The Life-Giving Home: January

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

January: Creating a Framework for Home

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

This month’s chapter is largely and about rhythms and routines. Routines shield us from chaos. They help us make our intended priorities our actual priorities. But routines take planning and careful execution. Once established, routines can become a welcome friend — little rituals that ingrain order, peace, and joy in our hearts.

This chapter helped me ask good questions as I looked down the corridor of 2017. I was able to steal away for a few hours to a coffee shop and do some hard work in this area. (A special word of thanks to my husband for making time for this amidst his busy work schedule!) I began with what Sally calls “decluttering your heart” — a careful evaluation of the need for confession, spiritual weakness, or guilt.

Then, after a time of prayer, I moved on to working through goals for the year, in different areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This portion included answering questions like:

  • What exercise/health goals do I have for this year? What measurable steps can I take to achieve them?
  • Are there improvements I can make to any relationships? Family? Friends?
  • What spiritual disciplines do I want to work on this year? How will I go about it? What books do I want to read for spiritual improvement and accountability this year? What Bible verses would be helpful for me to memorize and meditate on in this season of my life?

Now, real talk for a second — my number one weakness in this exercise is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! The key to these questions is understanding the season you’re in, being patient with yourself, and setting realistic goals.

For me, this looked like the following (not a complete list):

  • I have some lofty running goals this year. I need to put my running schedule on my google calendar, because when that’s done, I plan better around it and actually do it.
  • I would like to schedule a one-on-one with each of my kids each month. These dates also need to go on the calendar.
  • I made a list of the books I’d like to read this year. I am never at a shortage for things I’d like to read, but I tried to be intentional about which ones would serve my season of parenting, my discipling relationships and my current struggles.
  • I ordered a Bible study book to use in my current morning quiet time, since I did Bible-in-a-Year last year and I try to alternate overview with in-depth study.

Then I moved on to working on goals for fun. We are a family that likes to go places! Here are some of the ideas I came up with for cultivating fun and rhythms of rest and enjoyment in our family:

  • My two youngest have begged for a return to teatime once a week. I put it on the calendar. (You should notice by now that my google calendar runs my life!)
  • I tweaked our approach to evening reading time with Dad so that it’s more restful and less squeezed.
  • I put a date on the calendar each month for us to do “city schooling.” The kids love to do school in other places, and I do too. A change in atmosphere is so refreshing! Plus I find that we get more done out of the house.
  • I wrote down all the trips we want to/need to take this year, when they were scheduled, and any approximate costs we would incur for them. (there were a lot of them this year!)

I also took some time considering and praying through where each of my kids is. Are there bad habits we need to address? Lessons they’d like to take this year? Milestones approaching? I made a little list for each child with a few action items on each.

Since I’m trying to blog more regularly, I also made a list of topics I’ve been mulling over but haven’t gotten to yet.

All of this sounds dreadfully boring and not very “homey” at all, doesn’t it? But it nails down some structure for human flourishing. It sets goals for soul-feeding. Our kitchen chalkboard currently bears one of my favorite quotes for this time of year, from Annie Dillard:

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That’s what we want — to catch these days and bend them to our wills. We want to redeem the time and use it well (Eph. 5:16).

I want to emphasize that your structure will look different from mine. Life stages, employment, ages of children, and priorities dictate how we spend our time and honor the Lord with it. Sally even says at one point that there were many times that the schedule flew out the window due to sickness, adding a baby, moving, job changes, etc. But an underlying structure gave their family a rhythm to return to.

Next month’s chapter, February is on “A Culture of Love: Growing Lifelong Relationships.”

 

Doing Nothing

We’ve recently been reunited with our friend Pooh.

 

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We had these CDs (you can find them here:Winnie-the-Pooh: A.A. Milne’s Pooh Classics, Volume 1*
) from the time the boys were little, but they were so loved that they were scratched out of use a few years back. Now we have the audio again. It’s been so much fun to see Cameron, Ben, and Andrew recognize the old friends, and see the younger ones enjoy it for the first time.

This morning we heard the ending of The House at Pooh Corner:

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hand, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m–when–Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

I was overcome again with how counter-cultural it can be to make space for kids and not hyper-schedule them. I want my children to, among other things, have time to do Nothing. What is Nothing? Allow Christopher Robin to enlighten you:

 

 “How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing right now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

*contains affiliate link

A Good Book Giveaway

When we attended T4G 2014 last spring, I noticed that the book rooms were more international than the previous discoverconference. There were publishers from other countries and continents — a good sign that the American church is getting its head up and looking around for like-minded Christians across the globe.

One company I’ve always appreciated is The Good Book company, out of Surrey, England. In the last six months, we’ve begun ordering their resources for our kids. They issue quarterly devotional magazines for various age groups. You can see more here. Our older boys use the “Discover” magazine; our youngest uses the XTB series.

While we want a personal devotional time to be borne from a place of joy and desire for wisdom, we want to also instill good habits in the kids while they’re young. In our home, that means we pull them out of bed early and encourage them to dig in.

If you’d like to find out more about these resources, today you’re in luck! I’m giving away one issue of the XTB magazine (designed for kids 7-11). The freebie is Issue One: The Book of Beginnings, with selections from Genesis, Matthew, and Acts.

Click here to go to rafflecopter and fill in your chance to win! The contest runs until Friday evening.

Linkage

Lazy Cultural Engagement: “…we tend to treat actual cultural artifacts in the way we sometimes treat the Bible: as “proof texts” from which we can draw principles or truths for application. Though we love the Bible, we evangelicals in particular have often treated verses as if they stand alone, forgetting that the story in which they appear speaks just as much as the verses themselves. Form speaks, as well as content.”

I guess it’s a movie day today in linkage. Here’s Thomas MacKenzie’s review of the new Left Behind movie, which starts off being hilarious and ends up being really encouraging.

I posted this a while back on facebook, but I wanted to keep it here, too. Maybe you need this encouragement for moms that It’s Their Day, Too.

Here’s a worthwhile kickstarter to support. Sam Smith is a good friend of ours and he’s putting out his first novel! My kids laughed and laughed over this video:

Some Mornings are Like That

Monday was one of those magical mornings in our homeschool. They seem to happen more often lately. There were years that I felt like I was constantly putting out fires; now the kids help keep our momentum going and the mornings go more smoothly.

 

Monday was…

the windows open to hear the rain and the birds

the oldest two boys reading more Robert Frost poetry

the middle one getting caught up in The Wind in the Willows and reading all morning

the youngest two beginning When We Were Very Young

connections to things we’ve talked about, places we’ve been

laughing over shared memories

Then there are the days when the pencils are all missing or broken, attitudes are terrible (including my own), papers are missing, the math software is malfunctioning, and the toilet gets clogged. When those mornings happen, I pull out from my heart a memory of peaceful rainy days with great books, and ponder it for a moment. It helps.

Places We’ve Loved: 3695 Stevenson Boulevard

Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together. You can read the other entries in the series here.

When we took the tour with Thomas, the overly confident associate from the office, he told us that we couldn’t have pets unless they were “non-carnivorous fish.” I laughed out loud because I remembered the phrase from my days in college residence life. He apparently thought I was upset about the news, so he comforted us by telling us that we could probably sneak in any quiet pets we’d like to have, like, for example, his giant exotic tarantula.

When we had considered moving to the area, an opportunity came up for a cottage in a camp town in Santa Cruz. When we saw that it was entrenched on the side of a steep hill with rickety steps leading up and down, we decided it wasn’t the best option for a mother of two little ones. I was thankful we’d made this decision when I heard the traffic report telling of frequent accidents on the twisty, treacherous road over the mountain. If you hadn’t been in an accident, you would have been in three-hour traffic jams trying to get around the ones that did occur.

The apartment complex in Fremont was by far the most diverse place we’d ever lived. Northern California is that way, and it was great for us. Our neighbors spoke Arabic, Hindi, and other languages we couldn’t recognize. The smell of curry hung in the air often. I adjusted poorly to the apartment lifestyle and bought far too many groceries weekly instead of making smaller trips more often. We parked in the lot behind the buildings and trekked in past all the fountains, which Cameron called “baffs.”

We moved in November, which meant that it rained for the first two months we were there. I was not aware before then that Northern California had a rainy season. We crammed all the books we couldn’t unpack into the exterior storage on our patio, a choice we would later regret as we unpacked mouse souvenirs for years to come.

The movers were perplexed by our giant hutch, which we came to own in Massachusetts. “You don’t see things like that around here much,” they said as they glanced at each other. I found this to be true; people in California don’t use open display shelving for dishes often. It puts a real damper on your china collection when you have frequent earthquakes. I thumbed my nose at tradition and set everything out on the hutch anyway. I had enough to adjust to — I wasn’t going to give up my teacup collection, darn it.

I learned to cook on a gas stove and quickly fell in love with it. I discovered that tile countertops are a pain to clean but are handy when you want to set down something hot. We both scratched our heads at the pervasiveness of textured walls on the West Coast. We stuffed our desk into an extra closet and made it an “office,” never mind that you couldn’t open the drawers anymore.

We experienced sweet church community as people made the long drive to our place. As long as they’d make the trip, we said, we’d feed them. I used up countless inexpensive avocadoes learning to make decent guacamole. We had a crowd for Cameron’s third birthday party, even though we’d only arrived two months earlier.

We went to the City — never called by name or (cringe) San Fran — as often as possible. One visit led us to the Fog City Diner, which we knew from the movie “So I Married An Axe-Murderer.” We blustered in out of the rain with our two toddlers, only to discover that it wasn’t so much “diner” as “fine dining establishment with white tablecloths.” We soldiered on anyway and enjoyed our meal.

When my mom came to visit for Ben’s first birthday, war began in the Middle East. We watched the massive protests in San Francisco and wondered about the safety of friends in the military. Mom wondered if she would make it home, and we were all relieved when she touched down in Boston.

Later in the spring, I trained on our treadmill for a 10K in Santa Cruz. It was one morning, just after I stepped off the treadmill, that I heard what would be the only earthquake we’d experience in our two years in California. The apartment rolled slightly, and the glass doors made a loud pop in protest. Nothing broke, the kids didn’t wake, and I patted myself on the back for being an “earthquake survivor.”

That summer the complex held a karaoke contest for a free month’s rent. I scrambled to choose a song, landing on 10,000 Maniac’s “Candy Everybody Wants.” I did it cold, and Cameron performed his air guitar solo like a trooper. We placed second, behind the teenager who belted out LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue.”

We saw the writing on the wall when your program was cancelled and you were now reporting to a group in Southern California. We just wondered how long it would take. Sure enough, we were getting packed up again after ten months’ stay in Fremont. The church threw us a huge killer goodbye party with a make-your-own pizza bar.

Book Review: Real Love for Real Life

“Home is the school where we learn that love shows itself in the details.”

My friend Laura and I just finished up Andi Ashworth’s Real Love for Real Life: the Art and Work of Caring. I wanted to take this opportunity to heartily recommend it.

We live in a culture that has largely farmed out caretaking to paid individuals, and Andi posits that perhaps this shift has undermined the value of unpaid caretaking. Whether it be to our children, our parents, or our neighbors and friends, special care in the mundane (and the not-so-mundane) can feel like an overlooked skill.

Parenting is the most obvious battleground for this struggle. Who hasn’t felt as though no one notices or appreciates their efforts in care for needy little ones or the home in which they live? Andi encourages us on the road of day-in and day-out caring for our kids. Keeping our eyes on Christ, who gave His life to serve, we can find encouragement and endurance for the road ahead.

Andi reminds us of the value of taking time to celebrate as a family in recounting her family’s annual Valentine’s dinner. She gives examples of hospitality to strangers and neighbors. She recounts friends’ faithfulness in preparing for her son’s rehearsal dinner at their homeReal Love for Real LIfe. She also reminds us of the importance of prayer in care for people.

Reading this book, I felt called back to the wisdom present in Edith Schaeffer’s Hidden Art. Andi encourages caretakers in creativity and the careful art of fostering homes and environments designed as havens for those who shelter there.

All the while, Andi maintains an eye towards balancing the need for rest and play amidst the tasks that might fill our days. I found her perspective on saying “no” — to many good things, in order to say “yes” to the best things — refreshing.

The book also provides a sweet glimpse into the life at Art House, where Andi and her husband Charlie Peacock (“Chuck”) encourage artists and musicians with hospitality and prayer. I’ve been an observer of their ministry for years, so this element of the book was a treat for me.

Rabbit Room Press was responsible for the reissuing of this gem. You can buy it here.