We are officially counting down to the 2022 Paideia Northwest conference! It is such fun to be planning this for the fifth time now. It gets both more simple and more challenging at the same time, even though that seems contradictory. I tell you, it’s true!
I love the month of May because it’s when I just start sharing some of the little things… the conference theme and graphic, swag ideas, proposed schedule, speaker lineup… it is so much fun to share my excitement with others!
I’m really looking forward to introducing each speaker in-depth, as well as some poets that I am hoping to highlight in an Evening of Poetry prior to the actual conference. I may end up sharing these things on podcast episodes as well as in social media snippets. I also want to introduce my graphic designer this year, and show you the process of creating the WonderWisdomWorship conference graphic. It was so delightful, and the final result just brings me joy.
Rejoice with me for the good work our merciful God continues to do!
After a bit of a winter rest, Melissa Cummings is back to converse with Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast… and not just because she often cohosts Paideia Conversations. Jenn Discher recently published her first novel, The Elk King, and Melissa wanted to know all about it. Here at Paideia Conversations we talk a lot about cultivating a particular atmosphere in our homes and families as we live and raise kids for the kingdom of God… and this is a new way that rubber can meet the road. How did Jenn cultivate the culture of Animalia while simultaneously cultivating Discher culture at home? Where were the overlaps? How did she incorporate her family into the project? How did language and naming things in the book come into culture-cultivating? And what was the process like to coordinate the visual elements of culture with her illustrator? All of this and more… join us now for this conversation!
Resources and Links
World Elk Calling Championship Competitions
Melissa: joining me today is my cohost from Paideia Southeast, Jenn Discher. She also happens to be today’s guest. Please join me as I get to chat with Jenn about her brand new novel called The Elk King, Tales from Animalia, Book One.
From the Original Histories of the Elk, Volume One:
The words of Henoria, Owl Prophetess to the Elk of Glenariff.
In honor of King Argyle’s sacrifice and the Provision of the Great Sequoia.
The Elk shall drink water only from its cistern as far as it depends upon them, the Elk shall shun all other water. It will be durmwat to them.
In faith did Argyle make his sacrifice and, if faithful to the ways of the Elk, the Elk shall be a blessed herd. The ways of the Elk are simple but true: protect the weak, live nobly, and be filled with what is good. But if the Elk prove faithless, be warned. They shall incur a fate more terrible than that from which Argyle saved them.
This water is pure, good, and true. Drink of it and be so yourselves noble Elk.
Here at Paideia Conversations we talk a lot about intentionally pursuing a specific culture, cultivating a particular atmosphere in our homes, with our children, for ourselves, as we raise the next generation for the kingdom of God. We talk about being prayerful, faithful, and mindful about it. So how does this apply to the idea of being an author of some new middle grade fiction? Well, let’s find out what Jenn has to say about that.
Oh, there you are!
Jenn: oh good morning, hey!
Melissa: okay, number one.
Melissa: I’m so excited to have this in my hand, instead of just as a… what was it, a PDF?
Jenn: a PDF, yeah.
Melissa: nothing against digital… Okay, actually. Something against digital.
Melissa: but like, even though my husband… we own and he runs, you know, a digital Bible reading company, right? You’d think that I would be okay with digital reading of things. No, not so much. I could get through the paperback version probably in a snap, right? Because it’s the kind of thing where the kids would say, oh just one more chapter! oh just keep going! just turn the page and keep going! For some reason, even though it’s the exact same words, the exact same story, no matter what the book is – whether it’s, you know, C.S. Lewis or missionary biographies or, you know, a story like The Elk King, or even, I don’t know, the book of Genesis – it’s so much harder to keep the momentum when it’s digital.
Jenn: mmm, that’s interesting.
Melissa: I don’t know. I don’t know why. But my kinds seem to follow me in that. So having the paperback finally is like, ahhh! here we go! So instead of reading it in a more choppy version like I did with the electronics where I’m like, okay, I can’t even, because my eyes! I can’t look at a screen anymore…we’re going to revisit this in paperback version. And we’ll just, we’ll keep going. So anyway. I’m so excited.
I love how you have, in the back, you have the Glossary and you have… where’s the cast… Oh there you go. Cast of Characters. I’m kind of really super tempted to ask you to like read the Glossary for me. [laughter]
Jenn: I don’t have it in front of me, so that would be – and I don’t have – it’s not been part of my memory work, so I can’t rattle it off.
Melissa: well it should be! There you go. This should be part of your memory work!
Jenn: honestly, you could probably ask me about a character at this point and I’d be like, wait, hold on a minute. [laughter]
Melissa: like… haroo harrah! I’m like, I don’t know if I pronounce that right! Right?
Jenn: it’s great, it’s great. [laughter] It is. That’s how I would imagine pronouncing it.
Melissa: garoo garoo… well, is the emphasis on the gah or on the roo?
Jenn: that’s a good question, yeah. That’s fair.
Melissa: so this is why, okay, I need you to narrate the audiobook. [laughter] In fact, okay, so The Winter King by Christine Cohen…
Melissa: …who is another friend of mine with these odd connections from like when I was a teenager, and she does the narration for the audiobook of her The Winter King, and it’s so helpful. Because I’m like, oh, okay, that is exactly how it’s supposed to be pronounced! Or Andrew Peterson with The Wingfeather Saga.
Melissa: it just makes so much sense. I love it when an author speaks the words and the characters’ names, and it just really helps me get in that culture. Because sort of like I could read Spanish or… mmm, I don’t know… could I read Swedish, Icelandic? Probably not. You know, I could look at the letters and try to sound it out but I’d be totally butchering it. It’s not until you converse with someone from that culture that you really get a taste for, what does it sound like?
Jenn: yeah, I hear you.
Melissa: so anyhow, that’s what this book makes me… makes me think of. It makes me want to know more. It makes me want to jump into that culture. And that’s why I thought, this is the perfect thing to talk to you about today, because it’s – it’s about culture, and yet, it’s not about the culture that we normally talk about.
Melissa: okay, that said. Jenn Discher lives in North Georgia with her husband and three adventurous kids. She likes exploring, reading aloud in bad accents, and serving as Secretary to the Tooth Fairy. I love that bio, by the way.
Jenn: yeah. [giggling]
Melissa: super fun. But I need you to tell me… why The Elk King? And then I’m going to ask you all these culture questions.
Jenn: yes, yes! Well, why The Elk King? Partly because I’d always wanted to write a children’s book, and I’d always specifically wanted to write a talking animal story. And then, why elk spec… I had never intended to write a story about elk specifically. That was a bit of a surprise. I was going on a hike with my husband, and we happened to, we kind of stumbled, almost literally, into a herd of elk. And he made a comment, like an offhanded comment, about them, that for some reason just sparked an idea in my head. And the words, “that would make a great children’s book” came out of my mouth. And instead of looking completely askance at me, he was like, “what do you mean? tell me about that.” And so I, to my own surprise, I all of a sudden could tell him about that. And these things just started coming out of my mouth, and worlds and characters and plot stuff just kind of started coming. And so we kept talking about it and kind of went from there. So, yeah.
Melissa: aw, while you were on a hike with your husband!
Jenn: I was, yeah! Yeah, we were. We were on a rare trip just the two of us, and it was a coastal California hike. Yep.
Melissa: and he just asked the right question at the right time.
Jenn: yeah, well he was kind of like, what do you mean? what did you just say and what do you mean by that? And so then we… yeah, he said something like… I wrote a blog post about this actually, so the fuller version is online somewhere. But I think he said something like, well that’s a herd of elk that’s gone soft. Like it’s almost like they’ve forgotten they’re a herd of wild animals. Because you could approach them. We had been told at breakfast that morning that, “oh you might – if you go hike over here, you might run into a herd of elk.” And I thought, what? no, that won’t happen. They wouldn’t let us, you know, get that close. And having no experience with elk whatsoever, these were my assumptions about elk. And but we were wrong. They were really used to humans because it was a, like kind of a preserve area. Not a preserve but a national seashore kind of protected area.
Melissa: oh that’s interesting.
Melissa: okay, so were there any male elk with an amazing rack?
Jenn: huh, there were male elk. The, yeah, the antlers, not maybe as dramatic as they’re pictured in The Elk King. But, and the time of year I guess, I guess it was summer so yeah, they wouldn’t have been full grown I guess yet anyway.
Melissa: okay, so it wasn’t rutting season? They weren’t bugling for you?
Jenn: no, they weren’t. I didn’t even know they bugled. I didn’t know any… I literally didn’t know anything about elk when I started writing. I didn’t know they bugled. I didn’t know there were bugling competitions where men got up on stage [laughter] and practiced bugling or performed. Didn’t know that! That’s pretty cool.
Melissa: [laughter] That’s a random piece of info right there, yeah.
Jenn: google it!
Melissa: so when I was… how old was I? I was probably twelve… my family went to Yellowstone National Park, and it was in like late September early October – because that’s when homeschoolers really like to travel. After all the other kids are back in their schools, we get to hit the cool places. And I remember hearing elk bugling and thinking it was the strangest, most amazing yet ghostly kind of sound. And that was about a year before my family ended up buying property in a town by the name of Elk. And so ever since those two experiences, I’ve been fascinated by elk. So I particularly love that you stumbled on The Elk King.
Jenn: yes, that’s awesome.
Melissa: I think that’s fun. So intentionally pursuing a specific culture. We do that because we know that we are going to cultivate one atmosphere or another, whether it is intentional or accidental.
Melissa: so we believe as we pursue an intentional culture we need to be prayerful, faithful, and mindful about it. But what I’ve been pondering is this idea that you’ve been, for how long? How long have you been working on writing this book?
Jenn: umm, the writing was maybe about twoish years, and there was editing and all kinds of stuff after that. So maybe about four and a half years total.
Melissa: yeah. And the ages of your kids: remind me.
Jenn: so when I started, they were quite young. They were seven, five, and two. And now they are almost twelve, ten, and seven.
Melissa: yeah, okay. So while you have been working on intentionally pursuing a specific culture in your home, raising your babies for Christ, you’ve also been cultivating this other, entirely different kingdom and culture that came out of your imagination and you’ve been crafting it there and putting it down on paper! You’ve been living in two worlds. [laughter] And I find that fascinating! That’s where I just want to hear, what is that like and where do you see cultural overlap between those two? Between your home and family and Christian, Georgian culture – and then the culture that you created in Glenariff… how do you pronounce it?
Jenn: Glen-AR-iff. I would say Glen-AR-iff.
Melissa: well then, that’s the right way to do it. Glen-AR-iff. Okay. So where do you see those overlaps? Or do you see those overlaps?
Jenn: yeah, I – and I think there would have to be overlap, because I’m creating out of my own… well, my own head. But also my own worldview, like values and all that. So I think there would be overlap. But not, you know, not in every way obviously. Specifically with the elk, they are like the chief creatures of Glenariff. And the specific overlap I’d see there is that, in terms of values probably, like the, part of the motto of the elk is to be filled with what is good. And that’s something that’s very much in the forefront of my mind as I raise and educate my kids. Because we value identifying and focusing on, you know, what is true, what is good, what is beautiful. Another Way of the Elk is to live nobly and protect the weak. And so there would maybe be overlap there in terms of, in my home like I desire to live sacrificially, to consider the interest of others, to defer – we talk about deferring to those who are younger and honoring those who are older. I wasn’t explicitly thinking of this verse when I wrote the Ways of the Elk, but they do kind of remind me of Micah 6:8 where it talks about, what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord your God. So, yeah, so maybe the terminology… like I don’t explicitly say to my children to live nobly, but the underlying value there I think is present.
Melissa: so one of the things that is such a big part of culture in general is naming, right?
Jenn: mhmm, mhmm.
Melissa: and I think that applies to pretty much any culture at any time or in any location. Naming our children, naming streets, naming… I mean… in the Bible, that’s one of the first things that Adam is given to do, right? It’s to name things.
Melissa: and when a child is born, whether now or two thousand or six thousand years ago or whatever… naming a child has always been a big thing. Creating a title for a book, creating a name for a home, right? In a lot of children’s literature I think there are very creative names for places, and it can be as simple as Spare ‘Oom [laughter] and yet that’s naming something. So in creating and nurturing and sustaining a culture, that’s a big piece of that puzzle. So tell me about naming the places and the characters in your story. And particularly what about how you came up with… I mean, you didn’t even use English words, right? [laughter]
Jenn: haha, right! Is it easier that way? I don’t know, maybe!
Melissa: only if you tell me how to pronounce them!
Jenn: [laughter] Mmm, I’ve always liked naming things. I like my kids’ stuffed animals. I get kind of a kick out of it. I would do it for them, you know, before they could talk. We would use like rejected baby names for the kids’ stuffed animals [laughter], and then as they got older, they would come to me and be like, Mom, what does she look like? And I’d be like, oh she’s clearly a Mathilda or whatever. So it is something I enjoy. And where did they come from? They… so, Tolkien talks about this idea of the leaf mold of the mind. Meaning like, just things go in and they sort of decompose and turn into, I don’t know, like fertile soil. Or maybe I’m taking the metaphor too far. But basically it’s like this idea of a depository of everything you’ve seen and read and listened to, and so anything I named I guess came from that. Like books I’ve read, picture books, travels, people I know, places I love, cultures I have an affinity for… and so…
Melissa: and so cultural norms and customs related to language… how is that, or how do you think you may have expressed that in The Elk King? Sort of establishing cultural norms through the use of language?
Jenn: yeah, that’s an interesting question. So the passing down of the male royal elks’ names would be one custom. And I didn’t make that explicit in the book, so that’s not spoilery at all. I didn’t spell that out. It’s just what I did in my head when I was parsing through the family trees. And I didn’t create a whole language for the elk or any of the other creatures. But I did create certain terms to name certain aspects of their culture. Or to name, like, commonly used… I don’t know… expressions. So, for example, like, dermwat for the elk is… and for really any of the free creatures of Glenariff… is water not from the great cistern. So they have this great cistern: that’s where they’re supposed to go to get their water. There’s a whole backstory to that for why they’re supposed to do that, and so they just name any water that’s not from the great cistern is dermwat.
Melissa: and that’s right in the beginning, isn’t it?
Jenn: mhmm, yeah.
Melissa: okay yeah, so, that’s right from the getgo.
Jenn: yeah. Then there’s distinctions for… so, for the male and female elk. They’re talhorns and talhornas to designate fully grown male or female elk. And then you have nadorns and nadronas for the young male and female elk. And that transition from nadorn to talhorn happens when their horns are fully grown. Yes, I know elk have antlers, not horns. [laughter] But in Animalia they have horns, and there’s a reason for that too. There’s a backstory there. They did, historically, have antlers. But at one point they transitioned to having horns. Which, the difference, for my purposes, the difference – the main difference is that they keep them for life. I should also say, they don’t continue growing. They do stop at some point. Because in real life, I think, I don’t know if this is true for all species that are horned. But like, I think the big horned sheep, like I think their horns keep growing and growing and growing until – and I think that’s actually what kills them. It’s kind of awful. They just, like, the weight of it. So, I don’t have that…
Melissa: like Texas Longhorn cattle or something I’m envisioning…
Jenn: no, like sheep! Well, I think…. Well we were in the Grand Canyon last summer, and we saw the Bighorn sheep and my kids pop off with this trivia about them that they got from a nature show. And it’s, yeah. So that’s not happening in The Elk King. Their horns reach a certain point and stop growing. But, and then back to the language, that those terms kind of distinguish when they’ve come of age, I guess. That naming. They get a new name when they come of age there. And then there’s a Glossary in the back of the book of elk and smaller creature terms, and them some various bugles. So there’s a couple of terms for, that come out of rabbit culture and sparrow culture that I had fun with. They just… and like floptrust for a rabbit is like to just be paralyzed with fear, and when a bird, when a sparrow goes paddywhomp they’ve just grown limp, they are limp from lack of nourishment or something. So just, I mean, some of it was just fun. Fun to do. It was fun to kind of create those words that… sort of like those, I feel like there are those words in German that express a feeling that we need multiple words for in English. That was a fun part of it.
Melissa: have you started using those words or phrases in your family culture now? Every day language?
Jenn: what’s funny is that [laughter] my husband has, actually!
Melissa: I love that!
Jenn: he’s more prone to it! He’s like, are you floptrust? [laughter] And I’m like, I might be actually! So yeah.
Melissa: oh that’s great. One of the things I love about this being only book one is that you really drag us into the entire culture right from, at the beginning with the map, and then like you mentioned at the end, the glossary and… oh I said I was gonna keep it closed, didn’t I? Well but anyway, from front to back, it’s showing this culture, and it’s so encouraging that, oh hey, if it’s only book one, then getting to know this culture right at the getgo with the map and learning the glossary at the back, regardless of the story, right, that makes you want to know, well what’s next? Where’s book two? What’s coming? But even just those little, I don’t know… teasers?… of the culture – I want to explore the map more, I want a bigger glossary, I want all of that. So, but the map made me think, there are other aspects of cultivating a culture than just, you know, language or naming. A lot of atmosphere is impacted by visual presentation and then preservation. So how was it to work with your illustrator, especially thinking about this map, which is fantastic.
Jenn: Yeah, it is. Yeah, I love the map.
Melissa: but Jessica Evans… and I’ve… I have some of her picture books and so you’ve… how did that work? How did you get connected with her? And then what was it like to work with her? Did it take stress off your plate? Did it, I don’t know, was it a nerve-wracking leap of trust? It’s like trusting her with translating this culture that you’ve created, that she’s going to put into visual elements, she’s going to show us visually, you know, a picture of Glenariff and Draven, to solidify the Animalia culture for the readers. But how was that for you, essentially passing that off to someone else? What was that like?
Jenn: it was, it was great, honestly. Like, it was just a total dream to work with her. She’s the best. I wasn’t nervous really at all about her, like, visually translating the story. Probably for two reasons. One being, I was pretty familiar with her work before I reached out to her about The Elk King. I’d seen her work, you know, on social media and on her website and in her books. And I loved it. And I especially liked her depictions of animals. I knew her a little bit from interacting on social media. I knew we liked a lot of the same books. And then probably the second reason is that, that it, you know, there wasn’t that nervousness, was that when I sent her the manuscript, she really just happened to connect with the story. She was really encouraging about it, and I remember telling my husband, “I don’t think she’s just being nice, I think she really likes it.” And he was like, “yeah, I think she does.” Which was just kind of mind-blowing for me, because I had sent it around to beta readers, and I had, you know, I had people I didn’t know read it.
Melissa: that’s so fun.
Jenn: yeah, yeah it was. And she really captured, I think I was even, I think I was surprised by how well she captured the characters. Because she just was like spot on.
Melissa: I’ve never thought about what it would be like to be in our shoes as an author, and then having an illustrator take my words and turn them into something visual.
Melissa: but I’ve experienced it in a consumer format. If I’ve read a book, for instance, and I have these images in my head of what the characters look like or what the landscape looks like, and then I see a movie… Do you know how many characters, like what number of characters she ended up sketching for you?
Jenn: I think thirteen or fourteen. I forget, yeah.
Melissa: more than a dozen though, essentially.
Jenn: more than a dozen, yes. Yes. She got some of the bad guys, too. Which was, it was fun to see.
Melissa: I love how you’ve shared them on social media, too. Little ways to, again, visually draw people in and entice them into that story and the culture. It’s really fun. So how has the journey of becoming an author impacted your typical routines of homemaking and homeschooling, and how have you been able to incorporate your family – your children, as well – into that process? And did you keep the story sequestered from them until it was closer to a finished product, or did you involve them the whole way?
Jenn: so I should probably say at the outset that my husband just happened to be insanely supportive of this. Like, really far and away beyond anything I would have ever imagined. I mean, I didn’t really have any expectations when I got started, but so he really was invested in this from the beginning and so we kind of sat and he would help me sit down and kind of navigate the family schedule to find writing time. Because it just sort of became a project that was a priority, I guess, for us together. And therefore for our family. So yeah, so he helped me make it a priority. He was my first beta reader, my first editor, plot untangler, would talk through stuff with me. And my kids were quite young when I started it; they were seven, five, and two. So it was almost easier then. I did kind of keep it sequestered from them, because it wasn’t… not like, I mean… just because it wasn’t super relevant to them. They weren’t even strongly reading yet. I mean, two of them weren’t reading at all, one of them was newly reading.
Jenn: it was kind of beyond their level, too. So we set it up so that it wasn’t really impacting our, my homeschool time or my homemaking. I mean, homeschool time was not taking a lot of time in that season of life, too. I would write either after they’d gone to bed or during their afternoon rest time, about once a week I’d go out of the house to write for a longer stretch. And we just had to be kind of creative and flexible with that. My husband would work from home one day a week but it would, the day would change, so it would be like, okay, well I’m working from home tomorrow, so you can go out to the coffee shop then and have a chunk of time. Or sometimes I’d get up early on a Saturday morning and go out and write. So it didn’t impact generally speaking our typical routines. It just, writing sort of just became my one big extra, or my one hobby. There were other things that I was probably saying no to. I’m, off the cuff, thinking of things like, you know, watching shows in the evening or extra reading time or something like that. But that didn’t feel usually like a big sacrifice, I was enjoying the project and excited about it. And then also as a family, we didn’t have a lot of outside commitments in that season with the kids being younger. As they got older, I would occasionally read the older ones bits of the manuscript, but other than that, they weren’t really incorporated into the process until I got into final edits. And then they were super encouraging and actually really helpful. My daughter has a good eye for detail, and found some straggling edits that needed to happen there at the end.
Melissa: so what was the response of your children when they got to see… or maybe when they actually got to hold the first copy in their hands? To see their mama’s name on it!
Jenn: yeah, it was super, they were super excited. They’ve been so sweet. They’ve been really, really encouraging. And they’ve prayed for it, and they’ve just been excited, yeah, super interested and excited. There’s a, I have a free download for a coloring sheet, Elk King coloring sheet on my website, and I think my seven year old has done like twelve of them. He just keeps doing the same coloring sheet, bless his heart, over and over! I’ve never seen him color like that before. [laughter]
Melissa: and each one is probably different, right?
Jenn: each one is different, yes! Very, very boldly colored. They’re great.
Melissa: my ten year old did one a couple weeks ago, and it’s been up on the fridge, and he did the… oh, what are the trees in the background?
Jenn: oh they’re aspens.
Melissa: aspen, okay. I was going to say birch, I knew that wasn’t right.
Jenn: yeah, I’ve actually probably called them that at one point, too.
Melissa: yeah. So he colored each one, like it looks like a rainbow backdrop.
Jenn: oh, that’s cool. I want to see that!
Melissa: I’m like, why? [laughter] I should do that. So that has been a fun aspect, too, is having something tangible like that to color. Actually, the map… and of course I wouldn’t let them actually color the map in the book… but he wanted to color the map. I’m like, well, I guess we could photocopy it and blow it up on a piece of paper, and then you could. He wants to like map it out.
Jenn: that’s fun!
Melissa: that’s my ten year old for you.
Jenn: yeah. I had fun with… I had to draw a map as part of the writing process just for me to kind of visually orient myself. So it was really fun to see her, like I had to give her like my little chicken scratch map, and then she made it beautiful. But yeah, I like maps.
Melissa: I wondered what the process of story boarding, story mapping, was like for you. Because I’ve seen some author friends with their… I mean, it can be really intense. The notecards and the white boards, and just all these files of… yeah, sometimes chicken scratch, sometimes really intricate family trees written out.
Jenn: yes, yes.
Melissa: what has that part been like for you?
Jenn: yeah, so I don’t know that it’s anything I would recommend to someone else. I was just figuring it out as I went. But yes, family trees, multiple family trees, maps, calendars, timelines, sketches of rooms – like, real rough sketches of rooms to orient where everything was, sketches of buildings. Yeah. A lot of… distances. Things that maybe nobody else would pick up or I didn’t even need to be explicit about in the book, but I needed to know in order to reference and have it feel real. I mean, there’s always, you know… it’s not, the map’s not to scale, there’s things that aren’t really to scale so to speak. But in order to have there be a reasonable, you know, for it to feel reasonable, I felt like I needed to know those things.
Melissa: yeah. Where do you store all that stuff? I mean…
Jenn: yeah, in a binder.
Jenn: it probably should be more organized than it is. I have napkins from coffee shops! But it’s just, it’s all there. [laughter]
Melissa: a binder actually… because I was envisioning like, okay, a cardboard box, or an accordion file… a binder sounds like a really good, easy reference just to flip through to find what you need to answer your question.
Jenn: yes, oh, and spreadsheets too. Yeah. Spreadsheets of characters.
Melissa: and would that also be stored digitally so you could look it up digitally?
Jenn: yeah, it’s not technically in the binder, but it probably should be.
Melissa: but having both is probably great.
Melissa: I love that. So… asking for a friend… ahem. Then, your tips that you might offer to a similarly busy homeschool mama with unique interests to pursue in little off-moments… would be things like getting it scheduled or going to a coffee shop? What else do you have as tips for my friend? [chuckle]
Jenn: yes! yeah. So probably to check in with, if there, you know, if you have a husband… him first about those interests. Just kind of to be able to collaborate there and to think holistically about your family and the season that you’re in, and the calendar, and see if you can come up with a plan to work in time for that amidst the family schedule maybe. That would probably be where I’d start. And then just to be realistic about what you can do in this particular season. Because some seasons allow for more interest pursuing than others. But I think there’s probably, there’s often ways, creative ways, to support a particular interest even if you’re in a season where you can’t produce a lot. So, you know, when there’s a new baby or a sick child or a family member living with you or you’ve just moved… or all these, the myriad of, you know, things that are unexpected or just transition times. You might not have a lot of margin for producing something then, whether it’s writing or knitting or whatever creative endeavor… or maybe not creative endeavor, you know, maybe it’s a particular form of exercise or whatever. But I think there can still be maybe that could be a season for more, for consuming about that particular topic. I mean, I don’t know. I’m spitballing here, but if it were, if it were writing for example, there could be a time, that could be a time of consuming good stories or helpful books on writing maybe in the form of audiobooks, or reading to your children. That kind of fueling the leaf mold of the mind kind of thing is going to help when you do have margin to produce. And then just living life, going on adventures, paying attention to the world around you, to what God is doing, I think can be fuel for bigger writing projects later on. And again, I’m speaking specifically there of writing but I think the principles could translate to other interests. I think not despising small windows of time, because they do add up. Ten minutes here and there is better than nothing, especially if you, you know, have your whatever paraphernalia you need for that particular interest kind of on the ready. Like if you have your knitting in the basket here next to the couch where you know you’re going to be sitting down with the baby on the mat or whatever, or I had a writer friend say, you know, always keep your laptop open on the kitchen counter so you can just type as you walk by, like oh here’s a note I want to write down. Tips like that. I think, talking to other people who have maybe that particular interest, and who might be in that same season of life is super helpful. I’m part of an online writing group, and it’s been helpful to see other peoples’ writing routines, what they do, and they’re really different. I mean, some people can only go write like once a week, that’s what their schedule allows for, but they go take like a six hour block of time. Other people are doing it every day really consistently. I think it’s just going to really vary, depending on your family dynamics and the season of life that you’re in. But if it is something, especially that you know the Lord’s put on your heart or that you are particularly, you know, really interested in or potentially gifted in or want to pursue, I think, just looking for those opportunities. And be willing to be flexible, and just kind of seize them when they come. I’m not naturally flexible. I want things to be a certain way, and this really, this process was super good for me to kind of break a lot of that off because I had to just take what I could get and embrace it. And I couldn’t, really, I had to be pretty diligent with the time that I did have, because time was a rare commodity. Like I just had to use what I had. Yeah.
Melissa: I really like that distinction of pursuing an interest versus producing something from that interest. I feel like there needs to be a bumper sticker or a water bottle sticker with that sentiment on it that I can look at regularly. Because that’s, that’s a really helpful way to look at that. I’m going to be pondering that. Pursuing something doesn’t necessarily include the producing in all seasons. Oh, because there’s the physical time but then also the mental capacity. So even when I do have maybe a physical time that’s open, the mental capacity for a particular interest… maybe writer’s block? Maybe that would be an example of what I’m trying to articulate.
Jenn: and there’s time, I mean, when you’re doing physical tasks like homemaking tasks, you can be thinking about the particular project or the particular interest, too. That that time could be spent like brainstorming for that. Or, I think thinking of our… all these interests too, in light of using them to bless our families first or, and then our communities, or just these concentric circles – that’s been really helpful to me. That idea of just being willing to use your gifts in a hidden way to bless your people. I’ve really, I’ve been chewing on that for years. That’s a, probably an idea I got from that Edith Schaeffer book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking. But I love the particular example that I often think of that I think is an example of that is Tolkien’s Letters to Father Christmas. That he, he wrote these letters to his kids from Father Christmas, from, I think it started around 1920, with his first son – and they’re so intricate! I mean, he’s pretending to be Father Christmas, writing in different languages, different, he’s drawing drawings, he’s writing clever stories, he’s got all these characters… and you can see in them, like, glimpses of you know Middle Earth, like the kinds of drawings that are actually in his books… and nobody was ever, I mean, they, people… we can see them now because they’re published but I’m sure he had no thought of them ever being published. And he did this for all his kids for over a decade, and I love that! Because he was using his gifts to bless his kids, to delight them. And I want to have that in the forefront of my mind as I’m writing. Like I want to delight, bless my kids with my stories.
Melissa: so good. How about a quickfire of the silly questions?
Melissa: where did you do most of your writing?
Jenn: our schoolroom table.
Melissa: what did you drink most often while you wrote?
Jenn: black coffee or Good Earth sweet and spicy tea.
Melissa: hot or cold?
Melissa: what is your favorite quote from the book?
Jenn: oh, I have a few!
Melissa: it’s like asking you to pick a favorite child, I know.
Jenn: yeah! There’s… and probably the ones that stick with me are the parental ones, the ones spoken by the parents in the story. But there’s one where the king is saying to his son that the king’s mantle has a way of making the wearer ready. Like even if you don’t feel ready for something, like the very act of being called, you will be enabled for the task at the right time. I guess that sentiment is what’s behind that. And I didn’t give you an exact quote, so sorry. [laughter]
Melissa: well that’s because we need to read! We need to read the book to find it. It’s like a treasure hunt.
Jenn: yeah, aw.
Melissa: now when I go back to reread it with my kids, when I find that, I’m gonna book dart it.
Melissa: is there a moment in the process that would stand out to you as most remarkable?
Jenn: yes. After publishing it, having kids, hearing kids say that they love the book or that they really, you know, love a certain character. That’s just really surreal and an honor, and just makes me so happy. It’s really, it’s really great.
Melissa: so what’s next?
Jenn: getting my house in order! [laughter] I mean, the last couple months have been a more full season, and so with, you know, launching it. And so I’m backlogged on house projects and family photo albums and things like that. But I would, once I kind of get life on the rails there, I’d like to, I need to start working on Book Two.
Melissa: how about with The Elk King? Are you doing promotional things? Are you, will you take it to local bookshops and ask for… I don’t know… them to carry it and you could do an event? I mean, what does that look like?
Jenn: yeah. So sorry, I did jump ahead to Book Two mentally, but yes. There is some of that going on. I’m gonna go a sweet author event in a couple weeks with a local homeschool group, kind of like an author Q and A, especially geared toward kids who might want to write themselves, or who already are writing. Kind of like a young writer’s thing. Which I’m really looking forward to, I love those conversations. That’s been one of my favorite things actually also about the book, is it’s generated some of those conversations naturally just with kids I know. And yes, I’ve been chatting with local bookshop owners, and have, I would love to do a local, like a bigger local book signing. Like author event, book signing, kind of celebratory thing. That’s in the works too.
Melissa: and do you have people… do you have tips for people as far as how to get it requested by a library or that kind of thing? Is that a…
Jenn: yeah, actually. So because I do this with my library all the time actually, I’m always requesting that my library buy certain books.
Melissa: yeah, same.
Jenn: yeah, I just, that’s just kind of a habit for me. So it’s usually pretty easy, you know. If it’s not clear on their library’s website, you could ask a librarian and they’ll usually very kindly walk you through the process. My library happens to be really fast about it, they’re really, they let you request three books a month, and they have really fast turnaround on purchasing them. Which is really, really great. So yeah, if you find yourself, you’re interested in getting the book but you’re in the place where you can’t really, you know, you can’t buy it, don’t want to buy it, then asking your library to buy it would be great. And then it’s accessible to any number of kids for free.
Melissa: we can get it on Amazon, I know, because that’s where I got mind.
Jenn: yep, yep. Right now it’s Amazon. Ebook or a paperback, either is great, I probably prefer the paperback but both have their benefits. I have both. And then potentially local bookshops, that’s TBD.
Melissa: mhmm. And where can we find you on the internet with all these things?
Jenn: yes. So I do have a website, it’s JennDischer.com Jenn with two n’s. And you can get the free coloring sheet there, it’s a free download. And then on Instagram @JennDischer and Facebook as well. Yeah, thank you.
Melissa: well, in the midst of all that is on your plate, both cultures you’re pursuing right now, I’m so honored that you would just be able to carve out time to have a chat with me this morning and to celebrate The Elk King! I just, I can’t get over… I mean, it hasn’t been that many months that I’ve known about it, but just seeing that come to fruition from a distance has been delightful. And I’m, I’m so happy for you! And happy for the kids in this upcoming generation that they get to have these kinds of stories to grow with and to learn from. It’s just beautiful.
Jenn: thank you, Melissa. Thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate it.
Melissa: well I’m looking forward to chatting again soon, actually.
Jenn: yes, I would love that.
Melissa: and I was also thinking, the scarf…
Jenn: yes! The king’s mantle! That’s another cultural thing, right? Yes.
Melissa: right there. Oh, see. You’ve been talking about knitting, you’ve used that as an example.
Jenn: yes, I don’t, I want to knit. So that’s an interest I’d like to pursue. I would like to pursue knitting! I have not had margin for it. Or I have not made, created the time. Taken the time.
Melissa: I thought, wow, there needs to be a pattern for that! And that would be a… [laughter]
Jenn: yes, yes! Well there are these four clans in Glenariff, so it’s all the colors from all the clans, are in the king’s mantle.
Melissa: again sort of pulling from that Celtic or Scottish little bit there. Maybe Nordic people do that as well, but
Jenn: yeah, it is definitely more Celtic than anything.
Melissa: yeah, I love it. Well thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions about the book and the culture.
Jenn: thank you! My pleasure. It was a treat for me to like, to just kind of reflect on the process.
Melissa: yeah, well, I’m glad it was a treat for you because it was definitely a treat for me. All right, let’s talk again soon, friend. God bless you.
Jenn: aw, okay, I would love that. Okay. You too, bye bye.
Elk Prince Draven will inherit the throne of peaceful, prosperous Glenariff much sooner than he’d like. He doubts he’d make a very good king and just wants a normal life. But in Glenariff no elk is normal. All are bound to the magical source of the herd’s strength. Like many, Draven has forgotten the old tales and old enemies. As Draven makes plans to escape royal life, a deadly sickness sweeps the kingdom. Rumors of enemies and traitors abound. With the king distracted by secret troubles, the elk stand to lose everything, including their very lives. To save the kingdom, Draven must face what he has long feared, and new terrors he could not have imagined. But first he must remember the old tales, before there’s no herd left to rule.
And that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation. And in the meantime, peace be with you.
In this episode, Anya Harrison and Melissa Cummings continue the conversation about incarnation, and it’s time to get practical. How do we incarnate the Incarnation? Well, let’s dialogue about some ideas. There is so much freedom of conscience here. As Anya said, we can disagree about things like Advent calendars, manger scenes, or how we create traditions or practice Advent… but what we must agree on is the centrality of Incarnation, and that that doctrine is not about an event in Christ’s life but His identity itself.
Links and Resources
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
The Life Giving Home by Sally Clarkson
Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide
Ishtar’s Odyssey by Arnold Ytreeide
Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is Anya Harrison from Paideia Southeast. This is the second half of our conversation about Incarnation and Advent as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia. Last time we chatted, Anya and I had the delight of talking about St. Athanasius’ book On the Incarnation. We shared some of the ways that it has blessed us and challenged us – I know I particularly shared the way that it just gives me mental gymnastics and basically blows my mind. [laughter] This time, we are jumping into different traditions which point us back to the truth of the incarnation. We hope you enjoy listening in, and would love to hear back from you. What are some of the traditions that your family has enjoyed, and why? How do your traditions point you and your children to the truth of Who Christ is – Son of God, Son of Man, the Incarnate Deity?
“It Is as if Infancy Were the Whole of Incarnation” by Madeleine L’Engle
This time of the year, the newborn child is everywhere
Planted in Madonna’s arms, hay-mows, stables
In palaces or farms or quaintly under snowed gables.
Gothic, angular, or Baroque-plump,
Naked or elaborately swathed,
Encircled by della robia wreaths,
Garnished with whimsical partridges and pears, drummers and drums
Lit by oversize stars
Partnered with lambs, peace-doves, sugar plums, bells, plastic camels in sets of three,
As if these were what we needed for eternity.
But Jesus the Man is not to be seen.
There are some who are wary these days of beards and sandaled feet
Yet if we celebrate, let it be that He has invaded our lives with purpose,
Striding over our picturesque traditions,
Our shallow sentiment,
Overturning our cash registers, wielding His peace like a sword,
Rescuing us into reality, demanding much more than the milk and the softness and the mother-warmth of the Baby in the storefront creche.
Only the Man would ask all of each of us.
Reaching out always urgently with strong, effective love,
Only the Man would give His life and live again for love of us.
O, come – let us adore Him! Christ, the Lord.
Melissa: you know, that idea of truth informing tradition but not prescribing tradition – how are some ways that you have found joy in tradition that maybe is informed by your understanding of Incarnation that’s just personal to you and your family?
Anya: so I won’t repeat my disclaimer. We’ll just assume everyone heard that.
Anya: so, we… I love the aspect of the Incarnation interrupting our darkness and our mess, and I love the imagery that we have from John the Baptist of a light in the darkness, and Jesus obviously I am the light of the world, and all of the… I love all of the, those, that imagery. And so one of our favorite things to do… and also just to kind of cover general concept of Advent, it’s this time of waiting and preparing. One, we remember His first coming of course, and we’re also waiting for a second coming. And that second, that waiting for a second coming, and preparing our hearts through repentance for a second coming, I don’t feel like I grasped that layer of Advent in the beginning, right? You know, like, I understood the first part – oh, were remembering, and you’ve got Advent calendars that start on December first even though the Church Calendar starts at, you know, the fourth Sunday before, you know. So everybody kind of works this out differently, but I think that one of our favorite things to do is, I don’t have like a Christmas village or any of those things that generally get built up in families over time, but I did take three or four years and collect little white ceramic, like little white candle houses. You know, where you put a candle in it and it lights out the windows. And so I have one for every day of Advent, and every night or every morning I hide it with two little chocolate mints somewhere in the house, and they go hunting for it, and when they find it you know they get to eat their chocolate and then they put… we start collecting these houses. And on Christmas Eve, they find the last one which is not a white house, it’s like a little concrete house that we put a candle in it, so it’s meant to represent the humility of the manger and the humility of the Incarnation and that Christ came really in humble circumstances. And then on Christmas Eve when we come back from the candlelight Christmas Eve service, we don’t turn any lights on in the house and we only – we’ll have prepped it beforehand; the first year I didn’t do this, and it was like really hard for me to find all the candles [laughter] to light it in the dark. So now we’ve learned to have all the candles prepared before we go. And I will have made a soup earlier in the day, and we lay out a blanket on our living room rug, we light all of the candles, and so the only light in the house are candles in these little houses. And we sit on the blanket and we eat soup and bread, and my husband reads, you know, the story of Christ’s birth. And we usually cry a little bit and we talk about how, you know, even in the darkest places, the light shines. And it invades the darkness! And this is what Jesus did to us: He came and interrupted us in our darkness, and He brought what none of us had. You know. None of us are the light of the world, right? Like, He came in and brought what we all desperately lacked, and now that He is here and now that He dwells in us, like, we light the way. And this year, I haven’t been in years past, but reading through… my last lap through the Gospels really brought me in Matthew 25 to the parable of the ten, the ten virgins, and how they head out waiting for their bridegroom but only five of them were prepared and only five of them were really waiting, and the other five were like, oh he’s been a while. And they all fall asleep and then when he comes, five of them have oil for their lamps but the other five don’t. And so this year we’re gonna add reading that parable, just as that reminder of like, we, let us not forget that He is coming again, and let us not fail to prepare our hearts daily and hourly and regularly, continually coming back to the cross and being cleansed regularly, confessing our sins, repenting of our sins, receiving forgiveness. Because otherwise it’s almost like, we aren’t going to want to be the city on a hill. You know, if… we can’t even be the city on the hill if we’re running back to the oil that we failed to bring with us. And so that’s one of our favorite traditions. Actually, the meal on, the picnic on Christmas Eve was Sally Clarkson – she calls it the shepherds’ meal from the book, Life Giving Home.
Melissa: I thought it sounded familiar when you said that.
Anya: yeah, we got that from there, and then we added the candles and the houses. And it’s so beautiful, because it’s hard to take kids away from the presents. You know, you don’t want to. Like, presents are good. I’m not trying to ruin that, but I’ll tell you what, my kids come back from the Christmas Eve service, and we… just the atmosphere of the dark home, and we light the candles, and they sit down, and there aren’t any presents opened. And I don’t want to, I don’t have a problem with someone who does, right? It’s just, we go into bed thinking of the birth of Christ, you know. And we go to bed refilled with the hope that we are never without Him, we are never hopeless, we are never out in the dark alone. But He came and He interrupted all of it. And then we’re excited of course about Christmas morning. So.
Melissa: I love that.
Anya: I have some others, I don’t know if you want me to just keep going.
Melissa: so that idea of the little houses – is that… did you come up with that because of the idea of a city set on a hill?
Anya: I love lighthouses in general. I grew up on the coast of Lake Michigan, and I’ve, you know, I could walk out about thirty steps from my house and see a lighthouse, and I, when I was a young mom, I wasn’t even that young, but like a new mom and I felt very young at the time – I really wrestled heavily with how to do what I didn’t know how to do. Right? Like, I didn’t feel like I had a lot I could look back on in terms of the Christian aspect of raising my children, and so the concept of being a lighthouse has been a picture for me for a long time. And I often think of, even, I wouldn’t even say my home, my home belongs to the Lord, and it’s intended to be a lighthouse. And that a lighthouse, you know, is literally helping the sailors in the boats try to figure out, like, where do we go? What do I do? I’m lost, you know. And we, I want my home to be a place of hope in Christ. You know, like I want it to be extending beyond the borders of my walls, which is something… I’m an introvert, and I don’t necessarily want to put myself out beyond the borders of my walls… but it doesn’t matter because He’s commanded me to. And so in some ways that’s a gentle reminder of me, to me of the fact that He really did say, like, you don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl. You know, like your house belongs to Me, your life belongs to Me, like your children belong to Me, your family belongs to me, and I have created all of it for My glory. So you don’t get to shutter the windows, you don’t get to keep people out, and… yeah. So I remember walking into a candle store one, I don’t know, during some holiday shopping, and there were two or three of them, and I bought – they were all like seventy five percent off or something, and I bought them. And I had this moment at the, like, I want to get one for every day of Advent. And it took me a few years to find them. So there’s like a variety, and yeah, and it, I would like, whenever… one time Target had some, and a friend posted some randomly on her Instagram and I was like, where did you find those because I’m like four short and I need them. And I drove like an hour to go and get the others! And now it’s wonderful because I’m not longer having to shop for them, we can just pull them out and light them. But I think the idea of the lighthouse is a picture that I often have, it’s an imagery that God uses in my heart to really remind me of what He’s asked me to do as a mom, as a wife, as a Christian. You know, but I’m not doing this huddled down with my family doing my thing. It’s meant to reflect His hope and His glory to those around me.
Melissa: I think that is so beautiful. You said you have more – you have more…?
Anya: when we, I guess some of it is actually now that I think about it, it’s a lot of the same themes that I apply to other aspects. Right? When we put up our decorations on the outside of our house, we put wreaths in the window and everything and then we put out little candles, just like one candle in each window, and they’re set so that when we turn them on they’re lit for six hours or something. So we always have them turned so that as the sun goes down, the light goes on, you know. And they’re just little, but I love the fact that those little lights, you can still see from the road. So it’s like, whenever I’m like practicing them for the year of like, okay we’re turning these on, whenever I’m doing it, I think to myself, these are not gonna be bright enough. Maybe I need new batteries or maybe I need to replace these. But then they do, you put them in the window and when the sun goes down, you see it. You know, I even, I think about the one star that the magi followed. They would have had to follow at night, you know, because they wouldn’t have seen it during the day. And that’s not how they normally traveled, they would travel during the day because it’s much safer. But you can’t see the star except against the darkness of the sky, you know, and so I think as Christians that when I light those little candles, you know, and we talk about how we as believers are meant to shine like stars in the universe you know, and being different than those around us, and Christ came to be the light of the world who dwells in us, and so here we are. You know. And we’re putting it in our window. So it’s really the same, it’s the same concept for me there on that one.
We do a Sabbath… you guys do a Saturday night before Advent Sabbath meal, right? Like a special meal the Saturday before?
Melissa: yeah, it’s in my little family now, yeah that’s what we do because it’s our fanciest meal of the week, and it’s too much for the Lord’s Day. [laughter] So it’s sort of my family culture. We don’t do that year round. I know plenty of people who do that year round. But I definitely do that during Advent, yeah, it’s our kickoff into the Lord’s Day.
Anya: yeah, well you know, we figure in Jewish day, evening and morning, it is that. Right, like you’re kicking off the Sabbath the night before. So we do, we’ve talked about this outside of the podcast, but we do a fancy candlelit… I’m all about the candles during Advent time… we do like a fancy dinner – cloth napkins, candle lit, the food isn’t always necessarily fancy, but all you have to do is put it on fancy things and the kids think it’s fancy – on Sundays of Advent and I think that throughout the year we don’t, we don’t do big Sabbath dinners either. I think we would love to at some point, we just haven’t figured out quite how that fits. And I’m, I don’t feel the need to, others, I love the fact that everybody does things differently, you know. So in general, it fits right for our family. We feel like we are lacking it, I don’t think we would add it. But I love it, and I’ve thought about adding it. But we do it during Advent as well, and it feels like a preparation for Christmas. Right? Like it feels like we’re building up. Like it’s not as big as the big Christmas meal, but Christmas is coming. You know. And so it’s that reminder of like, we’re waiting for the big feast. Which feasting is so biblical, you know, like feasting and fasting is biblical too. And there has to be a distinction between the two or it gets all muddied and we lost their application, you know? But I think about the idea of like preparing a fancy little feasts in preparation for the Christmas feast. A fancy little feast is very much like what we as Christians are doing as we await the supper of the Lamb, you know, and as Christ came, and as they waited for Him and He came and He’s coming again! And I desperately want my children not just to grasp the fact that Jesus was born in a manger but the fact that Jesus reigns on high and is coming again. And so I think all of those things that look forward to it, like, we do Advent readings… which I hesitate to mention because it would, some would be very uncomfortable with it, but I will anyway because I’ve talked about freedom of conscience. We… there’s a series like Jotham’s Journey and there’s four books… I would call them biblical fiction, okay, so it is not the Word of God, and some would be uncomfortable with the, like the liberty that the author took to interweave biblical characters into the story. But you know, yesterday at the end of our reading we’re reading right now about, the character we’re following is the son of one of the magi. And so it ended in this very suspenseful way, and my daughter was like, what is it? what’s next?! And I’m like, no! And she’s like trying to sneak over my shoulder and I’m closing that book and I was like, no no no no no. And she’s like, I’m gonna wake up early and read it in the morning. And I’m like, no you’re not because we will wait and we will wait patiently, and there’s a time for this and there’s a time for that and it’s tomorrow and we do not think that, like, we can just have everything whenever we want. And I think that that’s the whole thing with Christmas too, like, my kids – if they find their gifts, they don’t get them. And I had to enforce it one time and I never had to enforce it again and there were tears, but my son accidentally stumbled upon something when he was like five years old. And he knew the rule, and I was like, you don’t even look. Don’t even look because if you find them you don’t get them. And sometimes I’ll not hide it very well in my closet, and my closet door will be open and my son will be like, Mom!! and he’s like covering with his hands and he’s walking past and he’s like, close your closet door!! But that idea of waiting: what’s not yet here is not yet here, you know, and so we as Christians are still anticipating His return. And I think the waiting is so key! It’s so important. Like I want my kids to wait. I want them to get excited and to feel what it feels like to anticipate. Because that is our reality as believers, you know, like we are anticipating His return. And so yeah, we have lots of rules on there’s nothing done before the proper time. [laughter] Or there’s grave consequences.
Melissa: that’s something to… the material aspect of Incarnation. And it’s a little bit edgy to use that word, material. And when we’re in a season where as, especially as Christians I think, we fight to be countercultural when it comes to commercialism, which is manifest in materialism in some… to some extent, and yet, I think for my family – again, a freedom of conscience thing – my family loves celebrating the birth of Christ with material things in order to point us to the physicality of Jesus’ birth. That idea that gifts are… like, if you ask your children, what are you most excited and waiting for for Christmas… in most cases, especially the younger they are, they’re going to say, the presents! Right? The gifts. And that’s something that can make us feel uncomfortable as though, oh, that wasn’t the right answer, that’s not spiritual enough. And yet…
Anya: right? Take away the gifts! [laughter]
Melissa: and yet, right, it’s exactly the right answer. In my perspective, it is exactly the right answer. Because Jesus taught us in parables and pictures, and I love to think of gifts for my children as parables and pictures. So right now, they see, it’s a gift from you know Mommy and Daddy. But when they get older, maybe it will draw their eyes to the Ultimate Gift-Giver. The material points us to the immaterial, right? The mortal can direct us toward the immortal. But that idea of gifts and the material side of things, even the lights that you’re talking about, the candles – all of that, they’re parabolic! Is that the right word? [laughter] They’re parables.
Anya: absolutely, I think so. Yeah. Well, and it’s also, we see it in the Jewish feasts too. There’s a reason that God gave the Jews specific, tangible foods to eat on certain days and places to sleep, right, like the Feast of Tabernacles. Yes, they put a tent outside and you’re gonna cover it with the things from the harvest. Like, because we’re, He made us in a body. Like, we, He made a physical world and He made physical people. And this like, this physical world with physical people was not an effect of the fall, it was the original design. You know? And so our celebration should be in the physical world. And there, I remember, I’ve wrestled with that as well, the materialism side of the ditch, right. And not wanting to be a scrooge on the other side. But also not wanting it to distract in all of these things. And I really just think that if we are starting at glorifying the Lord, then you can’t – I know we’ve talked about this – you can’t overdo Christmas. You can’t make too big of a deal out of it, because there isn’t a bigger deal out there to celebrate. So like you can’t, you can’t do too much, you know, and at the same time, it’s been down. And so in another aspect, you need do nothing, right? So like we have the freedom to celebrate it lavishly. And we also have the freedom to just sit in awe of it, and if ultimately it is for the glory of the Lord, you can’t mess it up and at the same time if it is not for the glory of Lord, then even the little bit is done unto nothing. You know what I’m saying? Like, and that’s, you know we can feel it. Like we can feel it when we go to a Christmas party that may be a work party for somebody who’s working outside of a Christmas setting and they go to a Christmas party. And they’ve got the music and they’ve got the food, and it’s sort of like, what are we celebrating? [laughter] Like I’m sort of like, I’m sure that we’re missing something. I’m really not sure why we’re all here. [laughter] And that’s it is like… yeah.
Melissa: we have an Epiphany dinner with friends. And then we have – we’ve never done this yet – but we have friends who take down their Christmas tree on Epiphany, and they have a bonfire. And it’s this huge bonfire that you can see because they burn it with other things, it’s not just the tree I think, but it’s this picture of the light coming to the Gentiles. And so…
Anya: amen! Oh I love that! I might add that this year.
Melissa: burning that tree!
Anya: that’s resonating with me.
Melissa: so we haven’t done that yet. I don’t know why we’ve never done that. I feel like we should.
Anya: you know, I take that as a moment just to mention to anybody listening that, sometimes you can hear all these great ideas and think, oh, I’m not doing all of that yet. None of us is, are doing all of the things we look forward to doing, right. Traditions are built over time. Even like, I didn’t have all the houses at first, I think the first year I had three and then I had like ten, and then I maybe hung out at like twelve because I didn’t have the budget… like, it took time to build it up, and then, we, it’s the same thing as like, you can’t, if your heart is right you can’t mess it up. And you’re not missing out if you’re not observing all of these things. And they really do build them with time. You know, and when one feels right and it feels right to add another, then it’s in its proper place, you know. But when we feel like, oh, I have to do this. Like if I had year where I didn’t have the time to roll out all that gingerbread, you know, we just wouldn’t do gingerbread houses, you know? But when I am able to prepare for it, then it’s a wonderful time. And my kids decorate these houses for days and it’s lovely because I’m doing other things, and it’s like, it belongs and it fits. So for anybody feeling like, oh I’m not doing this and I’m not doing that… well, none of us are doing all of it. You can’t do all of it. You’re not supposed to. It’s like, yeah, if our hearts are right, then, onward! And as you’re able, as is good for your family, as is glorifying to the Lord and not a burden, you know.
Melissa: yeah, amen.
Anya: but that bonfire is happening in my house this year. It’s official.
Melissa: doesn’t that sound like fun? [laughter]
Anya: oh my husband’s gonna love it, he’s gonna be like, yes! And I tell you what, Christmas trees burn up, man. They like, they, we burn ours normally anyway, but it was never, it never had any significance and it was never at a specific time. Until this year, Melissa, thank you! It’s gonna happen. [laughter]
Melissa: well, like I said, I took that from some friends of ours. Every year I say, we’re gonna do that on Epiphany. And we take down our decorations on Epiphany, we take down the tree, but we haven’t actually done the bonfire part. So, you and I both, maybe we’ll try that this year.
Anya: yep, yeah, we’ll send each other photos.
Melissa: there we go, accountability!
Anya: yeah, I love it.
Melissa: so before I let you go, are there any other pieces that you wish you had mentioned or questions that you wish I had asked?
Anya: I think the encouragement at this time for those who observe this specific time period, which obviously we’re talking about it, so we do… is to recognize where it all comes from and that we wouldn’t be attaching… I would hate to outsource lifeless traditions. For if all the world had candles in their windows but didn’t know the Light of the world, then what good is it? Right? And we’re just whitewashed tombs and it becomes another pharisaical thing. And to think of, maybe, a young mom who feels like their hands are full maybe… I just especially think of right now, I’ve got… I have friends who are, you know, they’re pregnant, they’re adding another child to their family in the next few weeks, they’ve, they’re sick, covid is everywhere, no one’s gonna be able to visit them in the hospital because you know, they’re not vaccinated you know, all of these trigger words [laughter] but all of these things that complicate everything. Right? Like my great uncle and great aunt both of covid, one is hospitalized right now, and they live far away from me so I can’t visit them but I’m like, there is heaviness right now that’s happening. And what to do with feasting and celebrating in the midst of heaviness, right, I think that some, it can… if people perceive these traditions and these celebrations and these practices that we do to remind ourselves of the miracle of the Incarnation, they perceive it as something that Christians have to do, well then it becomes a burden, you know. And then it becomes this crushing weight on top of an already crushing circumstances for some. And yet if we start at Emmanuel, you know if we start with like, God with us in the midst of it, in the midst of covid, in the midst of maybe job loss, in the midst of sickness or family brokenness or addiction or depression or anxiety… I’m like, these are all things that are happening in my very near circles, you know, right now. And if we start at Emmanuel, then that frees us up to celebrate because we are celebrating the hope that came into the darkness. But if we start at the traditions, then aren’t we a sorry bunch? You know. Because now we are tired and weary and spending money we don’t have, to buy little ceramic houses because someone once did that and thought it was really cute, and instead now we’re fighting with our husband because we spent the money we should have spent on the Christmas Eve dinner on little silhouette houses. You know what I’m saying? Whereas if we are starting at Emmanuel, then we walk in freedom and we know that if we don’t get the tree up this year… I have a friend who’s moving because of a job situation because of covid, and they didn’t get a tree this year, you know. And that doesn’t change Emmanuel. You know, like, that doesn’t change God with us. And that doesn’t change Christ coming into our darkness. And so I would just want to emphasize… and that’s also where, there’s no disunity among Emmanuel either. Like there’s no bristling and offending one another about how we are celebrating Emmanuel if we start there. And so my encouragement would just be, before wanting to buy the ribbons or the candles or the wreaths or a certain book or anything, like, unless its the Bible – buy the Bible – come to that place of like embracing, receiving, and like celebrating the Incarnation that God came down in the midst of us and He became one of us. Because that is the only place we find our strength to face, and to then, to celebrate. Like that is where our hope lies, and the Enemy is the sneaky one, you know? And our flesh is too. And it’s like, you find so much protection from comparing, from coveting what how somebody else does it, from the guilt of feeling like oh I didn’t make my pie as good as my mom made – all of it goes away when we’re sitting, when the foundation for everything is Christ the Son of God, the Son of Man, come to rescue us. Because that, no one can take away, no one can rob us of. And again, then you can put whatever tradition you want on that, and to God be the glory, you know. But without it, it’s a heavy burden.
Melissa: amen. That’s encouragement, indeed! Let me tell you.
Anya: because we all get tired. [laughter] Oh I have one more thought that I think could be helpful. I was reading an article, or I don’t know if it was from a podcast, I don’t know. It may have even been years ago. But it was talking about the difference between unbiblical and nonbiblical. And this is a very practical piece after, you know, yeah. And how much of the tradition is nonbiblical – meaning, it’s not included in Scripture, right, like very different from the Passover. We’re told how the Jews were to celebrate the Passover. We’re not told if or how or when or any of the how we should do things to remember… beyond, obviously like Communion, you know, the Lord’s Supper and things like, you know we have those things. But when it comes to seasonal things, we don’t have anything. But just because it’s nonbiblical doesn’t make it unbiblical. And at the same time, some things are unbiblical, right? So something – there’s a difference in being against the Bible and not being part of the Bible. And so I think that in terms of that freedom of conscience, like informing somebody who’s like struggling with, well I don’t know, is this okay, is it not okay, I grew up with it, it was really sweet… you know, if it’s nonbiblical just because it’s not included, you know, the Bible also doesn’t tell us to brush our teeth, but I recommend it. [laughter] But there’s just, there’s a lot of things that we have the freedom to do and can do and it’s good to do. And then there’s things that we should not do. So I’ll give an example of something we should not do. Ah, like the magi followed a star, right? Why? Because they studied the stars and these days it’s really trendy… like astrology and horoscopes, and I’m like blown away at how that trend is like sweeping into the church, and I’m like, oh, um, what in the world. You know, like, how did we go from worshipping the Creator of the stars to looking to the stars for our hope or our whatever? And the moon and all this stuff, like, that’s unbiblical, because the Bible clearly states that we do not participate in astrology. Because that God chose to declare the birth of His Son in the heavens does not mean that we look to the heavens for our hope. We look to the Maker of the heavens. So that would be an unbiblical thing to do! Versus a nonbiblical, which there’s a gajillion examples of what that could look like. So I think just that practical side of distinguishing. And I would always say, never go against your conscience, you know, never ever ever. So even if somebody else feels free to do something and you don’t, then rest it there.
Melissa: I would bring this back to St. Athanasius who said about the Word of God in human being, “He was not bound to the body but rather was Himself wielding it so that He was both in it and in everything, and was outside everything and at rest in the Father alone. And the most wonderful thing was that He both sojourned as a human being and as the Word begot life in everything and as Son was with the Father.” Wielding the body, in it, in everything, He sojourned and yet begot life in everything… just going back to that mind-blowing reality and grateful that someone like Athanasius could put into words what I can barely begin to grasp and yet we can talk about it, we can laugh about it and cry about it, and find ways to glorify God in how we walk through the physicality and the daily things of celebrating and remembering that He did come, and looking forward to Him coming again. I think that just sort of, that sums it up! That wielding of the body.
Anya: yeah, it does. It acknowledges His deity and His humanity, which is where our hope… He needs them both or we are without hope. Hope that He was them both and so we are not without hope, you know? Thank you for this, Melissa. I’m just really encouraged and have loved discussing this with you.
Melissa: I’m just so glad that we were able to take the time to do it. So I’m grateful for the work you’re doing with the whole Paideia Southeast team. It fills my sails and it helps me to have encouragement for work here, even though you’re far away, it helps me where I am.
Anya: well, thanks for leading the way on that one. Because there would be no Paideia Southeast without a Paideia Northwest, that’s for sure.
Melissa: well, God has worked some great things and I’m excited to see how He continues to do it.
“Love’s Incarnate Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle
Observe and contemplate.
Make real. Bring to be.
Because we note the falling tree
The sound is truly heard.
Look! The sunrise! Wait —
It needs us to look, to see,
To hear, and speak the Word.
Observe and contemplate.
The cosmos and our little earth.
Observing, we affirm the worth
Of sun and stars and light unfurled.
So, let us, seeing, celebrate
The glory of Love’s incarnate birth
And sing its joy to all the world.
Observe and contemplate
Make real. Affirm. Say Yes,
And in this season sing and bless
Wind, ice, snow; rabbit and bird;
Comet and quark; things small and great.
Oh, observe and joyfully confess
The birth of Love’s most lovely Word.
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.
Paideia Southeast team member Anya Harrison joined Melissa Cummings from Paideia Northwest for a conversation which was born out of a discussion they had had about Incarnation after reading St. Athanasius’ book On The Incarnation. The difference between truth and tradition, and how one informs the other while the second can give us tangible means of practicing and pursuing the first… let’s just say, we got a bit tempted to be carried away. So this is Part One of the conversation, and you can find Part Two in Episode 11. We hope that you join with us in the wonder and discomfort of considering our God-made-flesh, while you are engaging in something real and fleshy. Maybe dishes or laundry, maybe baking cookies or wrapping gifts. Maybe rocking a baby or driving to pick up a teen. It all starts with John 1, where we consider the Word, the Lord of creation, putting on a human body in order to dwell among us. But that’s not the end of it… it’s so much bigger than that. Praise the Lord!
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Theo-Dox by Anya Harrison
1 Corinthians 15:50-55
God Rest Ye Merry by Douglas Wilson
Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is Anya Harrison from Paideia Southeast. We invite you to join us in this conversation about Incarnation, particularly during this season of Advent as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about Him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.’”) For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.
Melissa: there we go, hi!
Anya: how are you?
Melissa: well. Yeah. I am like…
Anya: you are in your closet!
Melissa: I am, literally. Yeah. Welcome to my wardrobe!
Anya: I love it. [laughter]
Melissa: anyway, it’s nice to meet you.
Anya: I’m hoping… oh, you too! Finally! [laughter] Very nice to meet you.
Melissa: yeah! I love listening to what you share on Voxer because you are super real, super thoughtful, and I always come away from what you’ve said thinking hard. Which is a good thing.
Anya: mmm. Thank you. Thank you, I am glad it’s a good thing. I’ve had a lot of friends, I have a trend where many friends are like, I love talking with you cuz we always go very deep. And I’m thinking, huh, I suppose I just do that with all of my friends. And they just are prepared for, I don’t know, I maybe I just swim below the surface on a regular basis I think. So I’m looking forward to our discussion because it’s a topic that I wish was on the lips of all Christians at this time of year, you know?
Melissa: it’s Advent, right?
Melissa: and I have a whole collection of Advent devotionals, those kinds of things – and they do talk about Incarnation, they use that word – but, so, I’ve always… I kind of hate to admit this… I’ve always thought of Incarnation as an Advent and Christmas thing. Something to do with the birth of Christ. And it is, but it’s not only that. I think it’s this book On The Incarnation where Athanasius just – he opened up, I don’t know – my brain just kept going, whaaaaaaaat!
Melissa: I never thought of so many of these things that he talks about. That Incarnation is not just the actual, the building up toward the nativity of Jesus.
Melissa: it’s His entire life, the entire manifestation of God made flesh, which it started at the conception inside Mary, but then all the way until His death… and then, wait a second! It goes beyond that? [laughter]
Anya: yeah, yep.
Melissa: wait, is God still manifest in flesh? Like is Incarnation still a reality? I mean, yeah, it’s a huge, amazing realization for me.
Anya: yeah, sure.
Melissa: So Incarnation is so big! What… I want you to tell me all the things that you’ve thought about it. Everything! Would you just introduce yourself, tell us a little about you?
Anya: okay. My name is Anya Harrison, and my husband Topher and I have been married for almost seventeen years. We met in Bible college in Chicago, we moved down to South Florida, lived there for thirteen years. And down there we adopted our oldest, who is now thirty. And that was, well that was almost thirteen years ago now. And then we also have a ten year old son and a eight year old daughter, biological children, who I homeschool. This is our fourth year homeschooling. And we live in Georgia, we live out in the country. We are not from Georgia, so our family is either – our oldest daughter stayed in Florida when we moved, she’s an adult, and then our parents are up in like Michigan and Illinois. And my husband did not grow up in the church at all, he got saved, he was led to Christ by his public school baseball coach. And I was brought to church as a child, but I was always the extreme Christian of the family. Like, you know, let’s not go too far and want to be missionaries or go to Bible college or anything like that. [laughter] And so, it’s okay, I’m loved, I’m not like an outcast of my family, but I wasn’t necessarily raised with like a Christian culture or a Christian paideia. I went to public school, we went to church on Sundays – that was a non negotiable actually, but other than that… I taught myself how to read the Bible, my youth pastor taught me how to read the Bible, kind of thing… I wasn’t, there wasn’t much going on there. So obviously my husband and I have a very different approach with our kids, and we are figuring it out as we go because, which is kind of great because we have a fresh start. And everything that we think about implementing gets evaluated. You know? We don’t, we didn’t inherit anything that we have to then think, is this good or is this bad? Is this honoring to Christ or is this just something our family did? So in some ways, there, you know, we get a fresh start, a blank slate. So actually it was in Bible college when I obviously learned about Athanasius, I wasn’t raised with any of this background, and when I first read his book On The Incarnation as well as some others of his work… and like you said, Melissa, I was… it was just like a, like the walls blew off for me as far as… as far as Christmastime comes, as far as my understanding of Jesus, I… everything! It was so much bigger, it’s so much bigger. And it’s so much more offensive, I would add as well. There’s a lot in the Incarnation that you’re either gonna love or you’re gonna hate, you know? So.
Melissa: well, tell me first: what has been your latest project? I know I just ordered a copy of your latest project, and it’s almost on my doorstep! But I want you to tell me about it.
Anya: aw, did you really? Okay, so, it’s funny. The latest project – it’s taken me almost three years to do. But I created something called Theo-Dox, and it’s essentially like a living, a personal Bible index, where as you read the Bible and you come across verses that speak to a topic, you log it according to the topic so that you can find it later. And, you know, at first glance, the thought is, yeah but we have concordances and we have Bible dictionaries and we have reference Bibles… and yes, we do. Which means if you’re looking for the topic, you can find like proof texts. But as… for somebody who’s going to read their Bible their whole life, discovering a verse in the context of Scripture – it doesn’t always have the word that you’re gonna log it under. You know? So let’s say you’re reading through the gospels, and something is speaking to stewardship, right? It’s gonna say stewardship. Like, I don’t even know if the word stewardship is in the Bible, but that’s the topic. And so you can begin logging that, and then later as you’re raising your children, and you want to, you know, be like, where was that verse about, you know that I found about stewardship? Instead of paging through a million journals or sermon notes or in the little margins of your Bible, even a journaling Bible, you need to know where the reference is. So the idea is that it’s just like a guided index, personal journal log that you would build over the course of, honestly, over decades. Like, it was very much an item that I created because I wish I had it myself. And I’m always like, it would be really great if someone else would make this and I could just buy it from them. But alas, it was not on the market, so I made it and I have more similar concepts that I’m looking forward to kind of getting out into my own bookshelf. And then my view of stewardship, even of fruitfulness, is that I don’t know that I’ve really finished the job if God has given me something to do if it’s not blessing somebody beyond my walls. So ideally if I’m creating something, I try to make it something that’s shareable and reproducible.
Melissa: I love that!
Anya: and thanks for getting one!
Melissa: yeah! I’m excited. It’s, I think, if nothing else – I’m not really into new year’s resolutions, but I think, okay, maybe it will arrive around the new year, and I will just say this is what I’m doing with my Bible reading this year – is keeping this together. I just picked up my Olive Tree Bible App on my phone and put in “incarnation,” into the little search bar. “Incarnation” is not a word that’s in… at least, in this translation of the Bible, right? But does Scripture talk about Incarnation? Sure does! [laughter]
Anya: yep, yep!
Melissa: so there you go, there’s a case in point.
Anya: yeah, that’s exactly the same kind of thing. Yeah, and even Trinity. You know? Like, trinity – you’re not gonna find the word “trinity” in the Bible. And I think that’s… I originally wanted to create the tool for specifically for theological doctrine. Because I was taught doctrine through the creeds and then the verses that supported those creeds, but originally the creeds were built from Scripture. So I wanted to create a tool that could help Christians read the Bible and identify where these things are speaking of the identity of God, the identity of Christ. Then they could log it and then look at those verses and say, okay, in the whole, what is this saying about Jesus? It is saying Jesus is man. It is also saying Jesus is God. It is also saying the Holy Spirit is God, but the Holy Spirit is not the same as Jesus. So what does this tell us? You know? That they would then, whether they know the words incarnation, hyperstatic union, it’s kind of irrelevant. But that they would know who God is as He’s revealed Himself is the goal. And that was, that’s exactly, that’s a perfection example: “incarnation” is not in Scripture, but as you read, you’re gonna see Scripture making it very clear that Jesus was a man, and then His claims and the things that prove that He was not just a man, but also God, and then… you know, you gotta wrestle with that, you know? And that’s where I think the offense, I mean that’s where the offense comes in.
Melissa: so tell me. Tell me your thought on the disclaimer, the – okay, before we talk about this, before we get offensive [laughter]…
Anya: so, I… I actually… when we were kind of talking through discussing this and it being recorded and then played for people that neither of us may know personally, and may not follow up and say, what did you mean by that? it sounded like you said this… I was hesitant, because there is the… the true aspects of Who is Jesus, and I don’t, I don’t, I’m not hesitant about talking about that. But then there’s the side of, what does that look like in our home? Like, how do we teach that to our children? What sorts of things do we use? I love actually, I think it’s Rebekah Merkle who talks about incarnating the Gospel in our homes. Who do we incarnate the Incarnation? Right? What sorts of tangible activities, traditions, practices can we do as Christian parents… and even just as Christians in our own lives… to bring that to life? And those are two different things, right? There’s the doctrine that whether I was alive or not, these things are true. This is about God and this is about the world He created and what He has done in order to redeem it – those things I’ve got no hesitation on speaking of those things. I get nervous about the application side because it is the whole, the whole of it is really in the realm of freedom of conscience. And so something that I might feel free to practice, like say… I don’t even really have a manger scene, but it’s not our manger scene. I just don’t have one. I really want a pretty olive one from Bethlehem, and I don’t have one yet. Whereas I have friends who would never have a manger scene with a baby Jesus, because they… and I believe, very legitimately according to their conscience… believe it to be in violation of the second commandment. And so I would never encourage them to get one or tell them they should get one. And they would also understand that I’m working within my freedom of conscience. But I hesitate to mention things like that, or even Christmas trees, wreaths, anything evergreen right, has some pagan roots. Everything with… well, with… my kids are making gingerbread houses today. There is nothing Christian about gingerbread houses, you know? But, wow, we love making gingerbread houses! And what I would hate is if somebody caught on to… well, a couple, ditch on both side of the road. One ditch is, you hear the practical steps and you think, oh, if I can implement those steps, my children will grasp the Incarnation. Right? So there’s that ditch. And then there’s the other side of the ditch which is that I would actually cause unnecessary offense and division to a sincere sister in Christ who is walking according to her conscience and honoring the Lord in her choices, and me mentioning something is offensive to her and creates a disunity and a division among believers. Which is like such a grievous thing to me is when we are dividing over things within the freedom of conscience. And so that is my disclaimer, is that when we go from what is the Incarnation to how do we through family traditions and things like that observe it, practice it, remember it, acknowledge it… that all of those things have to be taken within a context. And the last thing I would want to do is divide over how someone may or may not choose to do that. Or when someone may or may not choose to do it. Because some don’t celebrate Advent – it’s a church calendar, that is a tradition! Advent is in the realm. What’s not is that Jesus Christ, Son of God, became flesh and came to earth to rescue us. So we all sit there. And from there, we then, you know, navigate how to practice it. But knowing the different, the distinction, I think is essential.
Melissa: yeah, that’s a beautiful way to put it actually. Sort of echoes the idea that we’ve talked about numerous times of principles versus methods. Truth versus traditions, maybe.
Anya: yeah. Sure.
Melissa: and a godly paideia can look many different ways. It can be implemented or practiced, as you said, in a multitude of different ways. It can be made manifest differently from family to family, which is beautiful. I love learning from other people. I was just chatting with someone yesterday who said even she and her husband don’t come to Advent on the same perspective. And so they’ve created what works for their family now, and it’s beautiful. And some of the things she was sharing with me about church calendar and how they view it, it’s not necessarily how I view it, but I loved the conversation and learning from her. It just, it blessed and it made me so excited to think, wow, they do it this way, I do it this other way, but we’re both – in that freedom of conscience – we are both seeking to honor the Lord and to bless our families. And so that’s just…
Melissa: it’s exactly what you’re talking about. I just had this conversation yesterday with someone!
Anya: and it’s, this should be a given among believers. You know. But I think keeping it at the forefront of the conversation helps protect the enemy from sowing those seeds of discord. Which is not, not glorifying to the Lord, and the opposite of His, you know, huge upper room discourse is like, let them be one. These are not to fight over. We are not gonna fight over Advent, Christmas trees, manger scenes, all these things. You know. That’s… what we’re gonna do is glorify the Son of God, who was also Son of Man, Son of David, all of it. And that’s, that is huge and big and big enough. You know.
Melissa: so when it comes to Athanasius… first of all, I love the name Athanasius. One of my babies has Athanasius as middle name. But the name Athanasius, the word – I don’t know how pronounce it in, you know, Greek – but, means immortal. And so I just immediately when I saw that Athanasius wrote on the Incarnation, talking about the immortal taking on mortality… what is that, 1 Corinthians 15 I think? I just immediately, I think, oh, how neat of God to put immortality and mortality on the heart of Athanasius. You know, names always have meaning, and I just kind of, I kind of love that. Tell me when you picked up On The Incarnation as a book, I guess, but also just the idea of incarnation as a whole… how has that struck you?
Anya: so when I… like you mentioned earlier when we were talking about Incarnation… Incarnation is obviously so much bigger than Christmastime. Which is why some who don’t observe Advent or the church calendar, you know, would say, why don’t we sing “Christmas hymns” all year long. Like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This is our cry as believers, you know? So the Incarnation, when Athanasius approaches it, he is talking so much more than just about Christmas. You know, he’s not just talking about the birth of Christ at all. In fact he spends very little on that. What he’s doing is making a case that the Word became flesh. Which for those of who believe in sola scriptura, that’s also non negotiable. Because we’re told that in John chapter one. And that’s where the word Incarnation comes from, right, is that the Word became flesh. And we know that the Word is the Son, we know that the Word is Christ, and he then goes throughout the book and makes a case for… he basically is answering objections of the Jews, he goes and answers objections of the Gentiles, and he’s making this case that you have to reckon with the reality of who Jesus was. Because He is not like any other, He’s not like any other human who has ever walked the earth. And you know… I’m not against happy birthday Jesus cakes at all… freedom of conscience, you know. But I, I’m like, every human has had a birthday. Having a birthday does not make somebody any unique… other than, yes, we, we like to acknowledge people on their birthdays. But December 25th wasn’t probably His birthday, I mean you’ve got a one out of 365 chance that it was, but quite possibly it wasn’t. And so is it a really… is Christmas about Jesus’ birth? Is the Incarnation about His birth or is it about His identity? Right? Which was His identity from, like you said, the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, from the moment that, you know, He was in Mary’s womb. And through, through today. Right. Through the crucifixion, through the resurrection, through the ascension. The Incarnation is all of that. And I think what’s interesting to me, and something that I come back to often, is the… the fact that God put on a body. That is something that, like… I almost get a little uneasy in my stomach when, when I think about that reality. Because we believe in one God, in one Creator, eternal. Right? Like, this is our confession as Christians. And yet we also confess that He wrapped Himself in flesh and walked about us as a human. I mean. If we thought Hercules was a weird story, right? Like that’s got nothing on this. [laughter] Nothing! Even when people talk about like, oh, don’t take away Santa from your kids. The magic of Santa! And I’m not gonna get into Saint Nicholas or Santa. Freedom of conscience. You go girl, like whatever you want to do. But can you get more amazing than the actual truth that the eternal God was willing to bind Himself into a human body? That is something that keeps me up at night. That is what Athanasius was fighting over. That is what they were fighting over in the creeds. Like, was there a time when Jesus, when the Son didn’t exist? No! Right? Or we would all be Jehovah’s Witnesses. No, there was never a time when He didn’t exist. Because He Himself is fully God and fully man. And again, it makes me a little uneasy in my stomach. Because this is why the Jews couldn’t, they couldn’t, because it’s… you all talk about the second commandment and not, you know, making a graven image… they’re saying God has a body. Right? Now we’re saying God has a body, and that’s it. And it’s offensive. Like, you have to wrestle with the Incarnation. You just have to. Non-believer, believer, or not, you have to wrestle with who Jesus was. And you know, this is a lovely time of year to do that.
Melissa: now, I know Athanasius… in the introduction of this book actually, it even mentions this… Athanasius was, let’s see, probably born in the latter half of the year 299. And so in the 4th century is when, you know, he lived and wrote and he accompanied Alexander as a young deacon to the Council of Nicaea, right? So the whole… that Council were there discussing and arguing over and taking offense at the deity of Jesus, right?
Anya: mhmm, oh yeah, with Arius. And Athanasius was kicked out, he lived in exile for years because they went with the other guys. You know. And he continued to say, no, like that is not according to the Scriptures. And I mean, he… talk about… I don’t know. Talk about a faithful father in the church who we owe a lot to. You know, like, he… he, I mean it’s also his Easter letter than is our canonization. Like our Old and New Testament books are from his Easter letter in three hundred, I don’t know, sixty or seventy something. Like Athanasius is a, he was right in the thick of it. And he didn’t get, there was no Spark Notes for Athanasius. Like there was just Scripture.
Melissa: right, right!
Anya: like no Bible reference books.
Melissa: I love in, again in the introduction, it says, “Athanasius expounds the central mystery of Christian theology, the Incarnation. But in a manner that embraces all aspects of God’s work from creation to re-creation.” And that right there, I mean it’s right there in the beginning before the actual treatise, right? Talking about the central mystery, and how it embraces all aspects. So there’s that mind-blowing… it’s not just about conception and the pregnancy and the birth, it’s not just that. It’s… yeah, what did you say? The… His… not His nature…
Melissa: identity, yeah. It’s His identity, yeah!
Anya: yeah, I have a friend who doesn’t celebrate anything of Advent and Christmas, a very sincere believer. And I asked her, I said, do you do anything to just make sure that you’re acknowledging and recognizing? Because I don’t think church calendar is necessary, you know, but I find it very helpful, and I love the church calendar. And I – I mentioned, I was like, I appreciate it because it… it re… it takes me through a lap every year on our key doctrines and our key confessions. And so this time of year I spend day after day after day dwelling and thinking on the implications of God becoming man, and a perfect Man at that, that He gave us a second Adam. Like it’s everything… like if, let’s say in the Theo-Dox tool, right, let’s say you were going to try to collect the verses on the Incarnation. Like, you would run out of room, hands down, you know, because every time we’re, we’re talking about Jesus’ identity, every time the deity of Christ is part of that, and His humanity of Christ. The fact that He could die at all. I don’t know what of Athanasius’ writings it’s in, but he has another writing where he makes a case about why… he gives this analogy, this is like a modern day paraphrase of it… where he talks about how God, Jesus had to be God. He had to be eternal, for if He wasn’t, obviously He, you know, He couldn’t die for the sins of everybody. If all He was was… and he used this analogy… I feel like it’s not a glass of water because it wouldn’t have been at that time in history, maybe a jug of water or something? But he talks about how like, let’s say that only a full and perfect, complete, and untainted glass of water is what’s allowed into heaven. And that glass of water represents somebody’s life. Meaning that not only is it untainted, it’s only pure water, they never did anything wrong, but they also never failed to do anything right that they were to do. Right, so you get a full glass of water. But if He is just another man, all He did was get His way into the presence of God. All He did is that He gets to go to heaven. Good for Him, you know. But here we all are with these dirty, muddy, half-filled messes in our cups, and like, Jesus doesn’t offer us any hope if He’s not God. Right? And if He’s not man He can’t die. So He has to be both or we are without hope. And so he gives this analogy of how the eternality of Christ is like the river of life which can flow into all of our muddy, dirty, nasty cups and fill it up with fresh water, that all of us… He has enough for everyone, you know. Because He lived the perfect life and He was eternal. And so none of us are left lacking in the righteousness of Christ that is imparted to us. But, but the implication of the Incarnation is in all things for us as Christians. You know. And so what a perfect way also to explain it to children. Like if we start there, then all of the following questions can be answered accordingly. You know, like if we haven’t established Jesus as God and Jesus as man, and that mystery, then the cross is another good man dying. Which is just not gonna offer much to us. It was a long time ago, you know.
Melissa: yeah, he says in here, “in no other way would the corruption of human beings be undone except simply by dying, yet being immortal and the Son of the Father, the Word was not able to die. For this reason, He takes to Himself…”
Anya: right. And to stay dead.
“For this reason, He takes to Himself a body capable of death in order that it participating in the Word who is above all might be sufficient for death on behalf of all.” And in the preface which is written by C.S. Lewis, at least in my edition, he says, “Him who is so full of life that when He wished to die He had to borrow death from others,” that idea of borrowing our death and taking on a body capable of death… it put words to the idea of Incarnation that I’d never thought of. That He couldn’t die. I never think of any part of the trinity as being incapable of anything, except maybe incapable of sin… which, sin and death, of course it’s the same, it’s connected. But the idea that, in order to be the sacrifice, He had to be able to die, and in order to be able to die He had to take on flesh. And so we who are made in the image and likeness of God… God then takes on the flesh of His own image-bearers… it’s just, it’s really some strong mental gymnastics.
Anya: it’s a… yes! It really is! And there’s a mystery left, hands down, even after we can successfully tumble our way across the mat and with it, wrestle with it, and this is still, it is still incredible. You know, it’s not… it’s not, outside of being granted faith, I don’t think it’s something anybody would come to. Nobody would believe that the Creator enters into creation in such a seemingly vulnerable way. But for the love of Christ, you know, for His people. Because that’s like, yeah… it, yeah… it makes me uneasy.
Melissa: the idea of Incarnation being so much more than just thinking of the beginning of His human life, the beginning of His human manifestation – how has that realization effected you personally?
Anya: the fact that He walked on this earth is where it all begins for me. I think I don’t, I truly don’t know where to begin my own identity as a Christian outside of the Word becoming flesh. Not that everyone else has to start there. That’s just, for me, one of those… like I always feel this time of year like I’m laying the foundation for what I’m going to be dwelling on in a few months, you know, during Lent and during, you know, Resurrection Sunday and Easter and all those things… and then the power, like as I move throughout the church calendar, the glory just increases, you know, like you’re just like, oh my word, it just never… but it’s connected at the same time. So for me, it’s like laying the foundation. In finding my identity in Christ, is first meditating on His identity according to the Scriptures.
Melissa: in Douglas Wilson’s book God Rest Ye Merry, he says, “what is the great mystery of godliness? What is the foundation of our salvation? God was manifest in the flesh. We sometimes do not appreciate the magnitude of the problem here. How could the eternal Word of the eternal Father take on limits? How can infinitude and finitude marry? The doctrine of the Incarnation proclaims frankly and without embarrassment the most stupendous miracle that can be imagined. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. But we are dealing with mysteries and miracles, not contradictions.” But that’s exactly what you just were saying. What is the foundation of our salvation? That God was manifest in the flesh! Right there.
Anya: amen. That was far… it’s almost like we had discussed that beforehand. That is like, well said. Good job, Doug Wilson. [laughter] Yeah.
Melissa: and then, again later in the book he says, “we believe in the Incarnation in the Word made flesh. This is our glory, this is our salvation. He, the source of all life and all nourishment for that life, was willing to be breastfed.”
Anya: mhmm, and you know what, this is our distinctions as Christians too. Like, we may… we may have commonalities with other monotheists, and we may have commonalities with… I was actually talking with a Muslim woman who was trying to convince me that we worship the same God, and I was like, well I have a little issue with that, because, see, you guys believe that Jesus or Isa, was simply a prophet and that Mohammed was a great prophet. but I believe that Jesus is God. And she looked at me like, you believe what? Like she almost stepped back. She was like, oh no we don’t believe in the same God. I’m like, no we don’t. And it’s, it’s like, this is where our confession begins. This is where our distinction begins. This is where orthodoxy versus cult begins, you know. Like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, like, this is where we draw a line and we say, we can… we can disagree over Christmas trees, and we can disagree over church calendar, but we do not disagree over the identity of Jesus. And my… so that’s why I love this season as a time to proclaim it and to discuss it and to wrestle with it because it is… it is, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me at least, like I… the fact that He did that is… it doesn’t… you can’t wrestle with that and go away unchanged. You know.
Melissa: so if you can’t go away from it unchanged, is there an identifiable time for you when you sort of realized this mystery, that it was such a mystery and incomprehensible? And did it change anything that you have practiced?
Anya: I think so actually, yeah. I mean, I think it’s progressive and it happens often and again and again in greater, you know, in greater layers and in a deeper way. But I… I think I can remember maybe seven or eight years ago… I wish I could say it was in Bible college when I was first taught the answers. But the truth was, I was so busy studying I’m not sure that I spent a lot of time meditating and dwelling on the truth of it. But I remember one Advent, thinking of the humanity of Jesus and what that meant, and going through the gospels and considering the reality that God walked among us. And the reality of Emmanuel. And how if God walked among us, first of all, the establishing of His love and His grace and His goodness. To go… to know there was no limit to what He was willing to do… realizing that freed me up, I don’t even know if realizing it is probably, you know, Christ in me overcoming selfishness in new ways, that freed me to realize that there is nothing that He could ask me to do on this earth that I would look back at Him and say, well that’s not fair. Like, why do I have to do that? You know, like it’s almost like it cuts so many strings for me to walk in obedience in that Christ walked in obedience. And, you know, speaking of the fact that Incarnation is not just about the nativity and you know, when I think about Jesus in the garden saying, take this cup from Me but not My will, Yours be done… I would often experience a lot of shame if I didn’t want to do something I knew God was asking me to do. But the freedom to realize that Jesus knew what He was heading into and He would’ve preferred not to, but greater than that, He chose to obey, and that empowers me to choose to obey and to not let the enemy cover me in shame over a… the fact that I know something’s gonna hurt and naturally I want to avoid that. You know? Like, His humanity was the greatest comfort to me, and I really do think… I’m to thirty-seven… maybe it was when I was pregnant with my son? and I was thinking about Mary and thinking about a baby and the vulnerability of that baby? I’m not, I don’t know, I can’t pinpoint the time. But I do remember, it’s almost like scales were coming off, and it was like I was seeing Jesus in just a completely human way without obviously losing any of His deity. Yeah. And now, well like, in the concept of Emmanuel… I was just telling a friend yesterday who was asking for prayer about something, and in that situation it’s so discouraging, you know. Like there’s nothing that I was gonna say circumstances to encourage her, but the good word of Emmanuel that she doesn’t walk through this alone, but that God is with her, and that He… He proved it by literally coming down into the world. This isn’t just a theoretical concept, you know? So I think that all of those, those things have begun to like breathe life into…
Melissa: what is your perspective… or the idea that Jesus took on human flesh for thirty-three years… and that’s… that’s not the end of it, right?
Anya: right, right.
Melissa: so how does what you’ve studied and loved about Incarnation inform…
Anya: I feel a little, this isn’t a… I hope I don’t misrepresent, you know. But what I will say is that Jesus’ resurrected body as the firstfruits of the rest of us is… see, I almost could start crying about the fact that He was willing to do all of this in eternity. Because sometimes I take comfort in thinking, you know, that He had to do it for thirty-three years but at least not forever. Because He’s saving us from hell and eternal suffering, and I take great comfort in the fact that He, His suffering was a time period on the cross. And I don’t know that I, I can’t answer for, with a lot of confidence as to what the limitations going onward… I believe that the identity of God includes omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. And so the omnipresence part, if He is indeed God, then He’s, He is still omnipresent, and yet I am not an expert on all things. Like, and I just, it’s almost down like to a molecular level. Like I don’t know how that works. Like I don’t know how He walked through the walls. I don’t know how He did that. I have some friends who are science teachers who love to discuss these possibilities. Ah, it could have been this and this and this, and I’m like, yeah I’ve got nothing. But knowing that His resurrected body is the firstfruits of ours, is another, it’s just in mercy. It’s like mercy upon mercy upon mercy. He met us through all of it! And then He paved the way through all of it for us, you know? And we are no longer ever alone. Like we go from being the enemies of God to being called by Him, chosen by Him, predestined and sanctified and then glorified… and we are never ever again without Him! You know? Like, the church as His bride – clearly His love for His people is far greater than we can grasp. You know? Because why else? Why else would He do all of this? And there’s a lot, He did a lot!
Anya: even now He’s preparing a place, you know? Yeah, I don’t, I got… I won’t enter into speculation about the how the body part later. But I do think that this is something, even my daughter, my little eight year old yesterday was asking me, and she said something about how, well, I thought no one could look at God’s face and live, and how would people look at Jesus? And I was like, this is one of the issues for the Jews. You know, like, they… this is a big thing. Then we talked about the Father is different than the Son, and different than the Holy Spirit, and a lot of that was not fully unpacked. You know not that we don’t see it in Scripture in the Old Testament, but we have a lot more about that in the New Testament. And so without the New Testament Scriptures, understanding that dynamic – as if we’re ever gonna… I mean, it’s a mystery for sure – but even just the aspects of how do we make sense of these things which are true. Yeah, maybe, leaves me with more questions than answers.
Melissa: mystery, mystery.
Anya: yeah… yeah.
Melissa: talking about the Incarnation and the way that it shapes all of life, not just the seasons of Advent and Christmastide is such a blessing. Anya and I just couldn’t get enough. So we’ve split up our conversation. Please join us again for the rest of the conversation next time where we will get to the practical. Truth and traditions? Well, next time we’ll talk a good bit about the traditions.
And that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.
Have you taken the time to survey your children about things like truth vs. tradition when it comes to your family’s holiday observances? Specifically asking what they actually remember year by year? Have you ever giggled at their responses or given yourself a face-palm for what they say? Melissa from Paideia Northwest and Jenn from Paideia Southeast took a chance on their kids, and are happy to share this little insight with you! It is fun to hear what these seven kids had to say when asked about the meaning of Advent or the traditions & atmosphere in their homes during this season. Maybe this will inspire you to ask your children some similar questions and get the conversation going around your dinner table.
Melissa and Jenn also then took the time to share with one another (and with you!) about some of their own favorite ways to cultivate a specific paideia in their own homes during Advent. Everyone pursues traditions (for marking of days or celebrating annual events or creating memories) differently from family to family, and we love to learn from one another as well as just pause to reflect on why we do what we do. Why do my kids love the Jello their grandmother makes? Why are Advent countdown calendars such a thrill? Why do we love getting presents? How do these tangible, practicable, experiential things point us toward Christ as we repeat them year over year?
This isn’t about teaching anyone to do anything particular: rather, this episode is all about sensing the atmosphere in two homes (three thousand miles apart), and how these particular mamas seek to bring their children with them into the unnecessary-yet-completely-lovely practice of Advent. It is our hope that it will simply serve to inspire you to pursue a godly paideia with your own kids, think about your traditions, and maybe give you some new ideas or ring with familiarity.
What does Advent mean to your kids?
What are the favorite sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences in your family during this season?
What traditions have you and your husband brought from your own childhoods, and how have your entwined those things into the tapestry of your own family culture?
If you have never practiced Advent, what one tradition would you want to try implementing in your home?
Links to Resources
The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher by Robert Kraus
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
Raspberry Jello salad recipe
Mushroom Risotto recipe
Hallelujah by Cindy Rollins
Christmas Spirit by George Grant and Gregory Wilbur
Spending the season of Advent cultivating an atmosphere of Savior-centered conversation is a goal many of us mamas have, which can honestly feel a little counter-cultural during the weeks before Christmas when the world around us is spinning with gharish decorations and messages of materialism under the guise of incredible sales your holiday can’t exist without. In Cindy Rollins’ book Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah, we are encouraged to keep things simple, humble, doable. She writes, “I highly recommend that you do not complicate it too much… Advent is a time of anticipation and joy. What I love most about using Messiah as an outline for the season is that it is just so simple.”
For this paideia conversation, Melissa and Jenn get to visit with Cindy Rollins to talk about the changing dynamics of life seasons from year to year while seeking to cultivate the foundation of a family culture which fosters familiarity, community, and anchors us in Christ. Cindy encourages us that “we do all these things, and we want to be faithful, but it’s Christ that gives the increase.”
While you are wrapping Christmas gifts or taking a walk on a crisp Advent morning, listen in and be encouraged. As Cindy said, “the plodding along as a mom with a family is more important than the actual accomplishing of some great feat of getting it all in during the holidays.”
Links to Resources
Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins
Behold the Lamb by Andrew Peterson
Waiting on the Word by Malcolm Guite
Love Came Down at Christmas by Sinclair Ferguson
The Dawn of Redeeming Grace by Sinclair Ferguson
Bright Evening Star by Madeleine L’Engle
Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope
Cindy’s Website, Morning Time for Moms
Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is my cohost Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast, and our guest today is Cindy Rollins. We invite you into this conversation with us we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia.
From Day 1: Isaiah 40:1-5 “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
And from Day 25: Revelation 5:12-13 “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
My friends, these are words of the Lord and we give thanks to God.
Today as we get to visit with Cindy Rollins, the author of Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah, this is the reason, this is the point. In her book, Cindy says, “this is one thing I appreciate about the liturgical year. When it becomes a part of your family culture, it can have a stabilizing effect. As life swirls around us, we have the familiarity of the same activities, traditions, smells, sounds, and words to keep us anchored. And what better to be anchored to than the Church, the Bride of Christ, and as the Bride of Christ, to Christ Himself.” She also says, “we will straggle through the week after Christmas, celebrating one birthday and the new year, but the major festival of the year is now over. I enjoy a couple weeks of recovery by reading, reading, and reading. We are then all ready to return to normalcy. But not without the memory that we are a Christian family, and we have a Messiah.” I’m delighted to introduce to you today my friend, my mentor, Cindy Rollins.
Cindy, have you met Jenn?
Cindy: have we met, Jenn?
Jenn: you know, we actually did. A few years ago at a CiRCE conference in North Carolina. It was a long time ago.
Cindy: oh okay, I know your name, and I know you’re familiar. But I’m, I have a hard time keeping up with that kind of thing.
Melissa: so, Jenn is working with Heather Tully and some other friends down north of Atlanta doing the Paideia Southeast stuff. So…
Cindy: I know! Okay. That’s awesome.
Melissa: so it’s really fun. And Jenn has been so gracious and we’ve had a lot of fun chatting with some people on this sort of medium. But yeah, you look beautiful, by the way, Cindy.
Cindy: oh, thank you, I need to hear that because I’m having a big birthday this week.
Jenn: that’s right! It’s the sixth! Because I just read it in the book yesterday!
Cindy: yes, I’ve announced it to the whole world.
Melissa: St. Nicholas, right, yeah?
Cindy: yeah, St. Nicholas’ Day.
Melissa: so what are you doing for your birthday?
Cindy: oh I don’t know. I’m just gonna go… well we’re going out to eat somewhere. And we’re having like a birthday here and a birthday there. Just different people, college boys coming home.
Cindy: but some people not. So, my husband’s going to celebrate with me on Monday, and then with my daughter and my mother, and then when the college kids come home we’ll do something with them.
Melissa: yeah! Oh fun! Well, it’s nice to see sunshine in both of your…
Melissa: …both of your rooms. Because I mean, here it’s still dark. And I’m in my closet with my closet door closed.
Melissa: it’s gray, right? It’s the darkest time of the year, and here up north I feel like it’s darker than where you are.
Cindy: yeah, definitely.
Melissa: well thanks for taking some time just to – it’s so nice to see your beautiful smile, but then just to chat for a few minutes this Advent season. So both Jenn and I have been encouraged by your book Hallelujah. I have the, I have this one, but then I also, I realized I still have this one too – oh look at that, Jenn and I have both of them right here. [laughter]
Cindy: I have both too.
Melissa: nice! So, was it just last year in 2020 that the second one came out?
Cindy: yes, it was. We redid it last year. Blue Sky Daisies. And they did a fantastic job on it. I got to upgrade some of the essays, which I’m very pleased about. Got a poem from Thomas Banks, that was really fun. And I just love the new, the new one.
Melissa: yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. Well, Cindy, could you take just a moment to briefly introduce yourself and maybe tell us why you wrote this?
Cindy: okay. Well, I’m Cindy Rollins. I’m a mother to, I have nine children who are all grown up. And just about to have fifteen grandchildren, so I’m excited about that. And I wrote Hallelujah because I love the whole Christmas season, and when I first wrote it – when I first started celebrating Christmas with my family, I was coming off Christmas traditions with my, you know, my family of origin where I came from. But I didn’t really know anything about this idea of Advent. But slowly as I read and was thinking and really reading cookbooks, I started to realize that there was a different time of year called Advent that led into Christmas. And I just loved that idea. And I had a little book called, a Lutheran Advent book, that I used, I loved it, I picked it up on some table somewhere. And I used it for years. It was just this little family, it was not that dissimilar to Hallelujah. And we had done that for years. So then you know, I decided, as I was… I don’t know if you’re asking me about the book, or about actually Hallelujah the Messiah and all, the whole shibang, but…
Melissa: well, we can get to the whole shibang, yeah.
Cindy: okay, yeah, so then I just decide, I had made up a little, you know, Hallelujah, Messiah, schedule for my family and we used it every year. And then one day I realized, well, I love this idea of putting this in a book like the little book I used, and I’d like to do that too. So that’s sort of how the book was born.
Melissa: yeah, I love that. Jenn, do you want to ask her about how she’s cultivating – how she did it differently as a mother versus a grandmother?
Jenn: yeah! What does that look like now, Cindy? Do you have any opportunities to cultivate Advent traditions with your grandkids? I don’t know how close you live to some of them. Like how has that transition looked now with most of your kids being out of the house?
Cindy: right. No, not really. I mean, with my grandkids, I gave a few of them a copy of Hallelujah, the older ones, when it came out, the new one. I gave them a copy of it so they could kind of remember it. You know, maybe have that – I signed it just particularly for that child. And I don’t see my grandkids a lot during the holidays. I usually see them either, you know, a couple weeks before or a week after, and, or I visit them. But yeah. I still have college kids that come home for Christmas, so my husband and I just don’t pick up and go. And our house is small. And I wish it was, I wish we had gotten a bigger house. I love my house. But I wish I had a bigger house in a way, because then it would make it more conducive. Now if we all want to get together, we really just basically have to rent something somewhere. So we concentrate a lot on Thanksgiving and then everybody kind of does their own Christmas things. But I do, I do have books and stories, I send them Christmas stuff, I send them Christmas packages, and that sort of thing. And I send them cookies because…
Jenn: aww, well… cookies! That’s great.
Cindy: yes, my love language has always been cookies.
Jenn: that’s awesome.
Cindy: and that’s one way I can… I love that. A couple years ago, one of my grandsons said, oh Cece, you make the best cookies! So I feel like I wear that badge very proudly.
Jenn: oh that’s great. See, I love hearing that the book, the Hallelujah book, was born out of a tradition that you were already doing and sort of compiling on your own. I didn’t know that, and I love that.
Cindy: oh yeah, definitely.
Jenn: do you remember what specifically, what kind of grabbed you and led you to do the Messiah in the first place?
Cindy: I do. I remember that very well because, and it, years and years and years we did it before I even thought of turning it into something to sell to other people. And I love that… the thing is, like, I got up this morning and did the Hallelujah, I did my Hallelujah devotions. And I used, I had to pick up the book and think, what day are we in? As a matter of fact, I was a day behind. So I had to do two parts today which was fine because I had time to do that. But that’s one reason I love it so much. It’s not something that gets you behind. You don’t feel stressed or worried. But we, I one day – it was… so we had all these Christmas devotions that we would do in our family. Morning Time during the whole month of December was always all Christmas the whole time. Reading aloud Christmas books, reading Christmas passages in the Bible. And I would use different Advent materials and they would always be focused on the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ in the future. And as I was listening to Messiah one day, well, I bought a CD of the Messiah which is the St-Martin-in-the-Fields Messiah, and Blue Sky Daisies has a resource page for Hallelujah, so if you’re wondering what Messiah to use, I won’t go into that here because it’s confusing, but go to Blue Sky Daisies, go to their resource page, hit Hallelujah, and you can find that there.
Melissa: I will link that to make it easy.
Cindy: yes. My Messiah had a libretto of the words each day, I mean, it wasn’t days, it was just, this is, this one, this one, this one, this one. And every year I’d be looking over that, and then one day it just clicked with me, well these are the prophecies that we’re doing in these devotions. What if we just did these devotions with the CD? And so I started to just read the Bible passages and play the CD. And of course then the CD became, you know, an Mp3, and then it became a streaming. You can find it all over the place, but it was just – it was just a no-brainer at that point. And really, I just feel like it was the Holy Spirit just bringing a bunch of things together that kind of, in a way that I don’t know, it just kind of all came together and I was just, duh. Well this is, you know, this has already been done by Handel, putting these verses together. And what I also love about Messiah – some people use it for Easter. I mean, you can listen to it all year round.
Cindy: but I like the idea of remembrance. So we remember the things in the past. The prophecies that concern the coming, the first coming of Christ, but Messiah takes us beyond that to remember that we have a future hope in Christ. We’re gonna have a second coming, and it ties us both together so beautifully that Christmas really is a wild celebration of this coming of Christ. Not just that He came, but that He is coming again.
Jenn: I love that!
Melissa: I love that!
Jenn: me too! I did not grow up with Advent at all, and I think the things that I’m most attracted to use for my family are the things that do that: putting Christmas in a broader context of, okay, the past and then His coming, and then the future. So like the Jesse Tree and even Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb, that music, seems kind of in the same family.
Cindy: yeah. Right, and that is – those were some of the resources I was using before. Especially the Jesse Tree stuff, I was using some of that. And then, it was like, oh, this Messiah really fits perfectly in with those ideas.
Melissa: so something you say in Hallelujah… you say, “our family has done this year after year after year so that Messiah is part of our hearts and minds. In addition to this simple method [that you use in the book], I sometimes have the whole oratorio in the background just as a remembrance.” So there’s that word again: remembering. And I love that because it does, it’s just a beautiful way to hold those words and the tune as well in our hearts, in our mind, and have it playing in the background and in the forefront. But you say, “Advent is a time of anticipation and joy. What I love most about using Messiah as an outline for this season is that it is just so simple.”
Melissa: and it’s true! It is. It’s so simple. It’s available everywhere. It is Scripture. It’s familiar and yet when we spend the time to meditate on it, to focus on these details that this book helps us walk through, it’s also profound.
Melissa: but I love that balance of simplicity with the profound. It’s so encouraging.
Cindy: a couple things happen. First of all, music touches our emotions as well as our, you know, the Scripture touches our mind in a way, and the music touches our emotions, and it kind of brings it all together in a very, very simple way so that, you know, we’re not… sometimes we get these devotions for our families and we’re reading these long passages and then, then we’re, you know… the kids, it’s just like, the kids are just uhh, they’re just tuned out. But this is something ongoing so that each year as they’re hearing this same music over and over and over again, and it’s becoming instilled in their hearts, and hopefully it will be tied to some of the joy of Christmas that you have in your family, because joy is a very compelling testimony…
Jenn: I love that there’s a musical element. It is music. But that helps so much with the remembrance. The remembering versus memorizing kind of concept is, I fee like this is more on the remembering – the remembrance end of that. Or not requiring the kids to memorize the songs. We’re just playing them. And we’re doing it year after year, and they throughout the year will sit around chanting all we like sheep, we like sheep! [laughter] Even in the… it just happens… even in the Shakespeare, I mean, other things besides the Messiah that you’ve included in the book, will come to mind for my kids throughout the year.
Cindy: right, right.
Jenn: And I’m not requiring that they memorize any of that. I love that they are. But it’s just this very gentle kind of repetition over that week and then you move on to something else. But then year after year, it builds.
Cindy: amen. And really, that’s the point of memory. The point of memorizing is not so that we get these facts down or we get this word perfect ideas, but that we have something in our heart that flows through and comes out appropriately. And I like to say that it’s available to the Holy Spirit also in the lives of our children to use when needed. We don’t know when that is, and it’s so much more important than, I’ve gotta memorize this passage, you know. We want the passage in our hearts in love, not, oh yeah I remember that time my mom beat me so that [laughter] I could remember this Bible verse.
Melissa: you say in here actually just echoing what Jenn just said. The entire Advent season is one of remembrance. We are remembering the birth of Christ, but we are also remembering that His birth was foretold over and over again in the Old Testament.” And so that’s where you go back to the prophecies. In Isaiah, and I’m trying to think… obviously Isaiah, but is it Micah and…?
Melissa: yeah, Malachi.
Cindy: almost all of the prophets, the psalms, all of Scripture from beginning to end we have… I mean, the entire Old Testament is filled with foreshadowings of Christ and Messiah captures a good portion of that.
Melissa: yeah. Well I was gonna say, the idea of that liturgical year, the Church year – this is the beginning of the year. This is, Happy New Year, Church!
Melissa: but not having grown up with a liturgical aspect, right, to that calendar, to that thinking of this is new year, this is the beginning and yet this is looking forward… What has that looked like to cultivate that for you, not even necessarily in your motherhood, but just as an individual? What’s that like to have that perspective now?
Cindy: well it’s become more and more important to me the older I get. And one of the reasons I believe it’s so important is it ties us to the worldwide church of Christ. That we don’t stand alone. You know, we’re not the last man standing, as you know, Jesus said, God said to Elijah… was it Elijah… when he said, I’m alone left on the earth. The liturgy reminds us that there are people all over the world that follow these traditions and follow this calendar, and that our reading these verses and our, you know, singing these songs at the same time that we are, and we belong to Christ – all of us who call upon the name of Jesus – belong to Christ! And the church calendar just ties us together a little bit, it just gives us a little solidarity. And I love that it does that, and it increasingly important for me. it gives me so much joy. If I get out like the Book of Common Prayer, and I’m reading for the day those verses, to think, I’m not reading these by myself, I’m reading these with other people in the world that are reading these verses today. So there’s – that is one aspect of it. And I think it brings some majesty and some, the idea of worship that, to our lives. I think the church calendar reminds us that it’s not about us, it’s about something far bigger than us. And that, I like it for that reason. Just as I grow older, and -like you- I didn’t come from a tradition that even knew what the church calendar was. I genuinely was reading a cookbook when I, she had all these feast days, and do this do this do this… and that appealed to my heart in some ways. And we see that God has made that in the Bible. He set up this idea that there are days for feasting and there are days for fasting. And those all… because as humans, He’s made us this way, in His image, so I think this very much appeals to our spirits.
Melissa: I like how you remind that there’s the time for both feasting and fasting in Scripture. And I know reading about, sort of the history of Advent, I think you talk about that in the book – how in some traditions, or in some families even – there’s more of a penitential side to Advent. More in line with what a lot of people do with Lent leading up to Easter, Advent can be more of a penitential season of fasting and pondering and putting off the celebration until Christmas Eve. And then focusing on those those twelve days of Christmas. I love that it’s not prescribed, right? That we can use the book Hallelujah in a different way depending on your family, depending on how the Lord is leading that particular household to honor and set aside and make these days special in remembrance. So I love that too. That it can be used in different ways. I happen to use it the same way you do, but I know not everybody does.
Cindy: no. It can be used in different ways, and I, I truly believe that the more simple your traditions are, the more likely they are to get repeated. And that’s gonna give them way more power. The way we complicate it, the less powerful they become because, for one thing, we’re stressed out and worried and we’re trying to get these things in that we can’t. You know, the family things are going to happen to interrupt things. That’s why, it’s – there’s nothing wrong with finishing… like if you get to Christmas and you’re only halfway through, why not just keep going? You can go into January. Excuse me, you can go into February if you want! You know, I think the plodding along as a mom with a family is more important than the actual accomplishing some great feat of, you know, getting it all in during the holidays.
Jenn: well, kind of on somewhat related… Cindy, how do you – how did your Advent celebrations sort of change over the years as you, as your kids started, you know, getting older, leaving home, and maybe kind of like any tips or perspective you might offer in kind of rolling with those changes and the flexibility that’s needed there?
Cindy: yeah. Rolling with change is – I always say: adapting to change is really a key to happiness in life. If you can’t adapt to change, you’re not going to enjoy life at all. Especially as a woman. Because our lives, I believe that in the lives – women’s lives change more drastically often than men’s lives. Men, you know: a man goes and gets a career and spends his life doing it, then he retires and that’s a major change for him. But a woman. You know, she’s nursing, I mean she’s pregnant first, she’s nursing, she’s having children. You know, she’s building a home in the early years and then just about the time she gets that home all perfect and the way she wants it and she’s got Advent going the right way… somebody grows up! And then it has to change again, because it’s a drastic change to lose even one member of a family because everybody’s role changes. And then that person, you know, everybody settles back and then boom! there it is again. And Mom is in the center of all this change. And then she’s caring for her parents and maybe even her husband’s parents, and all these things, and she’s a grandmother. This is just massive change. And sometimes we can feel like there’s something wrong… change often feels wrong to us, because it’s a change, it’s different, and we don’t know how to adapt to it. But adapting to change is really, really important. And accepting the changes as they come, some are gonna be good and some are gonna be bad and some indifferent – just things you have to adjust to – but just knowing that it’s okay if your life looks a little different one year than it does the next. I’ve had seasons where it looked like my nest was completely empty and it was going to stay empty. And right now, out of the blue, three children – two college boys that had lived in apartments downtown ended up moving back home, and my daughter’s here too, so all of a sudden my totally empty nest is now filled with you know, more people. And that’s a change. I mean, I’ loving it, but it is a change, it is – oh, suddenly, I you know, I have to rearrange my schedule to fit the change. And I can’t, you know, I have to be willing to adapt to that. So all of life is like this and we don’t know. For women I feel like it’s much more, life is much more fluid and I just, I know that some changes can feel really hard, and they can feel like you can’t adapt to it. But if you’re all alone, you can still do many of these things. This is where the church calendar comes in. And I was all alone for several Advents, and I was doing these things that reminded me not only of my time with my family but of my primary relationship which is with Christ. And that’s always gonna be there, always gonna be the same. He is changeless. So if we cling to Him, then we can get through all these changes so much better, so much more peacefully than if we’re, like the Bible says, what is it, torn by every wind of doctrine. You know. We can become very fragile and easily pulled to the right or to the left if we’re not centered on the Changeless One.
Jenn: I love that. On a practical note, as you kind of backtrack even from kids leaving the house and just, you know, maybe even like, high school kids getting jobs and schedules looking different, homeschool schedules looking different, and needing to kind of flex there. Did you find yourself flexing to include those kids? Or was it kind of different in different seasons? Would you hold off on the Advent celebrations until they were home? Or how did you, I don’t know…
Cindy: all of that. At first, I was very reluctant to let anything go. Like Morning Time, I was reluctant to let anybody fly away to let anybody change, let anybody go to work. I found myself saying, well we’ll wait until they get home. And then one day I realized, oh, you know, this is the beginning of the end. They’re not coming home. Not all the time. [laughter] So you’re gonna have to adapt here. And I think sometimes it’s okay just to say, you know what, everybody’s not gonna be here for this. It’s better to do a little bit in the morning, maybe with whoever is there, whomever is there. And then just be okay with the fact that, hey, this other, the other child that’s like flown the nest or not available or at work or whatever, is still benefitting from the rhythms of the family even if they’re not there. They see that those rhythms are going on, and that means they’re important. So you kind of just have to take solace in that, and then…
Jenn: that’s sweet.
Cindy: …eventually when they start their own homes and their own families, they’ll find those things coming back.
Melissa: I feel like that addresses that idea of purposed cultivation of family traditions, and the blessing that that is. I mean, you can try to do all the things, you can throw it all out there and see what sticks.
Melissa: but I feel like that idea of purposely cultivating, purposely planting and seeing what the Lord brings from the harvest… I feel like that’s what you’re talking about.
Cindy: yes, I do too. That you purposefully do these things. And that is, once again, why Messiah is so perfect for this season. Because you can easily do this every year and it not grow old, it not become something stale or, you know, it’s not just Mom yakking away in the background about, you know, this and that and the other thing. It’s really centered on Christ, really centered on the Scripture, and the music is beautiful. So it’s a simple tradition that can easily be repeated. Whereas sometimes, I mean, we had years where we were doing whole crafts around the nativity. You know, we make this this day, we make this that day… and those were fun years. But those aren’t the years that are going to be continually repeated year after year after year. Because it would be hard. And it would be inappropriate at times, whereas this is appropriate in every season whether you have an infant in a crib or you’re all alone like me in the mornings with your devotion.
Jenn: I hadn’t honestly thought of that element of it, but it’s true. It is something that you grow into, and it’s age appropriate the whole time! And it also doesn’t get old, I mean, because like you said, it’s straight Scripture. It’s all Scripture, and Scripture never gets old, so that’s – I love that.
Cindy: yeah, living and active. So you can’t go wrong with Scripture.
Melissa: what was your connection with Greg Wilbur, speaking of the connection to the music? Because he talks in the book about the actual listening, what to listen for. What’s your connection with him?
Cindy: he’s my friend. [laughter] And I said, Greg, can you do this? And he said, sure, I’d be glad to. I’ve known Greg a long time. In fact, he was our… we went to Parish Pres in Franklin, Tennessee. It was our church and Greg was the song director at that church. He’s at a sister church to that at this point at Cornerstone, also in Franklin, Tennessee, now. And Greg is a composer, he has written church music, he has several albums that you can get on iTunes of church music -very beautiful church music. We like to listen to his music on Sunday mornings, put him on and listen. But, so, Greg – we had gone to church with Greg, and, I continued knowing him over the years, so I just, he was the first, my first go-to person. Who could do this, who could explain this music? And Greg did that for me. And Greg, we, this summer, I had my moms’ summer discipleship course which I run every summer. And we have a, we always do a composer, we always study a composer during that time. And this year we did Vivaldi The Four Seasons, and Greg – I asked him to do a class on that for during the summer. He came in, he blew that music wide open! I mean, I love the music and the music stands alone. But for someone to explain the way he did, the music was so phenomenal. So he’s just a very talented musician, he understands classical music and he understands church music. So he was just the go-to guy.
Cindy: and he is heavily involved in New College Franklin, which is a great place if you’re looking for somewhere to send your children to school or… that that is a very wonderful place.
Jenn: I’ve enjoyed, I’ve liked his commentary on the, in the Hallelujah book a lot. I don’t read it all aloud to my children but I’ll pull out bits, and it gives them something to look for and when they’re listening, just things to recognize. And their understanding has grown over the years. It’s been neat to see.
Melissa: starting tomorrow we’ll be using little bits of that in our weekly co op for the next few weeks during Advent
Jenn: oh, fun.
Melissa: during our Collective, we’ll be listening to the Messiah and so I’ll be sharing bits from Hallelujah, and specifically sharing some of Wilbur’s perspective in what to look for. So I get to share that a little more broadly
Cindy: that will be great.
Melissa: well, as we wrap this up, what are you reading and listening to besides maybe Hallelujah and the Messiah this Advent season?
Cindy: yeah, this year – so I usually read Malcolm Guite’s – for several years I’ve read Malcolm Guite’s poetry book for Advent, which I love, but I’ve read it now a couple times. And I wanted to go a different, you know, a different direction. So I am, one of the things I’m reading is a Sinclair Lewis – I mean, Ferguson, what’s his name. I mean Sinclair Ferguson. He has two different Advent devotionals that I’ve downloaded to my Kindle. And I haven’t started them yet, but I’m excited about those. Because they’re very, from what I understand, they’re very meaty and full of – I’m like, should I read one this year and read one next year or should I just do both? You know, we’ll see. We’ll see how that goes. I’m also, for fun I’m reading this, our book club is doing Christmas at Thompson Hall and other Stories by Anthony Trollope.
Jenn: oh fun!
Cindy: they’re Christmas stories. So we usually, so we, our book club has done like, one year we did A Christmas Carol, and then Dickens’ The Chimes. And we had run out of Dickens’ stories, we did The Cricket on the Hearth. So we’re like, what can we read? So somebody found these Trollope stories that we’re gonna… Trollope has some Christmas stories, Connie Willis has some Christmas stories. So those are just fun side, a side Christmas reading. I’m gonna read the Madeleine L’Engle Christmas book, which is called… oh I forget what it’s called. But I’m gonna be reading that this year, I’ve actually started it but I don’t know the title of it. So, Bright Evening Star: a Mystery in the Incarnation. So I’m looking forward to that. I like Madeleine L’Engle’s books, and I’m excited to read some of that. So those are a few. I tend to overindulge in Christmas reading during the holiday season, so hopefully! But I have actually pulled out some books that I started last year for Christmas for devotions and didn’t finish, and I’m just gonna – I’m not gonna start over on those books. I’m gonna just pick up right where I left off, and maybe I’ll finish them this year.
Melissa: that’s such a good idea!
Cindy: yeah, because you get discouraged, and then next year you think, I’ll start over, I’ll start over. So you’ve read the first five chapters or something twenty times and never gotten to the end. [laughter]
Melissa: that’s so wise!
Jenn: that’s some good plodding! I love it! [laughter]
Melissa: oh, well this idea of building expectation and anticipation during the Advent season – hope and joy and cultivating tradition – it’s just lovely. And I’m so thankful, not only for you spending the time this morning, but the time that you spent putting together this book and for how you’ve shared stories from your own motherhood. It’s encouraging for those of us who are in these trenches, sitting in our closets with the laundry, and the Christmas presents piled over there. The reason we do these things, the reason is Christ! And it’s connecting not just with our children, not just with this season this year, but with -like you said- the Church at large, and the Church throughout time. Because it’s about our relationship with Christ and what He has done for us. And the Incarnation and that miracle. I just really appreciate you taking the time to chat about all of those things with us this morning, Cindy.
Cindy: well thank you for asking me. I love talking about Advent, so it’s always fun.
Jenn: thank you.
Melissa: yeah – well, Cindy, it’s been a joy actually just to get to know you over the last couple years. And just on a personal note, praying for you and seeing the Lord continuing to work – it’s such a blessing because I think we can get caught up in that idea of here and now. And my kids are all still little; we don’t even yet have a high schooler. But that the Lord is still at work in your motherhood, and I love that. And it’s not about what you do, it’s about what He does.
Cindy: amen. The more, the older I get, the more I’m convinced of that. That it is! We do all these things, and we have to, we want to be faithful, but it’s Christ that gives the increase.
Melissa: well that’s, that’s the thing that I remember… I asked you… I don’t remember the exact question I asked you actually. But your answer to whatever the question was is that God is faithful. Stop. [laughter] Like, full stop. God is faithful. That testimony that He brings through you is a blessing and an encouragement.
Cindy: well thank you. And He definitely is faithful. I know that. This I know!
Melissa: well, Happy Advent, Cindy, and Merry Christmas, and God bless you! We will talk again.
Jenn: thank you.
Cindy: thank you.
Melissa: okay, buh-bye.
You can pick up your own copy of Cindy Rollins’ Advent book Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah. It’s published by Blue Sky Daisies and can be found anywhere your favorite books are sold. And you can find Cindy at her website. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and in her Mere Motherhood Facebook Community Group. Her favorite place to connect with people is in her Patreon Group.
Thanks for joining us today, and thanks for listening in with Cindy as we talked about Hallelujah.
Cultivating an Advent tradition is just one way of cultivating a godly paideia during this particular season with your children, for yourself, and continuing to pursue an atmosphere and a culture of Christ.
And that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another Paideia Conversation. And in the meantime, peace be with you.
Katie Westenberg joins Paideia Northwest’s Melissa Cummings today in a dialogue about motherhood, family culture, book writing, and resting in the peace of the Lord. Katie will be speaking at the Paideia Northwest conference in one week, and this is a sneak peek into the energy, joy, and passion she will bring to our day of Rest. While all the time sharing about the need for open hands and extra measures of grace, Katie has words of wisdom and perspectives of gratitude which translates into exhortations not to grow weary in the good word of raising children in the nurture, admonition, and enculturation of Christ. From resurrecting picture books in her read aloud rotation to digging in to deep conversation with her teens, Katie tells us what the atmosphere of Christian family life looks like in this current season of their home. To the Kingdom!
Links to Resources
Outdated by Jonathan Pokluda
Becoming Something podcast
Praying the Scriptures for Your Life by Jodie Berndt
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
Poetry by Wendell Berry
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is Katie Westenberg. We invite you into this conversation with us as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia. All right, joining me now is Katie Westenberg, and we get to enjoy Katie at Rest coming up next month, but in the meantime I get to have a little chat with her and we get to have a conversation about paideia and rest and all of these things from the perspective of motherhood, and also home educators. So thank you for taking the time to join me and have this conversation. I really appreciate it!
Katie: yeah, it’s my pleasure.
Melissa: so first, just tell us about you and where you are, what you do… tell us about your book, just give us a little background on Katie.
Katie: okay. Well I’m from south central Washington, so like the non-Seattle part of the state. Most people – I guess this is kind of local, but it seems like when I say Washington, people just assume Seattle. But it’s kind of different. It’s dry, and there are a lot of vineyards out here. And I grew up really kind of focused and driven, and so just, in this small town where there’s only, I don’t know, maybe only a half a dozen stop lights. And, but I always yearned to leave the small town for the big town, you know. Just the small town girl who wanted something bigger and different, and it was interesting to think about that lately, because I had a great childhood, and great upbringing, great parents who were followers of Christ. My dad was a pastor, so I, you know, I had a great home, but I, it’s interesting that I wanted to go to the big city. So anyway, after high school, I left for college to get a communications degree, and just plans and dreams of a bigger, a separate coastline maybe. A different coastline. And ended up coming back and marrying my high school sweetheart.
Melissa: I love that.
Katie: and so I, yeah, finished up and went a long way. So I really live like ten miles from where I was born, the hospital doesn’t exist anymore but yeah. Traveled far and wide from there. And, but I had that business degree and kind of plans for that, but it wasn’t, you know, shortly we after, we had started having children, we put my oldest in to preschool at the Christian school that we graduated from, had a great experience there, hadn’t really thought anything different until we really started considering homeschooling. And mainly it was just from seeing other people do it well. You know, I had these assumptions of what it might be but when we saw other people do it well, I thought, wow, this might be something to consider. And so then we did the preschool thing, and then came, brought him home because I thought – like everyone – like how bad can you mess up kindergarten? We’ll just try this for kindergarten. And then the babies kept on coming. So now we have four kids – two girls and two boys – the youngest is nine and the oldest is now sixteen, and we’ve just been educating them at home all along, although my oldest is in Running Start now so that’s a little more hands-off. This is the first year where I have someone doing a little something different, but it’s, I guess all in all, just a story of God’s plans being so much better than my own. Which is probably all of our stories down at the base of it.
Katie: and then just in these last few years as they’ve gotten more independent, and my role is probably a little bit less hands-on throughout the day, there’s just been more opportunities to write and speak a little bit, and so God has grown that. And I was able to write a book last year, it came out, well actually I wrote it the year beforehand, it’s a process but it came out last year. And yeah, I just do a little bit along with all my other home duties.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. So, your kids are – three of them, then – you’re homeschooling, and what’s something you love about that right now? Or what’s something that you do with them that you love?
Katie: I love… I just love being a part of all of it. You know, there’s like, inside jokes and relatable moments that come from just being together. Just experiencing life together. Reading the read aloud together, which becomes a joke later on during dinner or whatever. So I just like not missing it, maybe that’s like kind of selfish. But I like not missing any of the moments. Or when the spelling word that was misspelled pops back up at dinner, it’s just the easiest way to teach because I don’t have to think okay, where are they? What do I need to figure out? What do I need to unpack? What do I need to… What do I need to process with them, because that’s not exactly what we agree with? Like I’m here for all of it. And so it just becomes so much more integrated so that’s one thing I really love about teaching them. And even my… so my oldest who does Running Start, that’s all online this year, so he’s here too. So we’re still doing like our Morning Meeting together, he’s still a part of that. And it’s really sweet to hold onto that a little longer.
Melissa: okay, so you’re talking about that sort of integrated… integrated thing, which is very – that comes really naturally to us as homeschool moms, I think. And I was homeschooled my whole, you know, pre-college education. So I’m curious since you went to a Christian school, you said, how do you find that different? That whole integration. Do you think it’s easier? Not that you were the mom when you were the student… but do you think the integration of that is just more organic, more natural?
Katie: yeah, certainly, because you can’t, you can’t ask questions you don’t know to ask. Right? When you don’t know what happened during history class, I can’t like extend that learning at home without, I mean, you could and I’m sure some parents do an excellent job of it.. but it would be a lot of work to constantly know where you’re at, to constantly know what figures you’re studying or where you’re at with math, or… it’s almost when there’s a problem, that’s when you dig in to what’s going on there. So there’s little issues that we’re able to maybe mitigate but at the same time, I think it – our lives are so much more intertwined. And so I just grew up with one brother, and, and that’s different too. When we have two kids of the opposite sex. But I think it seems easier, at least from my limited perspective – obviously I’ve only been a mom once, right, but it seems like it, it’s easier to create a bonded family because there’s so much overlap of life and learning and… and even, you know, the learning that comes from negative experiences when we bump into each other and we’re forgiving and all that stuff. We don’t have much – as they get older maybe it happens a little bit more – but particularly when they’re younger, we don’t have separate lives. We don’t have a separate day you need to tell me about. It’s all of our day, all the time, the good and the bad and the ugly and the processing. So it just seems like it builds a really close family. That’s what I notice the difference being.
Melissa: yeah. I feel like that builds that right into that question of the term, paideia, then. So I don’t know how familiar you are with the term or its roots or its application. What is your familiarity with that Greek word, or what does it mean to you? Is it just this totally unknown, brand new – it’s all Greek to me?
Katie: yeah [laughter] I was thinking that. What’s my level of familiarity? I think it means, my level’s at, I know how to say it but maybe not spell it. Right? Like there’s too many vowels that I’m constantly mixing those up. So I don’t know what that says about my level of familiarity, but you might – I love to study Scripture, I love to read the Bible and try to unpack it in my limited knowledge, my growing knowledge. And I… My favorite thing about the Word is that it’s living and active, and you can read it again and again, and things jump off the page that you didn’t know were there.
Melissa: yes. Yeah.
Katie: so I’ve come across paideia mainly, you know, in Ephesians. And wondered what that is. And I think I’ve talked to you about that: oh look, I saw this! This is where you got it, it’s so amazing! So for me, my learning probably has been, like, I didn’t know, even though that was probably part of my life when I was young, I didn’t know the word itself until I was older. But I think of it as a, the cultivation of mind and morals. It is the integration that I was talking about. Right? It’s all of that! It’s not just education, it’s all, like all of life is education. What we’re cultivating together.
Melissa: right yeah, it’s not just at eight to three, and what we do in order to attain a diploma or something.
Melissa: or it’s also not just the, what we would call, the spiritual stuff. It’s not just Sunday mornings, it’s not just you know, a quiet time devotional, it’s so broad and deep compared to that. So how… thinking about that, and that depth and that all-encompassing integration, what is a way that you think you purpose to bring that into your home with your children in your family? If we’re talking about it as a term of enculturation, and specifically in Ephesians when it says paideia of the Lord, right, it’s not just – it’s not an American culture, it’s not as in that time a Greek culture or Roman culture – but as citizens of heaven, what is this culture that we’re trying to nurture? What is a way that you purpose to do that in your home?
Katie: a fun way that we’ve done this in the last year is… and I think it’s without like explicitly saying, it’s getting, I mean, what we’re saying is that you can’t really put this in a box, right? We want to. So I could have memorization time with my kids, and there’s nothing wrong with memorization, right? But they so easily want to put things in a box that they could think like, oh yeah, this is our Jesus time and this is our rest of the time, or whatever. But I’m trying to get them to see the bigger picture of, like, this is all of it. Like it’s all for Him. So one fun thing, and maybe unsuspected thing in our home… in the last, probably year, is that I’ve incorporated picture books again. So Bo is my youngest, and he’s nine, and so, as it kind of is with the youngest, they get kind of shortchanged on some things, you know. We round toward the middle usually, right? So I guess everyone besides the middle, you know, doesn’t get shortchanged. But, so I just realized a couple years ago that I hardly had read him any picture books. Like he’s heard so many more chapter books than maybe the oldest did when he was his age, and so I started like on Sunday afternoons we’d sit and just pick three picture books I want to read you. Cuz like he didn’t know who Frances was, from Bread and Jam for Frances, and I was like, I am doing something really wrong! [laughter] How are you missing this? And all the other kids are just horrified that he doesn’t know some of these characters. Anyway, so then I talked to a mom about a year ago, and she incorporates picture books all the time, and my first inclination was probably a little bit prideful like, why would you do that when you could be reading chapter books? Why would you be reading picture books every day? But I started following a couple who recommend picture books all the time. A couple accounts on Instagram that read, like, good quality picture books. Some of them are biographies, some of them are just excellent art, some of them – I think I was telling you about this – one was about Walt Whitman’s life, and how he used his words basically to help the wounded troops and how he wrote his poem about Abe Lincoln, you know, and all of that… and just stories we never would have known otherwise. People we never would have known otherwise, and just, just, just living their life in normal ways. Right? Like, look at the beautiful artistry in this – how could this reflect God’s glory? And I’ve seen my kids, my older ones, my teenagers – like, as I have that open, if they can be there for Morning Meeting, I love it when they can, and then they’re just like drawn closer. They’re across the room and they’re coming closer, because they want to hear the words of this book or they want to see… it’s kind of comical right? I mean, because it’s a picture book. There’s only a couple hundred words in the whole book. But they’ve been really instrumental for like, just using beautiful language, seeing beautiful words, hearing beautiful stories, and learning more about beautiful lives that maybe we would’ve put in a box like, those things are for chapter books. But no, this is just more to our day. More beauty, that we never even saw coming. So that’s just been a really fun way to do that.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. I think it’s really interesting too, because my teenager is… I only have one teenager so far, but he’s the same way. Even if I’ve… I try to just read one on one with each child now and then… and if I’m reading something with the five year old that the thirteen year old remembers or he thinks, oh that sounds interesting, he will stop doing, you know, what he’s doing! Even though he loves computer programming, he notices Mom just sat down to read a picture book with the little brother! He wants to come over and see it. It is. It’s really funny. I mean, I love picture books! Yeah.
Katie: yes! yeah.
Melissa: but I think they also can be a catalyst for further research. We had a picture book on… was it Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library, I think is what it’s called? And we loved that one. And so then the kids wanted to find out about Thomas Jefferson. Or that… Winnie… Finding Winnie. They wanted to find out about Winnie, I think that one’s illustrated by, is it Sophie Blackall? Anyway, she’s lovely. And they wanted to find out about this bear from World War I that was then, you know, the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh. And so they wanted to take what they got from the picture book and go explore, you know, well, then what? What happened next? So it’s almost like they’re just little introductions, especially for the older kids. You know, my five year old will read Hello Lighthouse and just say, oh that’s a great picture book, I love the art, I love the story. But then my oldest is like, well, now I want to go study the architecture of lighthouses and the historical connections that they have with the navy, and all these different things. I’m like, oh, wow, I didn’t realize that was going to send us off on that rabbit trail. So, yeah, I think that is such a good, good tip! Such a good way to build those connections with our kids and… how did you put it… beauty is what you said. Just how to incorporate beauty.
Katie: yes. And it’s so, at least for me, was just so under utilized. I just kind of thought we had graduated from those, but, I mean, it really is like five minutes, ten minutes a day. And then you gave them that, that they can take elsewhere and I find that we don’t, I mean, chapter books take a while. Particularly when we read them together, because one kid might be gone in the afternoon, and so nobody reads without the kid that’s gone, you know, so we might read all together four days a week. So they’re kind of slow. And that’s fine. We still enjoy those of course. But I can give them so much more. I can’t get to all the chapter books I want to read with these kids! There’s not enough time for how many books I want to read.
Melissa: oh, it just breaks my heart! [laughter]
Katie: I know! Isn’t it sad? But I can supplement with these picture books, and like, hey look, we learned about this today, we learned about this person. And who knows which one is going to inspire them or which art style is going to inspire them. But it’s just exposure that’s really sweet. We can do it a little bit at a time, and yeah, it’s great learning.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. So that sort of is this idea of… a glimpse of paideia is what we’ve been calling it at Paideia Northwest and Paideia Southeast… is a glimpse of paideia. So that’s, right there, I’m imagining you, you know, snuggled up with your nine year old, and the older ones coming in and looking over your shoulder and listening in. Seems like a great glimpse of paideia. Are there any other things that come to mind with, what’s something that you’ve seen in your home or with your kids that sort of just speaks that enculturation to you?
Katie: lately it’s been a lot conversations, and maybe this is the factor of my kids getting older. So the oldest is sixteen and then thirteen, and eleven and nine. And there’s so many conversations to be had, particularly in the the world right now. There’s things that they’ve never seen before, or we’ve never seen before. The amount of vitriol that you see or hear or this person or people we agree with or don’t disagree with – it’s so interesting, you know. What does this mean? And it’s, so they’re hearing new things about mandates and such, and they’re trying to figure out how to process that. But the opportunity for conversation is soo ripe, like never before. And talk about, so let’s integrate, what does this mean to be Christlike in this situation? What does it mean to love well when you disagree? You know. What does this look like? So it feels like were working in real time. Like the opportunity is so rich just to have those conversations and talk about when it’s hard and talk about when we… they’re always asking, well what are you guys gonna do? What are you gonna do, Mom and Dad? About anything that comes up. What do you think about that? What do you think about that person who said, you know. And it’s hard because sometimes we’re processing too, you know. And we’re just honest. We’re praying about this. We’re asking the Lord. I don’t really know. This is a really hard situation. You know? This is hard when people don’t agree, when believers don’t agree – all of that. So right now it’s just conversations. And even as hard as they are, I can be thankful that I get to walk them through this when they’re in my home. We’re lucky to have all the time in real time.
Melissa: yeah. That’s such a blessing. So you mentioned picture books as sort of this broad category of, like a resource for encouraging an enculturation of – yeah, godly, just that godly culture and that pursuit, that intentional… what is a specific resource that you would encourage other moms to try out?
Katie: yeah, okay. Well, I would say first of all… and, I feel like I’m an old mom because I keep on saying these older kids. And I don’t know when that happened! But it changes as they get older. So one example is that with my older son, he’s sixteen, okay, and we’re not pursuing the dating thing or anything like that now. But my husband and I had an initial conversation about, we want to have those conversations in some ways before he’s ready because before emotions are involved right, before we’ve gone down a lane, like let’s talk about these… I want all of those things to be things that we talk about progressively, and so you know as they go along, so it’s not just like: so one day, here’s how it’s gonna be let’s process how these things go. So sometimes as they get older it’s not being afraid of the resources because we can process, if we have these great lines of communication then we can discuss them together. So one thing we just discussed was Jonathan Pokluda’s book Outdated for older kids. And he has a podcast too that my son likes, Becoming Something. Okay? And so he’s talking about common topics and then we’re discussing them together, so they come back and they’re bouncing off us. But the other day, so Tyler came in and he was telling me about some podcast he was listening to. And it was talking about… actually we were listening to it together… we were traveling and so we were listening to it together. All the younger kids weren’t there to learn about dating at nine years old or whatever. So we, because there are age limits for these things, right? But it was talking about honoring one another. Like, this is what we do when we form relationships: we seek to honor other people. Which is such a great thing to process in any of our relationships, in sibling relationships or whatever. So we were talking about honoring one another, and then also, as you potentially pursue something to define the relationship. To be really honest communicators. To not manipulate anyone. To be really honest about where you are and what you’re thinking, you know, all of those things. So processing those things, and talking with Tyler, and he’s easy to talk to because these conversations haven’t been some big weird cliff we jump off at some point. So anyway, I was talking to a friend a couple days later, and she and her husband are considering some major changes because, because of the world being the way it is. Major changes. And they were hard to process. And she said, I don’t know, my husband came and said, considering a move and all of these things. And she said, however, one thing that has really helped me is that he has always been the best communicator with me. I know he’s not like hedging things back or maybe like not telling me cuz I can’t handle it all. From the time we started dating, he came up to me the first time and said, I am interested in you, I would like to know you more, can we go have lunch. And so here he is, being this honest, honoring her with the communication and now they’ve been married twenty years, and she has this trust in the way he communicates. So, and it just, I had listened to that podcast with my son, so I was able to go back to him and say, you know what, like, this isn’t just for dating, this is like building relationship and trust in your communication for all of life. And it was just one of those sweet moments, that… I don’t know… sometimes I wonder if like half the stuff just goes like, I don’t know why you’re talking about this. But I think he got the point. When you, when you honor other people in the relationship it’s not just to get yourself a wife. Like this is not just about dating. This is about how we maintain good and healthy relationship through all of our life, and I was able to give him the example of that. So I thought, how sweet, Lord, that You could see this and show it to them. And I don’t know, sometimes it’s like, any of our learning, like reading a picture book. Sometimes it is throwing spaghetti at the ceiling and seeing what sticks. But we do: we keep on doing it, we keep on seeing the opportunities and being thankful for them, and who knows how the Lord may use those.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. Now, I think that’s beautiful. You said the book was called Outdated?
Katie: Outdated by Jonathan Pokluda. And so, we bought… we’ve been through some of it. And so I’m nervous trying to endorse the whole thing. But that’s the deal. That’s all of life when they’re moving at that pace when they’re older and then we’re processing it together. Like, what does this look like? What do you think about this? What do I think? And what does the Bible say? And he lines things up with Scripture incredibly well.
Melissa: I love how you use the word honoring. To honor one another. I want to use that with my kids actually. I use the words, you know with their sibling interactions, I tell them, you know, respect one another and be kind with one another. But if you combine those two things together, respect and kindness, it would boil down just to honoring one another. That’s, that’s straight shooting terminology right there. That’s beautiful. I appreciate that!
Katie: one fun tip that we’ve been doing with definitions is memorizing definitions. And my pastor is good at this, so he’s influenced me. And being a word nerd, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it on my own. But sometimes we say “honor” to our kids and they’re like, okay, I’ll act like a soldier. Like, they have, they have all kinds of different ideas. So what does it mean? We’ve been going through the definition every day of love: it’s preferring one another, sometimes at great personal expense by the help of the Holy Spirit. Like, let’s give you terms, that, what would that mean? What would it mean today? And then if we were going to prefer one another, what does it mean right now when we’re all wanting the food or you want to watch your movie, or you know? So I would encourage, just definitions to those terms too.
Melissa: yeah. Oh that’s such a good idea. Definition of honor! Yeah. I’ll start there.
Melissa: something I was discussing recently with someone else too was this idea that we’re raising our kids in the culture of the Lord for His kingdom and yet we are being shaped right alongside them. And so these things that I want to give my children, and bless them with – it’s also a gift for myself.
Katie: right, constantly!
Melissa: yeah. These, these conversations! It’s not just about us, you know, by God’s grace, being this culture-shaper for our children. It’s – God is the culture-shaper of us! You know. We’re His children. And He’s doing that for us as well. And it’s so big. It’s so big.
Katie: which makes aging not all that scary, right? We just have so much more to learn! A lot more time to learn it.
Melissa: it’s true. Yeah. So talking about all these things, and having all the kids and the conversations and the books and the home education and your speaking and your writing… I mean, it sounds like a lot! It sounds exhausting, right? How does the idea of pursuing rest come in to the picture for you? As an individual or as your family, your family culture, how do you find rest necessary?
Katie: well, it’s vital. And usually we don’t recognize that until we hit the wall, you know? Until we crash and burn in real life. And, yeah, I’m missing something here. One thing for me is just margin on the calendar. I used to be someone who’d look at a calendar, and a blank space is open space. And until you filled all the spaces in and realize you can’t pivot, and maybe that’s getting older, more kids, all the things. Like pivoting day to day to different things can really add up quickly. So then it became something as simple as, okay if this is what’s happening this day, maybe the afternoon before it is full too. You know? Like just putting, like I had to write in margin because I didn’t seem to think of it on my own. So if we’re traveling this day, that means I actually write it the day before. We’re big campers, but prep day for camping can be more exhausting than a whole camping trip, right? So I need to know the day before, that no, I’m just gonna say no. And it didn’t feel like- you know, if it’s open you can’t say, no, I’m busy. But you can. I have to make space for that. Because it’s a limited quantity. My capacity is limited. And so I think I need to recognize that no, I can’t just keep on adding. Because it’s gotta take from somewhere else, right? There’s nothing else to give. And all of a sudden we’re picking up McDonald’s because I’m just too exhausted, right? And that’s not, that’s not the way I want to live. I have to have capacity for that. So keeping those margins. And then I’ve kind of adopted a process which is not, I mean it’s nothing set in stone, but it’s just what seems to work for our family. Andy Crouch, I think it’s Andy Crouch, who has the orange book. Tech-Wise Family. Okay? Yeah, checking your family. And he takes a break. He tries to encourage taking a break, one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year. And I in my head formulate rest to being the same way. Now is that always possible? Absolutely not. And there’s some days where, I remember this just like where my kids were little too, and they don’t sleep through the night. It doesn’t really change what you have to get done during the day sometimes. Like there’s no time for a nap, so then you’re just gonna rely on the Lord. This is what I have before me, and I’m gonna ask that any rest that I need today comes from You. And whenever we do that, because I would still calculate the math of how many times I got up–oh yeah, you know, I got up four times last night–I would just like keep track, like tallies on a prison cell or something like that. When I forgot, when I would stop keeping track and just trust the Lord for what I needed, I would get to the end of the day, and I would realize, you know, I didn’t even get as tired. I’m not here, I’m not relying on this strength and staring at my weaknesses, right? So anyways, it doesn’t always work that way every day now. But if I can, inasmuch as I can, when we’re here, I try to have an hour of quiet time, and it’s Rest Or Rest we call it at our house. So you can read if you want to or you can rest: those are the options, you know. And then on Sundays, I try to make space for that as much as possible. Because I’ve just found that lifegiving to my family. So if something comes up, and we’re invited to go to dinner somewhere, or, you know, we make those decisions as they come. If we’re able to do something as a family, that’s fine. But I love to have, it’s been lifegiving to all, to everything. You know, kids, when they get around other kids too much, they have that separation between them sometimes – I’ve talked about this with you – just the ingenuity and the creativity that comes from being bored. But they’re not bored very often, right? Because we’re going. But what happens when I try to print out some things like… what’s been fun lately… those dot to dots that are like adult dot to dots… like a thousand dots? Those are fun! So I set them on the table, make sure there’s books there, and now we’re just gonna give each other a break for a couple hours and have that quiet time. And then if we can make time to have a vacation too, away time just to rest, put it all away. And those built-in rests… again, not hard and fast rules, not things I want to be a slave under by any means, but they do bring joy to our family.
Melissa: yeah. Yeah, JOY. That’s an underpinning of rest. We can still be busy in the things that we need to get accomplished… or… going on a vacation can be exhausting. Especially with kids, right? [laughter] We call them trips in our house at this point, because we still have a fresh two year old. So they’re trips. They’re not vacations yet! But they can still be restful in that way, and I think it’s that joy. The joy that gives us that foundation of feeling rested. So pursuing that rest in your family culture, you mentioned Sundays. How do Sundays look different? Obviously, you know, we celebrate the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week, but, you know, they’ve asked me, what was the purpose of that seventh day? What did God do? And so talking with them about, that’s a really good question, what did He do? He enjoyed the fruit of what He had done, that labor. Was He physically exhausted? You know, could He not continue working? Well I mean, He’s God. He is all powerful. But it had to do, yeah, with setting it aside and pondering the good things that He had made. I really enjoy talking about that with my kids. Like how can we make this day joyful and fresh and festive, and, yeah, restful. In that, not just physical way, but the soul-filling way.
Katie: which, what a gift. Like, why would we not want to, and like, that was a gift for us. It’s a gift for our renewal. Like why, what wouldn’t we want to enjoy that?
Melissa: right! Sabbath was made for man.
Katie: yeah, right! I don’t want to make it another cleaning day or another shopping day.
Melissa: right. So what would be a resource, an idea… is there a blog or a book or particular music or something that you would suggest to another mama who wants to pursue rest while laboring for the Kingdom of God?
Katie: so my first recommendation you can’t go without saying to be in the Word. You have to! Like, pursuing rest is pursuing Christ.
Katie: right? So I have to be found there, and it’s amazing how much the habit of faithfulness in the Word is just transformative. Like, so I have to be there, I have to see. I love… I think I already told you that… I love the living and active Word. How different circumstances that are going on in my life, like, just Scripture jumps off the page. So whether you start in the Psalms, whether you do a cover to cover reading plan, like there’s a lot of fantastic options that will do the job. You know. Whether you’re studying comprehensibly in one book. But just to be faithful there so He can provide! I need to absorb the Word, to remind me, because we’re such good forgetters. Like, I need to be reminded, like, this is where my hope is found. Tell me about this living hope, Peter, I need to know this again and again so it gets drilled through my head. So first and foremost I would make time for that. And time in different seasons looks a whole lot different, right? So if it’s just a couple of Scriptures, it’s a couple of Scriptures and I promise He can make it enough. Like, loaves and fishes kind of. That can be enough. but there are seasons where you get to go deep, and it’s just like dwelling in your head and heart all day long. So I would definitely start with Scripture. One thing, so I’m not a big devotional person just because there’s only so much time. And so if there’s time, I’m gonna be found reading my Bible. But this last… shoot, was it August? July? I mean, the last couple years have been intense, right? Politically, socially, all those things. But I found it, for the first time, really hard to read my Bible. Like my brain is just spinning. It’s thinking about news, and I’m trying, it’s not sinking in as much. And I’m in this study thinking like, ah, why does my brain just spin? I read Praying the Scriptures Over Your Life by Jodie Berndt. Jodie Berndt is a friend of mine, she’s a mentor, a woman who follows Christ intensely and she’s always been about praying the Word.
Melissa: I printed out a calendar of hers that’s Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children, and it’s just a calendar.
Katie: yeah, she has a series of books. Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children, Over Your Teens, and Over Your Life just came out and she sent me a copy. It was just late this summer. And so I picked up that book and it’s all about abiding, it’s that John 14 or 15, right in there. And just the days to read that in a time where my heart feels so weak, so tired of hearing everything that’s gone… like, things you just can’t even process, where you feel like it’s just spinning. And just being reminded each day to abide and let’s pray over this, let’s know who God is. So anything that can, that is gonna be like theologically sound and point you back to Christ daily is a healthy thing. And that was such a healthy thing for me to read in that season, and probably a good thing to be reminded that there are so many good tools out there at our disposal. I don’t want to say like, yeah, don’t mess with devotionals, just read the Word. I want to start there. But there are other things that can help me in certain seasons. So I just had a friend the other day who was overwhelmed. Just one of those moments where she hit the wall. And she was hungry, desperate for the rest. And I was thinking, I ordered that book right away and was able to take it to her. Like here’s something when you can’t, like when your brain just can’t take in much else and you need someone almost just to process it for you, right, to help you, like, walk me through in baby steps and point me back to truth, point me back to the Word. It’s a fun thing to have that at your disposal, like, yes! This is what I was able to give her in that season.
Melissa: yeah. Yeah, so, trying to connect it: you mentioned that you speak and you write occasionally, can you tell me about I Choose Brave, and how… how God used that as… how did He use that in your life as a way to bring you closer to Him? The writing of that book.
Katie: mhmm. Well you were by my side for much of that story. You prayed me through the launching of that and stuff like that. So that’s always a process, writing the book takes a couple years and then it comes out, and so studying precisely the fear of the Lord and what godly courage looks like… it’s felt like the job of my life to be able to, like, this is my job to study the fear of the Lord. Study like, what is holiness? What have I thought about this? Being a believer. You know, I was raised in the church. So I’ve kind of known these things, but there’s so many things in that familiarity that we just kind of skim over. And like, do I really know what holiness is? What does it mean to fear the Lord and not fear man? What does that look like? So interesting and timely that it would come out in the middle of all of this. But, okay, what did it look like to write that and have that come out? When you sign a book contract that’s before you begin writing the book, and so you have a year or so to write the book, and it’s gonna come out a year after that, and when I signed the contract for that book, I signed a contract for two books. And that was an option, right, like you have an agent and they work with a publisher and you have these options. So the hardest thing about signing that contract was not knowing what life would be like. Right? So in two years, the first book comes out. I can kind of imagine what my life might be like in two years. Like add two to every kid, and these grades, and I don’t plan to move in two years. You know, like, that control. I’ve got two years under control. A couple years later, I have no idea beyond that. Right? I mean, shoot. Kids could almost be married. You don’t even know! Like, a lot could happen in four years. So what was concerning us was the second book, not the first book. I got this one under control, I got my life under control, but what is it gonna be like? Anyways. Pride is hilarious at times. Because it wasn’t just long after I signed that contract that life just flat turned upside down. Like we had some stuff with extended family that came out of nowhere, and divorce and just really complicated messy things we weren’t expecting – not mine, but like extended family. You know. Like really painful things. When you hurt for other people and you’re in it with them. And those are, I don’t want to call them distractions, but here I had this work and this focus and this time in front of me, and my heart is somewhere else. Like my tears and my mind is spinning not as much about the fear of the Lord. I’m just thinking, how do I help? What do I do here? You know? So your mind is consumed with that, and it was just a couple months later that my dad had a heart attack and my dad was pretty healthy at the time, so it was, he didn’t have any heart trouble, so it was totally unexpected. And then he had a bypass surgery that didn’t go well, and then he had… gosh, he was just weakening day by day… well he ultimately ended up getting a heart transplant. I had my marketing call, my first marketing call for the book, from the eleventh floor of the ICU at a hospital. Like, time out with Dad so I could go, you know, who plans these things? It’s just, it was comical to me. And like, Lord, You went before me. Because here I thought I had this all under control, and I had no idea. And so I was leaning on Him for courage in ways I hadn’t even expected, hadn’t even planned for. And He made time and space. I was editing when he was recovering from the transplant at the University of Washington hospital. Like, okay, I could take the book with me and I could edit, you know, he’s asleep still. He’s not, he’s just coming out, so I could do it. And who makes time for that? No one would sign up! I don’t have the courage to sign up for that. Thank goodness. Like it’s a grace not to know what lays ahead. But to live that out and to see day by day, I can trust Him for enough, to get what, to get done what needs to get done today. He always provides. Like what an awesome thing to experience. So much like what you said: we are just learning as we’re parenting our kids, you know. Here I’m just learning even as I’m writing, and He’s reminding me who He is while I’m trying to write the same words about other experiences I’ve had in the past. And He’s reminding me, yes, I’m still that God, Katie. This is Who I am here. And then to get done and not to be overwhelmed by it, and like, that happened and He did it. You can’t take any credit for it because you had no idea the train wreck that was coming. So it was an amazing experience, a really awesome experience.
Melissa: yeah. Oh that’s beautiful. So then, I guess, the next obvious question is, are you working on that second book?
Katie: I am, yes! But I have no expectations now, right? [laughter] I know we can get through this one, because you only have a heart transplant once, right? I mean, seriously. I’ve been working on the second one. The deadline is not even until March of next year and then a year following, so they gave me great space on that. That is, that’s another thing. Like you think that the calendar’s full, there’s a lot on my plate, but there’s a lot of space in there too. So that helps to work with people who get motherhood and get what your life is like, and aren’t trying to push a round peg in a square hole. Like we have capacity for this. That’s the only way I’m able to do it, is lots of time.
Melissa: yeah. Resting in between maybe.
Katie: that’s right!
Melissa: so sort of a final, bring-it-in-for-a-landing question… what have you been reading lately? Obviously Scripture. We talked about that. What has brought the blessing of a godly paideia to your own soul?
Katie: so I have been reading more fiction, and I’m not a big fiction reader, and that’s probably the productivity side of me. Like, why would you read fiction when you could read real stuff, you know? And that’s a change – I would never tell my kids that – but that’s been a change in my own mind to think the beauty of fiction is mostly what my heart needs in this season. And I guess that’s something I tended to do even with the last book, because you never want to absorb somebody else’s ideas. So when I’m writing, I tend to read fiction anyway. But it has blessed my heart in ways I haven’t expected. So I’ve read more Wendell Berry, I think I’ve read his books in the last year. I’ve always like his poetry, which I know some people don’t love, but I’ve loved his poetry. But Hannah Coulter, I just finished that one a couple months ago… so beautiful. It felt like sitting with a mentor. Like, how is this not even real, right? Like, how can I process…
Melissa: and how is this written by a man?
Katie: oh! I already asked that question! Isn’t it amazing? Extraordinary! It’s like she’s mentoring you through life. You’re seeing it in a different perspective. Like the depth and the breadth and the width of it all. And it makes these, everything that’s going on in the world, it just shines perspective on all of it, so that was a huge gift to me in this season. And now I’m reading Jayber Crow which doesn’t move quite as quickly. I’m probably only halfway through that, and not loving it as much as Hannah Coulter, but I still, I just love the pace of Wendell Berry. Just the pace of his words seems really healthy in this season.
Melissa: mmm, yeah. And the way that he, you know, he does tie reality to beauty to imagination, because yeah… Hannah felt like a real mentor, and so when her heart broke, my heart broke in a way I don’t think other fiction had… I struggle to call that fiction because it felt like such a biography.
Katie: yes, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.
Melissa: and so, Wendell Berry. Yes. So good. So good. Well, I… I really enjoy chatting with you. And I’m so excited I get to see you in person in just a few weeks.
Katie: me too.
Melissa: and I’ll chat with you more there, and sit under a talk by you! That’s such a blessing. I’m just, I’m really grateful. So thanks for taking the time out of your day today to have this conversation with me, and chat about motherhood and Christian culture and all the things.
Katie: yes, it was a joy. It was a joy.
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation. And in the meantime, peace be with you.
Today we get to share a conversation with you where Melissa Cummings, Jenn Discher, and Rachel Jankovic talked about the atmosphere of paideia being the very air we breathe (Rachel says that paideia “is not a thing we do, it’s a thing we live in”!), the fruit that God brings when we live in obedience to Him (Rachel says, “Just obeying brings about fruit you would never have thought of”), and the encouragement that it is to be someone who is plowing in hope (1 Corinthians 9:10).
upcoming book Sir Bad-a-Lot
1 Corinthians 9:10
1 Corinthians 15:58
Melissa: joining me today is my cohost Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast, and our guest is Rachel Jankovic. We invite you to join this conversation with us as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia. Good morning, Rachel!
Rachel: good morning, how are you doing?
Melissa: thank you so much for taking the time. We appreciate it.
Jenn: hi, Rachel.
Melissa: this is Jenn from Georgia at our Paideia Southeast community, so…
Jenn: what Melissa and I wanted to talk about, being paideia, the idea of paideia. So Melissa is with Paideia Northwest, we are just – a few of us are just kind of getting Paideia Southeast together, and so similarly to Melissa’s group, Paideia Southeast – we’re wanting to equip, encourage, and connect moms who are seeking to raise their kids in the paideia of God. Which begs the question, what is the paideia of God?
Rachel: that’s a good question!
Jenn: yeah, yeah! So we talk about it a lot. And we talk about it because it comes from Ephesians 6 where Paul is telling the Christians to, you know, raise their kids in the paideia of God… which is a word they would have been familiar with, the Ephesians. But we’re not as familiar with it today. There’s not like one English word that translates perfectly. We hear nurture, discipline, training, in Scripture – that the paideia be translated to those. So how would you, if you had to explain that concept to someone who wasn’t familiar with it?
Rachel: right, and this is probably not, I’m not saying that this is an academic definition of what paideia means. I would say it’s just culture. It’s enculturation, it’s… so it encompasses everything. It’s what you, it’s what kind of food you eat, what kind of things you think are normal, what kinds of, like, what is your entire culture. And when we’re to raise our children up in the paideia of God, it’s really saying, everything about their life, as much as you’ve been raised up in the culture of being American or how people are rural people or, you know, whatever things are normal – what is, what you know, what you believe – it’s sort of the things you believe in your bones that you don’t know how they got there. You know, it’s not, it’s not specific. So that’s what I would say, that’s how I would define paideia of God. It’s like, people who love the Lord, serving the Lord with all they have, what does that produce? It produces tangible Christian culture, and you’re bringing your children up in that culture and that necessarily, it’s the air they breathe, it’s what they know.
Jenn: yep, I love that. And honestly, I think it’s that stuff, what you just described, that I probably glean the most from your resources over the years, because I think just by listening to – either by listening to people who have either grown up in that themselves and/or are, you know, trying to do it in their own lives, you learn by observation. Like, just by listening to other mature believers, like, what is normal for them. It’s like, oh, that’s, that is the paideia of God.
Rachel: like, you mean that we don’t have to get mad at each other and then just let it sit for a whole day, like, we’re gonna have to just live in this stink mood? It’s like, sometimes people don’t realize, you don’t realize it’s possible for it to be a different way.
Rachel: and then once you realize it’s possible, it’s like, well why are we not doing that? Like is that consistent with God’s Word, and if so, then by all means do it. [laughter]
Jenn: absolutely. Just like having cheerfulness, gratitude, being like part of the atmosphere of your home, and having it be like a joyful place to be that the paideia of God isn’t like this white knuckling dour thing that we’re doing.
Rachel: totally. And it’s not a thing that we do, it’s a thing we live in. It’s not a… it’s not a… I think what I’m trying to say, it’s not of our own doing. God uses… God uses our efforts to please Him, to make things that matter more, but it’s not like you could sit down and be like, I’m gonna do something really important today, and it’s gonna matter forever in the lives of my children. Because we all know, you try that, and they don’t remember it, do they? [laughter]
Jenn: no, they don’t!
Rachel: Like, there’s something… or like my dad always says, you could save for years to take the kids on an amazing vacation that they won’t remember, but they’ll all be talking about that time we stopped at the gas station and got bubble gum on, you know, that roll of bubble gum. You’re like, [laughter] why do you remember this? Why don’t you remember the things that were cooler?
Jenn: nope, you cannot choreograph it!
Rachel: no, no. God doesn’t give us that authority.
Jenn: you’ve spoken about this a little bit, but in terms of pursuing or implementing by God’s grace, this paideia of the Lord in your home, can you give us kind of like a, a tangible peek of that? What or how that might look kind of fleshed out? And again you kind of already alluded to this a little bit.
Rachel: so the things that I would say are critically important in a Christian home: staying in fellowship with God, that’s, that is the thing. So like, sin that needs to be confessed, confess it as soon as you know it’s there, confess it. Like this is a really important thing. I’m really involved in the Bible Reading Challenge. This is one of the reasons I’m involved in the Bible Reading Challenge; like, I think it matters way more than we think it matters that women are, you know, very connected to God and His Word, that we’re submissive to that. I’ve used this illustration before, so sorry if you’ve heard me use this. But you know when you’re breastfeeding a baby, you don’t actually know what’s happening, right? You’re the… you are the means by which God is nurturing this child but you know when they do these studies and they’re like, it’s incredible because the baby has a cold and we don’t even know how the mother’s body finds out that the baby has a cold but the vitamins are boosted and things are happening that are like beyond your understanding. You know like, just way beyond your understanding. So if it was just me and my brain, I wouldn’t even know what vitamins the baby needed. Like, I might not even recognize what they need for what kind of growth is happening right now. I don’t know that. But it is the closeness that I have with the child and the, that that’s the mechanism that God made to meet this need. So I think that that is what’s such a critical part of fellowship between, is parents being in constant fellowship with God, and then in fellowship with their children, more is happening in that relationship than we have the intelligence to even… you know, like, we don’t have, we don’t even know it. We don’t know what it’s doing, we don’t know what’s needed, but it’s because God is actually doing something there. And it’s, it’s that faith that you confessing your sins, you walking with God, you loving your children, you confessing your sins to them, you getting things right – it’s maintaining that closeness between all of you that God uses to really grow them up in ways that you couldn’t even… and I think that that’s a great picture of paideia anyways because it’s like, we don’t even know what we’re communicating, which is why it is so important that we be submissive to God, that we want to be walking with Him, because we want to know that we’re communicating Him, not just our own desires and our own likes. I think I might have not really answered that question.
Jenn: no, I think you did.
Rachel: I’m like, what did you actually ask? Because I might have gone rogue. [laughter]
Jenn: I don’t know if you did or not, but I’m glad you did.
Rachel: well, whatever, we went on that tangent!
Jenn: yes! No, I think that’s, because I think, I mean… it’s done by faith.
Jenn: and not by understanding.
Rachel: exactly. And it’s not, it’s not that God allows us to use our understanding, He grows us in wisdom, He gives us… so, I have nothing against, I’m not saying like, oh it can only be this organic feeling and nothing else.
Rachel: but we’re really dumb if we start thinking it was the lesson we just gave our kids, it was the thing that we just explained that somehow accomplished that. Because I think they see, they’re learning something that’s not the thing we think we’re teaching them all the time.
Rachel: we’re like, here’s the lesson – and you don’t actually know what they’re taking away from that.
Jenn: yes, for better or worse! [laughter]
Rachel: I was talking with some friends yesterday about how when you look at something that you are delighted in, like it’s a beautiful sunset, or you’re like oh my word look at that flower or look at this bug or something that you’re, you know… or even on your phone and you start laughing, what do your kids all do? Everybody wants to see what you’re looking at, right? They will crowd all around you to look at what you’re looking at. But as soon as you’re not, if you are not in the joy of the Lord, if you’re angry about something or if you’re frustrated, nobody looks at what you’re looking at. They’re not looking at the pile of shoes by door, they’re just looking at you. You know, like, and you’re like, who did this? And nobody even looks at that. They just, all they’re doing is looking at you not dealing with it well. Like, wow, Mom’s having a problem. [laughter] And I think that that is, that is the thing, is that if you’re frustrated and you’re trying to give them a lesson about God’s kindness or God’s forgiveness, nobody is looking at the lesson. Nobody’s looking at God with you. Nobody’s looking at this beauty. They’re just looking at you like, well, she’s having a problem, she’s not doing well. And I just think that just goes back to the reason why we have to be so careful to be in submission to God and to be in fellowship with Him.
Jenn: love it. What is a resource, maybe a book, website, event, song, poem, habit, podcast that you might recommend to moms who are seeking to raise their kids in a specifically Christian culture?
Rachel: I would say probably my dad’s book Why Children Matter would be a great book. And then I would recommend, although I don’t usually recommend my own things…
Jenn: go for it, do it!
Rachel: I would recommend the podcast I do with my sister, and the reason I would do that is I think we… it is very normal Christian women talking about their normal life in the context of how we want to live in submission to God. It’s not like a dead earnest spiritual podcast, right? So, which I think is a real problem that women struggle with, is that we think that it’s either on or off with our spiritual life. It’s either what we’re doing in this world or it’s what we’re doing in our journals, but it’s not those things held together. It’s not what I believe coming out in the way I, you know, clean my floors or the way I laugh at my mistakes, or whatever. So I would say it’s a non-academic podcast. I cannot guarantee that it will be very edifying, but it is a… it is practical in the sense in that if it’s unfamiliar to you to live yourself in a culture of Christian life, then I think that that’s what the podcast does actually illustrate.
Jenn: I think it does, personally. I would recommend it for that. And my eleven year old daughter listens with, to it with me, and she giggles her way through it. So it is, it is a fun… it’s not just a straight laced spiritual podcast.
Rachel: no, I mean we don’t, I don’t know if we could do that if we tried. But the point is still, application of your faith in everything, or thinking, or a thoughtful application of your faith in your life.
Melissa: so, Rachel, where did the name come from? So What Have You…?
Rachel: I think the name was just to illustrate that we were not binding ourselves to any one topic. [laughter] We’re like, it’s just whatever we feel like talking about today.
Rachel: that’s what the name comes from.
Melissa: I feel like it goes back to that idea that all things are under the lordship of Christ and you know, what have you been cooking, what have you been reading, what have you been… like, what have you confessed?
Rachel: what do you have on your mind? It’s really any of those. Plus, we didn’t even realize for a long time that the, that it stands for WHY. Like, people would text me an all caps WHY, and then start talking about something. I was like, why what? What are we talking about? I was like, oh, What Have You says WHY. [laughter]
Melissa: so you hadn’t thought of that!
Rachel: no! We were not paying very close attention to anything, we were just like…
Melissa: oh, serendipity!
Rachel: we’ll just call it that, let’s move on. [laughter]
Melissa: excellent. Well, one of the things that we love hearing from you is things about your family’s Sabbath practices. And talking about an explicitly Christian culture and things we want to raise our kids in, that we’re just offering but not forcing. I feel like that’s how Lord’s Day habits sort of bathe our kids in that essence of that culture and the way you prepare for it, the way you practice it, and how it influences the rest of the week. So talking about rest and specifically the rest that God asks us to offer to Him one day a week, how do you find that necessary in motherhood and how do you live that out?
Rachel: okay, I would just say… well, there’s a couple things. First of all, I think that there’s no Christian woman on the planet who would say we don’t need rest. Right? Everybody agrees we need a break from what we’re doing, we need rest. But if you actually tell women yes, you should rest on the Lord’s Day, all of a sudden everyone’s bristling and like, don’t make me! I can’t! You know, it’s like this really funny, like… we have a major aversion to resting in the one way God tells us to rest. And then we’re like, no it’s really important that I get a manicure, it’s important that someone take the kids for me, it’s important that I do this because I need to rest. I need down time, I need whatever. I always feel like I have to say this: to be clear, I have no problem with someone having time off in the week sometime also. So I’m not, this is not about, you can’t let your mother in law take the kids so you can have some time to think for yourself. It’s fine. But our, it’s amazing how we hold those two things. Like, we’re so unaware of our own rebellious spirit in that, right? Like we feel like… it’s very common to feel, really be discontent with the work God has given you, too be, feel like you deserve rest that He’s not giving you because babies are around the clock, children are… you know, like, this is a really hard job. It’s common to resent that, and then also resent the rest that God tells us to have. And I just think that’s a really, that should flag in our minds that we’re, that this is actually a sin problem. Right? Like, if you’re like, I hate the thought of having to rest on Sunday, then you know, if God did tell us I still don’t want to do it. I mean, it’s really interesting how open people are with how much they’re, I don’t want it, whatever He says, I don’t want it. So I just want to say that first. Second, I do believe God made a provision for rest. I think what’s interesting is that the provision for rest He’s given us is His kind of rest, not our ideal of rest. It’s very different than – it is not the same. My family has, we have celebrated the Sabbath for years now. Since Ben and Bekah got married, and I think that’s been probably 22, 23 years. So every Saturday night the family gathers, we have a big family dinner, it’s kind of, it’s a party kickoff for the Lord’s Day. Right? So, starting in the very beginning it was more like, that’s when we had our best food, but it was still not a big gathering of people, it was a small table full of people but it was like our, you know, we would actually have a dessert with dinner, we would have wine with dinner, we would toast – that kind of thing. Fast forward now, and I think without guests – although it’s always changing – I think now we have forty-five people every Saturday. Without having guests, so that’s our baseline family, because it has looped in family on both sides. Every, you know, we just have a lot of people gathering. And it’s a real, talking about paideia, that’s a thing that’s so deep in the bones of my children that I think they’re like, they’re totally confused if we have a Saturday without that. Like they’re like, what are we even doing?! What is this? [laughter] And I love that. But that has been, so the idea behind that was to lean into gratitude and joy. What God has given us. So we are not strict Sabbatarians in a lot of ways that some people are. We are not like opposed to stopping at the grocery store on Sunday, like we are, we are flexible with that but we are very careful to not like, I think when we first started doing it when I was a teenager, I was like, do you mean I can’t do my homework on Sunday? And Dad was like, no, it means you get to not. Like, you can have a burden of things you need to do that you do not need to on the Lord’s Day. Like, even though that’s a thing that’s hanging over me, it’s, it’s, I get to not do it and not be irresponsible. Now, through the years when we had little kids, that my mom was hosting it, so it was different for us. But I almost always made food or contributed in some way, so the Saturday was like, everybody’s at home, it was very hard to try to have the house in a, like in a clean and orderly state while you’re making a lot of food. Like I’d probably have to run to the grocery store to get stuff to make something which may only barely be done by the time we leave to go to Mom’s house, so there might be pots and pans in the sink and stuff. You know, like, there, a lot of the time we were leaving the house Saturday night with the house not at all put together, and leaving. For years, I think, I made… I would say now I was making excuses, at the time I don’t think I was making excuses. You know, I think I wouldn’t have thought I was at the time. Now I’m like, eeeeehhh, yeah, that was a bunch of excuses.
Rachel: it was sort of like, I can’t rest if this is all messy, you know. Like, I, it’s not restful so I’ll tidy this up. Or this is not restful so I want to get to a restful place so I’m going to kind of, you know, I should do this first. Or the idea that I would like to take a Sabbath off when I was organized enough to have everything ready to be restful. And I, at some point it just, I was really convicted of that. Like I realized I’m not, what that totally is, is like, I will submit to my husband when he does something that I want to submit to. I mean, it’s totally putting, it’s like once everything aligns so that I’m willing to do this, then I will do it. So at that point I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna treat the Lord’s Day as a: stop! put your pencils down! Whatever, wherever the house is, we stop. Like, whatever it is that’s happening, we’re done until Sunday night. So Sunday at six is when we, we go six to six, and we are not so strict that – we have people in our home now, and so Saturday, whatever we do after dinner, we clean up. You know, like we’ll load the dishwashers. We’ll do whatever. But wherever it is when we, like, whenever we stop that evening, it’s usually, I like, can’t remember it being all cleaned up. Right. Like I can’t remember our house not having tablecloths, napkins, extra tables, chairs, like the counter full of dishes, like, usually we have both dishwashers going, and then we leave it there. But there’s garbage, I mean it’s – it looks like…
Melissa: like you’ve had a party.
Rachel: fifty or sixty people came and ate!
Jenn: yeah, yeah!
Rachel: that’s what it looks like. And that’s just, that’s it. We just stop. We don’t do anything else until Sunday, the next, at six. And the thing that I have been so impacted by is that God’s rest is not like ours. And also God’s rest is way better. Like, way better! And I think it’s so funny, because as long as I was trying to get to Sunday being like a, like a spa day – not really a spa day, but like everything so calm that I just feel calm so I’m going to, like, so the natural thing is to put your feet up by the fire and just have this lovely moment. I think it’s, what’s so interesting is that ever since I’ve been doing this, Mondays are my favorite day. I love Monday. Like, the amount of energy and delight I have at getting back to it and getting my regular work done – I don’t think relaxing in a calm environment makes me so ready to work. Like, I think, it’s just a very interesting thing that God’s rest makes me delight in the work that I have. I love to get back to it. And that’s just been, that’s been wonderful. And one of the funniest things to me, my kids, they’re all involved in helping, always, get ready for Sabbath. They set the table, they’re helping with the food, they’re very involved. So they understand the work of hospitality, and the joy it gives them to come home to the house that’s like chaos in the, in the dining room at least, you know, it’s like wow here is crazy. And to be like, we don’t have to do anything until tonight! Like everybody’s like, we joke, I mean they call it Secret Sundays like we’re always like, haha, like everybody comes in and they’re like, yay, it’s my favorite day! And I would not have anticipated that I would never have thought that my kids would delight so much in the obvious work that we need to that we don’t have to do right now, that we’re just like, we’ll just leave that till later. And obviously this is specific to our particular life. It’s just that it’s given me an insight into the fact that just obeying brings about fruit that you would not have thought of. I would never have thought for a fun thing for my kids, why don’t we weekly have the house in chaos and have them not have to clean it up? I would never have thought of that! [laughter] But the sweet part about it is at six we always turn on music, or it’s like all right everybody it’s time to clean up, and the way that everybody is ready to do and refreshed and, it’s like, we just get ready for the week. After six there’s a lot of like getting ready for lunches and cleaning up and talking and it’s a really sweet time of fellowship then also. But that’s not the kind of thing I could have ever scripted as, let me tell you what will be such a fun thing to do as a family. [laughter] Like, to have a day where you ignore all the mess in the kitchen, like, it will be so fun! So anyways, that’s what we do.
Melissa: so what do you do on Sundays, then?
Rachel: we call them Secret Sundays!
Melissa: so what does that look like?
Rachel: everybody… it’s a lot of reading, crafting, goofing off, napping… I mean, it’s, there’s no real script to what happens on Sunday. It’s whatever people want to do. Sometimes they play video games, they might watch a show, or, it’s just a completely different mood of a day. Every once in a while we might do something like, let’s have a fun, like, let’s get some fun food and make something, we’ll make something different to feed ourselves. Even then it has a completely different feel because our kitchen’s a mess. We would never do that, like, it’s such a different thing to be like, let’s make a fun something in the middle of that. So yeah, I guess it’s just made its own culture. Sunday has made its own thing going on. Sometimes we would go on a hike or do something, but not – usually it’s very low key.
Melissa: it sounds like it’s an organic pursuit of joy and fellowship which can take many different manifestations.
Rachel: it’s whatever actually delights the people that are in your house. So a lot of the time, now that it’s cold, it will be a fire in the living room, and people – I don’t know – they might be playing chees or playing a board game or reading or there’s a lot of craft supplies everywhere. One thing you can guarantee is that we will have made it more of a mess by the end of Sunday.
Melissa: that’s what I was thinking.
Rachel: we will have really leaned into this whole situation.
Melissa: worship, obviously, is also a given. Right? But talking about the Bible Reading Challenge as well… how does that bring rest into the other days of the week?
Rachel: I think I would say it’s a kind of rest that is confidence in God, confidence in His Word. I have, since doing… when we started the Bible Reading Challenge, I think we already had a church community that revered God’s Word and a lot of people that were already Bible readers. So it was not like we came into a community that didn’t read their Bibles, you know, but just even locally I have seen such an increase in the confidence women have in what the Word accomplishes that it has been really remarkable. Like, one wonderful side effect is you see women who are actually equipped to counsel themselves and equipped to encourage and admonish friends. Like, they actually have a more confidence in God’s Word. They’re feeling like, no I’ve actually, I actually know that you can trust God’s Word. You know, like, they are very differently bold about God’s Word. Differently bold about telling people with problems, you need to be reading your Bible. You know like this is an important part of your life. So I would say that that’s just, that is a defining, it should be a defining characteristic of Christians, that we serve the Word, right? We serve the Word made flesh. This is what we’re named after. That we should be a people of the Word, like how you know, how do we dare say that we’re followers of Christ when we are not actually reading His Word? We’re not… and I’ve used this example on the internet somewhere before… but it’s like if you said, oh I’m a Jane Austen fan. You know, I love Jane Austen, but the last time you read Pride and Prejudice was like fifteen years ago. And when someone says something to you, like… or you’ve only seen the movie, or you’ve only… you know, you’re like, I’m a huge fan, but I don’t know it. Right? I’m a huge fan, but I am not… and compared to Scripture, Pride and Prejudice is nothing, right? Like it’s a tiny little thing that does not have… that is, it’s a tiny little thing. Well anyways, if somebody, if you hadn’t read it, and someone comes up to you, oh you like Jane Austen! Don’t you think it’s weird how Darcy shows his, kind of you know, his classist pretentions to the innkeeper in that wherever, and he’s so, it’s such an abusive relationship? Like, you could be like, what? No, like I like, ohhh, but the shame of not knowing what they’re talking about, right, there’s an embarrassment of, I say I’m a fan and I have no idea what you’re talking about… and just to be clear to anyone who’s listening, that doesn’t happen in Pride and Prejudice – that is a nonexistent, that is not a scene. Right? But you’re thinking, I’m pretty sure there’s an inn. There’s an inn, right? There’s Darcy, he does have a pride problem, what am I… like, you kind of just go, ohh maybe that happened and you can play along. But that happens all the time with Christians and Christ. Where someone says, well, Jesus would never rebuke someone for their sin – He loved… and you’re like, oh, right? Unless you happen to have been reading your Bible at which time you’re like, mmmm that’s not true. What you just said is not accurate. And the women are led astray so quickly simply by their total lack of knowledge of what Jesus actually does say. And that confidence of, no I’ve actually recently read that. Of course people could still get in deeper than you expected them to get in with something and pull out, what does a Greek word mean, and you could be like, I’ll need to look into that, I don’t know what we’re talking about. But at the same time, you have a, you know Christ in a different way if you have been in His Word. And I think it is remarkable how flippant we are with that. Like, like we don’t really need to know Him, we can just be a faithful Christian without really knowing Who it is we’re following. It’s okay to not know about Darcy, it’s not okay to not know about Christ. It’s like, this is a different situation.
Melissa: right, but there’s also a delight in the connection, that fellowship of literally, as you say, being on the same page with one another. So Jenn in Georgia made a comment about, oh yeah I was just reading in Scripture this particular thing, and then she realized, oh wait, we’ve all just been reading that because we’re all on the same page! And there’s something really sweet about that.
Melissa: so that’s another perk
Rachel: when we first started it probably one of the funniest moments I’ve ever had – I think it was the first year, we were all, everyone was in Genesis I guess, and we were in the bleachers of a volleyball game and it was like a major discussion among a lot of people from all different families about what was going on with Jacob and the rods and the sheep. People were like, well I read something because I was trying to figure this out – it was like, in the bleachers of the volleyball game, topic for discussion today, let’s talk about the breeding of the spotted, you know the whole, putting the rods in the water. [laughter] It was such a funny topic of conversation and yet it was so wonderful to just be so, like, that this is the sort of thing we can, you know, we can be like oh did you read that? I read that.
Melissa: yeah, I love that. Well we appreciate your work in that. Is there anything else that you find helpful in that pursuit of sort of a spiritual rest? Obviously worship on Sunday, you mention the Sabbath, setting it aside.
Rachel: right. Oh it’s, this is like an ongoing, I would say this is like a whole field of sanctification. Like it seems like, yeah, there’s a lot that you could talk about there. I was just talking with some friends about this in the sense that I think building Christian culture is a wonderful calling that women have. But it’s not an easy one, and it’s not something that will be done by women who are only doing things that come naturally to them or are, or are, they’re immediately good at. Right? So the discipline of pursuing things because you have a bigger goal in mind, because you’re like, this is something, like, I know my efforts will just be a foundation. Right? I know that whatever I’m working on is never gonna be the glamorous part of Christian culture and building God’s kingdom, but wanting to push it further and further in your own life and not just settling in a place that’s like, well, good enough. You know? This is as far as I need to go. And I love that anything that we claim for Christ is His, right? So as we’re reaching around, looking for ways to communicate the joy of the Lord and what it means to be a Christian and what Christian culture should look like, we just get to take anything. Like an apple pie is not by itself… something, you know, it’s not… I hesitate to say that. I’m like, is that true? I was gonna say it’s not holy. But I don’t know, it might be holy by itself, I can’t be sure. [laughter] But if we take it and do it to the glory of God, He establishes the work of our hands. Right?
Rachel: it’s not the stockings that are that important, it’s not the pie, it’s not the table setting. It’s the people doing it to the glory of God. Right? And that whole concept, and I love this, I’ve said it before, but that in, that whole concept of, whatever you do, do it to the glory of God. It just opens up like, whatever you do! Like if you’re making quilts to the glory of God, that will matter in the lives of your child… you know, if you’re doing, if you’re cooking things, if you’re cleaning, if you’re doing all these things to the glory of God, it’s established and it’s building something, it’s making something. And I think that this idea that we have that what we’re doing is, like, it’s… okay… hold on, you asked what are the resources, and I was gonna say we were talking about this. And just today I was catching up… guess who was behind on Bible reading? [laughter]
Jenn: I think it’s a catch up day.
Melissa: it is!
Rachel: totally not my normal week where I was in… I’m in the Master’s program, a creative writing Master’s program, and I had classes all week which a whole other ballgame for me. I was like, this is not what I usually do. Okay, so as I was catching up, I flagged this verse, which I love. [1 Cor 9:10] That “he who plows should plow in hope and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.” Like, we’re hoping to build the kingdom, but we also get to partake in the joy of that right now. Like it’s a much bigger joy, it’s a much bigger thing than we have the access to, but we should still be doing it in joy here, and when I say that you were asking about rest, and I know this probably feels very loosely connected, except for how common is it that we’re trying to do something glorious for the Christian kingdom but we’re getting stressed out and we’re not partaking in the joy of what’s actually happening, what we’re actually doing it for? And Christmas is a great example of that, right? You’re like, I want this to be so fun and beautiful and joyful! And what is your temptation the entire time? Is to get just like ggghaaaaaa, like it’s so stressful, and feeding people and doing all this feels stressful, and I just think… when my twins were babies and I had two other toddlers, in that, I remember trying to make myself be like, screaming infants is not stressful. [chuckle] And actually thinking, I am not going to react to this physically like it is inviting me to. Right? You’re like, let’s just chill out and realize this is just news that I need to help them, right? Like I’m not gonna freak out if I’m changing one diaper and the other baby is screaming. I’m gonna just not respond physically to this. And I actually think that this is… I know from that example and then from the whole area of sanctification in my life, that this is a thing that you actually have the capacity to do and you can actually, you can actually strengthen the muscles that you have that blow it out, that don’t channel the stress, that’s like, well this is chaotic… and laugh and move on. Like, you don’t have to be… and in that way, we’re actually welcome to partake in a bigger rest than at times it feels impossible that we could be doing that. Right? Like, you have the capacity to not be partakers in the stress or in the noise but actually partake instead of Christ and His rest and the peace there. And it’s a real, I really think that’s a thing that’s like, you have to try it to know you can do it. But you can do it. You can actually just thank the Lord for it, blow it out, move on.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. We’ll repeat that constantly. What’s something you have read recently that has brought encouragement to your own framework of mind or your soul?
Rachel: hmm man, I’ve been reading schoolbooks. I’ve been trying to think, what did I just read? What have I been reading? Hmm. I don’t know that anything that I have been reading lately, I would say is that. I do think, I like to think more broadly of Christian culture which means that a lot of the time it’s more random take aways from things here and there that I would say are not, they’re not of particular… I wouldn’t recommend them to people to be like, read this book for a real understanding of that. So I don’t know that I have a good book recommend on that, that I would say, this is not actually a subject that I, like, probably the way Bekah and I talk about things on the podcast is the way I actually treat it in my own life. That you’re picking up fragments of things that encourage you, more than you are – I don’t have one place that I would say, oh I go here for encouragement. But this morning doing my Bible reading, catching up on stuff, that’s for sure a place that you’re like, here’s a random encouragement about the work that I’m doing today.
Rachel: that passage I’ve read a bunch of times and never actually taken it that way at all. Right? Like that’s something I’ve seen a lot of times…
Melissa: it’s a living Word, it’s always new, it’s always got something.
Rachel: I know, right? So it’s at the end of 15, 1 Corinthians 15 which I love – is therefore my beloved, you know it’s this whole discussion of the resurrection and the importance of the resurrection – and the ending, “therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” And I just love that because it’s like, oh, because we believe this, you can be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Melissa: yeah, hallelujah!
Rachel: and we’re always like, can we do that? Like, well that would be great. And you’re thinking, well it’s the fruit of actually believing in Christ and believing the resurrection. And so yeah, I guess that’s a cop out, to say read your Bible. That’s where you should be reading for your inspiration and encouragement.
Melissa: yeah, absolutely. Well, Rachel, thank you for taking time out of your busy life. We appreciate it.
Rachel: my pleasure.
Melissa: we’re looking forward to having you with us in person in, hold on, two and a half weeks?
Rachel: yes! All right, sounds good.
Jenn: thank you.
Melissa: thank you so much, Rachel. God bless you.
Rachel: you too. Buh-bye.
Melissa: bye, Jenn.
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. Thanks for joining us. You can find us at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and encouragement. Join me again next time for another Paideia Conversation. Until then, peace be with you.
For this Paideia Conversation, Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast joins Melissa Cummings from Paideia Northwest to dialogue with today’s guest, Mystie Winckler. Protecting family margin on the calendar, prioritizing Lord’s Day rest & fellowship, and picking soul-filling books like God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis are some practical ways Mystie encourages us to pursue godly paideia as well as rest… and don’t overlook her tips of quieting the mind by learning how to nap and honing the skill of brain dumping!
Links to Resources
Melissa: joining me today for this paideia conversation is my cohost Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast, and our guest today is Mystie Winckler. We invite you into this conversation with us as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia.
It’s so much fun, yeah, to sit on opposite sides of the country – you’re in your basement, I’m in my closet, and we can come together and just chat about things like creating a culture for our children…
Melissa: to further the Kingdom of God, and ask His blessing on it. It’s so great!
Melissa: so, this, Every Moment Holy is something that both Paideia Northwest and Paideia Southeast, and our respective people, have loved and used and recommended; and I just want to read a little bit from A Liturgy to Begin a Purposeful Gather. And, dare I say, a Purposeful Conversation.
“So we are gathered here, uniquely in all of history, we particular people in this singular time and multiple place, accomplish Your purposes among us, O God. Tune our hearts to the voice of Your Spirit, wake us to be present to You and to one another for in these showered moments we are given You, O Lord. You have gathered us from our various places and You alone know our hearts and our needs. O Father, enlarge our hearts, O Spirit, expand our vision, O Christ, establish Your Kingdom among us. Be at work, even now, O Lord, and may Your will in us be accomplished. Amen.”
So as we continue our chatting about paideia across the country and with a variety of different events and things coming up, I know Paideia Southeast has had one event recently. What did you call that?
Jenn: yeah, we called it a Moms’ Encouragement Night.
Melissa: Moms’ Encouragement Night. Yeah, so that was a panel and fellowship and sort of your introductory event. And now in another couple weeks you have another event, a nature walk, right?
Jenn: yes, yes! It’s a… we’re calling it a Moms’ Enrichment Day. It’s a, it’s a nature walk at a local botanical garden.
Jenn: and so there will be some nature journaling, kind of time for personal reflection, connection, fellowship, and then a lunch afterwards.
Melissa: yeah. Think I can, you know, just, be a fly on that wall maybe?
Jenn: yeah, we would love that. [laughter]
Melissa: so on this side of the country, we’ve got the Paideia Northwest conference coming up very soon, so today we get to have one of our speakers join us for our conversation here about paideia and about rest, which is the theme of the upcoming conference. Jenn, do you want to just sort of tell Mystie what we are up to, what we are doing?
Jenn: yes! So we are just chatting, Mystie, about the concept of paideia, being representatives of Paideia Southeast and Paideia Northwest. And then we’re also gonna chat a little bit about the topic of the upcoming Paideia Northwest conference being rest.
Melissa: so I’m Melissa Cummings from Paideia Northwest up in northeastern Washington, and I’m here today with my friend Jenn Discher. Tell us where you’re from.
Jenn: I’m from north Georgia, north of Atlanta.
Melissa: and you are with Paideia Southeast.
Melissa: yeah, so we’ve got one from each coast today, which is fantastic. And we are welcoming our friend Mystie Winckler, who is going to be speaking at the upcoming Paideia Northwest conference in just a couple of weeks. So, Mystie, thank you for taking the time to join us.
Mystie: thank you for inviting me.
Melissa: yeah. Jenn, do you want to go ahead and ask Mystie to tell us about who she is and what she does?
Jenn: yes, Mystie. Please do. Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.
Mystie: well, my husband and I have been married for twenty years this year. We had our twentieth anniversary. And we are in eastern Washington state in the Tri-Cities, and we both were homeschooled from the very beginning. So when it was very uncool, or even just very unknown. And then my husband and I both did dual enrollment at the community college which is about the age that we met each other in early high school. And we got married at nineteen, and now we have five kids. And our oldest is about the age that we were when we, like, were interested in one another. So that’s weird. So I have an eighteen year old, a sixteen year old, an eleven year old… um, I skipped the thirteen year old, and an eight year old. So we’re kind of in those older grades now, but they have all been homeschooled from the beginning. My oldest graduated last year with his AA from the community college, and my son is currently in that program, my second son is in that program. So I’m really only homeschooling three actively every day, but we’re in a different phase of life now. It’s a little bit strange.
Jenn: and tell us, you also, you work with, out… beyond homeschooling… Scholé Sisters.
Mystie: yes. So I am a cohost of Scholé Sisters which is a podcast and an online community for classical homeschooling moms. And then I also have my own blog and podcast and online, like, mentorship type community for homemakers. For Christian homemakers to overcome overwhelm and perfectionism and establish habits in their homes.
Jenn: I’m glad you mentioned that. I’ve been blessed by your work in all of those areas over the years, so I’m very glad you are doing all those things. To bring it back to paideia, there’s this idea, and it comes from a chapter in Ephesians in the Bible where Paul is talking to the Ephesian church, and he’s telling parents, specifically fathers in that passage, to raise their children in the paideia of God. Melissa and I have been talking about this a lot lately, we’ve been talking with other folks about this… what does this concept of paideia mean to you? How would you explain that to someone?
Mystie: well, one of the things that I love about the concept of paideia and the word and then how it’s used in Ephesians is that it was a known word to the Greek and Roman culture of the time. It would have been their word for education. You can look back through some of those classical education sources and they talk about education being paideia, and they didn’t have the categories that we do today about education where it happens in a schoolroom during certain set hours. But their idea of education that they used the word paideia for meant your whole life, everything about the whole society and culture was shaping people to become the kinds of Greeks and Romans that they wanted to raise up. So it includes the kind of typical hours, sorts of activities and education but it includes, but it’s so much more than that as well. It’s really all the pieces of life and how everything goes in to shaping our children’s loves and their desires and raising them up in that nurture and admonition of the Lord, is how it’s usually translated about where we can take this… they would have called it, enculturation could also be a translation of it. So becoming a part of a culture, and the culture that we’re supposed to be passing on to our children is the culture of the Lord.
Jenn: mhmm. I love that. It’s very holistic. I think when I finally got a handle on it… which, I mean, I don’t know that I’ll ever fully get a handle on it. But when I really started to really chew on that, it was kind of mind blowing and really encouraging. And I think, very reflective of, I mean, if a Christian worldview is supposed to be holistic, then this is, these are like holistic actions we can take, you know, by God’s grace within that. It’s exciting. So then, how does your understanding of paideia- how does that kind of flesh out in your home?
Mystie: I think as homeschoolers, one of the advantages that we should recognize and work with is the fact that we do kind of administer the whole life picture. And so we can make sure that all the pieces of life are working together and in balance with one another and give our children an education that is not just, you know, a check list, and not just passing tests or getting grades. But it is a working towards loving God in all that they do, and that includes schoolwork and it includes service and it includes work and play and everything. And since we are there all the time in all those pieces, we have to kind of keep them all working together and not compartmentalize. And then if, you know, for those who are… have their kids at a school and then they’re at home, they can really focus on the home element of paideia, because it is, I think, more enculturating. The home is really where people are formed. So it’s not optional even if your kids are at a day school, you are still a huge part of raising them up in the paideia of the Lord.
Jenn: mhmm. So, well I mean, I referenced this and I think you touched on this too, that it’s a really big, rich concept. And it can be, it can kind of take a while to chew on and think through, okay, how does this flesh out? What does this mean for us as Christians to be enculturating our kids? So can you give us kind of a tangible glimpse of, like, like we call it a glimpse of paideia, or the paideia of the Lord in your home? Whether it’s a schooling, specific to homeschooling or not.
Mystie: yeah, one of the things I think of is how we go about choosing, like, what we memorize or what we sing during our school time. We have a Morning Time where we’re all together and do Scripture memory and singing and prayer time together, and so that’s really the cornerstone piece of our homeschool, and that is a huge part of the paideia of building up a family culture that is centered on Christ. And we choose what we sing based on what we sing at church so that my kids can participate better in church. That’s one way to like tie in those different pieces of our lives and make them one piece, is that the efforts we put in, you know on this one side of our school day, are also working together to build up helping them feel like a part of the worship service as well. We often end our family dinner time together with the Lord’s Prayer. So just when these different pieces come up in different parts of the day and not just, oh, that’s what we do during this time, it’s happening kind of all over the place, that’s one way where I see paideia happening.
Jenn: I love that. I like the idea of being intentional to have those things be crossing paths in different contexts. One thing actually that I’ve found helpful in our Morning Time in our homeschool has been mottos… probably your mottos… [laughter] We’ve adapted! We’ve pulled in… I have a good friend who’s great at that, and then I’ve come up with some, but mottos have been so key for us. Those short, snappy little phrases of little, like, little nuggets of truth or just good things to remember. And that over time, if you practice them, to put them in action, it really does become part of your family culture. Right. I love that.
Mystie: yeah, that’s a great one too. Because they apply, then, throughout life. You might be learning them during one piece but you’re applying them and referring back to them throughout, and it changes your actions, which is making a culture.
Jenn: yes! Absolutely. And you get reminded of them by your children [laughter] when you need to remember the motto. They are so good at that! At reminding you.
Melissa: Jenn, that really goes over into the idea of, it’s not just a culture of our children… I know what we’ve talked about this before is, we’re also in that culture and we’re still being formed. So even as the mama or as an adult, we are still being shaped. And so how, how we are in that culture making with our kids, having those hymns and those Scriptures and those mottos – all of that – or even, Mystie mentioned the word service – entering into acts of service with our children is continuing to shape us. And just like we need to be intentional with our children because they will be shaped whether we are intentional or not, so will we.
Melissa: so yeah, good thoughts.
Jenn: love that. That’s so true. So I guess along those lines Mystie, what’s one resource, maybe like a book or a website or event, song, poem, podcast, whatever – that you could recommend to others, to other moms who are seeking to raise their kids in a specifically Christian culture in their homes?
Mystie: I do think music can be one of the most powerful sources of enculturation, and so just, each family thinking about what is the music tying you to? What culture is the music tying you to? And what are the resources available to you that help you make, use music, to tie you to your local church body? So we have a huge stack of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, which is the hymnal that our church uses, and we use that for our Morning Time every morning. My piano students are always practicing at least one hymn from that during their piano time. It has the catechisms and the creeds in the back of it so we use it for reference, and so, that’s not like, oh, use this resource – we’re using that resource because it is what our church uses. And so, you know, whatever, I would recommend finding something that helps you tie your family culture to your local church culture. And just considering your local church a part of your paideia in your family, your extended family, I think is really important.
Jenn: mhmm, I love that. It makes me think of even just as a resource the people. Like, the other older women at our local churches. Like looking at someone else’s family or like, oh, I love what you’ve got going on there, tell me about that, where did that come from?
Mystie: for sure.
Melissa: that’s really good. So talking about implementing these things or opening up the idea of making connections across home and church, and then also you mentioned, of course, education, right, specific homeschooling or day schooling – but connecting all those things, from the perspective of a mama, then, who is stitching those pieces together and encouraging how they all weave in… how do you find, going back to that idea of rest, how do you find rest necessary in motherhood? Because I think so often the automatic, the default, is, oh of course motherhood is exhausting. But usually we’re talking about the sleepless nights or the need for more coffee. What do you think of when you ponder the need for rest in motherhood?
Mystie: I think about the need to enjoy the work that we’re doing it, which, at least for myself, does not come naturally. Even, you know, Morning Time, which is supposed to be the best part of your day or whatever, it often it is, well just honestly it can feel chaotic especially when we had younger kids, it just kind of felt like crazy time. But when I treated Morning Time or meal time or these other, you know, really family building times as just one more thing I was supposed to be doing, was when I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. And I was closed off, really, to being able to enjoy them. And it was actually a good friend of mine, who at one point… I was probably at this point having a bit of baby blues after having baby number four, and was the, complaining to a friend. And one of the things she said has always stuck with me. She said, well, just go do something that you enjoy with your kids. And it caught me off guard because I, it made me realize, I hadn’t enjoyed, like, any of those, these times lately. And it wasn’t because they couldn’t be enjoyable. It was because it was like I had shut off a part of my awareness to the fact that it really was enjoyable and so I couldn’t receive the joy, enjoyment, from those times. And the rest of just being instead of doing. Because of how overinvolved my mental space was with the tasks and with feeling like I wasn’t doing good enough, so I wasn’t letting myself be happy about anything. And so just taking the time to just step back, and you know, a brain dump is one of the things I’m always recommending. Where you’re just writing things out that come to your head. And so, what are the things that really ought to be enjoyable with my family, and it required turning off the constant inner narrator loop of this isn’t good enough, this isn’t what I wanted it to be, there’s still the laundry, there’s still the this, that, and the other thing going on. You have to step back and stop the, that negative ticker tape mind and just see the people and enjoy the food or the singing as a person. And that has been a big game changer for me, in that rest doesn’t have to be always a time away or an escape. I was looking, at the time I was looking for escapes. And the joy and the rest was actually right there in front of me. I just had to accept it and recognize it and put away my anxiety and overwhelm.
Melissa: there’s a quote from Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest that I remember revisiting this summer, when I did that with the Scholé Sisters’ read through of it, where she said: what if, instead of trying to make the most of our time, we worked harder at savoring it. And I’ve always loved the word savor. But I feel like that’s the essence of what you’re saying. Like, it is right in front of us, but we need to savor it. So, yeah, really… really helpful reminders. It is. It’s right in front of us. So how, I feel like this is… You’ve already touched on this a little bit but how do you as a specific woman, a specific mother, how do you pursue rest in your home, in your family culture? As an individual, but they also, how do you encourage rest in your family?
Mystie: I think one of the things is, we’re pretty careful with our schedule, and we don’t do a lot of running to and fro, and we’re not involved in a lot of different things. You know, sometimes the kids do need times with friends and community and activities, but it’s really easy to overload those so that as a family we don’t have time to have a meal together or it’s just one thing or another, and everyone’s passing each other. It starts happening just naturally with older kids, because now I have two older teens with drivers’ licenses and jobs. And you know, we don’t see them much. So that’s fine for the stage of life that they’re at, but it reminds me to be careful with the younger kids’ time that they have time to just sit and read or draw or ride their bikes out on the road with friends. And those kind of refreshing activities that don’t involve a lot of hurry and scurry, I guess. And making time for family meals together without phones at the table. Or even just… the big one for me is, when we do, do have, when we do have our Morning Time, putting away my phone during it so that my mind is actually engaged in what we’re doing and able to take the singing and the prayer and the Scripture as a source of encouragement and enjoyment in the morning instead of it being just one more thing on my list that we’re doing but I’m also thinking about what’s coming later, you know, this, that, and the other thing. It’s really, you know, looking at that whole day and the week as a whole, and trying to balance that making sure that the kids are each getting what they need while not going crazy as a family.
Melissa: how do you purpose to set aside the Lord’s Day as a day of rest?
Mystie: yeah, that’s been a big growing space for me in the last few years, just trying to figure out that question. Because it seemed like a lot of the advice for making the Lord’s Day a day of rest seemed to come from men who didn’t understand homemaking. [laughter] Because it’s like, well, just don’t work… I mean, we do need food, and we do need all these other things, they are, that’s like your ox in the ditch. But then, that’s my whole week. Like, so? How is this a thing? [laughter] And I really have come to a place where I do enjoy the Lord’s Day as a day of rest even when I have to make food and get the kids together and in the care on time and to church… because I make it a point to not move my own agenda forward on that day. That’s kind of become my reference point for it being a day of rest. It means I’m not trying to get ahead. I’m not making a to do list. What needs to be done, we do. And I don’t let myself have a bad attitude about it. And that makes it restful. It’s the bad attitude that makes it not restful. And that has been a big help for me, is just thinking about it in terms of letting my agenda go, and you know, usually we get together with friends or something, but I also sometimes – because we’re getting together with friends – have to clean the kitchen or sometimes have to make food. But it’s for the fellowship and it’s for enjoying as a family and it’s not because I have this plan that I am making happen.
Melissa: now, I know, Jenn already asked about a resource for encouraging the enculturation, that paideia, in your home – and so I think the answer of a psalter/hymnal or something from church couldn’t overlap here. Bit what is a resource or an idea for pursuing that rest in the Lord as we labor for the kingdom of God? And you’ve already given some really good glimpses of how you incorporate that. But are there, are there any other last thoughts that you have on that subject?
Mystie: well, I think going to church on Sunday and letting your mind and heart be engaged there, and reading the Bible every day on your own and then also with your children somehow – those are the cornerstones. Like, no other… every other resource has to come after those, and then I know, one thing I have noticed more and more lately is that the homeschool moms of my mom’s generation all do take naps, and did take naps. And I am a bad napper. [laughter]
Jenn: it doesn’t further your agenda!
Mystie: no, it doesn’t! And I have a hard time turning off my mind!
Jenn: I get it, yeah! [laughter]
Mystie: and so I’ve been thinking about the a lot lately. The ability to take a nap, even if it’s just a twenty minute downtime in dark and, you know, my kids are old enough now that if I close the door, they can not bother me for twenty minutes. But how that is a giving up of the agenda and the feeling of, like, I have to be all that and supermom and do all the things. It’s an act of trust and faith sometimes to take a nap, and so it’s not lazy. It can be a spiritual exercise of faith.
Melissa: it’s so encouraging to hear, you know, from the perspective of, yes, we need to fill our souls, we need to be in the Word, we need to prioritize those things – but also, I mean, the Word, the psalms are full of references to physical rest and how the Lord uses that to nurture our bodies and our souls. And that’s something that we can receive from Him, and I think, you know, you mentioned, Mystie, putting a hedge around your family’s time, and that’s a gift that we can also give to our children then. To say, you get to have this space of rest. And my kids don’t always appreciate it at a gift. [laughter] Sometimes it’s, you know, I have to lay down? Usually, you know, if I let them have a book, it’s always good news then. But it is, it’s a gift we receive from the Lord and we can then pass that on to our children. I think also a little plug there for the Bible Reading Challenge–that’s something that Paideia Northwest and Paideia Southeast, that’s something we love and we have as a habit and we like to share that. It’s restful. It’s that daily nourishment and, you know, we’re talking about the, the Living Water and the Bread of Life. Man does not live by bread alone, but it’s the Bread of Life and the Living Water, and that’s what gives us that inner spiritual nourishment. So really, really good reminders there. So a final question before we head off is, what have you been reading lately that specifically has brought the blessing of that godly culture, godly nourishment to your soul?
Mystie: right now one of the books I’m reading is C.S. Lewis’ God in the Dock, which is a collection of essays. So that’s always a nice kind of a book to have in the rotation because you don’t have to keep the thread through a long book. It’s like each chapter stands alone. And I wasn’t, I mean I wasn’t going into it thinking, that’s the book that’s going to be a paideia type of book, but C.S. Lewis is so good at identifying the spiritual problems in culture and in questions, and a lot of the cultural and political issues that we see around us today, you know, in a way that’s a part of our paideia. Like, it does, whether we like it or not, the society that we’re in is a part of our surroundings. So our paideia has to address it, and living in that in a godly way.
Mystie: and reading C.S. Lewis and God in the Dock – he’s addressing these cultural, you know, atheistic or other ungodly cultural assumptions and questions, in such a clear way, and it helps me right now to see that some of the problems we see in the world around us today have been a long time coming. Like, they’re not just, where did that come from? C.S. Lewis saw all of this coming and was answering them in his day and we can continue those… there are good answers, and there is a right Christian response to living in the world that has its issues today. So that’s kind of where my mind of paideia thoughts have been lately. Encouraged by C.S. Lewis.
Melissa: yeah, always timely. Always good.
Melissa: well, Mystie, I’m really grateful you took the time to join us for a short conversation today, and… you know, Jenn won’t be here for our conference on Rest next month, but I will get to see you and I’m looking forward to hearing your practical applications for how to pursue and apply that rest and not give in to overwhelm, which we can so easily fall into. So thank you for taking the time to be with us. And, Jenn, it was great to catch up with you today
Jenn: yes, always. Good to chat, thank you!
Mystie: thank you, Melissa. Thank you, Jenn.
Melissa: thank you so much, ladies. We’ll talk again soon.
This conversation between Melissa Cummings from Paideia Northwest and Kristen Kill, author of Finding Selah, is a contemplation of beauty, Christian culture, and making space in the midst of busy life to purposely rest in the Lord. If you are anticipating the upcoming Rest conference with Paideia Northwest, this ought to really whet your appetite. To the Kingdom!
Links to Resources Mentioned
Finding Selah by Kristen Kill
Pollyanna with Hayley Mills
Our 24 Family Ways by Clay and Sally Clarkson
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Gospel Comes with a Housekey by Rosaria Butterfield
The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
Rewilding Motherhood by Shannon Evans
This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson
Melissa: okay, and joining me now is my new friend, Kristen Kill. And she’s going to be speaking to us at Paideia Northwest at our upcoming Rest conference, and we get a little peek into a conversation beforehand. So, Kristen, I’m delighted you took the time to join me today for a conversation – thank you so much!
Kristen: oh, thanks for having me! It’s really fun to get to know you ahead of meeting you in person and speaking to all these wonderful women.
Melissa: yes! So, could you just introduce yourself, your family, your background and your current work? Just all the things.
Kristen: sure! Yeah, you bet. Okay, so. I’m Kristen Kill, and I live in Portland, Oregon. Before we lived here, we – well, we’ve lived all over the place, but before we lived in Portland, we raised our kids for about seven years in Manhattan. I have five kids now, our last was born two weeks after we moved to Portland, so that’s a whole story. But my oldest is a senior in college, she’s twenty. And then I have a daughter who’s a senior in high school, who is almost eighteen. And then I have a fifteen year old son who’s a sophomore and a thirteen year old daughter that is an eighth grader, and then our little guy who just turned five. So we’re kind of all over the place with kiddos. My husband and I have been married twenty-two years…
Melissa: praise the Lord!
Kristen: which is just crazy, it’s so fun! And it really does get better and better. We got married really young. Well, not so young: twenty and twenty-one. It felt… it feels young now that I have a twenty year old. [laughter]
Melissa: of course, right? [laughter]
Kristen: yeah, she’s like, sorry guys, I’m not on the same path. [laughter] We’re like, step it up, you’re behind! We’re always giving her a hard time, we’re always making jokes: she really is not in that place right now. So we are, we’ve been married a long time. Our families have known each other, our great grandmothers worked together in the same town – it’s so bizarre. And so it’s really, really sweet. All of our family’s in the same town in Wenatchee and Cashmere, Washington, which are not far from where the Paideia Northwest conference is. And that was one of the reasons we moved back to Portland, to be able to be in driving distance of our families, and back in the Pacific Northwest after almost a decade away. Let’s see. I am an author. So I’ve written a book that came out with Zondervan in 2018 called Finding Selah, and a lot of what I’m sharing about at the conference is from that book. It’s on rest, and it’s about finding rest kind of right in the middle of things, not as an end of something that we work towards and then we get to take a break. But what it looks like to experience the rest of God in the rhythm of our real life. And what it looks like to abide in Him. And so I’m really excited to talk about that. I have taken off a couple of years from professional writing and speaking, really, to study creative writing at Oxford University in the UK. And so I just began on my second year in a program there that I’m loving! And so that’s really where all my time and energy is going. I say yes to speaking things and little things are going on locally, and then things that I just feel really called to, like this conference! Which is so exciting for me to be able to do something in my region that’s accessible right now, and share about this thing that I haven’t been able to share about in a little while. So I’m kind of immersed in literary critique and poetry and drama; right now I’m in the middle of a six week course on short story. And I’m just absolutely floored, getting to study writing and story in this context academically, and seeing the way that God’s story has been crafted for us by the Lord, and the way that all story ties to His story. Like, it’s phenomenal to be able to even learn about connecting with readers and seeing so much of what we know to be true of the Gospel and how God connects to us in a lot of these principles. But I’m really, really finding my heart in poetry, and so I think that my next book will be about poetry in the life of the church.
Melissa: oh, I can’t wait for that!
Kristen: I’m so thrilled! It actually has been until really the last 150 years or so such an integral part of our spiritual formation and expression of our hearts before the Lord, and in church history more of a formal way. And so I think that I’m going to probably end up doing a Master’s thesis on that and being able to research a little bit about tying in church history and literature and poetry and then… and I’m really hopeful to be able to write and share about what that looks like in my next book, especially because I think that in the United States in particular we’re just having such a crisis of beauty. And to be able to write and understand our church history through the lens of a poetic heart and poetic speech I think just will increase our wonder that we have before God. And I think that that’s something that we really need right now in our culture and in our churches.
Kristen: so year, it’s still a little bit away because I still have a year left of this first program. But that’s where I’m at now, what occupies my days.
Melissa: wow, wow – and what does education with your kids look like right now during this season? Because I know it kind of can change year to year.
Kristen: yeah, it can. So we have our kids – one of them is at a private Christian high school, and we kind of have taken the view of, like, we’ve homeschooled everyone up until like that middle school high school time, and we start looking for co ops or outside classes or kind of partner programs that they can do that allow them to have some time with their peers, some time to be exposed to like classroom settings and tests which have not always been a piece of our life at home. Just some things that are a little bit more traditional as we prepare to launch them. And then for a couple of them, that has meant going to, like, partner programs or, like, this private Christian school. So I have one obviously in college, she homeschooled all the way through. And then this other at a private school. Our other kids are at a private Christian classical school that is, that just partners quite a lot with parents. And then our little guy is doing homeschool with us at home as well, and then does like a co op preschool where the parents are there really every day doing things together with them…
Melissa: you have a lot of different irons in that educational fire.
Kristen: it is really crazy, yeah! So they’re… it’s a weird thing. I don’t know if I would have ever thought that this would happen as my kids grew. But their education really has – the older ones especially, because you know, eighth grade and up, a lot of, and pretty much what they’re doing is really independent with the courses and the classes that they take part in. I don’t think that I ever thought that my kids would, like, know how to read, let alone handle so much independently, but they really have, and we’ve really turned over quite a bit for the high school kids over to tutors, and get to take on more of a coaching role and a supportive role. And they’ve been able to focus on areas and passions that they have, and it’s been so beautiful. I love, I loved kind of crossing that boundary with them where we really, I feel like I just get to be right alongside and coach, and it’s been really really great for this stage of their discipleship as well. So yeah, it’s – we’re kind of all over, doing all kinds of different things.
Melissa: that’s beautiful though. It’s like a mosaic.
Kristen: it is! It’s a mosaic. An educational mosaic. And a lot of driving! [laughter] But it’s so good, and it’s so sweet. I don’t know, I don’t know that I could ever be satisfied not having everything for our kids so tailored. Like, it’s just been such a gift. So to see the…
Melissa: to educate them as individuals, is that what you mean?
Kristen: yes. Yeah. And to see the fruit of that in them. To be able to say yes to things that they care deeply about, and to see them each kind of take up a mantle in areas of giftedness that they have or areas of interest that they want to explore. I just can’t think of any other time in life where they’re gonna have the freedom to do that, and so to be able to watch that and see things come alive for them as they go about that has just been really rich and really beautiful, so yeah, we’re bopping around all day long over here. But it’s, but it’s really sweet.
Melissa: so you mentioned, obviously, you mentioned the word education. Then you also mentioned the word discipleship…
Melissa: so then that kind of leads me right into that question of paideia.
Melissa: so what does that word mean to you? Is it new to you? Is this a word that… yeah, like, I love this word, but I’ve been told I’m a little it geeky about that. So-
Kristen: I love that you love it! I maybe had to google it. [laughter] And be sure that I understood it in its context. And, you know I asked you about this before we recorded today. I had been familiar with the word because there is another classical partnering, partnership homeschool program here in Portland that is called Paideia. And so I had known some about its roots and its connection to the word education and its, you know, the way that it’s used in the Greek in the New Testament. But in talking to you about it, and in seeing a lot of, even the posts that you have on the Paideia Instagram account, this idea of enculturation is one that I just love, and I think I’ve been using the heart of paideia without knowing the word for a really long time. And I think I would’ve, I think it does come down to discipleship. It’s thinking about discipleship of the whole person, you know, looking at who God has made them to be, like, who our family is, where we’re called to live, like, the things that we’re passionate about just in who we are in the culture of our home. Which a lot of times of course is always fueled by Mom and Dad. We say often, if we’re called to this then you’re also called to this. You know. If we have a baby when you’re in high school, you’re called to experience what this is all gonna look like, as a teenager in our home, etc etc. But there’s this idea of your family culture, of like who you are and also developing and uncovering, like, the work that God has you to do in the world. But that pouring in and also uncovering of a person is really beautiful, and I just think it’s so… we were talking a little bit before we started recording as well, about this idea that it’s so easy to kind of, as parents especially if you have lots of children or are homeschooling or are working or have whatever responsibilities are happening in your life that are overwhelming, it’s so easy to start box-checking. Like, okay, we did math today, okay we did this today, okay we did this- like, we’re doing good. Or to start, you know, just looking at life in sort of a flat way like that. Like this two dimensional life instead of having this vision for something that is so much bigger, that is so hopeful, that’s so rich. And so I think to be able to consider, like, that the way that you’re opening up and pouring into the soul of a person in the math lesson, in the way that you set a dinner table, in the way that you help them learn how to greet someone or smile when they’re out at the grocery store, or share with a friend- like, all of the beauty that is being created in your home and all the little habits that are being created. As well as the appetites that are being formed, in literature, in film, in art. It’s these deposits into our children that let them feel that they’re so part of something, giving them a sense of self, but giving them a sense of who God is, and opening up their divine imagination. But there’s this piece of uncovering, too, in that, in being able to – I guess that’s what I would say in terms of developing a divine imagination about all of those things, that they’re connecting with the heart of God through academics, through the things that they’re learning, through all the things that they’re being exposed to in your home, and that.. and even just letting them be free to be able to interact with all of those things and learn who God has made them to be. Our kids are, all five of them, are so different. Which is funny. You kind of think after like three kids, you’re like, okay, we’ve got like some variety here. [laughter] We’re just gonna go back like, it’s an A-B pattern or something, but they’re all like so different, and yet there are these things that like us, that are like, these are the Kill family things. These are the ways of our family. These are the things we love, these are the traditions we hold, this is the way that we interact with one another, this is the way we interact with the world, this is the way we see things. Like, you’re developing a grid and a lens for life as you disciple a person, and it, it’s pretty great, like, to see adult kids now in our family… I mean, the hardest part is that you basically get to raise kids who love all the same things that you love- or don’t, and make fun of you for it! [laughter] But they really do typically. My kids are still kind of funny about certain music and tv shows or, like, movies that I loved and I thought that they would just adore. I thought they would just adore Pollyanna, and they just tell me I’m so dorky.
Melissa: oh that’s so funny!
Kristen: I’m like, are they even my children? I don’t even know. [laughter] It’s so funny, but there are certain things like that that they’ll sit through and they love, and then they’re like, do you want to watch that, Mom? I know. And I love that old Hayley Mills movie, you know. And they, and I think they secretly love it, but they just love to moan about it when they’re teens.
Kristen: and yet it’s like this thing that we do. And it’s just really fun to raise kids who have similar appetites and kind of are your best friends, because they love doing all the things you love, and then you have to send them off somewhere… which is absolutely horrible. And but it’s yeah, it’s just such a gift, just to share so… like, you really do kind of raise best friends, like, by the time that they’re adults. It’s so fun!
Melissa: oh amen, my mom is still my best friend.
Kristen: your mom is what?
Melissa: my best friend.
Kristen: I love that.
Melissa: which is one reason we live next door to my parents.
Kristen: oh, I love it. See? That’s the dream. We need to buy a place where there’s enough property for the kids to build a house next door. That would be perfect. We live in the middle of a really busy city, but you know, the dream is still alive.
Melissa: the dream is still there, yeah.
Kristen: if anything goes up for sale around us, we’ll think about investments.
Melissa: there you go.
Kristen: but it really is true, because you’re shaping their appetites with all the things you introduce to them. You know, the way that they view the world, the way they understand the things of God, but also all the fun things. All the cinnamon rolls and favorite recipes and things that you do in the fall, and it creates a culture and a team that is just such a stabilizing force for, not only your children, but for you. You know, it’s so fun to get to kind of have your team that, you know, love all the same things. And, like I said, it’s not all the time that they love all the same things. But there’s things that are just built into the warp and woof of your life that are so special.
Melissa: you’ve said habits, and you’ve said appetites.
Kristen: oh, okay.
Melissa: and I love those words. Those are so good, because we all have habits and we all have appetites.
Kristen: yeah, right.
Melissa: but training them and honing them, turning them toward things that are communal or lovely, praiseworthy… yeah, so good.
Kristen: right. Yeah, that’s hard! Because the whole, I mean… if you get on… I mean, you go to the library and there’s a lot of, what did Charlotte Mason call it?
Melissa: twaddle! [laughter]
Kristen: twaddle. There’s a lot of twaddle out there. There’s a lot of twaddle in terms of things that you may consume: art, music, books, movies. And so being able to discern what is beautiful and introducing that to your children and having them sort of, like, choose from a feast of beautiful literature, and a feast of beautiful art, and you know, even taking the time to… we’ve been remodeling our kitchen, so it’s been mayhem. And we’ve had our kitchen in our… we had to be out of our house for six weeks, and when we came back, since, I don’t know, mid-August, we’ve been in our laundry room as the kitchen. Now we can’t, we don’t have our kitchen fully back, but we have it back enough that we can cook in there even though there’s no oven. We have like a countertop oven. It’s a whole situation with these cargo ships that are all over the place right now! But I laid out appetizers the other night before, while I was cooking dinner. And it was just like hummus with vegetables on top, like, and a bunch of pita bread and some fun little things just for the kids to nibble on. And my thirteen year old goes, are we having people over? And I was like, nope, this is just dinner. You know? And it was, her eyes just lit up. And it took thirty seconds longer to put out a beautiful serving dish and light a candle and have them be welcomed in and be hosted, you know, by us for a meal. Which, I think, in the absence of that, we’re just very aware of the hunger that we have (no pun intended) for that kind of dinner together. But it’s sort of like, those small choices that you make in the way that you lay out a feast for your family in whatever it may be, the books that you read, the music that you listen to, you know- all of my kids, my five year old has been obsessed with Vivaldi since he was three. Like, he just loves Vivaldi! Like he thinks just, kids that are, you know, really into TikTok and all these fun music things, like, are listening to that beat drop, you know, in rap music and everything else? Vivaldi is the original beat drop! [laughter] He just had that, and then, so the kids are able to see that and go, oh my gosh, this is so cool! This is so good. But there’s this, I mean, when they hear something rich and beautiful and true, it’s almost transcendent in terms of opening up their world to the Lord, I think, and to all the gifts that He’s given. And it’s that simple, as turning on something beautiful to listen to or… and it doesn’t always have to be Classical music. We love rap music. But it could be, you know, or lighting a candle before dinner so that they have a sense of home and a sense of place, and that they begin to desire beauty and connect that with your heart for them, connect that with home and connect it with the Lord. And it changes, like, if they’ve been raised in an environment where they have been loved and accepted and cared for and heard, and where there is so much beauty and connection happening around them, like I really think that is probably the greatest safeguard in when we send them out into the world and the kinds of relationships that they have and the places that they want to inhabit. Because they will instantly recognize something different in people who are not listening, who are not respecting, who are not safe. And places that they occupy that aren’t like that. And not everything has to be over the top, but I think there is really a security in that, in the way that we shape the things that they love and the things that feel right and true to them, that tie into a broader picture of eternity and into the heart of God. So it’s a really sweet privilege to get to introduce them to things. And it also really nurtures your own soul as a mom, because you get to feast on all the delights of God as well! And yeah, it’s just, it’s a beautiful way to pour into your own soul in the midst of days that can get harried.
Melissa: yeah, yeah! So, you know, you mentioned obviously books and movies and food and candles and music, all of these atmospheric and engaging things. What is something recently, you know, with, I don’t know, a child or as a family- that you’ve noticed sort of that philosophical idea of a paideia reaching the practical, seeing it lived out and enfleshed, fattened up?
Kristen: oh that’s a really great, that’s a really really great question. I think that it’s actually been interesting with our five year old, because we have started, and this is one of my resources I really want to share with your listeners too- he’s at the age where he, we’ve traditionally started introducing our kids like to the Westminster Shorter Catechism at this age, and a lot of that is just rote memorization. We sing a lot of it and Songs for Saplings is one of my very favorite resources! It’s actually created by some of our closest friends, James and Dana Dirksen, and I’m actually on the board of the nonprofit for Songs for Saplings. So there’s a plug. But I love it! And I’ve loved it for forever, even before we knew them. And Dana’s a musician, and she sings biblical truth. And so we’ve had that playing in our car, we have it playing at bedtime, we’ll have it playing in the background while Harris is playing so that Scripture is just pouring into his heart. And he is at the point now where we’re driving in the car and he’ll look somewhere and have a question about eternity, have a question about… he asked another parent in our preschool co op, he said, do you know Jesus? And they said, oh yes, I know Jesus. And he goes, or no, he said, do you know about Jesus, I think is what he said. And then he said, but do you trust Jesus and love Jesus? And I thought, that is a huge concept for him to understand the difference between knowing about Jesus and trusting Him with your life and loving Him. And it’s like all these truths about who God is and about, you know, truths about who he is before God, are turning into the conversations that he is prompting and initiating with us and with other people. And it’s really interesting because, you know, you just kind of have these things on in the background, and we do talk about them, but not, I mean, he just turned five two weeks ago. So it’s, it’s like, we’re talking about them once or twice a week, really intentionally, and like, let’s sing those songs together and remember these truths about God. But to see him begin to apply that to his own heart and life, to be able to ask questions that are really rich theological questions has kind of blown me away actually. And they’re insightful, and it’s just like, okay this truth about who God is and this truth in His Word that has been pouring into his heart is not returning void. The Holy Spirit is doing something in him that we get to watch and participate in. And I would say, too, a big piece of that that has been important for us is to make sure that there’s space and room for those conversations. We really have to be intentional with everything with five kids, which only four are at home. But in terms of just making room to talk, making room for our kids to ask questions, to know when they can connect, to know that we’re unencumbered by other things and want to receive them and be welcoming to them and the questions that they have and the conversations that they want to have. But it’s been really cool to see something like that that we’ve presented begin to take real root in his life.
Melissa: yeah. It just really drives home what Jesus said about faith like a child.
Melissa: you know, it’s that unencumbered wonder of, yeah, this child who is embracing and questioning and wanting to learn and wanting to grow…
Kristen: yes! And that that’s an innate part of who God made them to be. That there is a natural inclination to play and to explore and to be engaged in wonder and beauty already in our kids that God has placed there. And so we get to be kind of… Sally Clarkson always says, conductors of beauty. And I would say, too, like conductors of all the things that are going on in your home. If you almost, like, imagine all the beauty, all the people, all the things that are a part of that paideia in your home as like musical notes… like, you’re the conductor who gets to make sure that all these things are coming together and then… really, God is the Conductor of all of these things that are happening… but to be able to see, kind of, and cultivate what all of those pieces look like and just see fruit and see what bubbles to the top for each of your family members or for yourself, the things that they’re interested in or that they want to look at and ponder and bring to you is just really, really beautiful. So, yeah.
Melissa: so you mentioned the Songs for Saplings, are there other things that come to mind when talking about something that you would recommend to those who are raising their children in a specifically Christian culture and home?
Kristen: yeah! I just mentioned Sally Clarkson. She and her husband Clay have written a book called Our 24 Family Ways, and I have used that with all of our kids. So probably, oh I don’t know, because of the spread of our kids, there’s probably been like four or five distinct seasons where we pull it out and we’ll, it’s twenty-four ways, and we’ll go through one way a week. And it has, you know, a Bible story, it has verses to memorize. We actually have photocopied – Clay gave me this idea, actually – to kind of photocopy and then cut out these strips in the way that the book is laid out, because it’s like a two page spread for one, you know, Way 24, or whatever. And we’ll slice them up and be able to pull out a verse or a story or something to read. There’s one for every day of the week. And we’ll put them in a big vase on the kitchen table so that during dinner we pull one out and then pull out the Bible, and then read about the Way in that context in that Bible study. So it’s lent itself really well to family devotions for the kids, but it’s been about things like… one of the Ways is that, you know, we really respect one another in our speech, or we, you know like, it’s all kind of the character training that you really want to pour into your kids, but it’s done in a way that you can discover together. Like we’re hard workers. And they’re longer. It’s like a whole sentence. But it addresses things like, you know, working together, having a joyful attitude, welcoming others in. You know, the ways that are our posture of heart before the Lord and before each other. And so it’s been neat to kind of explore those Ways together and to feel like we’re part of a team together. So for primary, like, character training, that’s been really big. And it’s been fun as the older kids, like, I guess we’ve done it probably three times. We’re about to do it again, because Harris is just at the right age now. And the older kids in the past have done it, like, knowing those Ways and being able to talk about them with the younger kids. That’s such a huge piece too, if you have a spread like mine, where your older kids are able to point out and create word pictures for the little ones about the different things that you want to teach. We also are big Jesus Storybook Bible lovers, as is everyone I’m sure. And then there is, like, anything that is… you know, Scripture Lullabies or like Songs for Saplings that we can have in our car or in our home that just adds to hearing God’s Word in a beautiful way, and pouring it into our hearts is a big deal. And then probably just countless books that we’ve read that all shape who we are and that we love so much and it’s, I mean, a list of hundreds I think. That’s one of my favorite parts about having homeschooled my kids. And now even in the older kids, I try to always have a read aloud going, and in seasons where they’re like, Mom, I don’t have time to sit here, then I just make sure we have something life-giving in the car. Because it’s such a communal kind of attentiveness there, and it creates so many conversations later. And it’s just delightful to have something more fun, I guess, fun reading or inspirational reading that is separate from their schoolwork that we’re doing together that they look forward to and enjoy. And there’s just so much about reading aloud that’s so important even for our teenagers. So we incorporate a lot of that. And there’s certain books that are for certain seasons, like, have you ever read Understood Betsy?
Kristen: so I always think that is like the best book for like a third grade girl that’s starting to like not want to do chores [laughter] or needs some independence. Like, okay, you are like moving into a season. It just is like clockwork in third grade. There’s something about it.
Melissa: I read that with my daughter right around her eighth birthday. [laughter]
Kristen: yeah, it’s perfect! And it’s like, okay, we… I need to help you, like, have a sense of what you’re actually capable of and grow in your capacity. And it’s the perfect book for that. We just love it. I have kind of an ongoing list of books like that, that I’m like, ooh it’s time for this. And pull out often.
Melissa: I would like a glance at that book, or at that list! That sounds fantastic!
Kristen: it’s kind of mostly in my head. But it’s, it’s one of those things. Or like, you know, if you have a first grader who doesn’t want to take a bath, I always love Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Like I love doing as much as I can with humor and joking with my kids and just sympathizing and connecting with them. And sometimes books can do that. They can allow us to discover alongside and laugh…
Melissa: yeah, it’s a communal experience, but then you can also develop those inside jokes.
Kristen: yeah, it is… and then… yes, so many inside jokes! And so there’s things like that that are just special to read. When my older four kids were in a season of quarrelling, I read The Railway Children…
Kristen: which I just love. And it’s about these four children whose father is like falsely imprisoned in English. I don’t even know, was it the eighteen hundreds or early nineteen hundreds?
Melissa: right around the turn of the centry?
Kristen: yeah, and they end up having to go to the countryside with their mother who is overburdened, trying to write a book to save them economically, and they end up having all these adventures in the countryside and waving to people on a train and getting kind of excited about the railway that’s near them, and all these different events happen. But they really have to learn fortitude together and bond together and be a team together that works together, that cares for each other. It’s four children, so they… or maybe it’s only three children… anyway, they have a younger sibling that they kind of have to watch out for and care for, and it’s just really beautiful. Like, they can’t, your kids kind of can’t stay mad at each other or not have a vision for teaming up and conquering the world together after they read that book. And so there’s things like that that I just kind of have in the back of my mind that are tied to the things that will spark up or, you know, that I see that need attention in their character. And that’s kind of been my secret. I don’t know if… I have a lot of other little things but that’s probably the main one, where I say okay, it’s time for this!
Melissa: that’s fantastic.
Melissa: okay, so one thing that I know you have spent a lot of time pondering and researching and writing about and sharing is that idea of pause and rest and selah. I’ve read your book a couple of times and then I listened to the audiobook at least once through…
Kristen: oh, thank you!
Melissa: I just, I’m so… I find so much in there where I’m just nodding my head and going, yes, yes! Underlining all the things.
Melissa: so how do you see rest or pause or selah in motherhood? Where it’s so easy to not have a pause in a day or in a routine.
Kristen: yeah, and it’s huge. And I think that that’s kind of what I was saying when I was introducing myself and saying hello, is that the idea that rest is something that only happens, you know, at the end of something. Like when we finish a task you get to rest. As though it’s a reward, and not the place where we begin. If we don’t, you know, it’s interesting in the context now after the Resurrection of Christ, we begin the week on the Sabbath. We’re not… we get to begin in a place of rest and abiding so that we’re trusting God in all the work that He has given us to do. And we’re working from that place of abiding in Him instead of this, we get to fall apart now because we have a bunch of output and we’re worthy of rest now. That was a really big transformational shift for me. To realize that this was the place that God wanted me to begin, was in Him, and abiding in Him, and allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe into everything that I was doing instead of going on my own steam and striving and then crumbling and needing rest because I was falling apart. So being able to kind of switch that perspective can be really helpful. The idea of selah, for me, came when I was reading the psalms and saw that this word selah happens, you know, it kind of pops in and out. Sometimes it’s at the end of an entire psalm, and oftentimes it’s right in the middle. And if you’ll notice, there’s even a pattern within the psalms, not always but often, where it’s… there’s this pouring out to the Lord about anguish, about, you know there’s lots of psalms of lament, there’s… there are psalms of ascent as well. And there’s this pouring out with vulnerability to the Lord, and then there’s a selah, this rest. It actually means rest or interlude. And then being able to, often, see that there was like this bolstering of the psalmist after the rest. Like, the circumstances hadn’t changed, you know, you look at the psalms of David. He’s still in hiding, nothing’s different. But he has a renewed sense of confidence in the Lord after this pause, and it’s musical, it’s metaphorical, right? But there is something there to be able to say, what does it look like in my middle minutes, as Sarah Hagerty always says, to be able to engage in the rest of God right now when I need Him most, when I’m pouring out my heart vulnerably, when I’m being honest with how weak I feel and how spread thin I am? And to experience His rest and renewal in this moment right now, to go forth afterwards with a renewed sense of hope and trust and equipping. And so I started to explore what that looked like, and it began a little bit for me with looking… the book is kind of separated into multiple, like, three real themes. The first is about really being honest with God about the things that you’re carrying. You know, not, like looking at the vulnerability of the language of the psalms and recognizing that God can handle it when you tell Him that you’re burnt out. God can handle it when you talk to Him about what you’re carrying that feels so big, the areas where you’re angry, like, this is sort of the heart of confession. That we are not holding on to these emotions and circumstances and carrying the world on our shoulders. But we’re bringing that to Him and He’s meeting us in that. And the second part is kind of looking at areas where we seek rest that are not of Christ. So there’s so many things that we all, you know, have as idols in our lives. Sometimes it’s even looking back or looking forward towards what will be if I get all of these things done if I’m productive or what I want my life to be, what we’re working for, toward, or sometimes looking back at, everything used to be perfect, I’m… personally, I’m sentimental, so that’s a shift that I usually have is looking backwards and kind of wondering if I can still trust God. Or looking at all the things that we think will fill us that are not Him. And then the last part is kind of looking at what is true rest, and how do we see true rest in the Person of Christ and the way that God has established it and ordained it in our lives. And actually, if true rest is found in Christ alone, then it’s not something that is just beautiful, it’s not something that is just delightful for us, but it’s actually a Person that we are subject to. And so being able to engage in the lordship of Christ is something that we are obeying, you know, we’re obeying laying our lives down and surrendering them to Him. And so it’s kind of, opens up, yeah, what it looks like to follow the Lord in those things and in our own… I guess, we kind of, in our own uncovering of, why am I so harried in my heart? You know, when I think for a lot of us, it’s because we’re not honest about where we really are with the Lord. We struggle with confession before God and before others. A lot of us are looking for rest in places that are hollow, that we think are going to fill us but actually like fill us with air. My editor actually added a line in my book that I loved and I kept, and she said, it’s almost like having Coke and like having a big belch when you think you’re full, but it’s actually just like this fizzy false sense of being full. And then I think also examining the way that we are obedient to Christ, and see rest and beauty and fullness and all things in who He is and our choice to be subject to Him. So it’s a big question, but I think that there are ways that we can, in small things in our lives, even in the small minutes that we have that feel exhausting, where we feel like I need rest, I crave this. What those notions really tell us, you know, those inklings, those feelings, those triggers, for lack of a better word, I think bring up is our need for Jesus. And so being able to rightly recognize that this feeling I have of needing X, Y, or Z, of needing time alone, of needing a day to myself, of needing this type of meal or this type of home or this type… things to be like they used to be, or hope for things to be this way in the future. Those are all like windows into the areas that God wants to meet in us, and if we start to name them that way and find satisfaction in God alone, then I think everything begins to really shift and change. So I would say it almost begins with being willing to take those pauses and those moments in the middle of our day, and consider the way that God wants to meet us. So anyway, I was just thinking, if you have those times during the day, the things that you feel like you’re drawn to or that you need, like, realizing that those are all sort of shadows of what you need in Christ and the way that He wants to meet you. And so being able to see the gifts that God has given in the things that we were talking about before that build beauty and appetites and culture in our children as gifts of God, delights of God, for your heart and your personality… that those things matter to the Lord! You know, He’s given us the taste of food, He’s given us candlelight, He’s given us sunsets and hikes and walks and all of these delights to fill us. But not to fill us alone. To point us to true beauty. And we can’t fully experience deep soul rest until we see that He is our true beauty and our true rest.
Melissa: yes. So what are some practical ways that you have found, or that you would encourage people to pursue, in that pursuit of rest, of finding our rest in the Lord?
Kristen: yeah, that’s huge. I think there, for me, it really helps to have time in my day that I pause and stop and pray. And that I build into my day. You know, have you heard of the Atomic Habits where you’re like habit stacking?
Kristen: so you already have to give your kids an afternoon snack. Why not make it tea? And make it beautiful and have little teacups that pop out and something delightful. And I don’t really make scones lately, I just buy these really delicious ones at Trader Joe’s [laughter], and I pull those out. Or pull out a fun cookie or whatever it might be. And enjoy that in the afternoon and be… and am able to just stop and thank God for those moments. I light candles often. All the things I learned about having to take these pauses through the day are totally from Sally Clarkson. She says all the time, like, wise women copy other wise women. And I’m like, how much can I copy you? Like, how many, how much? [laughter] But I do! And it’s huge! So being able to, to know that there’s times throughout the day that I need to take a pause, like, I learned early on in having a bunch of kids home and homeschooling, that hour before dinner, like, I was going to kind of fall apart. And so taking time, like a half an hour before that, to close my eyes, to listen to music, to read a book or whatever that looked like before it got crazy made a huge difference in what I was doing later. So there’s just like wisdom of being able to say, what are the sticky parts of my day? Where do I tend to crumble and fall apart? You might need to like carry around a little notebook or have something on a notes app in your phone, and say like, where are these? I bet that there’s going to be a pattern that emerges if you look and go, oh! I’m consistently feeling like I can’t stand up anymore at 4:30 every afternoon, so how can I actually adjust the puzzle of my life so that that isn’t happening anymore? Like, do I need a nap? Do I need more sleep? Do I need to, you know, have a little caffeine and sugar in the afternoon? What does that look like for you? So there are certain things that we know about ourselves, ways that God has made us, that help us to enjoy. Like taking walks, being able to light candles. We light candles every single night. Now we’re doing electric candles because my husband has become like kind of afraid of fire, and I am trying to be okay with it, and buying way too many versions of twinkly fake candles. But it’s working and it’s fun. So we just have a time of day where we do that. And speaking of enculturation, my kids- all of them- are like, Mom, is it time to light the candles? Like when it just gets a little twilighty or it’s raining in the Pacific Northwest, we’re lighting candles all day long. But having times built in where you just get to delight and remember the gifts that God has given in the simplest of ways. Also taking time just to pray throughout the day. That’s a big one for me. Because I just need to sit in quiet, even for five minutes. So I have alarms set on my phone that have like those churchy chimes that go on, and I’m like, oh, okay, I’m just gonna take a second. And I’m gonna stop what I’m doing for five minutes and pray. And I have to do it that way because I don’t stop on my own. But that’s been helpful for me to just be like, I just need to just sit in quiet for five minutes and even the toddler can like hang with you or hang with a sibling for five minutes and it’s not gonna hurt anyone.
Melissa: praise the Lord.
Kristen: hopefully! Hopefully, depending on the ages of your kids. Or sit at your feet and do something independently for five minutes while you just sit and close your eyes and pray. That’s a big one for me. Another one is, it’s also really important what I pour in. So there are certain books that I read in the morning, like I will flip through different devotionals or a Bible study time or certain kinds of spiritual encouragement in that time of day. And then in the evening I like to, I love to read like a murder mystery or, you know, who-dun-it. And that really matters to me to be able to have time to read something delightful. I usually fall asleep with my Kindle, reading something like that, because I will fall asleep if it’s like after eight o’clock and I read anything. So it can’t be something really important. But paying attention to what I’m reading or what I’m watching and what I’m listening to, and just being intentional about it. So thinking about the ways that, you know, what I allow to fill my mind and my thought life is really, really big for me. And just something that I’ve just seen sweet fruit from. So I am looking for books that will challenge me and trying to spend time in the Word every day and even if it’s just with my kids, sometimes that’s how it goes in homeschooling if I don’t get up really early. But those times of day to be openhanded and be able – I mean, I wish everyone could see us on Zoom, but just opening my hands to receive from the Lord and to say, like, I’m here. Like, hearing Him speak, being able to thank Him for things that have already gone on in the morning, to ask Him to meet me in those things. For me, too, I am a personality that can live easily like disembodied if that makes sense. I need to be reminded of being fully present. So, when, I guess… I don’t know how you feel about the Enneagram. I’m a seven on the Enneagram. So I…
Melissa: I don’t know much about the numbers.
Kristen: okay, we might get some email hate from me saying that I know my Enneagram number. I know all about the concerns of the Enneagram, I share them, but I’m just looking for language to help. So the seven is a person that, it’s just a personality tick. I’m an ENFP on Meyers-Briggs. It’s just kind of a cheerleader, go-go-go, let’s just have fun. So when something hard happens in our day, something isn’t going well, or something painful has cropped up, it’s really, really easy for me to put that off to the side and just keep going. And almost disconnect from it, that’s what I mean.
Kristen: and so for me to be able to make sure that throughout the day in small moments, that I’m really taking those things to the Lord, is a really big deal. So that I don’t just disengage from them but I remain present in them. Sometimes I need to cry about them and really feel that, instead of just casting it off to the side. And so, so yeah, just having those times throughout the day as needed but always scheduled too. So that I don’t miss them.
Melissa: yeah, I love that idea. Because, you know, they always say, oh if you run to the bathroom to, you know, lock yourself in for five minutes, a child is going to find you.
Melissa: but if they’re used to you, sort of having a rhythm of taking space and making time for those moments…
Melissa: then yeah, you built that into those habits. I think that’s beautiful.
Kristen: yes, you do. And you teach them how to do it too. And as they grow, that becomes a rhythm in their own lives. Like, wow, I just had, I’m finding this math problem, this whole thing we’re doing- I mean, it’s always math for me, because I’m not a math person- but I’m finding this to be really challenging and difficult, I need to just take five minutes and just pray about this. And that becomes a natural part of the culture of your family. That your children know that God is not only interested in these giant things in the world but is interested in giving them knowledge and wisdom for something as small as what they find frustrating and unable to understand in their schoolwork.
Kristen: and that He breathes on that, and that He cares about them in these tangible ways. And so being able to see you do that goes a really long way in our kids learning how to do that for themselves. Like, oh, Mom’s upset about something, and her response is to go and just pray. Like, that modeled is huge. And I wish that I did it perfectly, but I don’t. But it’s something I’ve tried.
Melissa: that’s sanctification.
Kristen: yeah, it’s something I’ve tried to do, and that God has used quite a lot in my life. And I don’t want to, I’m not shy about what I’m doing either. Like if we’ve hit a little bit of stickiness relationally, people are bumping up against each other, I don’t want them to think Mom disengaged and just went somewhere to get away from us. I want them to understand, like, guys, I need five minutes to take this situation to the Lord, I just need to go talk to Him about what’s going on here so I have wisdom to come back and return and do this well- please watch your little brother. Like, whatever that looks like. And I think that’s important too. Because I don’t want that to be something assumed. Like, oh Mom went and closed the door to her room and just left us every time anybody fought about something. And it’s not every time by any means, but it’s… it is, there’s just… or it’s in front of them. I don’t always leave. So that’s important too. But that habit is important. It’s not that different from, like, the Book of Hours, you know. Being able to go through like, hey, we’re eating… and those are also natural times to include your children in that, especially if you’re homeschooling. You have your kids fully a part of mealtime, like, and they’re a captive audience to be able to pray, to be able to read God’s Word, you know. Those are really natural times for those readings, those hymns, all of those things. Any time their hands can be busy with playdough or kinetic sand or Legos or food… don’t waste them.
Melissa: yeah, absolutely wise words. Wise words. I think you mentioned, you know, reading books and different types morning versus evening. What is… can you think of a title, even if this is on the spot, but can you think of a title of something that has really brought a specific blessing to your soul?
Kristen: lately… Oh gosh, it’s gonna sound so nerdy. I’m reading an encyclopedia on poetry. And it’s actually the Princeton… it’s literally an encyclopedia. One of my friends who lives in California, who I met on Instagram actually and then has come to visit with her family when they were passing through, she was like, I’m gonna read this with you, and she bought it, and I only had it on Kindle at the time, and she’s like, Kristen, it’s actually an encyclopedia. And I’m like, I know, I’m so sorry. And she’s like, are we just going front to back? What are we doing? And I kind of am. I’m just loving it. It’s giving context in history to different forms of poetry, different poets, themes, and just the way that it all works, like, that it’s woven into, you know, traditional history. It’s called The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. I’m also rereading Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a Housekey. And I love that book. And my husband just had me start a book called The Architecture of Happiness, which is kind of all about the life of a house. We’re remodeling a huge house, and so it’s… well, it’s a huge remodel project, I should say… and so that’s been really fun to read too, kind of as we consider the soul and feel of home and what home is.
Melissa: the atmosphere of your family culture.
Kristen: yeah, totally, so those are some of the…. and that’s why I was reading Rosaria Butterfield’s book too. So those have been huge. I’m also halfway through Rewilding Motherhood. Have you heard of this? I actually have it right here.
Melissa: that is a new one to me.
Kristen: it’s by Shannon Evans. Yep, and I love it. So Shannon is a Catholic, she writes in a Catholic contemplative tradition. And it’s really, really beautiful. She’s talking about all kinds of things that are tied in to what it looks like to be… the subtitle is, Your Path to an Empowered Feminine Spirituality… so discovering spirituality in the midst of motherhood and a lot of it ties in with some of the themes of Finding Selah. But more tied in to identity and how some of that sense of who you are can be lost in this season, and why it’s so important to recover your sense of self. I don’t know if sense of self is the right word. I think she uses that term. But sense of who you are before the Lord so that you can pour back out into other people.
Melissa: your identity is in Christ.
Kristen: your identity, yes. Exactly. And not necessarily in a role. And so, how does your identity flow out of your identity in Christ into that role? But it’s wonderful. She has, like, it’s this idea of like this gardening metaphor of rewilding a place where it sort of goes fallow and then has purpose and it… oh, ha, someone’s hollering in the background… but it’s really beautiful, and the end of every chapter has incredible questions or practices, like, to be able to sit with and think about and even like sitting in silence in certain pieces.
Melissa: something to put into practice.
Kristen: yes. So I’ve really liked that. It’s hard for me to suggest books because, especially books I haven’t finished yet and I don’t know the author of, because I feel a sense of shepherding and like, I don’t know if I want to send you to places where I can guarantee they’re a perfect fit spiritually…
Kristen: so this is written from a Catholic contemplative one, so keep that in mind. But there’s a lot of really great nuggets there. Maybe a book more for, well, I think it’s wonderful actually. But probably for more of a discerning believer. Just theologically, I’m not, I can’t say yet because I’m not done with it yet. This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson is also absolutely lovely. I read that, actually over a year ago because Sarah sent me an advance copy and I got to endorse it. So it’s not a recent… but it is recently out in the world, and it’s…
Melissa: that’s what I was thinking.
Kristen: if you don’t know Sarah Clarkson and aren’t following her, like…
Melissa: then you should!
Kristen: you should! She’s so incredible, and she’s written this absolutely gorgeous book called This Beautiful Truth. And I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in a decade.
Melissa: I’ve heard that from multiple people, actually.
Kristen: Sarah is such a gifted writer, and this is also the first time that she’s really opening up about her own story. And it’s just, it’s just beautiful. I am so thankful she’s written it and that her words are out in the world. I have… she writes about OCD and some invasive thoughts, and she writes about it right away, I’m not giving anything away. But I have a kiddo with OCD, and so Sarah has been a constant guide for me for a very long time. And now I’m, but I’ve never been able to share about that with others, and so now it’s a go-to book that I hand to every other mom that I know, or any other teen or adult I know, who’s dealing with that. And that’s not what the whole book is about, but it’s… if you know anyone who deals with anything like that, I can’t recommend anything better.
Melissa: I love it.
Kristen: it’s so beautiful. And it’s about a lot what we’re talking about today. Like being able to experience the beauty and grace of God as transcendent, and opening up our divine imagination to the wonder that He has for us and in who He is. You know, it changes your whole world when you look at flowers and trees and leaves changing color as gifts from God that are revealing His beauty and character and delight. It shifts our whole hope.
Melissa: would you tell me where we can find you in the world? I know you mentioned your book of course, Finding Selah, and I know- because it’s been one that I’ve enjoyed on audiobook, I know you can have paperbook, you can have audio… it’s probably an ebook as well, isn’t it?
Kristen: I actually don’t know. I think it is. It’s on Amazon and anywhere books are sold. You can find me online at KristenKill.com I do have dreams of updating my website at some point here. And then, but it does have everything there. And you can also find me on Instagram at KristenKill, and anywhere is KristenKill. I’m on Pinterest. That’s it, I think. Those two places, yeah. So yeah, that’s it. And it’s Kristen with an E. I don’t know, all the, I’m an E-N Kristen, which is fun.
Melissa: well, I’m so grateful that you were able to fit this conversation into your busy schedule and family life and everything. I just feel so personally blessed.
Kristen: oh, I’m so honored to! So fun.
Melissa: and I’m really excited, I get to meet you in just a few weeks and give you a hug.
Kristen: I’m excited! I mean, I don’t know which one of us is more excited. [laughter] And I love Spokane. I can’t wait to be there. My cousin lives there and just had a baby, so it’s gonna be extra fun.
Melissa: oh, perfect timing.
Kristen: it is, yeah. So I’m really thrilled to be with you all and just honored to get to spend time with you.
Melissa: yeah. I’m delighted. Well, thank you so much, Kristen. I really appreciate it.
Kristen: oh, you’re welcome!
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for more resources and practical encouragement. Join me again next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.