent – lacking in boundaries and resorting to anger.

But consequences, when given fairly, firmly, and through a calm parent, teach the child that their behavior was the problem, not the parent.  This motivates the child or teen to think twice ..  builds self control.

Impulse control is developed when they learn they can’t have everything they want when they want it, when they learn to wait.   They grow inner flexibility, strength, and contentment.  

If we allow them to whine continually – they will take on a victim mindset and sense of entitlement rather than gratitude.  

In our home it looks like this..  

if someone asks for something in a whiny voice..   they have to repeat it in a kind, respectful tone before it’s considered.  If they demand to have something, they may not receive it at all, and if they do it’s only once there’s a heart change.  

Of course, we take circumstances into account that my have drained them, and give grace accordingly, but we don’t allow whining or rudeness to become a habit.

If they’re repeatedly struggling with kindness toward siblings, then they lose the privilege of hanging out with friends for a while; this includes the use of their phone (if they’re old enough to have one).

They need to think about a better way they could have handled the situation, and then practice that.  We also have them copy out pages of scripture for repeated rudeness.  

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says,  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We walk through the process of asking for forgiveness with them until they’re old enough to do so on their own.  

If it sounds like hard work, it’s because it is. BUT, as strength of character is built within your child through your heartfelt guidance and boundaries, it is no exaggeration to say that both you and your child will be rewarded for it the rest of your lives.

Our Daily Rhythm

“Rest, therefore, is not the absence of work or a failure to consider and carry out a plan.  It is work and leisure, properly ordered.”

– Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest

“Rhythm calms and secures children, grounding them in the earth of family so they can branch out and grow.”

“Where well-established rhythms exist, there is much less parental verbiage, less effort, and fewer problems around transitions.”

“Yes, rhythm makes children feel more secure.  Absolutely.  But a sense of rhythm makes adults calmer too, and less plagued by parental craziness.  With consistent structures in place, you’ll feel less like a Border collie, constantly nipping at your children’s heels.”

– Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting

“Young children thrive on predictable routines, and yours will be calmer and happier if you keep your schedule uncluttered.”

– Jennifer Pepito, The Peaceful Preschool

I hesitate to share this for the same reason I often pause before sharing what curriculum I use or how what we do regarding vaccinations…  because it seems there’s always someone who jumps to copy precisely what we do without researching the possibilities, without talking to the Lord about it, without taking the uniqueness of their own family into account.

So in sharing our school day rhythm that has worked for us many years now, I’m in no way proclaiming, “Copy this!”  My hope is that this helps you in some way, even if it’s just to tweak one part of your day or to stir up your own ideas about what might work for you and yours in this season of life.  You’ll notice our schedule flows from one harder thing to an easier, all day long.  My Quinn especially, with his focusing issues, thrives with this routine, though I’ve found spacing out school throughout the day rather than cramming it all into the morning has benefited all of us.  We can all enjoy it and absorb it more fully.


We start our days pretty early.  I am far from a morning person, and over the years this has been a slow transition and takes all the self-motivation I can muster to get up early, but we’ve learned that the quality of our school day and therefore the quality of our lives is significantly better when we start early.  We aren’t rushed to complete things.

Other than when we start our day and our mealtimes, I don’t pay attention to the clock.  What I’ve laid out for you is the order in which we do things on a typical school day.  Being a slave to the clock only multiplies my anxiety, because life happens.

One more thing before I share our day..  this is not a suggested day for those with only littles!  (That would look far simpler…  something like this: breakfast, chores, morning time on the sofa together with stories and songs, snack and play break, hands-on learning such as painting/playdough/sand tracing/puzzles/scooping and sorting, tidy and lunch, books and rest, outside play).



6:30 a.m.  My alarm goes off – the swell of piano music softly grows in volume.  I slowly rise, blurry-eyed and hazy all over, head to the bathroom, wash my face, and throw on the clothes I set out the night before.

I head to the kitchen at the other end of the house and make my coffee as I talk to God. I curl up with my coffee on the sofa, read any newsletters in my inbox from Sally Clarkson, scroll my favorites on Instagram for a few minutes.  No, this is not my quiet time; that comes after breakfast when I’m fully awake.  I discovered after years of struggle, that a screen and coffee is required for me at this point to stimulate my mind and wake, or else I’m back asleep within minutes!

7ish a.m.  Ellie (13) naturally wakes up about this time (always my early bird) and after visiting for a few minutes we start working on breakfast together.

7:30ish a.m. Willow is usually up by this time, and once breakfast is ready I wake the boys and we gather around the table.  We may talk about our day, the weather, what we dreamed about, etc, and then I read a passage from Acts (currently) for us to discuss.

8ish a.m.  God Time.  We all head to our corners and spend 20-30 minutes in peaceful quiet, alone with God.  One of the big kids takes Willow (a different one each day) and they have special one on one time with her.  This guarantees I will have this much-needed time connecting to the Lord and trains the kids to also begin their days with this moment of calm, handing over their concerns to God, allowing His word to strengthen them.



8:30ish a.m.  Morning Chores.  I ring the bell to alert everyone to begin.  (Our house is about 90 feet long, so I prefer this over yelling)!  We tackle the kitchen altogether, then make our beds, brush teeth, get dressed and put away PJs, take our vitamins.  Loud music pulses through the house to get our bodies moving.  🙂


9:00ish a.m. Math.  Gavin (17) heads to his dual credit college classes.  As Ellie and Quinn need little assistance with their Teaching Textbooks Math, I use this time to do some fun preschool projects with Willow (4) or read picture books with her.  I use The Peaceful Preschool for playful ideas.  Willow declares that ‘school’ is her favorite part of her day.

Nature walk on Fridays before math.  (no copywork or spelling Fridays).


10:00ish a.m.  Snack and Break

10:30ish a.m.  Willow plays on her own while I spend time with Quinn (10) in either grammar, writing, poetry, spelling, art study, or geography.  Ellie (13) works on the same subjects independently for the most part.

11:15ish a.m.  Outside (if possible) free play until lunch.

12:00 p.m.  Lunchtime.  I cherish this time.  After we’ve talked for a while and laughed over various things (oh potty talk…  do boys ever outgrow)?! I read aloud from either our current nature or literature read aloud, then the kids verbally narrate the reading.


1:00ish p.m.  Lunchtime Chores.  This may be one of the best ideas that I implemented many years ago.  While I clean the kitchen, the big kids tackle one chore. On Monday one child may dust the living room while another wipes the mirrors and another cleans the toilets.  They do a different chore each day and it takes them 5-10 minutes.  Just taking care of a little at a time has worked beautifully for us.  Many folks take Fridays as a cleaning day, but that not only overwhelms my kids, but me as well.  Our house is never perfect, not even close, but this certainly helps to keep it (mostly) decent.  And I don’t carry the weight of trying to figure out when the bathrooms will be cleaned and the plants watered, etc.

1:20ish p.m.  Quiet Reading Time.  Oh sweet glory.  Without this time I’m a drained mess come 4:00.  The kids find a cozy spot and read.  Quinn has a difficult time focusing on reading for long, so after 20 minutes he practices his ukulele.  As Willow has never been a napper, I turn on a show for her and then for the remainder of the time she rests and looks at picture books. I spend about a half-hour reading from my current stack and then I may scroll Instagram or check email.



2:00ish p.m.  Snacktime and History/Nature Study.  We alternate between The Kind Kingdom’s history and nature study.  The curriculum includes a long list of excellent books and the kids record what they’re learning through artwork and written narrations in their notebooks.  We burn candles, enjoy a snack, play my Pride and Prejudice pandora station and thoroughly enjoy this rich time learning together.  Willow plays closeby (often in my lap).  Once every two weeks we have a poetry tea time (with a treat) instead.


3:00ish p.m. Tidy and Free Play!   While the kids are tidying around the house, this is usually when I throw in another load of laundry and pull out a drier full.  We then quickly fold the towels together and everyone collects their clothing and puts it away.  Then they enjoy free time until dinner, and I grab my kombucha and put my feet up (often on the back porch) for a little while.

4:00ish p.m.  Dan arrives home by 4 most days (he leaves in the morning by 6!), and we take some time to catch up and relax, walking around the property or on the sofa, before we start dinner together.

This is my job.  It’s the most important one I could ever have, and I’ve learned that when I lean into it wholeheartedly, there is abundant joy in it for all of us.  Sure, once in a while we just need to sleep in and simply bake or enjoy books together.  But when we regularly slept in, lacked a healthy predictability to our days, and I didn’t invest energy into learning together, we walked around dazed and struggled just to get the ‘basics’ taken care of.  There wasn’t time or energy for the beautiful, life-giving education that weaves richness into our days.

Hold On To Your Teens

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to contain the subject of raising teens within one blog post, nor am I claiming to be an expert.  This will likely be my first of many posts on the topic simply shared from our experiences as well as what we’ve observed and studied.


We live at a time in which I feel there’s this battle raging against childhood.  There’s an influx of busyness, screens, pressures to perform, comparisons made all too easily with perpetual testing and social media, often a lack of parental boundaries and loving guidance, and in our culture especially, peer orientation has become the norm that folks accept without question.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate cover this topic in their book, Hold On To Your Kids:

For the first time in history, young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults, but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults.  Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.  They are being brought up by each other.

Even in home educating families, this can be a devastating issue if parents aren’t intentional regarding their connection to their children and are unaware of the danger of peer-orientation.


“But aren’t we meant to let go?” many parents ask. “Aren’t our children meant to become independent of us?”  Absolutely, but only when our job is done and only in order for them to be themselves.  Fitting in with the immature expectations of the peer groups is not how the young grow to be independent, self-respecting adults.  By weakening the natural lines of attachment and responsibility, peer orientation undermines healthy development.

Children may know what they want, but it is dangerous to assume they know what they need.  To the peer-oriented child it seems only natural to prefer contact with friends to closeness with family, to be with them as much as possible, to be as much like them as possible.  The child does not know best.  Parenting that takes its cues from the child’s preferences can get you retired long before the job is done.  To nurture our children, we must reclaim them and take charge of providing for their attachment needs.

Since our Gavin turned 16, (he’s now 17), we’ve been asked several times if he’s always gone. Is family life viewed as something to escape, rather than a place in which you are loved as you are, heard, guided; a place where you work hard and play hard and share in the rhythm of feasts and forgiveness?
I wonder, if abandoning home life is the mindset, then has it become the norm for parents to throw up their hands in surrender, giving up on cultivating family life and parenting once a teen can drive, or even as early as puberty?

Yes, I believe independence increases over time, but it is a s l o w increase – one that is dependent upon a teen’s character and level of responsibility, but home is still home. 

We believe teens need our unconditional love, guidance, encouragement, boundaries, and sometimes consequences. They need to feel it deeply – that we are for them and believe in them. They feel secure, rather than restrained, within healthy boundaries.

Teens will gravitate where they feel heard and supported the most.

It’s all to easy in this age of peer orientation to believe it’s hopeless to connect to our teen’s heart.  Many believe the lie that their teens don’t want to have anything to do with them, that to pursue a close relationship is pointless.  But at the heart of every child and teen is the longing to have those close ties with a parent who loves them unconditionally.


Many parents, in an attempt to avoid coming off as controlling, resort to the other extreme.  They retire their role as parents prematurely, often as early as the onset of the teen years when resistance swells. Possibly due to their own negative experiences with figures of authority, they view exercising authority as a power-hungry act rather than an act of love, protection, and connection.

But in allowing a young teen (or an older teen who has not proved to be responsible in maintaining a healthy balance) to determine how many hours they will spend on a screen each day, how often they will hang out with friends, and to basically manage all the details of their young lives, (in most cases) these parents are setting their kids up to be disconnected from the family.

The pressure of too many decisions and options can weigh heavily upon them.



A teen lacking strong family ties is socially and emotionally volatile, often lacking the grit to overcome challenges as well as lacking confidence.  The boundaries that provide security and training as to how to live life in a healthy balance are not present.

I’m often asked what a healthy limit for screens is.  I think in all areas of parenting we need to lean into the Holy Spirit for guidance as there’s not a perfect answer.  It will look different in our unique families.  For us, we’ve had peace with waiting until a child is driving to allow them a phone.  This gives more time for their character to develop before setting such a device in their hands, more time to be free from the pull that can steal from a wonder-filled childhood.

Once they have a phone, we set an hour limit per day that includes texting, email, and social media as they are learning to balance it in their lives; Dan and I rarely spend more than this on ours, apart from Dan’s time at work. When school is demanding, it is less; when sick, it is more.

As they grow in maturity and responsibility, demonstrating they can wisely manage their time, we give them the increased freedom to do so.


If there’s a lack of kindness and respect toward siblings or parents, the phone is taken away for a while.  A ‘vacation’ from the phone at this point has done a world of good, and once we see that the family connections are truly tended to and made stronger, the phone is given back.  This has taken anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months.  We’ve seen this time ‘off’ do its beautiful, restorative work as deep connections become the focus.

Yes, dear friends are part of their lives, but not their life.
Screens are part of their lives, but they do not consume their life. 

Hold on to their hearts. Bravely create a different family culture than the norm. Don’t fear healthy boundaries- they still need a parent to assist in guarding their hearts and to (gently and firmly) confront them over concerns.

Love them wildly, come alongside them in supporting their interests, and watch them flourish.

A Day in Our Home Educating Life — Spring of 2017

This post is a time capsule, a post that I will always treasure as it is how we have lived so many of our days together over the years. Yes, there is some variation from day to day and year to year, but this has been the flow of our school days for the most part.  A natural rhythm that developed over the years and became our own.  This year is looking much the same, except we are using The Good and the Beautiful curriculum for Quinn and Ellie’s Language Arts and History, (and absolutely enjoying it so far), and Gavin (15) is now taking dual-credit college classes online.  I grieved this summer over this change for Gavin, though we knew God was saying it is time, but I’m learning my role as teacher in his life is still just as crucial as I help him adjust to his new responsibilities and expectations in college.  And he shares with me about each chapter he reads, so great discussion has ensued.  Okay, enough with the introduction!  Join me as I lead you through our day; I’m so glad you are here.


With some difficulty (not a morning person) I rise around 7 each morning and get started on breakfast.  This morning Ellie surprised me with eggs ready.  She’s my early bird and frequently helps in this way, knowing how much it helps her morning zombie of a mama out.  (Mamas of young children – easier days – they are coming)!  By the time breakfast is ready, the younger kids are up and Gavin (15) joins us with a little help. 😉 We’ve all agreed we prefer to get going somewhat early so that we can move through our day at an unhurried pace and have time for what matters.  At breakfast, we pray together and I read a verse (currently out of Proverbs), then mostly it’s them talking and mama sipping coffee, zoning in and out.


We do our main reading aloud time over lunch once my blood is flowing and my reading is better than monotone.  Soon as we’re done eating we tackle the kitchen together.  Half the time they do this on their own while I get the laundry moving.  I don’t feel the house needs to be perfect when we start our day, but I’ve found if there are clean kitchen counters, a swept floor, and dishes put away at the opening of our day, we are all more content and can think clearer the remainder of the day.

We can usually finish this in less than 10 minutes and we head to our own quiet spaces for ‘God Time’.  This is a peace-filled time of refueling and a way I can have that time alone to be filled at the start of the day without having to wake before I’m ready. This supports our priority of connecting to God and jumpstarting our day in gratitude.

The kids take turns caring for Willow at this time and treasure this one on one time with her.  So I’m (almost) guaranteed time alone with my Creator without my wee monkey climbing on my shoulders and ripping pages of my Bible.  After 20 minutes or so I ring our old school bell and it’s morning chore time for all.  I put on lively music, we brush teeth, make beds, get dressed, Gavin feeds the pig and sweeps under the table, Ellie wipes the table, Quinn heads to the barn to feed the dog, I dress Willow, tidy around the house, etc.



Then, what follows just might be my favorite part of the day, morning person or not!  We head outdoors to partake of the majesty of the earth awakening.  It almost seems to whisper, ‘all things new.’  This rouses our senses as we head out, alert to what has changed around us as we listen to the birds songs.  We may find a new nest, observe earthworms after a rain, find new flowers in bloom, head over to our little pond to check on tadpoles and water bugs, watch the squirrels busily scamper from tree to tree, or check on our favorite tree ‘Big Elm’ over at the edge of our property.

We often start out with our nature journals, and after the kids have sketched or painted something of interest, they set the journals aside and swing from trees, or dig in the moist dirt. My teen will usually run laps around the property at this time to keep in shape for the Spartan races he and Dan regularly run together. Today we ventured back on our forest trails and used the Birdsong ID app to identify some of the newer birds that have nested here and tried to spy their nests as well.  One of our current read alouds is the Bird Burgess book and this has inspired Quinn (8) to start a feather collection so he’s on the hunt.


I’ve become increasingly aware this year of the fleeting time, especially now that Gavin has surpassed me in height!  Over the last year especially, I’ve pondered what I really want their days – their memories years from now – to look like and make that the basis for our days.  It’s an effort to really seize the time (not that I haven’t had days of mere survival) but it’s a grace-filled goal. Venturing out just after chores to see what awaits adds a layer of richness to our day, fueling our curiosities. It revives us all.
Unless the kids are involved in an epic adventure, we head inside by 9:30-10 and they begin their independent work, all of us filled to the brim.  I have struggled this year as we can’t head out on long camping trips or kayak down rivers as often as I crave.  We’re finishing up the building of our home as well as a fixer upper we bought to flip – this on top of Dan working full time.  But my eyes are being opened to the fact that we all have more nature closer to us than we realize, and it doesn’t take but a patch of grass to observe a new world with a child.  They don’t have the same wanderlust we do, and are born with a wonder we must preserve.
In the book, ‘Caught Up In a Story’, Sarah Clarkson states, “The wonder natural to childhood is precious, something many adults spend a lifetime trying to reclaim, and as such must be preserved and maintained, especially while children are young. Your role as parent is key: how will your children encounter nature?  Will they be too distracted by technologies set in their hands since birth, or will they have learned to look, to love, to hold the world around them as holy?”
Independent studies time is generally from 10-12, but often the younger ones finish earlier and play.  During this time they do math (we have used Teaching Textbooks for years now and it’s been a game changer), scripture memorization, copywork, Grammar, spelling.  Gavin also reads Notgrass history and writes a narration daily.  (I rotate between history and nature study with Quinn and Ellie in the afternoon – more on that later).  I’m not big on workbooks as we’ve been down that road and learning transformed into drudgery for us, but I use a workbook for grammar (Easy Grammar) and it has been painless and effective.
I need to interject here and say that the little bit of curriculum we do use, I very much ‘own’ rather than letting it rule us.  I only use what I believe to be helpful for the child, and don’t pay much attention to the grade recommended.  I once stressed over fully finishing workbooks and paid more attention to completing a curriculum that in observing what the child is absorbing and possibly lacking.  Now I only use what I believe to be helpful to the child.  Other than Easy Grammar, the only workbook I use is for Quinn (8) – Horizons Phonics.  He enjoys the colorful pages and I’ve had him do a little a day since the beginning of his first grade year.  Horizons is extremely advanced so I have him doing a first grade workbook when technically he’s finishing up second grade.
While he’s working on that I stay close by to help, but the remainder of the morning the kids rarely need my assistance so I keep laundry moving, and snuggle up and read to Willow (22 mos).  And just before lunch I rock her and her 3 baby dolls as we sing ‘Old MacDonald,’ then I put ‘them’ to nap.
Lunchtime. As soon as Willow is napping I gather the kids to help prepare lunch, usually right around noon.  This is another favorite part of my day with the rich read alouds that unite us all and much laughter. On a loop (so that they’re rotated day to day) I read a historical novel, then the following day from the Burgess Book of Birds (our current nature read aloud), then the next day is picture books, followed by poetry. Quality picture books are a large part of our book collection and combine art with story.  We do our literature read aloud each evening at dinner so dad is always a part, which he appreciates (currently reading Understood Betsy).  For our history read aloud, we completed Johnny Tremain – it was all American history this year – and I followed it with one aimed at my younger audience, Squanto.
So we often linger long at the table at lunch and dinner.  As soon as the kids finish eating they grab their sketchbooks nearby and draw, or grab a quiet toy and play until I’m finished reading. Then I often ask one to verbally narrate.  They never know ahead of time who will be called on so this keeps them tuned in.  This has helped to sharpen listening and verbal skills as it “strengthens and challenges all the powers of the mind”  as Karen Andreola put it. This has become as natural to the kids as breathing, and it continually amazes me how accurately and in what detail they can share what they heard.
We didn’t study composers this year other than merely playing Mozart occasionally as they painted, and no official geography this year either. I knew before this school year began that I needed to be reasonable and kind to myself this year with a highly active and often clingy toddler.  We’ll jump into map work next year and maybe I’ll play Bach during their painting then.  😉  I think it’s important to be aware of what season to lighten the load and steer clear of comparisons to others.  We all have a unique set of challenges and a unique set of kids.
After lunchtime we put our dishes away and do ‘lunchtime chores’. This is a system I implemented years ago and it has worked beautifully. Each child has a different chore each day, for example Gavin washes the mirrors on Monday, while Ellie sweeps her room, and Quinn dusts his. This is separate from morning chores which are identical each day. I love this system because rather than waiting until the house is filthy and having to clean all day – overwhelming the kids and me – we take care of it one chore at a time.  The house is NEVER perfect, but it is usually halfway decent.  This takes about 5 minutes.      
Then, it’s our quiet reading hour, 40 minutes of peace-filled calm in the middle of our day.  It’s my introverted method of refueling so I’m still a nice mama come 4:00, and it’s equally beneficial to the kids.  For the first half the kids read a book that relates to their period of history, and the last half they read a book they’ve chosen from our growing library of living books.
McIntosh JAN 2017-29
We don’t eat out, buy jewelry, or fancy cars – we buy books!  I take this time to feed my soul as well and don’t allow myself to tackle household tasks, but I read as much as Willow allows. I’m currently rereading ‘The Charlotte Mason Companion’, ‘Simplicity Parenting’, ‘Caught Up in a Story’, and ‘Hold on to Your Kids’. Anyone else jump between 4 books at a time?
After Read on Your Own time in the Spring, Quinn and Ellie are free to pursue their interests and usually head outside three days a week after helping to put away laundry, on the other days I snuggle up with them on the couch and read nature study one day (currently Pagoo) and history (Stories of the Pilgrims) the other. (In the Winter we do history or nature study together 4 days a week, but come Spring I encourage much more time for outdoor exploration).
Afterward, they paint in their journals and write about what we read. They are increasingly enjoying painting and have been inspired by some YouTube videos I’ve pulled up. Once they start painting I take Willow to help me pull clothes out of the drier as she thinks this is great fun or pull out a sensory bin to keep her out of the acrylic paint! Meanwhile Gavin (15) works on his apologia Biology and coding program from Sonlight. He’s my science and tech guy and (praise God) happily conquers these subjects. Geometry, on the other hand, he won’t miss.
Our afternoons and evenings often look like Ellie baking while Quinn plays with legos and Gavin practices guitar and Willow hangs on mama. Today it looks like all 3 of the older kids on the trampoline while Willow plays in the sandbox. (They’ve created endless trampoline games using an exercise ball. Take away the ball, and I can hardly get them to jump on it.  Just a little tip there)!  Or Quinn whittling on the back porch while Ellie plays with Willow in #elliesprairiehouse and Gavin runs with dad in preparation for the Spartan race while I do dinner prep. Or the boys arguing over something stupid and then copying scripture for a while.  It’s not always Norman Rockwell, but I believe being home together has nourished and deepened their relationships, the closeness forcing us to deal with heart issues. We’re involved in church, music lessons, and occasionally tumbling, but those are our only commitments, so for the most part we are home.
We’ve been asked why we don’t have the kids in organized sports. For us personally, considering the commitment and all we would miss out on, it didn’t feel right. We headed down that road before and our family ties grew weaker as it drained us all. I know some thrive off of it and it’s what they love. But I think many jump in blindly because it’s what you’re expected to do without stepping back to first decide what they truly want their family culture to be. Doing Spartan races has been a wonderful alternative to organized sports as we can train as a family in our own time, deciding how much time to give it. Once we decided to live counter-culturally, slow and meaningfully, to dare to say no so we can say yes to what are hearts beat for, our lives haven’t been free of challenge, but there’s a freedom and joy we feel like we’re dancing in. “Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our souls.” ~ Sally Clarkson “Consider saying no – Dare to ‘miss out,’ and find out what you really would have missed had you said ‘yes.” ~Jennifer Dukes Lee
Each night before we tuck each child in we gather around the living room and read a bit from the Bible, the Gold Thread, or Hero Tales. It’s a calming and inspiring way to wind down together. This season of life can be exhausting, but I’ve never loved what I do more. My hope and prayer is that you too will find deep fulfillment in what you do, that you will have wisdom as to how to guide each child and run your home, that you would know what to embrace and what to say no to, that you would know you’re loved, that peace and overflowing joy would fill your hearts and home.

Celebrating the Season: How We Simply Make it Meaningful

“Christmas is often seen as a season of excess. What it ought to be is a poignant season of remembrance. The point of all the food and song and gifts is not some hedonistic, once-a-year immersion in material over-indulgence. The point is to put flesh and expression to joy. If we lose sight of the Christ child’s coming, if we forget the heavenly joy we are trying to embody, then Christmas can easily become a season of mere excess. But when the incarnation is at its heart, then every song, every special meal, every planned event becomes a pageant in which the drama of the heavenly story is lived out. The Christmas festival becomes a tiny taste of eternity, rising up in time.”
~Sarah Clarkson


Given the times we live in, it requires true intentionality on our part to make the meaning of Christmas the focus in our homes, to keep Jesus as the heartbeat of our holidays. It is all too easy to be swept up in the culture’s material lust for more, belittling Christmas to nothing more than a time of hustle and bustle and satisfying our wants. I know all too well, as this once was the nature of our Christmases. But as our family grew so did our desire to instill meaning in our holidays, to create traditions that would ground us and deepen our ties as a family, to build growing anticipation in all of our hearts as the celebration of the coming of the Christ child draws near. There are 3 courses of action we take to ensure our season is filled with the hope and joy of Christ. Doing these, we found, have been the key to truly magical Christmases, deposited in each of our hearts.

Simple Traditions

There is something about traditions that knit us as a family. They are rituals that we look forward to fondly and the kids know they can count on; they become part of our family identity and give each member a sense of belonging and pride. This may seem like a long list of traditions, but they are all very do-able. We started our parenting years with only one tradition – just reading the Nativity story on Christmas Eve. Our traditions have slowly increased over the 15 years of parenthood. For young families I recommend adopting one or two new traditions and then growing from there. Please don’t let my list overwhelm you!  I’m all about baby steps.

Over the years I have collected Christmas-themed books (mostly used ones from Half Price and Amazon) that we store in the barn, only to be taken out for this season. Ellie and I wrap each one in dollar store wrapping paper in the days following Thanksgiving. This has become one of our cherished mama-daughter traditions. Then, beginning December 1st the kids take turns opening one each afternoon and we pile on the couch together as I read aloud books that resurrect old memories – the warm and fuzziest kinds. Books that point to Jesus, books that inspire us in the joy of giving, and books that are just plain fun.


Then in the dark of each evening with only the light glowing from the fire and the twinkling lights of the tree, we gather around and Dan reads a devotional from Ann Voskamp’s, “Unlocking the Greatest Gift.” I highly recommend this devotional, especially created to be read each December evening to build the anticipation of Jesus’ coming and keep our focus on Him. On Christmas Eve over a candlelit dinner, we read the story of Christ’s coming – from the book of Matthew.

When admiring the glow of the lights from our tree, we discuss all the wondrous symbolism there. The tree representing the cross He gave His all on, the lights representing the one true Light, the evergreen tree representing eternal life, and then there’s the fruit and the candy canes and the star on top of it all – a rich illustration. We fill our home with cinnamon and spruce candles burning, choral and instrumental Christmas music, and the aroma of breads and treats baking in hopes of creating memories they will savor for years to come, memories that add to the richness of home and hint at the wonder of the season.

We keep the World Vision catalog out on our coffee table and ask the kids to choose what they would like to give. Sometimes we buy a goat, and other times we take on a child to sponsor from that point on, adding another member to our family in our hearts. This is the most important gift giving we will do and is priority. We talk to the kids about how this is truly giving to Jesus, as it is indeed His birthday.

Cinnamon salt dough ornaments and garland are so simple and satisfying to make. We thoroughly enjoy rolling the dough in our hands while the cinnamon aroma fills the house and using cookie cutters to shape them while ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ plays their familiar scenes in the background.


When we travel during the holidays we listen to the audiobook of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol.’ This classic is worth listening to every year, and is written so that it captivates everyone and opens our eyes to see people and Christmas differently.

Another simple tradition of ours (usually done just days before Christmas when the kids are crazy with excitement and could seriously use a job) is to buy a gingerbread house village set and loads of white frosting, already made and ready for fun. Each of our kids are in charge of decorating one of the homes and we set them all on a piece of plywood so that a somewhat spacious neighborhood can be created complete with an ice skating pond, streets, and snowmen.

Endless geometric structures can be built just from toothpicks and green/red gumdrops! I love to sit back and watch the creativity unfold with this one. Dads get into it as much as anyone.

Simple Schedule

In order to have a meaningful Christmas season, and to have the time and energy to do any of the above, we have to be intentional in protecting our schedule. There are so many places we could go and things to see at this time, and if we’re not careful we’re racing all over only to come home frazzled and overwhelmed by all the wrapping and baking that need to be done. In order to simplify, we say yes to only one non-family party, I do almost all of the shopping online, and enlist kids as well as dad to help with the wrapping and baking. If your kids are old enough to help, this is not only more efficient, but are some of our favorite parts of the season as we work alongside each other with Christmas music filling the air.


“Don’t have guilt over saying no – because every no is saying a better yes.” ~ Ann Voskamp

“Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our own souls.” ~Sally Clarkson

Battle of Materialism

Maintaining an atmosphere of giving rather than materialism is a vital component of a Jesus-filled life, and it will likely be carried on throughout the year. Years ago we took our son to the toy stores before Christmas and birthdays, allowing him to hungrily peruse the toy aisles, planning his wish lists. As you can imagine, the lists were ridiculously long. Even though he received more than plenty of gifts, it was difficult for him to be content as other toys he longed for were lingering in the back of his mind. Once we made it a point to stop exposing him to all the things, we had a happier child. Occasionally we allow our kids to browse worthwhile toys, books, kayaks, hiking gear, swings, and board games on certain websites to have a say in what they would prefer, all while monitoring the effects on their hearts and keeping it all in check. But greed takes over when we allow them to peruse the toy catalogs and aisles.


Over the last couple years my eyes have been opened to the effect that clutter has on all of us. It increases anxiety, brain fog, and is a weight on parent and child alike, whether the child fully realizes it or not. Clutter has become less of a constant battle in our home since I’ve learned much of it is an issue of guarding our children’s hearts as well as our own – it’s more a battle of materialism. This statement hit home with me, “Possessions don’t make you rich. They make you possessive.” Once I personally had the breakthrough of realizing how much heaviness I carried from all the stuff in our home and crammed in our barn (items I thought we needed for optimal living), and donated stuff by the truckloads, I was shocked at the new level of contentment in us all. The kids are surprisingly eager to give to kids who have less once they become aware of how others live. God has placed us as gatekeepers over our homes so that they can be a restful, life-giving haven to all, and as guards over our children’s hearts over what may weigh them down.

Reading books aloud such as “Little House on the Prairie” and looking at the World Vision catalogs regularly have helped them to grasp how much is enough, and even to be turned off at the thought of too much. Regularly sending letters and gifts to the African girl we sponsor helps instill the habit of giving and awareness of others.

This is still a process for us to be sure, but for the most part we are free of the constant lust for more and that is a mighty good feeling. But most of all, we long for the way in which we celebrate to point to Him, to lavish love on Him, to bring a smile.  It is – after all – His birthday.

“So Christmas, for us, was not simply a season of material experience. It was a season of renewal – because ultimately, the point of the Christian faith is that God has come to renew and redeem. The ending of the biblical story is a wedding feast, a Kingdom, a mysterious city with streets of gold and gates of pearl and jeweled foundation stones. This is the reality at which our Christmas celebrations hint. This is the real future we glimpse in the color and beauty, the feasting, laughter, and music of our most marvelous celebrations. Our remembrance is a kind of promise, our spoken hope in all the beauty that is to come. So let the feasting begin!”
~Sarah Clarkson

The Uncluttered Life – How We Live Free From Hurry and Make Room for What Matters

~This article can also be found on http://www.cohesivehome.com – an inspiring community of intentional families ~

We were living the only way we knew. Our schedule was overwhelming. Our 6 year old, Gavin, was in baseball and Tae Kwon Do a couple nights a week, and we often brought our younger kids along. There was also heavy involvement in church activities and many responsibilities we had taken on there. With all of this piled on top of the time Gavin was away at school, there was little time remaining for us to be a family. There was an emptiness in all the busyness, and a hurt in all the hurry.

My husband, Dan, was the first to challenge the way we were living. I recall us arriving home late one school night, his hands full carrying Ellie (lying limp over his shoulder) and my hands full with Gavin’s baseball gear. Gavin was exhausted, walking alongside his father as he held on to him, his head bobbing against Dan’s side. Dan paused, released a troubled sigh, and very seriously said to me, “Why do we feel the need to live like this?” Truth be told, we were drained, but until that moment I assumed that was the only acceptable way to live. A lifestyle free from hurry seemed scandalous. We had felt the worldly obligation to over schedule and rush and had jumped in without questioning it. Life wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a life in which we were not truly connected as a couple, nor in tune with our children’s hearts, nor grounded with purpose. We were spread a mile wide and felt an inch deep.

When Dan questioned the way we were living, I was reluctant to change initially. There were fears of our kids ‘missing out.’ After much thought and prayer a sense of relief began to wash over me as my eyes were opened to the fact that we were already missing out on what mattered, and that whether we lived in the 21st century or not, we could choose a different path.


This marked the beginning of a shift in our thoughts and a pivotal change in our lives as we began to disregard the messages of our culture and instead uncover the longings God had placed deep in our hearts. Little did we fathom then that this would eventually lead us to homeschooling, moving 100 miles from the city and everything we knew, buying a little house on 11 acres and adding chickens as well as a milk cow!



Now we were on the course to simplify our lives and to guard our time. For the first time we dared to dream of a life rich in simplicity, a life that would give our children a strong foundation and tie us together as family. A life lived open enough that we could spontaneously bake a batch of cookies together, venture on wildflower hunts, identify the constellations while lying on the grass, grab our kayaks and head to the lake on a whim, learn to build a barn and our home together, linger long over dinner as we read aloud another chapter, worship alongside each other in our home and our country church, open our home to share hearts with others, create trails on our land for exploring and go cart driving. And by the grace of God, this is our life. A life in which there is time enough for the kids to explore their interests, whether it’s learning to build a magnetic generator and reading all the great books, taking his kayak out on the lake or playing his guitar (Gavin), writing the story of our family since we’ve moved to the country, floating in her kayak, taking painting lessons from her aunt or playing the piano (Ellie), climbing yet another tree, figuring out how to build what’s in his head with his Legos as well as wood, and completing his Wild Explorer Club assignments (Quinn), or all of us out on our land playing around.




It’s often messy with all this togetherness and we screw up more than I like, but that gives us opportunities to learn to love well and practice forgiveness. Our children’s relationships with each other go deep. They truly enjoy each other as they have ample time and space to do so free from the pull of screens and distractions. There is time and space to hug, create, play, laugh, explore, share hopes, discover passions, thoroughly deal with heart issues, and be. To just be. It’s vital for our soul’s nourishment and growth, but is the most rejected activity today.

Throughout the years we’ve realized that anytime we gravitate toward a busy lifestyle (even recently) we begin to deal with our children as tasks, moving through our days giving them orders and going through the motions of family life. However, when we are living intentionally and slowly, rather than merely dealing with our children, we have found that we truly see them. At those times we have the capacity to hear their hearts and share ours. We’ve also seen a strong correlation between an over-scheduled life and negative, disrespectful attitudes in our children (and us). When our lives are cluttered it can be difficult for me to even recognize that there is an issue in my child’s heart, and even harder to take the time to get to the root of it and address it.

“It’s easy, given the times we live in and the implicit messages we absorb each day, to equate a good life with having a lot and doing a lot. So it’s also easy to fall into believing that our children, if they are to succeed in life, need to be terrific at everything, and that it’s up to us to make sure they are – to keep them on track through tougher course loads, more activities, more competitive sports, more summer programs. But in all our well-intentioned efforts to do the right thing for our children, we may be failing to provide them with something that is truly essential – the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures.” Katrina Kenison


We realized in order to maintain this kind of life in our hyper-scheduled world we would need to have a game plan. I personally love to plan and this has often been my downfall, even after we resolved to live simply and drop unnecessary commitments. I have been far too eager to fill up our calendar. This has led to no less than me crumpling under a panic attack, and bickering among the whole family as we race around attempting to keep up.

So the decision was made several years back that before we commit to anything from an extracurricular activity to hosting friends for dinner we are to pray through what we are giving a ‘yes’ to and especially what we are therefore saying no to. We question whether this commitment will be beneficial to the child 10 years from now more than time spent curled up with an inspiring book, or in the quiet schooling of nature, or time spent in lessons from a neighbor or family member. Is it a more valuable use of their time than time with siblings or “the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures,” as Kenison stated. What are the influences in the environment? Do I want to put them in an event to see them perform or to win a medal? Am I longing to see them accomplish something because I wish I had? How will it affect the whole family? Is it more important that they learn to do a back handspring in a gym on a beautiful day, or hike in the outdoors where perspective is renewed, where they are refreshed, and learn to reverence God and grow a respect for all living things?



Seven years ago after our marriage had taken a devastating turn for the worse, Dan and I developed the habit of praying together each evening after we put the kids to bed (and this has done no less than transform our marriage in amazing and surprising ways). The more we have sought the Lord together, the easier it has become to hear His voice on the matter. Early in our marriage we prayed together occasionally wrapping it up with a quick Amen, but never taking the time to listen. To be still and expectant together. This has turned into my most anticipated part of each day. When we take the time to seek Him, He doesn’t leave us in the dark. And when we turn down a commitment because God is leading us to, we carry freedom rather than guilt. We’ve never regretted a decision we made after seeking God on the matter, but I’ve uttered a thousand ‘thank you’s’ to the Lord for steering us clear of the ‘too much’ I would most certainly have signed us up for otherwise. God has led us to a life that is not void of challenges, but a life in which we can focus on what matters at the end of the day, rich in simplicity and deepening joy.

Our Secret to a Satisfying Marriage

12 years ago was a devastating time in our marriage. (See The Ugly Beautiful (Women’s Retreat Speech) Part 1)  We had taken on too much and the busyness of our lives prevented us from investing in our relationship as we should have. I made one poor ‘small’ decision after another and fell into an emotional and somewhat physical affair. I was drowning in darkness and hopelessness, and knew I couldn’t continue down that path. So I grabbed hold of God’s hand and He walked me through reconciliation with my husband. We were now on the path to our marriage being restored; we woke up to the fact that something had to change or we would continue living as an easy target for the enemy. IMG_0037 We simplified our life dramatically and began to regularly pray together, though in the beginning, ‘regular’ was a couple times a week. Then it became so addicting – seeing prayers answered that we had sought the Lord together on – that we developed the habit of praying together every night. Initially, we shared our hearts with the Lord and wrapped it up with a quick Amen. But soon we decided to also spend time just being still together in the Lord’s presence, wrapped up together under the sheets, listening for the Lord to speak.IMG_0064

This has honestly become my favorite part of our days as we wait expectantly for Him to reveal His heart. We’ve learned to seek God together on everything from how to discipline a child, to what activities we should commit to, to what houses we should flip, to how we should spend our money, to how we can help others. Through this time the Lord has given us clear answers, and at other times we’ve stepped out shaking, a little unsure, but once we’ve stumbled out on the water He is there.  DSC_0036

Through this time together God also led us to minimize screen time dramatically (for us and our children). Up until this time, once we put the kids to bed we would usually sit in front of the TV or work separately online. We found that when we simplified our lives and cut screen time to a small fraction of what it had been, we had ample time and energy to pray together, as well as time to communicate our hearts with each other and read books that grow us. I tell younger couples often that regularly praying and seeking the Lord together knits your hearts together in ways not possible otherwise. Through it God multiplies your love for each other.

We began to flirt with each other as our relationship evolved from one that was dry (as we just focused on the tasks around us) to a playful, intimate relationship in which we truly see each other.  It’s not all champagne and roses, but we live in the mindset that we’re on the same team and are more aware of the concerns, joys, hopes the other possesses.  Together, we’ve been floored at the ways God has revealed Himself, provided for us miraculously, and given us guidance in the details of our lives. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27-28

A Letter to My Son on His 13th Birthday

*With a house full of people gathered for Gavin’s Rite of Passage Blessing Party, I shared my letter to him just after we sang a couple worship songs (Gavin had chosen) around the piano.  Then his father read his letter to him and prayed a blessing over him.  We then presented a gift to Gavin, a leather corded cross necklace with the word ‘Radical’ stamped on the metal cross.  Then family and friends shared things that they see in Gavin and other words of encouragement.  All was recorded so it will be included in a keepsake book for him.  Our pastor then prayed a blessing over Gavin then we concluded with even more feasting and celebration!  Here is my letter:


How clearly I remember the sweet smell of your velvety newborn skin, your chubby 2 yr old hand in mine,  and here you are, almost my height and far beyond me in your knowledge of technology and science!

What a treasure God has placed in our hands. What an indescribable gift it has been to be your mom. Joy unspeakable.


Your fierce love of God has not faltered. May it only increase in you. Your natural confidence, the way you can make anyone laugh and become anyone’s friend – these are gifts God has placed in you to touch the world.

You were 3 and I found you down the aisle from me chatting with an older gentleman about the weather in your very adult way, bringing a large grin to his face. Old or young, you have a gift of connecting with people.

Don’t forget- it is through your hands and words that God wants to embrace the lost and wounded.

I pray that you will know the presence of God full well and live in it. Then joy will be your language and His intense, never-stopping love your drug. His love that runs hard after you, that will hunt you down.

Know this. His love is the most powerful and satisfying drug of all.

I pray that God will right now give you a deeper revelation of His love for you and that it will wash you to your innermost being.

When you regularly ingest the love He has for you, you will look for nothing else to satisfy. Not food or drink or friends or fame or money. You will know and feel that you already have far more than you need and it will overflow into the lives around you.


May God deepen your love for others. I pray that you will be one who truly sees people, that you will go out of your way to help, to speak words that heal into others.

May His love be the driving force in your life and be the one thing everyone will experience while in your presence.

His love already shines in your eyes. Times when I have begun to doubt the depth of God’s love for me I often see it there. Right there in those kind green eyes of yours. A bright life-giving spark that goes right to my core. Just as it is in your sister’s heartfelt embraces and your brother’s laugh.


I have failed at this parenting gig multiple times. Thank you for being quick to forgive, for regularly patting me on the back and surprising me with a shoulder massage, for your thoughtful ways.

How I cherish our walks and bike rides we’ve taken together. Thank you for sharing your heart with me, your concerns and loves. I pray that our relationship only grows deeper as it evolves with time. Through your teen years may there be even more laughter, more games played together, more campouts and hikes that awaken our souls.

God, help me to wake up to the gift of the here and now – these 13 years have flown by and I desperately don’t want to waste a second more. I pray that I won’t live another day with my to do list at the forefront of my mind, ignoring the precious souls right in front of me.

Remind me daily to connect with them, to sometimes leave dishes in the sink for a walk with my firstborn in the woods. To ignore the ringing phone and play Stratego with him. To share hearts and tears and belly laughter over a plate of cookies and let the emails wait. To truly listen. Help me to abandon all that is pulling at me and run wild with them in a game of hide and seek before I wake up and realize it’s too late.

Gavin, continue to expect me (from time to time) to just stare at you, as I soak up the gift of you. Expect that I will continue to squeeze you and not let go, and to share the things with you I feel so passionate about.

Thank you – for accepting that we do things differently in our family. Thank you for not being bitter, but respectful and supportive of the guidelines God has given us. You are aware that the amount of time we spend in front of the glare of screens is but a tiny fraction of the time others do. And we are incredibly thankful that you see the reasons we choose other activities over screens, as well as over hyper scheduling our lives.


We want you to live a life that is balanced well and focused on what is important. We love how you already see it is a life that is rich.  As Ann Voskamp said in regards to all the books her family had read, “I will never regret every page we chose over screens.”

Live with eyes wide open and allow your soul to be touched by the little things. Because there really are no little things. Painted sunsets, the flight of a hawk, the roar of a jet, an embrace from your brother, the twinkle in the eyes of an old man. They are His messages of love to you. I pray that you will never miss them.


“The sum of how you see the ordinary is what makes an extraordinary life,” Ann Voskamp says. I have no doubt.

Rebel against low expectations of the teen years. Your teen years are not a time for irresponsibility, but a time of training. A time of strengthening your self control and deepening your character. A time to be stretched so you will grow. A time to practice being alert to the voice of God and responding.


Take this seriously. “What you will become later in life largely depends on what you become now.” This quote from the book you are reading now, “Do Hard Things,” is a fact.

These years will be the foundation for the rest of your life.


The habits you develop now will be carried into the future. Guard your thoughts especially. Be aware of the enemy’s traps. Nothing is worth opening a door and letting evil take root.

Remember who you are in Christ. He has already approved of you. You have nothing to prove to anyone.

I pray that transforming your worries into prayers will be your unforced rhythm.

I pray, and always will, that God will be what you crave most and His voice will be what you are tuned into.

Never doubt that God is for you, that He is calling you to be a world changer.

God has placed strength within you and you have stood for what is right when it was hard. Continue to do so.


May you be bold, and radical enough to never let the culture define how you will live. Because God will be leading you down a different path – yes often even different from what is the Christian norm. Stay alert to His voice. He is the only One you need to please. His leading and love is your greatest gift.

Don’t allow your mistakes to get you down. As long as you’re on this side of heaven you will make them. You can be so hard on yourself, like your mama.  Embrace His mercy and move on.  Swim in His grace.

Romans 12:1-2

‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.’

and 12:3b

‘Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.’

Do I Dare Hope?

It is sometimes difficult to believe it ourselves.  But a gift has been promised to us from God, one that Dan and I have prayed for 5 long years now, to come this Spring.

There’s been countless tear-stained prayers uttered from my lips for this.  I’ve seen this gift given to others around me and have had to swallow the bittersweet, truly joyful for them while my ache deepened.  The vastly empty ache, the disappointments, the losses.

Then, January 17th, we are listening.  And Dan can hardly swallow what he hears.  God speaks clearly and boldly.  This Spring.

I gasp.  Then tears of relief flow as His love wraps around me.

We had come so close.  Up to the edge of letting go of hope.

Over the next several days I (at that point overflowing with hope) contact many close friends and family, sharing the promise with them.  How sweet it’s been to have friends praying and hoping alongside us.

Trusting in God’s timing is possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever practiced.  I was going to say ‘hardest thing I’ve ever learned, but that would imply I have become more proficient in this dance of trusting than I truly have.   How I love to rest in knowing God’s got this, but I have faltered often.

When I let go of how I believe it should be, and rest in His plan, oh the freedom, the calm that envelops me.


How do you believe a promise when the circumstances shout the opposite to be true?

I look back.  And I don’t have to look far..  when I had the fear-inducing pain in my appendix region for weeks and we prayed and God told Dan it would continue until Saturday night (it was Thursday) and then stop.  That I wouldn’t need to go to the doctor.  Then that’s exactly what happened.

When Gavin’s leg was injured and he couldn’t walk for weeks, all signs pointed toward a fracture but God was whispering that he was fine.  That just so happened to be during the month his insurance lapsed.  So we desperately prayed about what to do.  He continued to tell Dan that his leg would recover, that there was no need to see a doctor.  Weeks more and he could still hardly walk on it.  Others told us we were putting his leg at risk.  We finally took him just to get an x-ray at the chiropractor and sure enough, the bone was fine.  Another week went by and his leg was completely healed.  And we felt relief as we never had before.

Even our house reminds me.  It was the house and land we longed for, and God had told Dan it was going to be ours.  But there was a contract on it already, and it was hopeless according to the realtor.  She tried to no avail to interest us in other houses.  Then Dan boldly told her (with the nudging of his wife) that we needed to relentlessly pursue this house as God said it’s the one for us!  So (with a big sigh, no doubt) she looked deeper into it.  After a couple months of drama, and for the most part things appearing against us purchasing the house, we signed the papers on what happened to be my 32nd birthday.

Then there was the time God told Dan he was going to be chosen for the principal position at his school mere weeks before he was promoted, though he was less experienced than others.

And since the very 1st of this year I’ve heard it whispered to me repeatedly, “This is the year of change.”

So here we are again.  The time is drawing near.  Do we dare believe it?

Today the circumstances don’t look good.  5 years we’ve been praying for this.

But God speaks.  And that is more than all we see.  That is more than we feel.  It is everything.


The Ugly Beautiful (Speech for Women’s Retreat) Part 2

So how has this worked out for us, this trusting in God?

Well, we had lived in the city of Fort Worth all our lives, but we long for the country.  It’s a dream we believe that, like many others in the city who wish for the same, will never come true.  Both Dan and I have aunts who live out in the country and have many acres to play and explore on.  When we are growing up we are never happier than when we are there.  I walk down that long gravel driveway, the crackle of the gravel underfoot, with towering pine trees rising up along one side and a cow pasture on the other, nothing but scenes of nature all around, a reflection of the tall pines in the pond, the gentle moo of the cows,  the large garden with its plump red tomatoes rising up, my aunt hanging clothes out on the line and the white sheets swaying with the breeze, my uncle always in his cowboy attire with his thick tanned skin, my aunt’s hard working hands…  Growing up, I never feel more at home than I do there.

We don’t understand then that these dreams deep down inside us, the dreams that we rarely entertain because they seem unattainable, far beyond anything we believe we can ever grasp…   These dreams are planted inside us by none other than Almighty God. I don’t understand that the longing of our hearts is none other than God’s plan for our lives.

So we push the dreams aside, calling them foolish and unlikely if not impossible.

Then, some of our friends boldly move out to the country, 100 miles away.   We go to visit them, not expecting anything more to come of it.

But then.  We start to jokingly toss around the idea of moving out there.  We laugh at the foolishness of it.  However we soon realize that when we dwell on it there is a joy, a peace, an excitement that is lacking when we think of staying in Fort Worth.  As we began to pray about it we find God is most certainly in it.  We laugh at the craziness and wonder of it all.  We know we are embarking on the adventure of our lives.

We visit Cottonwood Church and know it’s home, and I’m at peace knowing a church family awaits.

Then begins the longest 7 months of our lives as Dan searches tirelessly for a job out in the country.   I remember that May of 2010 walking across my bedroom with a feeling of discouragement all over me.  Clearer than I have ever heard God up to that point, He says, “You won’t be here long.”  I know I have heard the voice of God and the discouragement melts away.  Hope fills its place.

Within that month Dan is offered a job at the school he has loved most from the beginning of the job search, but it is only as a teacher’s aide.  This is a pay cut for us for sure, but God is saying this is the way.  I’m sure many people think we are crazy to pack up and go for such a job.  So we move in a mobile home on our friend’s land and live off of faith.

It is a sweet time of growing in trust in the Lord at a rather rapid pace.  We know God is calling me to homeschool, something just a couple years before I thought I would never do, but turns out to be something I can’t imagine living without.

We know God has brought us here and He will provide.  And He does.  Money shows up in the mailbox, and is given to us anonymously at church several times.  It is the happiest year of our lives up to that point.  And we are far far below the poverty level, but as God is the One who provides for us and not Dan’s job, we have more than enough.

The following school year he is promoted to a teaching position that has opened up.  Just before he is to begin, Dan comes across a home for sale online, a home on 11 beautiful wooded acres.  I think he’s crazy and believe there’s no way we can be approved for it.  We find that we cannot get this place out of our minds even though we’ve never seen it.  We head out on a walk, asking God that if it’s not the place for us that He will help us to let go of it.  Dan hears the Lord clearly say to Him that it is the place He has reserved for us.  Dan even struggles to believe this.  Tears come to my eyes because I know it’s ours and am overwhelmed with God’s goodness.

Then we find out there’s a contract on this place, and our realtor (believing it foolish to pursue that land) continues to send us pictures of other homes for sale.  We are not interested!  Dan tells her boldly (after some encouragement from me ;)) that God has told us this place is ours!  So finally she digs deeper into it.

Things appear hopeless for several months, but long story short, God moves and the place is finally ours.  And the day we sign the papers just happens to be on my 31st birthday.

The following year, after just one year as teacher, Dan is promoted to Principal, and still is today.  Yes, this guy who dropped out of high school as early as he could, spent years on drugs, and finally came to the Lord at 19.

God delivers.

So now we have more than we dreamed possible.  All while I am at home with my family, doing something that is more fulfilling and more full of purpose than I ever conceived.

God is the One who births dreams and so He provides a way.

He transforms marriages, delivers us from ourselves and the pressures of the world, and is the author of dreams.

Are there longings buried deep inside you because of unbelief or because you’ve listened to the world rather than God?  I believe God wants you to revisit those dreams, to talk to Him about them, to give them over to Him and trust that He will do amazing things, beyond what you can imagine.

Does your marriage need new life or to be raised from the dead?  God’s in that business too.

Is it time that you shut out the voices of the world, and bask in the freedom that comes when you listen only to God?

It requires intentional living to tune out the voices.  Everywhere we look we are told we are not enough.  Not thin enough, not smart or educated enough, not successful enough, not sexy or beautiful enough, not spiritual enough, not a good enough mom, our home is not pretty enough.

Ann says, “It’s the same lie from the very first ever told.  That one back in the garden.  The serpent spoke.  And she listened.  God is withholding from you.  You are not enough.”

These pressures will rob your peace, joy if you listen to them.  You forget who you are in God and cannot come close to freely loving Him and loving who He created you to be.

But when you begin to abide in God, delight in Him, you will hear God..  truth sinks in and freeing peace with it.

Henri Nouwen sums it up well:

“I have called you by name, from the very beginning.  You are mine and I am yours.  You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.  I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.  I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.  I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.  I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.  Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.  I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.  I will not hide my face from you.  You know me as your own as I know you as my own.  You belong to me.  I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse… yes, even your child… wherever you are I will be.  Nothing will ever separate us.  We are one.”

Let’s pray.

God I ask that this will sink in deep with each of these women.  That they ARE enough.  That you accept them and adore them and love them infinitely RIGHT WHERE THEY’RE AT.  Not just in the future when they’ve rid themselves of bad habits, not once they feel they are spiritual enough, not when they become more loving, but NOW.  Thank you that you take us by the hand wherever we are and love on us to our very core.  And You gently guide us.

I ask that you will open every woman’s eyes here.  That you will show us any areas of our lives in which we are listening to the world rather than your all knowing, all powerful, always loving voice.

Open our ears that we may only hear You, and change our hearts until Your voice is the only one that matters.