Faith

Picture Books We’re Reading This Christmas

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I mentioned last week one of my favorite things we are doing for Advent this year: a Christmas picture book every day. In case you were curious, I thought I’d share the full list of titles we are reading. Most of these we own; a few of the early ones we got from the library. There are new favorites on here, along with books the boys have been reading every Christmas, and even a few that were mine when I was a kid.

I wrapped up all the books back in October, when our schedule was a little calmer, and wrote the names on the spines in pencil. Then on Thanksgiving night, I pulled them all out and numbered them.

Here’s what we are reading each day:

Nov 25: Christmas Trolls // Jan Brett

Nov 26: Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree // Robert Barry

Nov 27: Christmas Cricket // Eve Bunting

Nov 28: Good King Wenceslas // Jane Seymour

Nov 29: Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas // Julie Rawlinson

Nov 30: The Legend of the Poinsettia // Tomie dePaola

Dec 1: Snow Day! // Courtney Carbone

Dec 2: The Polar Express // Chris Van Allsburg (The version we have came with the audiobook, which is read by Liam Neeson, and it is fantastic.)

Dec 3: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey // Susan Wojciechowski

Dec 4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! // Dr. Seuss

Dec 5: The Hat // Jan Brett

Dec 6: Santa, Are You For Real? // Harold Myra

Dec 7: The Legend of the Candy Cane // Lori Walburg

Dec 8: Merry Christmas, Curious George! // H. A. Rey and Catherine Hapka

Dec 9: Wild Christmas Reindeer // Jan Brett

Dec 10: The Night Before Chrsitmas // Charles Santore

Dec 11: A Charlie Brown Christmas // Charles Shulz

Dec 12: The Bears’ Christmas // Stan and Jan Berenstain

Dec 13: The Nutcracker // Ronald Kidd (I’ve also heard good things about this version of the story, and this one.)

Dec 14: Gingerbread Baby // Jan Brett

Dec 15: Bear Stays Up for Christmas // Karma Wilson

Dec 16: Christmas in the Big Woods // Laura Ingalls Wilder

Dec 17: The Night Before Christmas // Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Dec 18: Country Angel Christmas // Tomie dePaola

Dec 19: The Night of Las Posadas // Tomie dePaola

Dec 20: The Tale of the Three Trees // Angela Elwell Hunt

Dec 21: The Crippled Lamb // Max Lucado

Dec 22: Humphrey’s First Christmas // Carol Heyer

Dec 23: Cock-a-Doodle Christmas! // Will Hillenbrand

Dec 24: Song of the Stars // Sally Lloyd-Jones

Like I said, some of these were from the library, and so I had to just go with what was available, but for the most part, these books are ones I love and heartily recommend. There’s a good mix here of books that mention Santa, and books that don’t, so whichever is your persuasion, hopefully there’s plenty here to suit you.

And if you need more recommendations, there are more great lists of Christmas picture books at  All About Reading, Brightly, the Read-Aloud Revival, and Money-Saving Mom.

What are your favorite picture books to read at Christmas? Share in the comments below!

Faith · Holidays

How We are Celebrating Advent with Waiting

Back in August, I read that in some liturgical traditions, they don’t begin to decorate or celebrate Christmas itself until December 24 or 25. These weeks between Thanksgiving and the celebration of our Savior’s birth are reserved for waiting.

As the calendar neared December, and I started planning the ways we would observe the holidays as a family, I kept coming back to the idea of waiting until it was actually Christmas to do any celebrating.

My temptation is always to try to do too much. Other familys’ traditions all sound so wonderful, I’m afraid to leave anything out. I want to make Christmas candy and bake a birthday cake for Jesus, and go to all the parties, and teach my kids about Hanukkah, and go caroling, and celebrate St. Nicholas day, and do an advent wreath, and attend a cookie swap, and make a Jesse tree.

But I can’t do all of it. So as I sifted through all the ideas and my own desires, I wondered: what would it look like for our family to obverse Advent as a time of waiting?

To intentionally delay our celebrations and live in the tension of the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God?

To seek out reminders that this world is not our home?

To store up treasures in heaven instead of earth?

I couldn’t move my friends’ parties, obviously, or ask the city park to wait six more weeks to put up their lights. And I could only avoid Caleb and Garrett seeing the Christmas displays at Walmart for so long. But I could figure out ways to bring an intentional waiting into our home.

As it turns out, forgoing the holiday trimmings has been a necessity as much as it was an intentional choice. When everything else is going into boxes, I can’t really justify bringing the Christmas things out of their boxes.

While moving at Christmastime has been stressful, I couldn’t ask for a more poignant reminder of waiting.

Truth be told, we’ve been waiting all year for the Lord to move in one way or another. Back in January, we had revival services at our church, and we knew then that this year was going to be a hard one of transition for our family. When we finally sensed the Lord leading us to close our church plant, we did so in faith, not knowing what would be next for us. When we sensed His leading to Nashville, we put our current house on the market, and made an offer on one in Tennessee.

Now, even though we have two houses under contract, the closing dates keep shifting, and the Lord is still, after eleven months, saying wait.

We are doing a few small things as a family to look to Jesus in this season, to anticipate His coming and joy that will be ours on Christmas Day:

We are unwrapping and reading one new Christmas picture book each day. (I’ve discovered a bunch of new-to-me treasures this year; I’ll share a full list of what we’re reading soon!)

We are lighting Advent candles every morning at breakfast.

We are listening to music that reminds us of the yearning the Israelites felt for the coming Messiah.

And tonight, we will begin this Christmas devotional during story time before bed.

That’s it.

Christmas is in twenty-four days, and I’m not exaggerating a bit when I say I do not know where we will wake up on Christmas morning. We could still be in our familiar Ozark home. We could be in our new house in Nashville. We could be somewhere in between. I really don’t know. I don’t know if we will have a chance to put up a tree or not.

God knows, though, our job for now (for always) is simply to wait on Him.

We won’t have to wait forever. At just the right time, Jesus came and broke the 400-year silence of God towards His people. When the time is right, He will come back for his church. And at some point in the meantime, I do believe that we will eventually, finally, get to Nashville.

But for today, we wait.


I know many of you are still praying for our family as we walk through time of transition. Thank you so much. Now that I’ve shared where we are at, I want to know: how are you celebrating Christmas with your family this year? 

Books & Reading

My Reading Piles: The When & How

I’ve been sharing on Instagram lately, every week or two, the stack of books I’m planning to read. I’ve been getting lots of questions about them, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share about my reading habits, for those of you who were wondering.

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1. Do you really read all those books?

Yes and no.

I’ve been including four books in every picture, because I like the consistency and it’s a manageable size: not overwhelming, but enough to show variety. But because of the way I read, no, I do not always read those exact four books from start to finish that same week.

I’m always reading several books at once, and at several different paces. I may devour two whole novels over a weekend, and take months to get through another book I want to really process as I read. (For example, I am still slowly plodding through Jane Eyre and Emily Dickenson’s poems from the picture above.) So when I post a picture of a book, I may have started it earlier, and am still working on it, I may plan to start it later, I may be planning to finish it that day. I’m a little all over the place.

However, I do strive for the pictures to be as honest as possible: I won’t include a book if I don’t at least plan to pick it up at some point during the week. And though I don’t post pictures every single week, it’s not completely unusual for me to finish three or four books in a week. I do occasionally abandon titles once I’ve started them, but this doesn’t happen often. So in that sense the answer is yes. If I post a book on Instagram, it’s pretty safe to assume that I’m going to read the whole thing at some point.

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2. How do you have time to read so much?

This is probably the question I get the most. There are a few things I do to fit in so much reading. First, reading is my very favorite hobby. I like to bake and I like to sew, but neither of those is nearly so delightful to me as curling up with a good book. It’s my go-to free time activity.

Second, reading isn’t something I only do by myself. I get to read tons of books that I enjoy because I read them aloud to my children (or listen to the audiobooks with them in the car!). Homeschooling has given us even more time for this, of course, but it’s something I made time for before we were a homeschool family.

Last year, we read Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little House in the Big Woods, just to name a few. Those are all books I would have loved to read all by myself anyway, and enjoying them with my family made them that much better. If you need encouragement and suggestions for reading aloud, this podcast is one of my very favorites.

Third, I carve out time for little snippets of reading that add up over time. For example, I am almost always working my way through some sort of devotional or Christian living book in conjunction with my devotional time of a morning. It takes maybe five or ten minutes a day. I don’t read through these books very quickly, but I probably get in an extra ten or twelve books a year that I wouldn’t get to read otherwise by doing this. If you had a book you read consistently in the pick up line at school, in the bathroom, or during your break at work, you’d probably be amazed at how many more books you could read, too.

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3. How do you decide what to read?

This is actually evolving for me, and I’m planning to share soon about how homsechooling is changing the way I read, even for fun. But as far as finding good things to read, I’m never without ideas. I keep a pretty extensive list of what I want to read at Goodreads, and add to it as I get recommendations from people I trust.

For family reading, the Read-Aloud Revival is my go-to resource, but I recently discovered Brightly, and really like it, too. There are also several fantastic books that are full of lists of good kids’ books. A few of my recent favorites are Honey for a Child’s Heart, Give Your Child the World, and Read for the Heart.

For myself, when I was still working at the library, I read reviews of new books in Publisher’s Weekly almost every week. Now that I’m not there anymore, I get my information about new books from Book Riot, Goodreads, and Modern Mrs. Darcy.

If you’re looking for your next book, any of these would be fantastic places to look. Or ask me – I love recommending books to people! (And please note: the book stack pictures on are not meant to be recommendations. I can’t vouch for these books personally until I’ve read them, and some of the books I share in those photos turn out to be duds.)

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4. Where do you get all your books?

I get almost everything I read at the library. I make liberal use of our inter-library loan programs, and have found, at least for our library, that there are very few titles I can’t get that way if it’s something our library doesn’t carry.

I do buy books occasionally, when it’s something I want to mark up or think I will read over and over again. I like to buy used when I can, and am always on the lookout for favorite titles when I’m at garage sales or thrift stores. But when I want a specific title, my default is Amzaon. We’re Prime members, and I can wait two days for almost anything if it means I don’t have to leave the house.

Do you have more questions about my reading habits? Or suggestions of books I should read? Share them in the comments!

Church · Faith

Hatch or Go Bad: What It Means to Give Everything To Jesus

One of my very favorite websites is Babylon Bee.

I don’t know who is behind it, but they write the absolute funniest satire pieces about Evangelical Christianity in America.

A while back, I came across this post about adoption. I thought it was funny, but there was also enough truth in it to make me angry. 

Then, a few weeks later, I was in a service recently where they gave an altar call for salvation, and they quoted the verse that is often used in that context, Romans 10:9.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“All you have to do is believe,” the speaker said.

And I got angry all over again. 

The more I started thinking about why these two things upset me, the more I saw the same issue manifesting itself over and over again. It popped up in things I was reading, and in conversations I was having. And even as it was stirring in my heart, Jason was led to preach about it at the church we’ve been attending.

I couldn’t run away from this problem.

Church, I’m angry. And I’m heartbroken. Why? Because we have really not surrendered to the lordship of Jesus.

You see, that verse the speaker quoted? She left part of its instructions out during her altar call. Romans 10:9 says that we have to both believe what the gospel says about Jesus and declare him as Lord over our lives. If we only believe in God, we are no better than demons, according the James. But there is teaching out there, lots of it, that subtly or overtly contradicts the idea that Jesus has absolute authority over our lives.

That Babylon Bee article has a ring of truth to it, because we are content, as a church, to let other people do hard things for Jesus and think that we don’t have to.

Some friends of ours who are missionaries in the Czech Republic were at our church last summer, and shared the story of how God called them out of their very normal lives and asked them to give up all of it and go to Europe to reach the lost. They told how when God called, they had no choice but to respond in obedience. But after the service, one of the ladies in the congregation told them she couldn’t believe they said yes to missions; that  she would never be able to do the same if God asked her.

This is why I’m concerned.

We live in a world where even the church is surprised by obedience to God. Let me be very clear: if you truly follow Jesus, the issue of obedience should already be settled in your heart. Yet for many who call themselves Christians, it is not.

It terrifies me that there is a whole generation of people who think they claim the name of Christ while telling Him all the things they will categorically not do.

And the things we refuse to do for Christ can take on many different faces: fasting, going to Africa, homeschooling, adopting a child, walking away from that unhealthy relationship, giving generously or sacrificially in the offering at church, serving in the nursery, praying for someone in public… I could just keep going and going.

Some of these things are probably no big deal to you. Others may hit closer to home. But I have heard people, Christian people, say that they could not, would not, do each of these things, even though in many cases, that was exactly the thing that God was asking them to do.

The reason we think it’s okay to say “no thanks” to God because we have not understood the magnitude of what it means to call Jesus our Lord.

“Jesus is Lord” is not just a cute thing we say. Lord is much more than just a church word that is a synonym for God. Think back to what you learned in school about the feudal system. Lord referred to the master or owner of a certain parcel of property. The lord had subjects, and whatever the lord said was the law.

This is hard to understand because we have nothing like a lordship relationship today in America. God is not our employer. We cannot negotiate for better benefits, or angle for a promotion. We cannot move on to a different job when the demands are too high.

The only appropriate response to a lord is to obey everything he tells you to do.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

The relationship Jesus has invited us into is one where we die, and he is resurrected in us. Everything about our old life – our hopes, dreams, desires, wealth, ambition, habits, hobbies, diet, family, friends, possessions, home, physical safety, even our lives themselves—are surrendered to him. We leave nothing off the table. He is allowed to add, remove, and change as he sees fit.

C. S. Lewis describes it this way:

 “What we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be good. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way–centered on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly, And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do….He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are hankering after is harder–in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (Mere Christianity, pp. 198-199)

Lewis penned these words more than sixty years ago, church, but not much has changed.

And nothing much will, unless we get on our faces before the Lord and repent our love affair with the world and with our own comfort, and ask him to come and crucify our flesh. We must commit anew to following him with our entire lives–whatever that means for us, whatever we have to lay on the altar. If we want to call Jesus our Lord, it’s all-or-nothing.

This is what is missing from our lives.

This is what is missing from our churches.

And this is what is missing from our witness.

When we do not understand that Christ has asked us to surrender everything, we cannot effectively ask others to do the same. We have no authority to assure them that surrendering all to Jesus is worth it. If we have not also given everything to follow Jesus, how can we ask someone else to walk away from that lifestyle that they’ve claimed as their identity? To go through with that pregnancy? To abandon their false gods, and in the process, lose their families and their familiar culture?

When we are not completely surrendered to Christ, we fall into error in our gospel witness. We either sit in hypocritical judgment of people who are enslaved to sin, pointing fingers and acting like it is easy to surrender everything because we haven’t actually surrendered anything. Or, we try to soften the demands of the gospel, saying they can love Jesus and keep their sin, which is dangerous, because as Rosaria Butterfield puts it, “We are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.”

If we want to be a bold and effective witness to the world around us, we need to be able to look our unbelieving friends in the eye and truthfully say to them, “You are going to have to give up everything to find life in Jesus. You will have to give up everything, just like I have. But it will be worth it.”

So what will it be church? Will we surrender everything to Jesus and embrace the call to make him Lord? Will we be hatched? Or will we go bad?

 

 

Faith

How to Vote With Your Wallet

I made scones this morning for breakfast.

I love scones so much. My family is not as jazzed about them as a general rule, but there is one scone recipe I stumbled across a few years ago that we all absolutely love.

I don’t make them very often, though, because they have chocolate in them.

Don’t get me wrong — I love chocolate as much as the next person, but several years ago, I read a lot about how the major chocolate companies exploit people, especially children, and I decided in my heart that if I can’t afford to buy fair-trade certified chocolate, then I can’t afford to buy chocolate at all.

I love that I have the ability to do that as a consumer. The money I make belongs to me, and I get to decide how to spend it. Do you remember when the whole fiasco with Target bathrooms was what everyone was talking about on Facebook? There was a lot of talk then about how we can affect even big companies like Target by choosing to not spend our money there.

(For the record, I haven’t shopped at Target since then, not because I’m formally boycotting them, but because I was plagued with indecision. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about their bathroom policy, and I’d rather not shop there until I’m sure I feel good about it, than continue to spend money there when I think it might be wrong.)

I know it doesn’t seem like much, choosing this store over that one, one brand instead of another. It probably feels like it doesn’t matter if you don’t buy something, because there are so many other people who will. You’re wrong, though. That is the same kind of reasoning that keeps so many people away from the polls on election day. I know you are just one person. But your one vote matters.

Those votes add up over time — Walmart, one of the biggest companies in the United States, listened to their customers and stopped getting their store brand milk from  cows treated with growth hormones. Also, for quite a while, I’ve been buying more expensive, name-brand all purpose flour when I go to Walmart, because I want the unbleached kind. And now? I found store-brand unbleached flour at my Walmart just the other day. I couldn’t have been the only one, but I like to think I contributed to Walmart producing that flour and stocking it at my store by spending my money the way I did.

The way you spend your money really does matter. Moreover, the beauty of voting with your wallet is that you don’t just get one vote every four years. You get as many votes as there are dollars in your bank account, and you get to choose every single day where to cast those votes.

So, were you unhappy with how the election went yesterday (at any level of government)? Don’t sit around and complain about it. Use your purchasing power to advocate for the changes you want to see in your community, state, or the nation. 

Here are a few ideas of how you can do that:

  1. Shop at businesses whose stance on moral issues lines up with yours

    Do you support Hobby Lobby’s stance on birth control? Then shop there. Do you like that Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays? Eat there (but not on Sunday, which is when I always think of it).

  2. Purchase products with a mission

    I already talked about why I buy fair trade chocolate. I also try to buy only fair trade coffee. I have friends who make a point to buy products that are helping women escape trafficking. You can support causes like these by finding and buying products whose supply chain or profits are about more than a bottom line.

    Do you wish some organic farming bill had passed in your state? Then buy organic products. Do you wish the US was doing more to end poverty in foreign countries? Then buy from companies who are working to do just that.

  3. Buy local

    This is very important, especially if you were disappointed about the results of your local election. If a local tax measure you supported failed, one way to fight back is by spending as much as you can at local businesses. Those dollars feed right back into your own community and are more likely to trickle down to places that need them, like your schools or your libraries.

  4. Give liberally to causes you believe in.

    The church we pastored for almost four years was absolutely passionate about missions. How do I know? Because the people gave way beyond what is typically expected for a church of that size to be able to do. Our people gave to meet all kinds of needs, from impoverished kids in our own community to a family going to the far corners of the earth to tell people about Jesus, and their generosity always made Jason and me so proud and humbled to be their pastors.

    Jesus himself talks about the importance of being willing to give whatever you have, whether it’s a lot or a little, for the sake of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 13:44 he says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

    I want to be the person who is willing to sell everything to gain Jesus. Don’t you?

Books & Reading · Homeschooling

Voting & Democracy Unit Study (with links!)

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Hey, everyone! Did you think I’d forgotten about this little space on the internet?

It’s been a wild ride the last couple of months. As if job changes and beginning to home school weren’t enough of a change, we are taking a step of faith and moving to Nashville. We close on our house of eight years in twenty-five days, and have begun to find a new rhythm that works for us just in time to have it thrown into complete chaos by moving!

But all the while, I’ve been thinking about what to share here, about what would encourage your heart, point your eyes to Jesus, and help you as you seek to live our your faith and build a strong family. Soon, I hope, I will have much more to share with you. But for today, something fun.

I know you probably have strong feelings about this year’s election. I do, too. But a presidential election is still an exciting time, and getting to participate in choosing our next leader is a privilege I refuse to be anything but grateful for. I’m hoping to shield my kids from the vitriol of this election and just introduce them to the wonder and excitement of big ideas like liberty, democracy, and the electoral process.

I had some trouble finding democracy and voting unit study plans that were both interdisciplinary and appropriate for my pre-K and first grade boys. So, with a lot of time on my library’s card catalog website, and a little bit of flexibility and willingness to take time to answer my boys’ questions, I put together my own. I’m sharing it here in case anyone else is looking for good resources to teach preschoolers and early elementary students about the upcoming election.

Please note: discussions about liberty and voting often touch on a lot of other big issues, issues like racism, war, women’s rights, and political ideology. So I would certainly recommend previewing everything, so that you can decide for yourself what’s right for your class or family before you share it with them.

Our regular curriculum has a strong literature-based slant, so I kept that in mind as I approached this unit study. The books we read aloud together covered several subjects, including language arts, social studies, math, and reading, and then we added some fun projects to work in science, art, and music.

Below, I’ve listed the resources we used by type, then broken it down into what we actually used each day. What made the most sense to me was to give each day its own theme, but you could certainly group things in lots of other ways.  Enjoy!

Resources we used

Books

Naming Liberty // Jane Yolen
Just in Time Abraham Lincoln // Patricia Polacco
When Penny Met POTUS // Rachel Ruiz
American Poetry (From the Poetry for Young People series) // Edited by John Hollander
Duck for President // Doreen Cronin
The Grizzly Gazette // Stuart J. Murphy
Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert // Cindy Neuschwander
Grace for President // Kelly DiPucchio
The Day Gogo Went to Vote // Elinor Batezat Sisulu
Around America to Win the Vote // Mara Rockliff
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble // Doreen Rappaport
We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States // David Catrow
The Buck Stops Here // Alice Provensen
One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote // Bonnie Worth
Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner // Monica Kulling

Videos

National anthem when Maya DiRado received her Olympic gold medal (this one makes me cry every time!)
Lady Gaga sings the National Anthem at the 2016 Super Bowl
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: The Neighborhood Votes/ The Class Votes
Peg + Cat: The Election Problem
PBS Kids You Choose Project

Projects

Copper oxidation science experiement (to understand why the Statue of Liberty is green)
Printable President trading cards
Design your own campaign poster
Printable electoral vote map
Research on learning database PebbleGo.com (see if your library has it!)

Daily lessons

(No lesson plan for Monday because our books and projects that day were all about Halloween.)

Tuesday: Liberty and Democracy

Read-alouds: Naming Liberty, Liberty’s Journey
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Music: Star Spangled Banner & Patriotic Songs
Science: Penny experiment

Wednesday: Presidents

Read-alouds: When Penny Met POTUS, George Washington easy-reader biography, Just in Time Abraham Lincoln, The Buck Stops Here
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Fine-motor activity: cutting and folding presidential trading cards
Social studies: Pebble Go articles

Thursday: Suffrage and Campainging

Read-alouds: Elizabeth Started All the Trouble, Around America to Win the Vote, The Day Gogo Went to Vote, Grace for President
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Math: The Grizzly Gazette
Art: campaign posters

Friday: Voting

Read-alouds: One Vote Two Votes, Duck for President, Grace for President
Memory work: Preamble to the Constitution (using the picture book We the Kids)
Math: Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert
Social Studies: Daniel Tiger and Peg + Cat episodes and discussion

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If you have any suggestions to add, share them in the comments below!

Faith · Parenting & Family

To Garrett, on Your 5th Birthday

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Sweet 5 year old boy:

I don’t want to turn your day into my day, forcing you to relive my memories, but it’s hard not to stare into today and see back in time to the waiting, the laboring, the fear.

You were a full nine days later than I thought you’d be, but you came screaming into the world, louder than your 16-month-old big brother ever was, and hungrier for what I could give you.

I didn’t know what to do with you those first weeks, when you wouldn’t let me put you down for even a second. You emptied me out with your desperate need for me and filled me back up the same way. Even from those very first days you were you. Five years later, you still scream loud, and still want my arms.

Last night you crawled into my bed; it had been a long time since you’d last done that. And though on any other night, I would have resisted the idea of even a moment’s lost sleep, last night, on the verge of your fifth birthday, I couldn’t help but be thankful for this fleeting chance to hold my four-year-old one last time. Against my body, I tucked yours, that body that’s small for four, let alone five, but still so impossibly big for the tiny baby that was still inside me five years ago this night, that tiny baby that I sometimes still see in you.

How can it be five years already?

I know they happened one day at a time. And even though nostalgia fogs my memory, I’m not going to sit here and say that they were all wonderful. There a lot of those days that I wouldn’t want to go back and revisit, and so many that I wish I could do again differently.

But I am thankful for all 1,825 days you’ve been here, because all of them are like raindrops, small but many, carving out the riverbed of the mom I’m meant to be.

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It’s hard, this carving. I don’t miss days on my knees outside your bedroom door when neither of you would nap and I begged the Lord for wisdom: mercy or discipline?

It’s a daily remaking; the choice to get up off the couch one more time for one more kiss, to bite my tongue at the accusations that are rising up in my throat, to wrestle my angry face back into a patient one before I look at you and respond. And to repent over and over again when I get it wrong and ignore and accuse and give my anger a foothold.

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We sit at the table for breakfast again, and again go over those words that I hope are beginning to be burned into your soul: “Your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord” (2 Kings 22:19).

I think about all the times I’ve kneeled myself low to lift you up, and how the day is coming soon when your legs will grow long like your brother’s, and I’ll pick you up and set you down for the very last time.

And if I could wish anything for your birthday today, it is that you would know this: that the path to greatness is not in the reaching high, but in the kneeling low. It is that kneeling, the submission of my needs to yours, that has been my greatest remaking.

It’s what makes motherhood both so hard and so wonderful, because it’s where we meet Jesus.

Jesus, who emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV).

He has given so much more than we ever will, son. And someday when we see Christ in His glory, these verses go on to tell us, every knee will bow before Him. For now, we have the privilege of choosing.

It’s lesson I’ve been learning all these wonderful five years: we get to choose to kneel. It’s a hard choice, sometimes, but it’s always the right one.

Choose to kneel, Garrett, and you will be unstoppable.