Hello, Year 27!

Last summer hurrah - Family camping trip

Here we go again! We're now a couple of weeks into the 27th year of official homeschooling for our household.

School in 2016-2017 looks quite different in our home than it did back in 1990-1991. For starters, our household is shrinking, not growing, as it was in the first many, many years of homeschooling. Just three years ago we still had six kids living at home, though two were in college. But this year, having deposited our youngest two daughters at Purdue, we now have just our youngest two sons at home. Also, this year, for the first time, I have no elementary students!

Here's a peek at the educational program our youngest two are pursuing this school year:

Ben navigates rapids on Nantahala River
Ben - 7th grade (!)

Writing Fundamentals (Grammar and Composition) - online class with The Potter's School

Transition Math (UCSMP)

Otter's Botany - a literature and experiment-based botany course available free from   Guest Hollow. I hope to get around to writing a review of this outstanding program, but suffice to say, this is Ben's favorite subject.

Sonlight American History - an old course I've used with several students

Latin for Children C

Literature - books corresponding with our history studies, co-op book club, and other sources

Informal Logic using The Fallacy Detective

Bible - Memorization; personal Bible reading; and reading and discussion of several Christian classics

Others: Shakespeare (Macbeth and either Merchant of Venice or The Tempest with co-op; Co-op Book Club; piano lessons

Paul - 10th grade

Bible - Memorization; personal Bible reading; Christian classics

Introduction to Literature (The Potter's School)

Algebra II (The Potter's School)

Chemistry (Apologia)

Sonlight American History (old version)

Latin Alive

Introduction to Computer Programming (The Potter's School)

Physical Education  (He keeps track of points via The President's Challenge website, and his grade is determined by the number of points earned)

Volunteering: Wonderlab Science Museum and assisting with a Robotics Workshop for younger students

And here's what the other students in our family are up to:

Amanda and Faith 

Faith - Freshman at Purdue

Faith is studying Mathematics Education and is happy to be in Purdue's School of Science. She's in a learning community, which means she lives with other students also pursuing secondary education. Today was Day 1, and she's pretty excited!

Amanda - Sophomore at Purdue

Amanda returned for her second year in West Lafayette, and she's off to a busy year, serving both as an R.A. at the apartment owned and operated by her church, and as an Honor's Mentor to younger students in the honors program. Her major is interior design, which she absolutely loves.

Peter with niece Eliza
(I don't have lots of pics of Peter, OK?)

Peter - Senior at Indiana University (Kelley School of Business)

After completing an internship this summer at an Indianapolis firm, Peter is more pumped than ever about his accounting studies. He's pursuing a triple major with two other business areas (management and another that's more tech related), and will be looking for a job during this final year.

A Real Woman's Guide to Devotions - Martin Luther on Distractions

Earlier I mentioned a letter Martin Luther wrote to his barber on the subject of prayer. Here's what he had to say to him about distractions:

So, a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting. If he wants to engage in too much conversation or let his mind wander or look somewhere else he is likely to cut his customer's mouth, nose, or even his throat. Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one's senses and members, as the proverb says, "Pluribus intentus, minor est ad singular sensus" --         "He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right." How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer!

A Real Woman's Guide to Devotions, Part III: Dealing with Distractions!

My favorite Purdue fountain. Isn't it peaceful?

Women are masters at juggling a zillion tasks simultaneously. A mother might nurse the baby, work through a spelling list with a child, oversee three others playing nearby, and cook dinner all at once. Multi-tasking keeps us on our toes, and can be just plain fun. Sometimes I create extra layers of complexity by having many things going on at once simply because it keeps things interesting. Like right now in my sewing room where I'm working on three quilts at the same time.  Crazy. But not boring.

But did you know that true multitasking is a myth? Instead of really being able to handle many things at the same instant, our brains rapidly flit from one area to the other and then on the the next. And instead of greater functionality when we multitask, our thinking speed slows down and becomes more muddled. One researcher, Dr. Joann Deak, says, “When you try to multitask, in the short-term it doubles the amount of time it takes to do a task and it usually at least doubles the number of mistakes.”

One of the results I've found from constantly trying to multitask has been a decreasing ability to concentrate on one thing for sustained times. Even sitting still has become more difficult after years of constant motion caring for many children.

And when it comes to prayer, I need to learn to quiet my heart, my mind, and my body. I need to let go the idea of accomplishing multiple things at once to focus on communing with God.

Having difficulty focusing one's thoughts on the Lord in order to speak with Him is nothing new.  The 1928 Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer for family worship called “For the Spirit of Prayer.” Here's how it goes:

ALMIGHTY God, who pourest out on all who desire it, the spirit of grace and of supplication; Deliver us, when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with stedfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Don't you love that? "Wanderings of mind” so aptly describes the crazy zigs and zags my brain takes from moment to moment. If you're like me, the instant you close your eyes to pray, a zillion different things fly into your brain. 

- I need to get busy canning that bushel of peaches!
- I must remember to pick up the dog from the boarder, a son from his friend's house, and the 4H materials from the extension office
- I'm running behind on my school planning. How ever am I going to finish...
- And on and on

Or, as soon as you start to pray, the toddler runs in naked, the four year old says she can't find her favorite dress, and you smell the cinnamon rolls you just put in the oven burning. Distractions!

Real life continually presents both mental and physical distractions. So how are we to find mental and physical space for sustained times of prayer? (Of course we ought to be praying throughout each day, in the midst of all the activity and commotion. But here I'm not talking about the continual prayer as commanded in I Thes. 5, but of set apart longer times of prayer.)

First, find a time and place to be alone.
Luke 5:16 says that "Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." 
Prayer of the sustained type is best done in solitude; in a closet, as the King James Version puts it. (Matt.6:6) Solitude allows me space to fully enter into communion with My Father, speaking aloud at times, silently at others. I crave pure solitude for earnest prayer, so I usually wake (moderately) early, and then if others are up, too, I head onto the front porch.

Get away from your phone and computer!
Incoming notifications are distractors par excellence. Oh wait! What's this? And suddenly your mind is a million miles away. If you have a morning prayer time, I'd recommend not even looking at new text messages and opening emails before your devotional time. Thinking about how to respond to someone's email is not how I want to spend my prayer time. 

Loeb Fountain at Purdue
When can you find solitude? 
- Before everyone awakes
- Naptime
- After children are in bed
- In the middle of the night (Yes! Sometimes this time leads to the sweetest times of fellowship with the Lord!)
- Something else entirely!

Think through your life and consider what adjustments you need to make in order to have a set apart time of daily prayer. Maybe it will mean rising 30 minutes earlier than you've been accustomed to. Preparing breakfast the night before is a great morning time saver. Maybe you can shift some other tasks to a less busy time. Sometimes it might even mean skipping a meal in order to make time for prayer. 

Don't pray in bed!
No, no. That's not right. DO pray in bed. When you are sleepless, prayer is exactly what you should do. Before you fall asleep and as you awake in the morning, your heart should turn to prayer. Psalm 63:6 says "When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches."

What I mean is, DON'T make your bed the place for your concerted times of prayer. Because the obvious pitfall of praying in bed is that all too often you drift off. Paul tells us to be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. (Col. 4:2.) And for me to do that, I need to get out of bed.

Teach your children to give you time alone with God
Teach your children to respect the time you spend in Bible reading and prayer. If that is early in the morning, teach them to stay in bed until a certain time. If it is later in the day, they can also learn to give you some peace for a set time. Susannah Wesley, mother of something like 19 children, would famously throw her apron over her head when she needed solitude to pray, and I imagine every one of her children knew better than to interrupt her at those times!

It's OK to separate your Bible reading from your prayer time. 
Sometimes that's just what works best. Finding several smaller snatches of time often is easier than finding one long time, especially when children are young.

Mind still wandering? Here are a few other ideas:

- Pray out loud! This really works to reign in a mind that wants to gallop off in other directions.

- Write out your prayers

- Use prayer cards or some other organizational help.

- Pray through Scripture.  Start with the book of Psalms.

- Use a prayer app. My daughter Kara likes Prayer Mate.

Distractions are omnipresent. But making efforts to find a quiet time and place in your day to spend in fellowship with God will repay you with a deeper walk with Him and more strength for your daily tasks.

Our Favorite Back-to-School Tradition

Stanley Schoolhouse, Chain O'Lakes State Park

Do you have back-to-school traditions? We have only one, and we just started it a few years ago. But it's become a fun way to kick off a new school year, no matter what age the student.

We borrowed this tradition from German families who send their students off to classes the first day with...


A "Schultüte" is a "school cone" filled with candies and school supplies. I then add a card with some scripture carefully chosen for each recipient. These are passages I'll be praying through for each one during this year, so I also add those verses to my set of prayer cards. And yes, I do make cones even for my college kids! (When I hitched a ride with one older child this year, I noticed that he'd kept his verse card in his car all year.) This year we'll have more in college than at home, with two at Purdue and one at I.U. 

Here are directions for making your own schultuten.  Poster board makes nice cones, and you can decorate anyway you wish. A trip to the dollar store can help you fill your cones inexpensively.

You can read more about our Schultüte tradition here and here.

Friendly Throw Quilt

When my good friend moved into a new place, I wanted to make her a throw quilt in happy colors. 

This quilt is made from a fun, easy pattern from Allison at Cluck, Cluck Sew called "To the Point."  

Often when I make a top, I dither about what kind of finish to give it. Allison made it easy this time by giving some finish options on her blog which I ended up following. So first I outlined the white triangles with straight lines and then I filled in the white triangles with a tight meander. There's no quilting on the colored triangles, which makes them pop out. Here's what it looks like after washing and crinkling up.

Do you think it still counts as a housewarming gift if it was delivered eight months after she moved in?

A Real Woman's Guide to Devotions, Part 2: But I'm BUSY!

Purdue bell tower

Life often seems to pass by in a swift blur. At the end of a week I often can barely remember what I did a few days before. There are kids to be fed, clothed, taught, loved. Lessons and jobs to be driven to. A household and finances to manage. Chores to be kept up with. A husband's business books to be tended. Church responsibilities. People to have over. Friends to walk, pray, and laugh with. Sometimes there are even quilts to be sewn and books to be read. Life is full, and I love it that way!

When life is very busy, it can be hard to find time for prayer and Bible reading. But busy lives should not be prayerless lives. Busy women especially need time with God to settle anxious hearts, to seek His direction for using our limited time, and to plead for His favor so that our work will not be in vain. Those very same people and responsibilities that keep us so busy should drive us to our knees as we call upon the only One who can equip us for each day's tasks!

Great, you might be thinking. Another guilt trip about needing to spend more time in prayer and Bible study. 

No! Instead I want to encourage you to think REAL instead of IDEAL. Don't put off prayer and reading the Bible because you don't have a set apart hour. Instead of waiting for the perfectly quiet moment, grab what you can. Work with the real as you at the same time take steps to move closer to your ideal.

Here are some examples of real vs. ideal:

In an ideal world, I would do all my Bible reading from my print Bible. Over time, reading consistently from one physical Bible allows you to locate passages very quickly.  (It's right here!) This is so helpful! However, my reality is that my old eyes can't focus on my print Bible early in the morning. So I use a Kindle. Not as nice as a paper Bible, but I can make it happen.

Maybe you find reading the Bible on your phone works best. Probably not ideal, but if you limit or ignore email and text notifications, this can be a good option.

Ideal might be reading four chapters a day in a systematic through-the Bible-in-a-year plan. Some years that is what I do. Real might mean you only have time for one chapter. It only takes about five minutes to read an average chapter in the Bible. If you have only five minutes - use it! Read that chapter! And then mull it over as you go on to fold laundry or prepare breakfast.

In an ideal world, prayer and Bible reading would happen together in a lovely, quiet hour. In my real world, I often separate the two into two separate time slots during the day.

In an ideal world, personal devotions take place very early in the morning. In a real world, maybe the best time for you is when your children are napping. (I have some ideas for making time in the morning that I'll share later.)

Martin Luther wrote a great letter to his barber called "A Simple Way to Pray." In it he talks about how to pray through the Lord's Prayer, the 10 Commandments, and the Creed. There are some great nuggets on how to make prayer happen in a busy life as well. Here's an excerpt:

It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, "Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that." Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.
It may well be that you have some tasks which are as good or better than prayer, especially in an emergency. There is a saying ascribed to St. Jerome that everything a believer does is prayer and a proverb, "He who works faithfully prays twice." This can be said because a believer fears and honors God in his work and remembers the commandment not to wrong anyone, or to try to steal, defraud, or cheat. Such thoughts and such faith undoubtedly transform his work into prayer and a sacrifice of praise... 
Yet we must be careful not to break the habit of true prayer and imagine other works to be necessary which, after all, are nothing of the kind. Thus at the end we become lax and lazy, cool and listless toward prayer. The devil who besets us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is too ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of prayer.

Life is busy! If you have little children, you may dream of the day they will be older. Then you'll have time for devotions! But guess what? Life is always busy! So instead of waiting for the perfect situation to have the perfect devotions, begin now with what you are able to do. Spend time each day reading and thinking about God's word and talking with Him about what you have read and about your concerns. Even in the busiest of times, your walk with God can be a growing one!

Next time I'll give some ideas for how to cut through distractions.

A Real Woman's Guide to Personal Devotions - Part 1

You know that old saying about the perfect being the enemy of the good? Well, I think that applies to our devotional lives every bit as much as it does in other areas. We have an ideal image in our mind of just what it should look like to have a vibrant devotional life, but we live in a real world, not that ideal one.

Try Googling "woman reading Bible." You'll come up with images of relaxed women leisurely enjoying time in the Word. Much of the time she's sitting somewhere outside, sometimes with the ocean or a stream nearby. Sometimes she has a cup of tea or coffee in her hands. She's alone, and dirty laundry or dishes are nowhere in sight. It's peaceful. Lovely. Just not terribly realistic.

Unfortunately, sometimes we allow unrealistic expectations to keep us from spending time with God. If I can't rise before dawn and spend an hour in quality bible study followed by another hour of intercessory prayer, why bother?

So even though this perfect woman exists in Christian magazines and blog-land, she doesn't live at my house. And probably not yours either.

Because I'm an ordinary woman. One who is busy. Distracted. Tired, oh so tired. And not infrequently stressed.

But these things make it even more important for me to spend time each day with the Lord, not less. So how can I make it happen?

Over time I've tried a whole bunch of ways of building prayer and Bible reading into my life. Many of these things have worked, at least for a particular season. Other strategies have failed. Over the course of several posts, I'm going to tell you what I have found helpful and what has been unhelpful. Because everyone is different, I'll try to give you a number of ideas which you can sort through. I'm going to talk about how to have a growing relationship with the Lord even in the midst of a crazy busy life filled with all the messiness that real living brings. My hope is that we can each give up our unrealistic expectations but instead  discover patterns which can lead us to a more vital devotional life!

A note on pictures: Since I've just returned from my fourth trip to Purdue in the past couple of weeks, I'll be illustrating these posts with pictures from the lovely (yes - really!) Purdue campus.