Paideia Conversations is primarily hosted by Melissa Cummings from Paideia Northwest, but we love sharing conversations with our Paideia Southeast community based in Georgia as often as possible. For this episode, Paideia Southeast member Jenn Discher cohosts as we interview Sara Fragoso on the topic of the habit of discipleship. As a mama to three tweens, Sara has lots of tips for how to get started (and how to maintain) with things like Scripture memory, true mottos to speak over one another, and a balanced perspective on how to incorporate different children with different cognitive abilities into the same Morning Time routines and faith practices. This is a conversation full of practical application, mutual encouragement, and a sprinkling of laughter. So pop it into your earbuds while you go about your morning walk or housework routine, and get reinvigorated for the long haul habit of discipleship as a Christian mama.
Resources and Links:
Loving the Little Ones sermon series
Saturation Love article
The Wise Woman by George MacDonald
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
What Have You podcast
Melissa: Hello and welcome to Paideia Conversations where we dialogue about all things paideia. I am your host, Melissa Cummings, from Paideia Northwest. This is where you can listen in as Christian mamas discuss our purpose to raise our children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord — His paideia.
Joining me today for this paideia conversation is my cohost Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast, and the recent speaker and panel member from the Paideia Southeast event, Habits to Shape Hearts and Homes, Sara Fragoso. We invite you into this conversation with us as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia.
All right, well, thanks for joining me this morning… or this afternoon, I guess, for you all in the South. For this little conversation we get to chat about habits, and it’s so fun to have Jenn Discher from Paideia Southeast with me today! And then her friend Sara Fragoso, who I am absolutely delighted to meet because she spoke at an event last Saturday that I was three thousand miles away from and couldn’t attend. So this is my sneaky little way of being a fly on the wall when I couldn’t actually be a fly on the wall. So, good morning, ladies! Good afternoon.
Sara: good morning.
Jenn: hey. So Sara is one of my dear friends. And we did ask her to speak at a Paideia Southeast even on Saturday. Our theme was Habits to Shape Hearts and Homes, and we asked Sara to specifically speak to some relationship habits – habits of discipleship. And so then, so specifically, relational habits in terms of how we interact with our kids. And I asked Sara to do this because I think Sara has the somewhat unique combination of both taking God’s standards seriously and holding herself to those as well as her kids, but also having a really fun, joyful, loving home atmosphere. And she just, she doesn’t just hold up the bar of, you know, of biblical standards and say, okay kids, jump to it. [laughter] Which is, which is really easy to do.
Melissa: it’s temping.
Jenn: yeah, I mean, just to hold it there. She is so good about intentionally training her kids to reach that. She really gets down on their level and, and works alongside of them with a really like joyful spirit, which I just love. I have learned so much from Sara over the years. I learned so much more even in her talk. I was taking notes as she was walking, and so I’m so happy that she’s here!
Sara: okay, well, thank you so much for having me. And thank you, Jenn, for that introduction. Goodness.
Melissa: no pressure.
Sara: yeah, right? [laughter] I have three children: a twelve and a half year old… he would want me to say the half… an almost eleven year old and a nine year old. We live in Greenville, South Carolina. I used to live right by Jenn, and then we moved. And I live with my husband Eric. And we are part of a church plant here, which we just love, Christ the King. And I’ve homeschooled for many years. Before that, I was a public school teacher. So that’s about all I can think of.
Melissa: wow, okay, so what is your history with um discipleship outside of your children – so you have three pretty close in age, and they’re all in that sort of tween almost-teen… so discipleship gets really real right around that point.
Sara: yes, yes, I’ve noticed. [laughter] It’s gotten harder in some ways. It takes more time, actually.
Melissa: it does.
Sara: which has really been interesting.
Sara: and I should mention my youngest has Down’s syndrome, so she is actually still in that littler kid phase.
Sara: so even though my three are close together, I do have sort of that gap where I’m still in the little years in some ways, even though we’re moving into the pre teen years.
Melissa: sure, yeah. The way that that nuances discipleship and relationship and habits… I would think would be, yeah, a unique thing that you could speak to.
Melissa: that’s awesome. Okay! So, Jenn, you have specifics. I’d love to know if you could just pepper Sara with some questions for us.
Jenn: yeah! Yes, this is very natural for me. I pepper Sara with questions often. [laughter] But I think, so the first one is just, just broadly – you spoke about relational habits, habits of discipleship with your kids. Kind of ways, maybe some of this kind of like mental habits – ways of thinking about discipleship with your children – on Saturday. So could you mention some of these habits of thinking or of, or of acting, you know, how to, engaging with our kids – that you mentioned on the Saturday event?
Sara: yeah, so the first thing I spoke about was making a habit of pouring into our kids, and I think for some people this comes naturally, and for some people it doesn’t. And so things like affection. I talked about pouring into yourself first, how we need to be in God’s Word daily as moms. Um, and then, also speaking Scripture in our homes all the time, naturally just bringing in Scripture to bear on every single thing that’s going on. So that was the first thing I talked about. And then I talked about having a habit of, of pulling your children toward a vision of who you want them to be. I mean, really, who God wants them to be. But that’s what you’re helping them toward. And ways to use stories to do that, and to really as moms think about how we’re viewing childhood. Are we viewing it as, as this little enclave that we’re creating for them, where we want them to have this magical, beautiful, wonderful childhood? And that’s the end of what we’re trying to do. Or are we actually pulling them toward becoming someone? And I think sometimes we can get so focused on the goodness and the beauty and the truth that we want to give our kids, but that we forget that it’s for something. It’s to help them to meet God’s standards, and it’s to help them to grow and um hopefully pass us. My parents told me that they wanted me to be a better parent than they were, and I actually think that was such a tremendous gift. They’ve encouraged me in that as I’ve been parenting. And so I’ve already told my kids that. Like, look, you’re gonna start out in a better place than I did, and I would love for you to turn a profit on it. I would love for you to soar past me. Like, be where I am when you graduate from my home. And then just take it and run with it. So I think we need to pull our kids toward that, and make sure we focus on that. And then the last thing I spoke about was preparing and practicing with our kids to help them with these standards. So with little kids, practicing things like going to the grocery store before you leave; making sure that we follow through with discipline, and with little kids that might be something like, will they or won’t they participate. Like if you go to do ring around the rosie and they’re pulling away from you, you need to follow through more. Or with older kids, if after discipline they’re retreating to their rooms, that’s a sign that you need to follow through. And then the last one was about having them take responsibility for themselves and for their emotions. And it’s something that’s kind of counterintuitive that I feel like we get backwards a lot. Which is that when our kids are little, we tend to give them a very wide berth for their emotions and coddle them. I mean, they’re so cute and they run to you and they want hugs and comfort, and it’s so easy to indulge that emotion in some ways for ourselves. And then as they get older to be like, whatever, you’re fine, you’re old enough, deal with this. And I really think that’s backwards. I think that when they’re little is when we need to be like, you’re fine, get up. Their emotions are simple, they’re looking to Mom to see how to react. You know we’ve all seen the little kid that falls on the floor and doesn’t cry until Mom looks at him, you know. So I think we need to be a little bit quicker with their emotions when they’re young, and then as they get older and their situations are more complicated and more difficult, we need to take more time with those teens, cuz they’re really needing help sorting out difficult issues that they’re facing in this current culture.
Melissa: that sounds like so much wisdom right there. Did you guys record the talks, Jenn?
Jenn: no, we didn’t. Yeah.
Melissa: well so that makes this even a more important conversation to me then, because this is the only opportunity to get that fly on the wall there. I love that. Now I want to ask you a question, Sara. Talking about emotions and children, just for a framework – do you have boys, girls? I know you said you have one daughter, your youngest is a daughter.
Sara: yes, so I have a boy and then two girls. So the oldest is a boy.
Melissa: a boy and two girls. Okay, all right.
Sara: and one of the things about the emotion is that if you have dealt with them at a young age in this very matter of fact way, like, oh I’m sorry that that kid’s being unkind to you on the playground, why don’t you go play with someone else? And you’re teaching them not to fret over evildoers – one thing about doing that is as they get older, they’re only bringing you the more complicated problems. So yes, if a teenager, you know, stubs his toe and is freaking out, you’re still gonna deal with that like, dude, I’m real sorry, that hurts, but calm down. [laughter] But if they’ve, if they already had that when they’re little, then hopefully they’re already exerting some emotional control over themselves as they’re older and they’re only talking to you about the complicated, relationship dynamics that they’re facing.
Melissa: and how you said that when they’re little but also when they’re older they do this, they turn and they look at they look at their parent, and they say, okay, they saw that this just happened, how is my parent reacting? I think the other thing that I’ve noticed is especially my… I have a ten and a half year old and a fourteen year old, and they’re both boys… they look and they watch when I stub my toe.
Melissa: or when I slice myself with a knife or when I get emotionally offended or something. So they’re also looking to me to see, how do I handle when I am poked either physically or relationally.
Sara: for sure.
Melissa: but then also like you said, they’re looking to us for, how do we want them to respond when they’re the ones who are poked.
Jenn: I think a way Sara was helpful, like in various seasons when my kids were younger… we had a lot to work through in this area honestly, because I did not grow up really knowing how to manage my emotions well, so this was something I learned later in life and then was trying to teach my kids but I kind of lacked like good language and like even like a good biblical framework to like talk things through with my kids. And so Sara was helpful with that when my kids were younger. And one phrase that kept coming back to me in thinking through this stuff was, you’re really helping your kids interpret reality. Like they’re looking to you, they’re looking to you like how should I respond here? What, how big a deal is this? And the reality is, some things are a biggee. Like some things are really serious and significant. But most things on the day to day, if we’re just talking about an average home, you know, average circumstances, they’re, if we were thinking of a scale of like one to ten, most things are in the one to three range. And they then would biblically require a one to three level response, right? Like if we’re ruling our spirits and we’re asking God to help us have self control. Like that would be a reasonable response.
Melissa: that’s actually a little phrase, a little piece of language that we use in our home. We learned it from an occupational therapist a few years ago, and we still use it and it’s great to have this language to share with the kids. Where it’s, is that an appropriate sized response? So one of my children would struggle with having an enormous response to a tiny thing, like a size ten response to a size two problem. And we started using this language, and it just sort of helped pause and think, no, actually, you’re right, Mom, that’s not an appropriate sized response. But then, it was funny because maybe a couple weeks into using that phrase in our family, one of the children had… oh, TMI… one of the children [laughter] had this explosive vomiting experience. Like in the middle of the night where it was everywhere, right? And so the child is standing there – the bathroom is covered in this, the child is covered in this, screaming to wake us up, right, in the middle of the night so that we could come help this poor kid deal with this. And as soon as we get in there, what the child says is, was that an appropriate sized response? [laughter] And I was like, yes! This is a time where that was the appropriate sized response, thank you. So because we’d been practicing on little things like stubbing a toe or a sibling, you know, elbowing you either physically or with their words… but when there was actually an issue that was pretty much like, that was a nine or a ten on the rector scale… yeah, the child, that was their immediate thought, was that appropriate? So that was a shaping thing, right? That was training, that was habit – yeah, habit training.
Sara: I love that, because the idea isn’t to have them suppress all their emotions. That’s not the end game here. It’s appropriate responses that are controlled. So I love that when it’s a ten, it’s okay to act like it’s a ten. That’s great.
Jenn: speaking of, okay, going back to the pulling, the kind of framework that that habit, Sara, where you’re trying to pull them toward this vision of being a godly adult. Can you give us some practical examples of, of how you might kind of cast that vision for your kids to help them think toward, think toward the, just, yeah, growing up to being a godly adult? What that might look like.
Sara: yeah. So the first thing is for us as moms to think about what we want our kids to look like, and pulling ourselves toward that. So if you have a two year old that’s throwing a temper tantrum, and it’s temping to let it go, because he’s two and cute, you want to pull yourself toward that vision and say, what does this look like at twenty-five? Is this gonna be a good husband and father if this is the level of self control that he has? Right? So it’s pulling ourselves toward that, and then as our kids get older, it looks like… alongside discipline, not instead of discipline, but having conversations with them and saying things… like in my talk, I used the example of, if you have a daughter who’s having trouble with friends, you can tell her a story about a little girl named Susie who comes over and takes her doll and rips the head off and throws it across the room. And you know, be extreme, have your kids laughing. And then contrast that with another friend who comes over who is kind and helpful and helps her clean up, and then you can say, if these kids were real, who would you want to have over? And then have, and then ask, who would you rather be as a friend? And then talk about, okay, let’s work to get there. Let’s practice. Let’s roleplay before you have a friend come over. And then plan short visits. That reminds me of the Scripture we’ve, we pull into our family a lot, which is, he who is faithful with little is faithful with much. And paying attention to that as a mom too. Giving your kids little before you give them much. And so that would be one way to pull a child toward that. Or when they’re older, you know, let’s say your son is a teenager and he’s having trouble with his friends, and you say, you know, is this who you want to be as a dad or a husband? Cu that’s what you’re practicing for here. Or you know, if he’s picking on someone who’s a sister close in age, you might say, what would you think of Dad if he treated me that way? You know. And I ran this by my son, and he was like, whoa, that would make me think. [laughter] So you’re, you know, it’s age appropriate, it’s stories when they’re little and then as they get older, just straight up talking to them about who do they want to be. Who are the adults that they admire? And you can help them toward that by pointing out good qualities in your friends when you see them. I really try to do this, especially with qualities I don’t as much possess. So I’m like, oh wow, Jenn is such… isn’t Miss Jenn such a good hostess? She does such a great job being welcoming and inviting in her home, and you know, pointing out those things that I want them to notice and aspire to. Because I’m not, I can’t be everything. I can’t be. My giftings are not in every area. So, but theirs, maybe theirs will be. [laughter] Maybe not every area.
Jenn: mmm, thank you. What about, so you mention that your youngest has Down’s syndrome – how might you suggest that some of these habits for discipleship work with children who have special needs? And obviously you can’t speak to every, you know, particular need, but just some general principles that might be applicable there?
Sara: so, it is different. It is. It has its own set of challenges. Things that are intuitive with typical children, for you and for them, don’t always work out with kids with special needs. So for example, we moved… um, Amelia was pretty little… and she started just walking out the front door and walking down the sidewalk in the neighborhood. She did not translate that she wasn’t allowed to go the doors at the old house so she wasn’t allowed to go out the doors in the new house. She wasn’t trying to be naughty, she just, it just didn’t happen. And so there is a lot more concentrated effort that has to go in. And meeting the standards, even meeting God’s standards, can be much harder for kids with special needs. From a cognitive standpoint… from a, from a sin standpoint it’s the same. So for example, Amelia started lying about things related to discipline, so it was a heart, it was a heart issue. And I was ready to start disciplining for it, and my husband very wisely said, hey, I’m not sure she quite gets this. Why don’t you take a step back and make sure that she truly understands what it means to lie. And that was, I was so grateful to him for saying that, because I made up a game… I’m, I don’t know if other people have played it… but True or Not True. And we’d lay in bed at night and I’d say, your shirt is red: true or not true? And then it would be her turn. Well it turned out, she had a real fuzzy view of what lying was. And so even though I knew that she was being sinful in her response to me when I was disciplining her, I… she didn’t quite get the concept of the lying. And so the point is that even if your child is not ready to meet the standard, you don’t just leave them there. You don’t just say, oh well, she has Down’s syndrome, she doesn’t understand, what can we do? You make progress toward the standard. You make baby steps toward helping your child get a little bit closer to that understanding.
Jenn: I love that. It reminds me of the verse about that God remembers our frame. Like we remember their frame. And every kid’s frame is different. And that doesn’t excuse them, you know, it doesn’t excuse sin. But it does mean that training might look different.
Sara: right. It gets broken down into many more steps. So when Amelia was in feeding therapy, because she couldn’t, she was tube fed for a long time. And I was amazed at how many steps there were. It was like, move your tongue, move the food to the back of your mouth, close your lips – all to swallow, right? Which in a typical child is just a one step process that you don’t really have to teach them. But you do need to break things down into smaller steps, and it takes a lot more forethought and effort, but we’re still required to help them get there. We have to have a vision for them, too, and not just say, you know, que sera.
Melissa: you’ve mentioned Scripture a couple of times. Like you’ve got these verses memorized, and I’m sure you bathe your children in those. And I know you said at the beginning of the conversation, speaking Scripture over your kids and to your kids and just filling your home with that, with God’s Word, the living Words! How do you, how do you incorporate that, and how do you bring your children… how do you pull them into that, especially if there are different cognitive levels between the children? How do you pull them into that speaking and conversing with God’s Word?
Sara: so I started by just writing down verses that I liked. We read Proverbs every morning… not every morning, that’s the goal – the goal is every morning… and so I’d write down phrases that I wanted to incorporate into our home, and I just started saying them throughout the day. And then in Morning Time we do mottos, and so I put some of them as mottos and taught them to the kids. Like, he who is faithful with little will be faithful with much. I had them say that like (quieter) he who is faithful with little (louder) will be faithful with much! You know, that just making it fun for them. To get it into their heads, especially for the littlest one. And so we just have things like, let another praise you and not your own mouth. And I invite my kids to say these things to me as well, and they do. [laughter] So it’s like, wow, this cooking is amazing tonight, and they’ll be like, Moooooom, and I’ll be like, oh you’re right, thank you. [laughter] You know, so, it’s casual. It’s not this like, I you know, the Lord said, thou shalt let another praise thee… You know, not that.
Melissa: well you’re not even, you’re not even – at least in this conversation – you’re not hammering the Scripture reference. You’re literally just…
Sara: no, I don’t worry about that.
Melissa: using it as a motto. Right?
Melissa: I mean, if they want to look it up, I mean, they can look it up, right? There’s an app for that. [laughter]
Sara: right, exactly. It’s pretty much like it’s Proverbs something, I don’t know. That’s what we say.
Melissa: right, I love that.
Sara: we also do, it’s glory to overlook an offense. You know that goes along with, let love cover it. We’re just, hey it’s glory; think about the things in life that bring glory to people, and God says this is glorious. And guess what? We get to practice this all the time! So just presenting it in a, as a positive, not just overlook it, overlook it – but no, guess what? This is going somewhere, this is doing something, it’s glory if you’re overlooking the fact that your, you know, your brother nudged you too hard. Or whatever the case may be. And we say, he who puts on his armor should not brag as he who takes off his armor – that’s one of my favorites as well. Yeah, that’s a fun one. And also, like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says I’m only joking.
Jenn: mmm, that’s a good one.
Jenn: it’s very applicable.
Sara: right, right! Or just things like, outdo one another in good works. You know, reminding them of that when we’re finishing up an argument and having reconciliation and being like, okay now, how can you outdo one another in good works? What can you do for your, for your sibling now that you’ve made… they don’t always have to do this, this is just an occasional thing… but like, is there something kind that you can do, that they won’t ever know about? You know, something that you can do that you tell me you did but we don’t tell your sibling that you did. So those practicing things.
Melissa: so do you work on Scripture memory as well, or is it sort of the mottos that are the most habit-forming for your family?
Sara: we do, we do longer Scripture memory as well as part of our Morning Time. We memorize, we memorized Psalm 97 last year, and we did hand motions to it. I think moving the body really helps with that. And I’ve put a bunch of Scripture to songs, just like two or three verse. So it’s not just the one verse memorization but it’s not quite the whole chapter. And we did that a lot when they were little. They, they, and now we review it.
Melissa: it sticks, doesn’t it?
Sara: yeah, and we seemed to have more time for it when they were little as well. They were at my elbow a lot more when they were little, and so it was more conversational and it was more, you know, we’d be cleaning up the toys and I’d just start singing the Scripture verse that we were memorizing and they’d sing right along. Now they’ve got more independent work, and that’s a little harder to do. And me singing, you know, in the grocery store is not quite as welcome as it used to be. [laughter] So it’s kind of a bummer.
Melissa: they are so much more easily embarrassed, it’s actually kind of fun.
Sara: yeah! [laughter]
Melissa: so we’re talking about Scripture and incorporating memory, memory work, of all these different sizes. Right? The motto, the couple of verses, and then whole chapter. All those different things. And it sounds like you’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. Like we’ve, we’ve been homeschooling and doing it pretty much the same way for, I don’t know, how old is… well, like, you know, at least a decade. So if someone isn’t used to doing that, what would you say would be like your top tip for how to get started with that? Like, just do it?! [laughter]
Sara: I mean, sort of. I would, I would start with you doing it, with the Proverbs and the little things. Being faithful with those little things. Doing it even though it feels awkward. And then you know, if your kids are older, you can assign memory work. You can do it together. You know, separately if they’re older, but together; you know separately you memorize it but you come together and you say, how are you doing on it? Okay, my turn to try it, your turn to try it. During Morning Time, you can practice. But start somewhere. If it’s really intimidating, then start with a verse instead of a chapter. And work your way up. That’s, that’s what I would do. And picking things that are meaningful to you, that you really want to memorize. Don’t, don’t just find some list somewhere that someone else says are great verses. But do something that you are motivated to memorize and you want to. And I also would be really careful about… if you’re just starting this, saying, okay, we have a problem with our tongue, so we’re gonna memorize the passage in James about the tongue. I would start with something that’s more neutral. If you’ve been doing it for a long time, sure, that’s no big deal. But when you’re first starting out, just start with something that is, like Psalm 23 or Psalm 100 or Psalm 97. You know, just start with something that is not disciplinary.
Jenn: that makes sense. Along similar lines in terms of like getting, getting started with something. So say your kids are no longer in the little years, they’re maybe in that like six to twelve range, and you kind of realize like, we’re really off the rails with some of this stuff. Like you haven’t been really requiring, you know, obedience or you haven’t really been practicing with them, or you know, the training hasn’t, I don’t know. You just realize you don’t have some of these habits in place. What would be a good place to start, do you think?
Sara: I think the first thing you’d have to do is apologize to your children. Tell them that you should have been disciplining them and you weren’t. Ask their forgiveness. They might kind of look at each other like, whaaaaaaat’s gonna happen. [laughter] And then tell them very explicitly what you’re going to do. Because now they’re old enough that it’s gonna feel really unfair if you just come in there and drop the hammer on things that they’ve been getting away with for years and years. So tell them, okay. And you’ll have to take a step back, so with the grocery store example, if your six to twelve year olds are unruly in the grocery story, then you’re gonna have to talk before you go, and make short trips first so that you can celebrate successes and evaluate at the end. Like, hey, that was really great. There was the one little thing about you still begging for sugary cereal or whatever, so next time let’s make sure we tighten that up. You know. You’re treating them a little bit more like adults, but you’re still training them in those habits.
Melissa: yeah, and I think the obedience game when they’re little is so great. And my fresh three year old… I need to practice the obedience game a little more. So occasionally I will have the wherewithal to say, okay, put your hands on your head; okay, touch your nose; okay, spin around; now do a somersault! Right? And we make it into a game, and we see how quickly he will follow through with what I’m asking him to do. And then I’ll start saying, like, okay, now go put this in the garbage. Right? And making it actually applicable. And I have wondered how to translate that into practicing with an older child? [laughter] And yet I know we don’t need to play the obedience game, we need to have these conversations. So I think it translates into not the obedience game but it translates into having conversations of, this is what this would look like when I say, make sure you ask before you, you know, get on the computer. Or make sure that you ask before you start using the stove or the oven. My nine year old has started using the stove occasionally without asking; I’m like, you can use the stove, that’s great you want to cook, but let’s be in the habit of at least letting Mom know. Because there is a three year old running around, and if I don’t know the stove is on, I might not be thinking, let’s make sure the three year old doesn’t, you know, cause a problem because the stove is on and Mom doesn’t realize it. So do you have any tips on how to translate into the older kids, having those conversations, whereas when they’re younger it would be more making a game out of it? But when they’re younger, what does that look like? What’s your experience been?
Sara: if you haven’t played the obedience game from the time they were three, I think you do have to give them a little bit of a runway. So like with the stove, if I were starting that as a skill, I would say, okay, this week, I’m gonna keep reminding you and then if you find yourself reminding the child a lot, then I’d say, all right, starting on Monday there’s gonna be a consequence for that. So okay, so you just turned on the stove and we’re just gonna turn it off now and I’m gonna remind you. But starting Monday there will be a consequence if you do this again. So you know practicing with them in that way as opposed to, hey, go practice turning on the oven and turning… go practice asking Mommy. You know, obviously we’re not gonna do that. But we are going to give them a little bit of practice time, and make them very aware of what we’re doing. On Monday there will be a consequence. And then being really consistent about that when that time comes.
Melissa: consistency. Yes.
Sara: and I don’t, I wouldn’t discount roleplay for older children either. It’s just in a more casual environment, and it’s more of a, well what would you say if that happened? And less of a, let’s act it out. Although, you know, there’s a place for that too, depending on, on your kids’ personalities.
Jenn: I think a part of this, too, maybe for somebody getting started, and even not just for someone getting started… I need to be reminded of this myself a lot. That to see this habit training and especially some of these habits as just part of our job as parents. Like I think it’s especially as a homeschool mom sometimes it’s really easy for me to just get in this zone of, this is our job, this is what we do, we’re doing school. And everything else is extraneous. Not literally, but you know it could be easy to drift into that a little bit. And seeing some of this training stuff as almost interrupting the real work rather than like a large part of our real work. Like this is part of their education, this is in some ways at the heart of discipleship. Like learning how to live life as a Christian.
Sara: yeah, another way that we can bring along older children is to model things for them. So I have plenty of opportunities to show my children how to repent. The other day we were in the car and we were running late, and we were, I was late to pick up my son, and I couldn’t text him, he doesn’t have a phone… or no, it was my daughter. Anyway, and then there was a train. And I like, Lord! Why is there a train? Oh no! And then I had the opportunity to say, okay Lord, this train, You ordained it, it is for Your glory, it is for our good, thank You for the train. And I just said it out loud because I’m fighting sin in my own heart to grumble against God and be like, even though it’s my fault that I left late, Lord, You knew this was going to happen! Couldn’t You have cleared the train? And you know, instead modeling for them, yes, they can see that that’s the pull on me, is toward being frustrated and then I’m, I’m very actively cutting it out. And so doing that stuff out loud, older kids pay attention to that.
Sara: and when I hear my kids saying the words that I’ve used, obviously, that’s discipleship. Right? You’re saying, come along, be as I am. Well that’s, I’d better, I better be modeling good things. But it’s along the road. Because I don’t have this mastered, you know, so it’s… and probably that’s a good thing… because they need to see the repentance as well.
Jenn: mhmm, yeah. Especially the repentance as a habit. I think the repentance as a habit is huge. I mean, some days I think, and these are on our, not our best days, I think, well, if my kids learned nothing else today, they learned how to repent. Because Mom did it a ton today, because Mom needed to do it a ton. And you know on one hand, it can be tempting to be discouraged on those days, but them the good that I think God can bring from it is that, well, they got to see a lot of repentance modeled.
Sara: right? Yeah.
Melissa: how would you describe the relationship between discipleship and habit training? Because when I think of the word habit, or the phrase habit training, I tend to think of, okay, these are the, these are the almost like the orthopraxy – right, like the way that we live out the theology behind it; and then the discipleship is more like the orthodoxy – the theology of that. But I don’t know if that’s… is that accurate? Is that inaccurate? What’s your take on that relationship between discipleship and habits? Is it the same? Is it two different things that work together?
Sara: I think of the habits as you know Charlotte Mason talks about the rails. They’re things that sort of keep you on track when you are just kind of humming along. They’re those things that keep you in, keep you on that path, they’re the things that remind you to do the discipleship, you know. If you’re in the habit of memorizing Scripture, well then, the Scripture is gonna remind you of the confession, which is gonna remind you to tell your children about it. You know, it all kind of works together. And so those habits just reinforce what you’re trying to do on a daily basis and help you to plan for it a little bit. So that it, it’s not, if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen.
Melissa: what about the habit of devotions, prayer, Bible reading? How do you pull your kids into that by conversation, by example, Morning Time. Those sort of things. How are you encouraging your kids to jump into and embrace those habits?
Sara: we have family devotions at night that my husband leads, and then we do Morning Time where we read the Bible and that’s when we memorize Scripture and things like that. This summer we started, I heard on the What Have You podcast that they were, they had a texting group when they finished their reading. And so with you…
Melissa: for the To The Word Bible reading maybe?
Sara: yes, for the…
Melissa: for the Bible Reading Challenge?
Sara: yes, and so our family is doing that this summer. And my kids are just reading the New Testament part, not the Psalms and Proverbs just to make it a little shorter. And so I said, everyone send a chicken by text when you’re done reading. And so I just sent a little chicken emoji and then my son’s taken great creative license, and you know, taken a picture of himself and drawn a beak on it. And you know, they send, the have devices that have no internet, they can only message with us. But it’s been really fun. My husband is normally the first one to send an emoji first thing in the morning, and the kids don’t see him reading his Bible because he’s up before them. And so that’s been really cool because they’ve gotten to see that he’s reading every day, and it reminds you throughout the day to read. So that’s just been a fun little way that we’ve encouraged reading this summer.
Melissa: I love that! Because yes, that idea of… well, if we’re doing Bible reading before the kids are up, we’re not doing it out with them, you know, how do they know that Mom or Dad have a private devotional life? That’s, I love that.
Sara: yeah. Yeah, and it’s on our phones a lot too. So if my kids walk in and I’m reading the Bible on my phone, I’m really tempted to be like, it’s the Bible! It, it’s the Bible! It’s not Facebook this time, guys, it’s the Bible! [laughter]
Melissa: I hear you.
Sara: but that doesn’t feel quite right.
Jenn: audio helps with that, so they can hear…
Sara: yeah, right?
Jenn: that’s what we have going on a lot. [laughter]
Melissa: what are some of your favorite resources for either getting ideas or sharing experiences? Are there books or blogs or podcasts that are sort of your natural go-tos?
Sara: yeah, I love – there’s a sermon series called Loving the Little Ones by Doug Wilson. It’s a four part series that’s on YouTube. That was so formative for Eric and I as we, as we set up our home. And setting it up as a joyful garden, while having high standards. It seemed that everyone in society was either loose and oh forget the standards but we’ll be super loving and nurturing but no standards. Or high standards but don’t pour on too much affection because oh you’ll spoil them. And so this was a great, and I think very biblical, way to look at parenting. I also like Saturation Love, it’s an article by Jim Wilson. I think a lot of people who are on that side of all-discipline-no-affection think they’re doing the right thing, but if you don’t have that basis of love and affection, it’s not gonna be effective. And then I like stories for kids, when we’re talking about pulling toward a vision. So the Wise Woman by George MacDonald is a great book for little girls. And they see it, you don’t have to say anything, you just read it. And the same thing with The Princess and Curdie, particularly for little boys. That’s one of the best little boys in literature. Wonderful. And so I love reading good stories like that. The What Have You podcast – I really like that. I think I pick up things that they don’t realize they’re dropping. You know, as they just kind of along the way mention something that they did with their kids or their family, and I’m like, ooh, okay. But that, that podcast is always driving me to take a closer look at myself and repent of things that I didn’t even realize were lurking. But the minute they say them, I’m like, oooooh that’s me. [laughter] So really.
Melissa: it’s a lot, it’s conviction just slathered in laughter.
Sara: yes, which is kind of how I want to disciple my kids, right? [laughter]
Jenn: that’s a good motto, it’s a good mom motto. [laughter]
Sara: work toward the standard, but we’re doing it joyfully and with lots of laughter.
Melissa: yeah. What did you love about the Paideia Southeast event on Saturday? What were like, if you could say three highlights of something, what were the top three?
Sara: I love the atmosphere that Jenn and Rebecca created. They just, it was lovely. Flowers and good food and welcoming. I mean, Jenn is so good at hospitality. So and they had book tables for people to, to peruse and to get ideas. They made sure to greet everyone. And it was just a really lovely atmosphere. I loved the panel discussion. There were so many women in so many different walks of life sharing their ideas. And then I loved the singing. Everybody sang together a few hymns before we got started, and that was really sweet. So it was just a lovely, encouraging – encouraging time. But then also had lots of good ideas to take into the school year, so.
Melissa: I love it. Well thanks for sharing snippets from that for someone like me three thousand miles away, where I wish I could’ve been there. So this just encourages me and sets me up for getting back with my kids and talking about habits, and taking atmosphere and beauty and song into motherhood too, right? Not just when the moms are together but how can we translate that into our mothering and our homeschooling, our homemaking? That’s just, that right there is another little bit of conviction. So thanks for that. Thanks for taking the time to hop on and chat. And Jenn, it’s always fun to have conversations with you, so let’s do it again soon.
Jenn: yes. I would love that.
Melissa: yay, thank you!
Sara: thank you so much.
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more encouragement and conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for encouragement and ideas about raising your children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord. Please join me next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.
Here at Paideia Conversations, we are continuing the conversation about protecting our children in this postmodern era where the age of technology is everywhere we look… bringing the entire world into our homes and presenting it to the eyes & ears of those most precious to us. How do we pursue wisdom in light of this? Melissa Cummings talks today with Chris McKenna from ProtectYoungEyes.com to ask him that very question. Listen in as they discuss the 5 layers of protection, 10 before 10, what kind of devices and filters are recommended, and how to find both accountability and encouragement in the balancing of parenthood, childhood, and technology in 2022. And while we didn’t actually mention it in the podcast, you might want to check out Childhood 2.0 to see Chris McKenna in a film that goes really deep really fast about these topics. This is a valuable conversation and an important topic. This is absolutely an aspect of the paideia of the Lord, so let’s delve right in!
Resources and Links:
The Teenage Brain by Frances E. Jensen
Melissa: Hello and welcome to Paideia Conversations where we dialogue about all things paideia. I am your host, Melissa Cummings, from Paideia Northwest. This is where you can listen in as Christian mamas discuss our purpose to raise our children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord — His paideia.
Joining me today for this paideia conversation is Chris McKenna from Protect Young Eyes. I’ve shared some of the work from Protect Young Eyes with Paideia Northwest on Instagram before, and they sponsored some tickets for last year’s Paideia Northwest event. And I’ve just been really encouraged and blessed by the work that Protect Young Eyes does, and specifically by the perspective that Chris McKenna shares in his Instagram stories and online in their emails, and also in the app. I have shared some of their Protect Young Eyes app with my teenager, and it’s really sparked some really great conversations. And it’s just been a blessing to us. Also, as we continue to just discuss the idea of protecting our kids and bringing them up in the paideia of the Lord in this technological age in this postmodern era, these are conversations that we need to have. We need to pursue these topics. And people like Chris McKenna, and Greta Eskridge before, they are unafraid and unashamed to talk about hard topics and to help give parents like me tools for pursuing these things with my own children. So I’m delighted to welcome Chris today to the podcast, and I’m delighted to share him and Protect Young Eyes with all of you listeners today.
Melissa: I do, I want to tell you like on the record or off the record… that last evening… my oldest is fourteen… and last night he was asking me you know, what’s the plan for tomorrow, Mom? And I told him, oh well, I think I’m going to be doing a Zoom conversation with Mr. McKenna from Protect Young Eyes. And he was like, wait a second, I’ve heard of that, right? And I said, yeah, I’ve talked about it before. And so he was like, well do you have the app? And I said, well, I’ve looked at it but I deleted it because I read it, but I never showed him. And so he asked – it was like ten o’clock, and he said, well Mom, can you show me the app? So we downloaded it again and we were looking at all the things, and he was just really encouraged by the work that you’re doing. So he’s like, oh I can’t wait to hear you know what the conversation is like. In fact, I asked him, well, do you want to like ask him questions? And he was like, oh, I would have a lot of questions. [laughter]
Chris: that is so mature. My goodness, I’m impressed.
Melissa: yeah, so anyway. He was excited to hear about the work that you do as well. Although I told him that Covenant Eyes is where you get your, you know, your paycheck.
Chris: it is. [laughter]
Melissa: Which he’d also heard of that one.
Chris: yes, yes. That’s kind of my… yeah it’s, they’re both, you know they work well together. Good.
Melissa: would you just briefly do a quick intro of yourself and your work?
Chris: hey, yeah, so Chris McKenna, founder of Protect Young Eyes. It’s a website that I started probably, I guess it was May of 2015. I was right in the midst of. Well, I was in junior high ministry. I mean, the whole story is the Lord called me out of business into ministry. I was twelve years as a consultant with Ernst & Young. Got then called into middle school ministry from 2009 to 2016, the rise of portable internet, right? I got to witness technology finding its way into the lives of kids – junior high in particular, just my favorite age group, that sixth through eighth grade timeframe where they’re so vulnerable and yet still kids and so open to teaching. Which is when exactly we’re dropping all of this insanely intelligent technology into their lives and making it complicated. So I had parents with questions. So my consulting hat was like, hey here’s a problem, let’s solve this. And so I started the website really just intending to educate. That led to a lot of different opportunities I didn’t expect. And you know, from there, Covid changed quite a bit. Because we were in person, on the road, kind of organization. There was a group of us doing talks, we had a presentation team. That of course went away, we built an app instead during Covid to try to scale. And now we’re ramping back up instead. I know saying “today,” I’m not sure, you know listeners, when you hear this. But just know, the day that I recorded this I did a four hour training to build up my speaking team again. We’re now five of us that are doing hundreds of talks in the next school year again as places are opening back up. And I’m really excited about that. All over the country, from Hawaii to Alaska to the East coast, so it’s really opened back up. And we’re excited to be able to go back into the schools and churches, and we’re really excited just to educate again. So that’s who we are. And just love standing in that gap between you know amazing families who truly want their kids to use technology, to be protected, and you know tech organizations and devices that truly, truly, Melissa, do not are about the safety and protection of our children. Our children are a data point for them, they are marketing possibility for them, they are a dollar sign, and they mean nothing to them. So if we are going to protect them from the places that are unhealthy for them, that are hurtful, then that’s going to be on us. Because the devices do not come with our kids in mind. And that’s the biggest problem. So that’s who we are.
Melissa: you’re also a dad.
Chris: I am!
Melissa: so you have that parental perspective on things. And your kids are old enough to be involved in tech, right? What’s your age range of kids currently?
Chris: yeah, so I’ve got a… a picture, I know those listening won’t be able to see that I just pointed to a picture behind me here too Melissa, but yeah. We have four kiddos. My daughter Lauren is seventeen going into her senior year. And then I have twin boys, Cole and Grant, who are twelve and are going into seventh and sixth grade respectively. And then Blake is ten, soon to be eleven, and he’s going into fifth grade. So we’ll have fifth, sixth, seventh, and then twelve grade. My daughter is the only one who has anything “smart.” She has an iPhone that she got when she turned fifteen. My son Cole, he has a Gabb watch that he uses from time to time, which I love, because it has what he needs and it doesn’t have you know all the other baggage. It’s talk, text, GPS. And if he and Blake want to ride their bikes up to the speedway to get a slushie which is about you know four miles, or I guess four miles round trip, but two miles down the road, it’s great, I got the app, I can see where’s he’s at. And that’s about it other than you know what they use here in the house to watch YouTube on a tablet or use the ChromeBook for looking up you know different things. But yeah, we are, as we sometimes say, we are a pro-tech, pro-kid, protect organization. There’s a balance there, right, of? If we use maybe a Scriptural reference, it’s being in tech but not of tech or however it goes, right? [laughter] You know, we could play that out the same way. We want to embrace the good in it but definitely respect the life-altering power that it also can have if not used with diligence and with almost a sense of respect. Not because of I want to be like you, but because if I don’t defend myself against you, you could do me harm kind of respect. It’s almost like how you respect the power of a lion on the other side of the cage at a zoo. It’s like, I don’t want to hang out with you, I need to keep you over here, and understand that there’s danger. So.
Melissa: yeah. That’s one thing that my fourteen year old was asking me last night when I was talking to him about Protect Young Eyes. So he said, okay, we’re talking about protection and technology, but he said, what is it you want to protect us from? And I thought, you know, that’s a really good question to ask Mr. McKenna. What is it that we need to protect our children from?
Chris: so I would love to have your son listen to this. You know Melissa, when you and I were growing up, and I’m not sure you know age wise where we are, but let’s just say we grew up in a time probably both of us where the difference between the places in childhood that were helpful or okay or safe in my life back in the nineteen-eighties were different and very clearly separated from the parts of my world, my neighborhood, my community that were bad, harmful, and dangerous to me. They were things I had to go to if I were going to hurt myself or to do something dangerous. Or I needed a plan or I had to have a certain friend or I have to go to a certain house. In other words, there was a bit of intentionality that was necessary for most of my childhood. If I was going to do myself great harm or expose myself to something. So answering that question is twofold. It’s both situational and content related. And then when I would get to those places, there was content – be it sexualized content or violent content or content that was mature in nature that I could consume, but only after great effort to get there, to go to it. That is not the world that our amazing children live in anymore. We live in a mixed environment, mixed content world where all of the devices that we give our children that are intended to be used for good, and helpful, and God-honoring purposes – be it a ChromeBook for school or an iPhone to stay in touch, they also within that device have the same power to radically and at times almost permanently change the trajectory of a human being’s life. We think of the amount of evil that can take place in a digital device… it’s almost bottomless. And I’ve seen in my work and my time and exploration and research of… just as soon as I think I’ve seen the bottom of the pit of human depravity, I find that there’s another step lower on the ladder. And I experience something or see something and just go, my gosh, what have we built? And I know that ninety-nine percent of kids aren’t spending intentional time in those places. But at the end of the day, I’ve put those places in their pocket. And have just hoped and prayed that I’ve done enough that they don’t go there. And as a guy over twelve years as a consultant whose job it was to help large businesses all over the world mitigate business risk, I see everything through the eyes of risk mitigation whether it’s professional or parenting. I can’t bubble wrap my kids from the risk of the world nor would I want to because it wouldn’t prepare them for the fact that in this world you will have trouble, right? There’s tough things in this world, and I want them to be resilient and prepared to deal with people who just aren’t nice. Right? But there is an egregious harm that I will protect my children from at all costs. And it used to be very obvious where that egregious harm could take place, and that’s just not the case anymore. So I’m – I look at technology and I look at the devices and I look at the power in what I consider to be a super computer – this iPhone! It could land a hundred million Apollo 13 spacecrafts on the moon simultaneously, right? And I put that into the hands of my seventeen year old and go – amazing, beautiful daughter of mine, I love you, but I am –with shaking and trembling- placing this power in your hands, and I need you to work with me on this, because what dad… what kind of father would I be if I didn’t stay involved and if I wasn’t intentional about how you would handle this power? Because I’m letting a hundred million people into your life and that scares me. Right? So, I think parenting is different today. It has to be. And childhood is different today. It’s, it’s more difficult for amazing kiddos like your son or my daughter to toe that very thin line between the places that are good and the places that are harmful. It’s a thinner spot than the distance that existed in our childhood, if that makes sense.
Melissa: yeah. Well, and stumbling upon something accidentally, um, you know – someone who back in 1989 was in the neighbor’s house, and you know, gave someone a magazine that belonged to their dad – that definitely shapes a trajectory, but there… there was some intentionality to that, right?
Melissa: then with my son, I… he, you know, he’ll be doing what he’s allowed to do on the laptop right there in the family area, and all of a sudden, you know, an ad will pop up. And he’ll just say, oh man, Mom, I should not have seen that. That was not appropriate.
Melissa: and he said, I didn’t try to look at that. And I’m like, I know!
Chris: I know, buddy. I know, buddy. And I love that his sensitivity around that is so pure and good and right. That’s amazing. And you know, that’s certainly something that we teach kids, you know, from K through 8th. You know, listen to that little radar, that little funny feeling in your belly that’s telling you something’s not okay. Ignore that little voice in your head that’s saying you’re gonna get in trouble, you can’t tell anybody. Listen, that’s a liar. I want you to listen to that little radar, that Holy Spirit radar that’s saying something’s not quite right here. And put it down and tell someone who has tools for that. To listen to that feeling, to listen to that little instinct. And I think kids, we maybe undersell them sometimes. I think a lot of kids know… they know where the, you know, what it feels like to be in the bad places. And because the “bad places” – and we could probably have, you know, different discussions around how we define bad, but I’m guessing that most of your audience would align with me in looking, say, to Scripture or just other, um, you know, solid references to know the difference between what’s good and bad, that which is helpful to our lives, things that are pure and good and honorable and praiseworthy and positive versus things that aren’t, right? And I think a lot of our kids, they know that difference too. I see it when I talk to them, where they know when I say to them, hey, third graders… I love third grade… I’ll say to them, hey guys, you know when you’re watching YouTube, is it really easy to see videos that you know aren’t good for you? And all of them just start nodding their heads. Like they know! Right? So it’s then giving them permission to respond to that, because I’ll say to them… I’ll say this as many times as I can… you know what, when that happens, that’s not your fault. That’s not your fault. Your first instinct is gonna be to be ashamed of that and I’m here to tell you that’s a liar. That is not your fault. And instead, I’m so proud that you have a sense to know that’s not bad, so what do we… or that’s bad and that’s not where you should be. What do we do with that? Let’s do something about that. Let’s find some trusted adult. You know, helping them to harness that as a power instead of a shame that is almost automatic because of that nature of ours sometimes, right? So those are conversations I love having with kiddos. I sense that in what you describe about your son. And praising that in sight of them, and saying that I don’t like that that happened, but I love your sensitivity about it. And I want to encourage that, buddy, because the pop-ups only get worse. And I think that’s… you know, this discussion about what’s good and bad. Porn is an Old Testament issue, right? [laughter]
Melissa: nothing new under the sun!
Chris: this is… nothing new under the sun! It’s just that the depravity, like the types of pornography, the, the violence, the exploitation of babies and children – like the types of things that are possible to be discovered through a simple search today… you almost couldn’t even put your hands on it without being in illegal places when you and I were growing up! That you couldn’t even get access to as a child! And so I think that’s the part that I want to empower parents with to create awareness. Not to create fear. I don’t want that to make us be paralyzed and not know what to do. No, no. If that’s your reality, now what can we do? And that’s where Protect Young Eyes loves to come in and say, okay, Mom, Dad, guardian, Grandma and Grandpa – you have digital superpowers, let’s do something about this and protect and prepare our kiddos for that world.
Melissa: yeah. I think that was something Greta Eskridge and I talked about last week, was you… prepare, protect, and pray I think were the three Ps…
Chris: that’s good, yeah.
Melissa: yeah, exactly. Now, I think you have the – with Protect Young Eyes, it’s five layers of protection, is that right?
Chris: yep, yep, we talk about the five layers of digital protection. Yes, good memory, good job.
Melissa: what are the… I feel like they all start with the same letter, and I can’t remember, is it C?
Chris: well, no, so there’s two different frameworks there that you’re referring to, which is awesome.
Chris: we have the five layers. There’s a relational framework which is our digital framework, and those are five Cs. Then we have our more technical framework of how do we protect technically with five different layers, and those are the five layers. So what’s great is they fit together, because if you imagine a pyramid… so, imagine right now the, you know, the pyramids in Giza over in, you know, Egypt. A true pyramid. Imagine it has five horizontal layers in it, maybe each with a different color if that’s what you want. That bottom layer of that pyramid is the relationship. That’s our DigitalTrust framework, because everything technical sits on top of that. And the reason for that is, parents will ask me all the time: hey, my kid found a loophole, how do I close it? And I’ll say, well, wait a minute: before we try to fix the technical loophole, I always want to try to solve it first with the relational solution. There’s a heart issue here that your child feels it necessary to find a loophole, and they’re gonna find another one. So unless we get to the original side of why they found it and why you don’t feel equipped to talk about that, let’s solve that problem first. So that’s why the relationship has those five Cs, right? First we talk about Copy Me – are we modeling as moms and dads? Coplay – are we doing technology shoulder to shoulder, right? I want my kids to know that tech is a we activity, and not a me selfish activity, right, cuz one on one with the internet… whether, Melissa, it’s you or me, guy, girl, teen, whatever. We eventually all make a bad choice one on one. Those godlike algorithms are just too tough for us, so we need others involved. I want my kids to know what accountability looks like from a very young age. That’s Coplay. There’s Curiosity – that’s a parenting posture. I want us to be curious about why the kids do the things they do online. You learn a lot about kids just from their YouTube watch history. And then I want Conversations that are curious, so a ton of conversations. And the fifth one is Coaching. Not controlling but coaching. Because if you try to control them, they all become digital ninjas and they win. And so I want us to coach them through this. That’s the bottom of the five layers, and we build on top of that. Layer two which is the WiFi layer, that the router is the most important device in any home. Any home! And we talk about routers all the time. The Gryphon router is awesome. And then on top of that you build the layer of, um, device level controls, right? So because it’s not always connected to our router. You have smart devices that go places, or you have ChromeBooks that get used at a friend’s house now that are on that home’s WiFi network that maybe doesn’t have Gryphon, so what software is at that device layer? So layer two is a hardware deal, right, that router. But then layer three is a software deal with what are you choosing? Is it CovenantEyes, right? Is it Bark? Are you using Screentime from Apple? Are you using FamilyLink? Those kinds of things, right? And then the fourth layer there is what’s happening locationally. There are certain places where I just don’t want kids online, right? Buses, bathrooms, bedrooms, sleepovers, grandma and grandpa’s houses. They’re, you know usually a little less monitored because Grandma and Grandpa maybe don’t know quite as much. So I’m just, I get risk mitigation hat on. I’m mitigating risk differently in those five locations. That’s a layer of protection. I don’t want to put my kids as, what you often will hear, say in the Catholic churches – stay away from the near occasion of sin, right? Don’t put ourself where temptation is strong, and I think that at night, whether you’re fourteen or forty, when you’re bored in your bedroom with tech, that is the near occasion of sin. [laughter] And don’t be there! And then that top layer is the app layer. Meaning, TikTok, YouTube, SnapChat. What, if any, like in the case of SnapChat there’s not much. What, if any, app level controls exist? And it’s at the top and it’s the smallest point of the pyramid because they’re the weakest. So there’s a very intentional sequence in terms of strongest and most effective to necessary but less effective as you go up the pyramid. So that’s the meshing of those two frameworks at Protect Young Eyes after, you know, seven years and fifteen hundred presentations. Those are the sorts of things that seem to work.
Melissa: oh, I love that. It’s really logical and it’s really good, just visual picture. That’s great!
Melissa: what about the… I also… I have this fourteen year old, and so he’s the one I have the most conversations with. Not only about tech because he’s into computer programming, and he’s trying to learn all kinds of graphic, like digital art kinds of things…
Chris: love it.
Melissa: but he’s the one I have most of these conversations with, but then I have a ten year old son – I also have nine year old daughter, and six and three year old sons, but sort of the older ones are the ones who, you know, love the tech the most and are ready for some of the harder conversations. But I have this ten year old, and I was thinking the other day, like, you have this “ten before ten,” um, catchphrase, right?
Melissa: and so occasionally I’ve thought, oh I have a ten year old now. Have I had ten of these conversations with him? And I probably have, because I don’t actually keep track, we just have a [laughter] open conversational type of family. We homeschool, and so we’re just always talking about learning and growing and very curious, lots of endless questions… um, but, can you tell me – what’s that “ten before ten” thing about?
Chris: yeah, so it was inspired by my friend Ginny who runs a platform who maybe your audience would recognize called 1000 Hours Outside.
Melissa: oh yeah.
Chris: right? Yeah, so she’s awesome. She lives here in Michigan, a couple hours that way from me. And so the quantification of what she does is sticky. So I was like, how does that apply to my work? One day I was like, okay, ten before ten. I want, and you know, I’m a CPA by nature, so I love numbers. They just sort of help me make sense of the world as you can tell. Five layers and frameworks, and that’s just the way my brain works. And um, but I want ten conversations about pornography before age ten. Now, when I say that, automatically there’s this: oh my gosh! I don’t know how to have one of these talks let alone ten of them! And that’s a, that’s an okay thing to think. You’re not alone. A lot of people think that. But I think, and if you know, anybody here listening to this is on Instagram, there’s a reel that I created that’s called “That’s a Porn Talk.”
Chris: and it dismantles the idea that a porn talk has to be some powerpoint presentation with research and graphics, and they’re sitting down and listening, and they applaud when you’re done, like that sort of thing. [laughter] That’s not what I’m talking about.
Chris: there is a wide list of things that qualify as a porn talk, without ever saying the word. And I think that’s the part that gets in the way mentally as a parent. You’re like oh gosh, I gotta say that word? No, no, no. What I’m more concerned with is, number one, that kids know what it is.
Chris: and then nine times know what to do when they see it.
Chris: right? Because another reel, you know if people were to watch, um, is called “Practice Practice Practice.” Right? People can find these on our Instagram account. We put a ton of really, I hope, really helpful content out there. I’m always scheming about the next thing I can put out there on Instagram because 93% of our followers are amazing moms like you. The moms that are you know, I call them the chief technology officers of the house. That’s what you are, right? And so I want to equip the 93% of our followers that are Melissas with as much good content as possible.
Melissa: we appreciate that!
Chris: yeah. But I want them to be practiced, to know what to do, and to break through that little lying voice that in the moment is gonna convince them not to say anything. Because to tell a kid, hey if you see porn, talk to me – that’s almost meaningless in the heat of the moment. Because little, well not little, but pre adolescent and tween brains are highly tangible. They don’t do well in the abstract yet. You know this as a homeschool mom, right? That making it as tangible and as tactile as possible is gonna make it stickier in their brain. That abstract thinking develops as that prefrontal cortex finally starts rolling around there in the teen and early twenties. But before that make it as practical and hands on as possible. So I’m telling parents, hey, like roleplay this bad boy. Like, get in the van, go out in the road, pull into the driveway, walk in, and have them pretend they saw something and have them pretend tell you exactly what they would tell you what they did when you walk in the door. I know it sounds corny but I’m telling you it works. And it overcomes some of those neural-chemical barriers that in the moment of seeing porn are super powerful. And really disconnect all rational thinking. Because that rush of neurological activity just… there’s nothing happening in that prefrontal area to help them make wise decisions. But they can fall back on, oh I remember, like right now I’ve got to walk over, because I’ve walked in practice five times over, you know, last year. I need to walk over and now say something to my mom because that’s exactly what she’s taught me how to do it, or what to do. Right? So those are the sorts of things that I think are far more effective than having some in-depth, awkward conversation about pornography. [laughter] So.
Melissa: yeah. I love that. Well, and you know another thing. Well all of your catchphrases are obviously very sticky because they’re the ones that I remember. The whole “delay is the way…”
Chris: yeah. Good!
Melissa: so, my… I’m picking on my fourteen year old here… you know, he talks about, um… my fourteen year old talks about how when he’s sixteen he’s going to buy a care, he’s going to have, you know a job. Right now he works parttime during the summer, and I drive him, and so he doesn’t need to take a phone with him. But when he drives himself, you know, we’ve told him, yeah we’d like you to have some kind of accountability and safety measure in your pocket. So the question has come up, like, oh well, by the time he’s sixteen do we give him a straight up iPhone or is that the age where a Gabb phone is still appropriate? And I know there’s no, like, one blanket answer for every child and every family and every situation.
Melissa: so how do you… how do you find wisdom in that? How do you recommend parents to walk wisely through that when we want him to make mistakes while he’s still at home? While we still have, you know, these eleven PM conversations without him being off at college yet. [chuckle]
Chris: you know what I would offer, as an answer to your question, Melissa? Is I would have the exact same conversation that you just had with me, with him.
Chris: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a parent come up to me and go, you know what I don’t know how to talk to my kid about this and this – this is what freaks me out about this thing, and I’m so afraid that if they have SnapChat or Instagram that someone that they don’t know is gonna talk to them, and they’ll send a picture they don’t know – help me with this, Chris, what do I do? And I’ll just sit for a minute and I’ll smile. And I’ll say, have you ever told them everything that you just told me?
Chris: and they’re like, no! I’m like, all the things that you’re afraid of, all of the concerns that you have… what about inviting them into that? Because here’s what will happen when you do that. Number one, they’ll kind of go, okay, um, I understand where my mom’s coming from. It’s because she loves me, not because she’s a bad mama. Right? She has genuine concerns for me. Number two, any time you can invite a child into the solution and give them agency in that situation, that’s a part of the Coaching in the DigitalTrust framework. It automatically increases their buy-in into what you’re saying. It’s true for all of us, right? Think about marriage! [laughter] It’s always better when it’s their idea. [laughter] Right? Right? I could say something to Andrea like, you should do this, this, this, and this! That’s my wife. But if she comes up with it, even if it’s the same as what I said, it always goes better! [laughter] And it’s just the way we are, right? We want that agency, that ownership. And so those are things that I’ll say to parents. And I would invite you to have that same exact talk – hey, bud, you know, an iPhone might be right; here are some of the risks around it, here’s what I’m concerned about this. You know, here’s a Gabb phone. I understand that this maybe feels too juvenile for you. But at the same time, it’s not gonna provide some of these temptations as the iPhone. Here’s my tension as a parent. Here’s what I’m struggling with. What do you think?
Chris: and I think if you’ve had a lot of conversations along the way, and you, you know are open and honest. I think there’s a ton of power in that kind of conversation. You know what I mean?
Melissa: yeah, yeah. I like that you’re big into communication. Communicating with, you know, you – your job with parents, and schools and churches, but then also encouraging those parents to be communicating with their kids. So I must think that you’re big into – you know you say 93% of your followers are the moms…
Melissa: then, I know I, I talk to my husband about… he’s never, he doesn’t have Instagram, so he doesn’t look at your stuff like I do. But I share it with him, you know. I’ll say hey, check out this reel or hey look, here’s Chris talking about something else. So he knows who you are even though he’s not on that social media platform. But having these conversations, um, as yeah, husband and wife, in wanting to move forward with our kids is also huge. Having that communication.
Chris: yeah, that alignment is big, because as parents it’s important… and Andrea and I have these conversations all the time… who would be best to have this conversation with Lauren? You know, sometimes it’s me, oftentimes it’s Andrea. You know. Kids, as you know, go through different phases of attachment with Mom or Dad, depending on phase of life or maybe gender, all those things. And those are really important cues for us as parents to pick up on. And to, to honor that, and to not feel intimidated by that, and um… yeah, I think that’s, especially with these topics which are so often topics of the heart, and who is in the best position to do that? Very seldom, I’ll offer this, I think it’s very seldom both at the same time. Because that can feel a lot like an inquisition to a child. And I want to be, you know, cautious of that. So you’re right. I think it just sort of depends on who is best positioned to do that. But being aligned, because, when and if the opportunity comes up to have to enforce something that consistency is really important. Or if you’ve got a kid who’s gonna kind of test that mom said versus Dad said, you know you do kind of need to be kind of on the same page for sure. So I’m glad you’re… there’s plenty of dads on Instagram too, but if not, and your husband isn’t, then I give you full permission to put your phone in front of his face and say, watch this – you gotta watch this. Because there’s a lot of power in that alignment.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. My husband, speaking of husbands. You know, he had two questions. One of which is, how does a filter actually work? Like on the technical side, how does a filter filter the internet? How does that work in protecting our kids?
Chris: well it depends on the service, the filtering service that’s in place. So there are known domains – when I say domain, uh, like a website address, that top, you know, www dot whatever dot come. The www isn’t even really used much anymore. But for all, for us old people, we remember that version of the internet, right?
Chris: so there is a library, um, that when websites are registering, I’m just gonna explain it high term, you know, high level terms. Let’s just say there’s a mechanism by which many, not all, certainly not all, but many websites are categorized as either explicit or not. And there are other categorizations based on keywords used in the website on, is it related to gambling? Is it related to guns? Is it related to other categories? And there are services, say like the Gryphon router, where um sometimes there’s you know, the filter is on, and it’s leveraging what Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo, other search engines have done to recognize this categorization, typically those are just at the sexual or not sort of level. They’re less concerned about filtering out other types of content. That’s where a service comes into play, say like CleanBrowsing or even Bark or others. Where you have more granular categorizations of websites that they’re picking up on based on keywords and other things that if parents want to filter out, even like lingerie, or that kind of thing. So it’s very much on that technical side, what keywords are being used, and that categorization that those solutions are filtering in that way, so.
Melissa: so the other, the other question that my husband had was on the question of sort of screen addiction. So not necessarily relating to filtering particular content, but the idea of how do we protect our children – and again, I think it goes back to communication, right? Having these constant shoulder to shoulder experiences and conversations. But do you see a certain number of hours or is it just all about attitude? Is it only that pleasure screentime goes into too much time, because you know, what about, oh my kid has to watch YouTube videos for homeschool co op history stuff or [laughter] you know, how does… how do you encourage parents to walk with wisdom when it comes to that type of thing as well?
Chris: yeah, what constitutes screentime, right?
Chris: how do you categorize it? Is it junk food? Is it nutritious? It’s really hard to know these days. So I, in the McKenna house, do not keep track of hours, it’s too stressful, I can’t do it. It’s, I quit that a long time ago. So, but I’m also, you know, so there’s some non negotiables in that, right? So again, location matters. I’m trying to keep devices out of bedrooms. I’m trying to keep devices out of private, dark places. I’m trying to keep devices away from a certain proximity of bedtime so it’s a bit of a cleansing of the mind, right, a settling down. I’m trying to keep screens maybe away from a automatic sort of morning necessity of, hey, have you had breakfast, did you get dressed, did you brush your teeth yet? Let’s prepare our bodies before we just jump into a screen, right? So there’s just some routines around that. I want to keep screens in their place, instead of a priority. And that’s just some things as parenting that I’ve chosen to do instead. I am certainly focusing on patterns of behavior more holistically around, are they interactive with me? Will they… this is a big one… can I interrupt their screentime without eliciting anger?
Chris: and I practice this one with my kids all the time. I love Cole, my twelve year old who walked in, he will tell you, most recently… I do this all the time where I’ll just randomly ask them to fill the dishwasher, I’ll randomly ask them to take the recycling out. No matter what they’re doing on a screen, if they don’t within a pretty quick three second window say, yep! and pause it and react to me, then I’ll take it away. You know, I’ll turn it so they, they’ve, um, through practice and through trial and error, have learned that that’s not… my initial reaction to that isn’t anger, it’s diverting it towards help knowing that when I help Dad’s next response is almost always, go ahead and keep playing. Right? So it, there’s a training… you gotta remember that these little brains, they don’t stand a chance against these screens. And so when a kid is starting to exhibit certain, uh, negative or sort of attachments to the screen, it’s easy for us as parents to take that personally or pin it on them, that they’ve done something wrong. And I want to, I want to get rid of that way of thinking. Because if we were twelve, we would be reacting the exact same way if that sort of glow and, you know, constant stream of entertainment was in front of us, we would have done the exact same thing. This is not a me versus kid thing. This is a screen versus the brain thing.
Chris: and I think that depersonalizes it a little bit from me getting angry at their response, and instead seeing it as an opportunity to go, all right, bud – boy, when I interrupted that game, dude, you got ticked! So let’s talk about that. Why did that happen? You know, I’m gonna, I’m gonna take it away for a little while because, you know, if I was doing something that made me a bad dad, wouldn’t you say, Dad, that needs to get put away? Yeah. So that’s what I’m doing. Cuz I’m trying to be a good father to you. But let’s think about what just happened, okay? You threw that controller, or you yelled at your brother, all right? That wasn’t the right reaction. But it’s something that I’m not mad at you for. Because that’s the power this stuff has over us. So I’m not gonna punish you for it, right? But the next time I interrupt that game to have you do something, I want you to react differently. And when you do, and you get the thing done, I’ll probably say, go ahead and pick it back up, man. Right? Because this is training. And so I want that to maybe shape the way that we respond to screen time a little bit. Look for those cues. Some kids can’t handle it. I mean, just in the way that God has put them together, they have a sensitivity to their dopamine reward system that is ten times greater. It can even be in the same family, we’re like my gosh, this kid reacts this way and this kid reacts this way. That’s just us recognizing those things as parents and, you know, tailoring their consumption of screens accordingly. And so those are just some things that I tend to focus on when it comes to screen time. Instead of…
Melissa: physiologically speaking, I mean, we are… we are chemical, physiological, created beings…
Chris: we are!
Melissa: and that’s complicating in some sense.
Chris: well, and I want parents to hear that there isn’t this magic line that if you’ve decided that thirty minutes is okay that now you’re a bad parent at thirty-one. Like there’s, I want there to be a freedom in that too for moms who, let’s admit, because I know many of you that guilt is always right around the corner, right? That there’s nothing that says that if your kid gets thirty-one minutes that you’ve created this sort of fictitious good parent bad parent boundary with screen time. Like that’s the stuff I just want to get rid of, because that’s toxic to us as parents too. And just change that mindset. So it’s, it’s good I think for both of us to switch that up a little bit.
Melissa: well yeah, that’s what my kids are doing right now so that I could have a quiet conversation – is, they’re watching a Magic School Bus. The younger ones, watching a Magic School Bus.
Chris: there you go.
Melissa: you know, we have to realize that screens aren’t inherently bad. It’s how we use them and how we walk relationally with our kids through that.
Melissa: my fourteen year old last night said, how can you prove to me that my brain is effected by screens? And I told him I had just read a book called The Teenage Brain, and it did not come from a Christian worldview, so it was, you know, a chew and spit, grain of salt kind of thing. But it was very convincing in the physiological brain development of adolescents, teens, even you know young adults. And I said, I don’t know, I can’t regurgitate that information for you right now, but trust me, I know it really does.
Chris: yeah, we are. We’re integrated beings. Mind, body, and spirit. And that’s why I want us to, you know, protect those, those areas of our life. You know, you said something just a minute ago that I just, I just want to mention. Because I think there are a lot of things that maybe were true that are less true today, but a phrase like that technology isn’t inherently bad.
Chris: that’s a phrase that is definitely worthy of discussion. Because I think that was probably true in the days when technology was something I consumed, as opposed to something that’s studied and consumed me.
Chris: and there’s a difference today with algorithms that are actively tailoring themselves to us that I would argue that our technology is less and less inherently neutral than it used to be. Physiologically for the exact reasons as it drills deeper and deeper into our brainstem, and our deep needs, that three parts of our brain that are asking three different questions of am I alive, am I loved, and am I thinking? As it drills deeper into eliciting those sort of, am I alive, say like heartrate, blood pressure kind of responses to what I’m seeing, it gets its hooks more and more into us that other ways that I think we could have conversations more scientifically is along those lines. To go, you know, there are engineers at companies, tech companies now that engineer products to elicit a physiological heartrate blood pressure response in you. Because that is the reptilian part of our brain, deep in our stem, and they know if they can do that and then attach a reward to get out of that, because your brain doesn’t like living in that state of stress… dude, they’ve got ya. Dude, they’ve got… I think those are good conversations that kids are fascinated by when you invite them into it.
Melissa: I’m fascinated by that! My mind is kind of like blown right now.
Chris: yeah, there you go.
Melissa: okay, you think, oh well, alcohol or um, I don’t know, sexuality, those things you know – is it a virtue, is it a vice? I’ve always sort of put, um, technology in that same kind of camp, but yeah the whole algorithm thing, you can’t get away from that.
Chris: yeah, so.
Chris: there you go, we’ll end on that, right?
Melissa: something to ponder with my husband, yeah. So as we sign off, can you rattle off three top tips?
Chris: yeah! Um, you know, again I would say whenever you have a technical issue you’re trying to overcome, some loophole something, try to solve it first with a relational solution, that conversation. Number two you would be, hug your router. Go hug it, love it, make it work for you. It can carry some of that burden technically that I think is so, so important. And then number three, I would say, if you think it’s hard being a parent in the digital age, it’s even harder being a kid. Keep that empathy high. It is a stressful, anxious, information overload time to be a child. And the things of the world that stress us out, whether it’s politics or war or pandemics – they see it and feel all of it, too, with much fewer, with fewer tools to process it. So I just want us to keep that empathy high for what it’s like to be a kid these days.
Melissa: yeah, yeah. Well thank you so much for taking the time to have a conversation with me, and to share these thoughts. I can’t wait for my, my kids, at least my two older ones, to jump in on this and listen in. We’ll have more conversations together.
Chris: sounds good. Yeah, you’re welcome.
Melissa: thank you so much. I’m really, really grateful we were able to make that work.
Chris: yeah, me too, Melissa. And for anybody out there who hears this, we love answering questions, we love tackling tough tech problems if you’re stumped on something. So just send us a message at our website at Protect Young Eyes dot com or a direct message through social media, and somebody will get back to you.
Melissa: and you do. You guys are quick. So all right, thank you, Chris.
Chris: you’re welcome! Bye bye.
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more encouragement and conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for encouragement and ideas about raising your children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord. Please join me next time for another paideia conversation, and in the meantime, peace be with you.
Join Melissa Cummings today in this nuanced conversation with Greta Eskridge about her passion for cultivating true connection with her children through adventure, and combatting the destruction of connection through the atrocity of pornography. This is a real life conversation between two real moms, and we hope you will find encouragement here to have big conversations with your kids. We also share lots of ideas for further reading if you need recommendations on this topic!
Resources and Links:
100 Days of Adventure by Greta Eskridge
Good Pictures, Bad Pictures by Kristen A. Jenson
Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, Jr. by Kristen A. Jenson
Chasing Love by Sean McDowell
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
Habits of the Household by Justin Whitmel Earley
Additional Recommended Resources:
The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson
Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality by Hillary Morgan Ferrer
Not If But When by John Perritt
Melissa: Hello and welcome to Paideia Conversations where we dialogue about all things paideia. I am your host, Melissa Cummings, from Paideia Northwest. This is where you can listen in as Christian mamas discuss our purpose to raise our children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord — His paideia.
Joining me today is Greta Eskridge.
Melissa: Joining me today for this Paideia Conversation is Greta Eskridge. She is an author, a speaker, a blogger, and an adventurous homeschooling mama. And she is also the one behind the hashtag #gretafightsporn and that’s why I’ve asked her to join me today for this little conversation about a not to little topic. And we invite you into this conversation with us as we continue to practice, pursue, and implement paideia.
Madeleine l’Engle said, “Our responsibility to them is not to pretend that if we don’t look, evil will go away. But to give them weapons against it.”
Frederick Douglas said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
I honestly wouldn’t necessarily say it is easy to build strong children either. So to think that this is hard, to think that these are difficult topics, to think that this takes some stamina and a lot of groundbreaking work is pretty key.
Now, the reason that I wanted to broach this conversation is because I don’t think it’s something that a lot of people have recognized is so important until recently.
I know it’s something my husband and I are interested in as we’re raising our five kids for the glory of God, and we have four sons — we’re also a very tech oriented family. We own a tech business, a Bible app software company, and we have at least one son who wants to go into computer programming. He already does that. He’s only fourteen but he’s been doing computer programming for a couple of years. And we are definitely in the “Delay is the way” camp, as far as it comes to technology. And we are a low budget screen time family. We do a family movie once a week. The kids do the Worldle, they each take turns doing that on a fairly regular basis. But that’s really it! We have a spare phone, an old phone, we send with our teenager when he goes to work so that he can text me and let me know when to come pick him up. But he will be the first one to tell you that he’s not having his own phone until he has his own vehicle and a job where he drives himself and he would need that kind of technology in his pocket on a regular basis. So this is something that is new to us as parents, but I think this is something that is common to all of us as parents in this digital age. I think protecting our kids from pornography is important, I think hedging the time that our children spend on screens is important, and I think that as Christian parents we need to be willing to be a bit radical, to be different, to stand out. And so these are the questions I have. I want to know, what does it mean to protect kids from pornography? What does it mean to cultivate a healthy sexual culture in our home? What does it mean to protect them digitally? What does wisdom look like for a family who is definitely pro-technology, but we want to -even more than that- be pro-wisdom?
I read Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch about a year ago, and it had a lot of great stuff in it. But I feel like it’s the kind of book that I need to go back to and review maybe once a year.
I also just read Habits of the Household by Justin Whitmel Earley, and it had a whole section on screens and tech. That was wonderful. I highly recommend that book! Not just for the idea of tech or screens or pornography but for cultivating habits that reflect the actual values – the actual Christian values and the theology behind it… how do we build strong children, and how do we give them weapons against evil? What tools are at our disposal to walk our children through this strange new world of having the world right inside of our homes and access to all of these things right in our pockets? How do we walk with wisdom alongside of our children? So these are the questions that urged me to bring Greta Eskridge into the conversation, and then also Chris McKenna from Protect Young Eyes who will be joining us later. Protect Young Eyes is also… it’s a great website, I would suggest looking at that. I would suggest their app, the Protect Young Eyes app. And I am hoping to bring some kind of webinar or workshop with Greta Eskridge and Chris McKenna to the Paideia Northwest community sometime soon. Schedules are hard to coordinate when you’re in three different states and a couple different time zones. And we’re all busy parents who just do these sorts of things on the side. But I think it’s worth prioritizing these types of conversations and these types of events.
Melissa: so I’m super curious… because I first started following you on Instagram when… I don’t know, this was a few years ago… you would take me… you didn’t know you took me, but you would take me to the coast and you would go to the tide pools…
Greta: hmm, yes.
Melissa: and all that adventuring, right? So that’s how I fell in love with you and your kids. Because I grew up in the Santa Cruz kind of area, but now that I live in Northeastern Washington, you know, tidepools are a thing of the past. And so watching your videos was lifechanging for my kids. And so now we go to the Oregon coast once a year, and we go to tidepools. And I still think back to those days when I would show my kids, “look, look at these pictures! Ma And Pa Modern, they are up, let’s try to find some of these!” Anyhow. But then I started noticing this whole “Greta fights porn” thing, and I thought, well that’s not like tidepools.
Greta: like that’s weird! [laughter]
Melissa: yeah, like, what in the world? And I mean this was a few years ago. My oldest is fourteen, and so it’s kind of a, you know, it’s kind of a present conversation now. But at that point I didn’t ever think about it, I never thought that it should be a “now” kind of topic. And so following your GretaFightsPorn hashtag over time, I’ve kind of seen, it actually should be a “now” topic whenever “now” happens to be.
Melissa: I don’t remember if it’s…, I think maybe it’s Chris McKenna from Protect Young Eyes who says “10 Before 10.”
Melissa: so ten conversations about… is it pornography? Do you know? Is that what he says for 10 Before 10, or is that just…?
Greta: yeah, um, and uh, pornography for sure, and you know what digital safety looks like. And that’s just so alarming to a lot of parents because they’re like, you know, you tell them that you need to talk to their kids who are under ten about pornography. And they freeze. Cuz they’re like, there’s no way I’m gonna talk to my eight year old about that. But the average age for the first exposure to pornography is eight years old. So if you haven’t talked to your kids yet, and they’re eight or nine or ten or twelve, and you’ve never talked to them about pornography, what it is, and what to do if they see it, then you are risking the chance that they are going to not know what to do, and just freeze. Or be terrified. Or be curious. And no one said, “don’t go back and look again.” It’s just so much better if we can bridge that gap and put our own fears aside and say, “hey, I need to talk to you about something even though you’re only eight.”
Melissa: right. Can you introduce, briefly, like yourself… your adventure books are what I love sharing the most right now. But then, I mean, you’re an author, you’re a speaker, you’re a blogger, you’ve got this hashtag, right.
Greta: a mystery. It’s very troubling, I don’t make any sense. I’ve had several publicists like reach out to me and they’re like, umm, you’re kind of all over the place, it’s hard to brand you. And I was like, I know, I don’t fit in a box!
Melissa: renaissance woman.
Greta: [laughter] Because all of those things are important to me! First of all, first and foremost I think what drives me is that I’m a mom, I have four kids and I’m passionate about cultivating relationship and connection with my kids. And I do that through chasing adventure with them and pursuing, you know, making meaningful lasting memories through these adventures we do together. And I love that part of our life! And it’s been a part of our life for, you know… my oldest is eighteen, we’ve been doing it regularly every single week since he was five. And I love it so much I wrote a book about it, Adventuring Together. My first book! How to create meaningful and last memories together with your kids. But the flip side of that is that I want to make sure that I’m talking to my kids about things that break that connection and break relationship. The antithesis of connection, and that is pornography. Pornography is, it is the opposite of real, meaningful connection, relationship, and intimacy. In fact, I would say that it destroys these things. And the reality is that our kids are growing up in a world where pornography is so easily accessible – accidentally, on purpose, it’s out there. And you know, raising my kids, they’re growing up, and I think, wow, I have to, I have to deal with this with them. Because I don’t want them to grow up and I never talked to them about it and just sort of left them to figure it out by themselves. Because I think that that is the opposite, like I said, of what I want to help them achieve, which is lasting, meaningful connection and relationships. First with me and my husband, with our family, and then as they grow up and have that with their own families. And so that sort of became another passion of mine, is fighting porn and educating parents on how to talk to their kids. So the umbrella really is connection. So cultivating connection through things like adventuring together, but also battling the thing that wants to destroy connection which is pornography.
Melissa: I love that.
Greta: so there you go.
Melissa: there you go, you have an umbrella!
Greta: I branded myself! [laughter] But it’s not an easy brand. Because, adventure oh that’s fun, we can get on board with that. Oh, fighting porn, that’s awkward; we don’t really want to talk about it. And that’s the problem is that nobody wants to talk about it. But we have to. Like yes, I know it’s uncomfortable. Yes, I know it’s awkward. Yes, I know we don’t want to face that reality with our kids. But we have to. Because we have to protect them. But also, we have to help them have a future of sexual health. And not, like I said, like not enter their future relationships, their marriage, with the baggage of having battled or faced pornography and not knowing what to do with it.
Melissa: so on your blog, which is just, I’m trying to remember… is it just GretaEskridge.com?
Greta: yep, just GretaEskridge.com, real simple. Unlike my Instagram which doesn’t make any sense.
Melissa: actually okay, that’s a good question! Where does MaAndPaModern come from?
Greta: okay we’re sidetracking. Yeah so my Instagram handle is MaAndPaModern, and that came about because when I first started Instagram, I didn’t even know what it was. I had just gotten my first smartphone, and my friend was on Instagram, she was like, oh you’ve got to do it, it’s so fun. So I thought initially I would use it to help promote my husband’s art. He’s an artist, and loves midcentury modern design, architecture, and art. And I thought, okay, well we’re like, it’ll be a little about our family and our home, all of our kids are artists, and like showing our design sense and also his work. So it’ll be Ma and Pa Modern. So kind of like a play on words. We’re old fashioned, Ma and Pa. But we’re actually modern, but it’s really midcentury modern from the fifties… it made perfect sense to me! And then after I was on there for a little while, I was like, I don’t want to promote Aaron’s art, I want to promote my writing and the things that I care about. So um I’ll share it, but that’s not the point, that’s not the point. And then everyone’s like, you can’t change it, you’re Ma and Pa Modern, that’s who you are. So it’s funny when people will say to me, like, so are you like a modern day Ma and Pa Ingalls, are you guys homesteaders? [laughter] We’re like, nope! I do make sourdough bread, but that’s about the extend of my homesteading capabilities.
Melissa: Sunday morning bagels, right?
Greta: yep, that’s about it. Yep, Ma and Pa Modern or GretaEskridge.com that’s how you can find me.
Melissa: so on your blog, on your website, I remember reading about cultivating a healthy sexual culture in your home, and of course that’s an enormous topic, which is probably why you go and you speak on these things. So that’ll be something that I’m hoping in the future to pull from you, but just in sort of a brief introductory way… if that can even be concise, what does it mean to cultivate a healthy sexual culture?
Greta: well I think the reason it’s important to me to have that conversation as well as the one about pornography is that I never want to present to my own kids or to encourage parents to only say, hey there’s this awful thing called pornography, it’s bad, stay away from it – and then that’s the only conversation we have about sex. In fact, I want that to be just one small part of the conversation and the majority of the conversation around sex and sexual things is that it is something that is a gift from God. He created it and designed it for us, for our pleasure, and for good. And we’re made in His image, so our bodies are beautiful, they’re created and designed by Him. They’re not something for us to be ashamed of. He designed them to work together and to, again like I said, for our pleasure, to create human life. Those are all good things. So that’s the picture of sex and sexuality I want to give to my kids. And that’s a positive one. Because if we only focus on, pornography is bad – which it is – but that’s all that we talk about when it comes to sex, then we’ve left out all the good. And I don’t want to do that. And so I think if I work hard at creating this healthy sexual culture in my home, when the hope and the goal is that when or if… I think when… my kids encounter pornography or some sort of negative picture of sexuality or sex, that they will be able to come to me and say hey, I saw this, I have questions, I’m concerned, or this happened and I wish it hadn’t, I wish I hadn’t seen it, or I wish this experience hadn’t happened. But they’ll be able to come to me because we’ve cultivated a culture where we’re open, we’re not afraid to talk about these things and we’re not afraid to have questions or to say, what about this? Like, that’s the culture that I want to have in my family with my kids, and that’s what I want to have, help other parents achieve as well.
Melissa: sounds like open communication… before, during, after, all of those.
Greta: yeah. So it’s not about fear. It’s not about, it’s all bad. It’s about, yeah, that’s a distortion of the good thing God created. And so we want to reject that, and we want to move towards the beauty and the goodness God made.
Melissa: what tools do you have to recommend for protecting, you know? Conversation obviously is the big one. Are there other things?
Greta: yeah. I think that a lot of times parents want to first and sometimes only, they’re like, tell me what I can just put on the phone, put on the tablet, put on the computer, and my kids will be safe. And I think that those things are incredibly important. You do need to install software, and put on things on those screens and devices to protect your kids. You need to have limits set in place for them. But that can’t be all that you do. And so I always say, like you said, it has to start with conversation. That should be when you have a six year old or a seven year old, and you are letting them know the limits. Like you, you know, you can’t just get online and look at YouTube all by yourself, that’s not a safe place to be. And so they shouldn’t have a device where they could do that, but they also need to know that’s not something they can do. So you have those limits in place. Limits that you’ve put in place, limits that they know. But then you also need to explain to them why they can’t just go on YouTube. And then if they were to do that… on purpose or accidentally… because they could be at someone’s house and they’re looking at YouTube or doing a Google search for you know Princess Jasmine, or whatever it is, Pokemon, I mean you could search anything and you could accidentally stumble upon inappropriate content. They need to know what to do. And so that’s when you, that’s really the basis. And you have a conversation and you say, hey there’s this thing called pornography. It’s bad for your brain, it’s bad for your heart, and it’s not safe. And it’s my job to keep you safe from it. And so here’s what you do if you see it. You just tell them, I think, keep it as simple as possible if they’re young.
Greta: if you see it, you need to close the computer or turn over the phone or turn off the tablet, walk away, and come talk to me. So just real simple steps. And um if you feel like you can’t have that conversation on your own – because some parents they feel like, oh I wouldn’t know what to say, I’d get so flustered – there are books, for example there’s a book called Good Pictures Bad Pictures. That’s a great book to read with young kids. Read it first. You’re the parent. Read it first, decide what parts of it you want to share with your kids. Cuz you might not be ready to share all of it, or there might be some things that you want to change the language on. And then read that with your kids if you can’t have the conversation on your own. And then as your kids get older, this is really critical: you can’t like stop having the conversation. You can’t think, oh I did it when they were little. They know what it is, we’re all done now, I put some parental controls on their phone, and we’re fine, we’re all done now. You need to keep talking about it. And you actually need to broaden the conversation. So you need to start talking about things that they might encounter as middle schoolers or high schoolers. Things like how do you respond if someone were to ask you for a nude photo, or to send you one. What do you do? So many parents don’t even think that’s a conversation they should be having with their middle schoolers, but it is.
Melissa: especially as homeschool moms. “My kids are with me practically all the time,” right? Church, co op, music lessons – that’s kind of all they do outside of our four walls. And yet that does not mean that my homeschooled, conservative family, country kids are not going to be faced with those kinds of questions. Because those kinds of things can happen at youth Bible study!
Greta: right, one hundred percent, yeah. And even if it didn’t happen while they were living at home with you, it could happen to them after they leave. And if you haven’t prepared them for it, then they’re not gonna know what to do then. So I think, I always think, that’s wonderful if they’re not exposed to any of this stuff before they’re eighteen and they move out. But have you trained them for what to do when they’re nineteen and they are moved out, or they’re twenty? Like you still have a job to do to prepare them for later, because it is going to happen at some point. I mean, I didn’t see pornography until I was an adult, and it was shocking to me as an adult. And so I want my kids to know how to handle it whether they’re a child or an adult. We need to give them the tools. So you have to keep talking to your kids. There are books for them to read when they’re older, for you to read with your kids. I think it’s so valuable to have those conversations with your teens. Like I have three teenagers now, and last year we read a book together called Chasing Love by Sean McDonald, and um, it is… I’m, not McDonald, McDowell. Sorry, Sean. I thought that doesn’t sound right. Sean McDowell’s book Chasing Love. And it’s, it’s all about sex, love, and relationships in our modern culture. I read it with all three of my older kids, I read it aloud. And we had… it was awkward sometimes, but we had great conversations. And things that they hadn’t thought about, things I hadn’t thought to talk to them about. And things that they needed to figure out like as they’re getting older, where do they stand on certain issues. And I just think that’s, that’s a powerful tool to give to our kids, to know you’re a safe place for them to talk to, to come to. And that you care so much about them you want to have these conversations with them to help them as they navigate a world that really is very different than it was when I was growing up. They’re entering a world that is tough, and we need to help them, we need to prepare them.
Melissa: yeah, that’s something that I read on your blog as well. It’s sort of this three part: pray for them, protect them, prepare them. And I loved that. I mean, I kind of like alliterations to begin with. Just pray, protect, prepare, and remembering that those are all kind of intertwined. I really liked that. I wonder if the, the idea of giving them something better… I know you’ve used that phrase before. What does it mean to give them something better? To give them a replacement, an alternate?
Greta: thank you, I love that you brought that up because it kind of connects to this idea of adventuring with my kids. I think that we are, again, so tempted to just say, that’s bad, don’t do it. But then we don’t say, here’s all of the good things you can do instead. And so, you know, we are like put all these limits on tech, don’t have screen time, don’t play video games, whatever your family like rules are in those regards. But are you offering wonderful alternatives to your kids? Are you, for example, teaching them how to cultivate real friendship and relationship and intimacy, showing them what those things look like? So that they, if they see pornography they’ll be able to identify that as a lie, it’s false, it’s not what real relationship and connection looks like.
Greta: and so I think offering them good alternatives is your teaching them and showing them, sharing with them all the good things they can do instead. Because the reality is that a lot of people who turn to pornography or return to pornography, are doing it, especially I think in teen years, because they’re bored, they’re lonely, they’re discouraged, they’re depressed, they’re um frustrated, angry. They’re dealing with negative emotions, and pornography gives a quick dopamine hit that makes you feel better. And if we don’t recognize, and if we’re not honest, about the fact that pornography does make you feel better for a little bit, we’re missing out on one of its most powerful pulls. And we have to offer our kids something better. So that when they’re dealing with those negative emotions, they can say, oh there are other things that I can turn to. So getting them involved with lots of activities or hobbies, things that they’re passionate about, helping them find ways to spend time doing things they love away from a screen. Being outside. Being with their friends. Moving their body. Cooking. Creating. Knitting. Whatever it is! Like give them lots of opportunity to do good things that are away from screens and that are dealing with those feelings of boredom or loneliness or depression or discouragement. Give them good alternatives. And that requires work on our part as parents. Like we might not feel like we have the time or the desire to go, you know, hiking with our kids. My husband just went on a fifteen day backpacking trip with our two oldest sons.
Greta: and they spent six months prepping, going on weekend backpacking trips to get ready for this big trek. But what an investment that he made in their relationships, and showing them that there are really powerful things that they can do together and on their own when they might be feeling like I would rather stay home and take the easy way out. So I think it’s important to offer our kids alternatives, things that are good to do with their time and with their feelings, instead of just turning to that quick dopamine hit.
Melissa: do you think it’s important that the something better also has a dopamine hit?
Greta: it can, for sure. I mean, for example exercise. I mean, like, I know for myself when I’ve gone through periods where I’ve really struggled with like depression, like exercise provided those endorphins that made me feel good even when I didn’t feel good. Um, so that can definitely be something that might be good to pursue, you know. Like hey, if you’re feeling… especially if you know they’re in a place where you know they might be struggling, to be able to say go for a run right now, or you know, we put a climbing rope on our tree in our backyard. I have a son that’s like struggling with like anger or frustration, I’ll say, hey go climb that rope five times, you’ll feel better. But that’s not always gonna be available, you know. It’s really just more learning how to take those feelings, those negative emotions, and learning how to deal with them in a constructive, positive, and better way. But also just so that the lure, even if they’re not dealing with like wanting to look at porn, just to not, even if you’re not at that place, like preventatively fill their life and their days and their world with all the good things that are out there for them to do so it’s less of a temptation for them to go to at all.
Melissa: yeah. Something else that I love how you have phrased is, uh, not being afraid to be radical.
Melissa: but that you equate radical with something like being Amish. [laughter] And so be more Amish than you think you need to be.
Geta: yes, and to give credit where it’s due, that’s from a book called Tech-Wise Family…
Melissa: oh, so that’s Andy Crouch.
Greta: yes. And he says in the beginning, he says, you don’t have to, you might not have to be all the way Amish, but you might want to be almost Amish. And that was like such a, that was just a really clear picture for me of what, what it looks like to be counter cultural really. And that’s what I think we do need to be counter cultural. I mean, the average age for kids to get their first smartphone is ten years old. I think we need to be counter cultural and we need to be radical and say, my ten year old does not need a smartphone. And thirteen year olds don’t need a slew of social media accounts. I think they don’t need any social media accounts at all, but I’m radical. [laughter] It’s a lot for a thirteen year old to manage, right! I mean there’s so much, and there’s so much negative content on there that they can easily get sucked into. So we do have to be radical, we do have to say, I know all of your friends have this or are doing this, but in our family we don’t think that it’s best, and so we’re going to do it differently. And um, I think if we’re willing to do that and we’re willing to walk that line, our kids will be better for it.
Melissa: I just read Habits of the Household by Justin Earley I think might be how you say his last name, and he used this quote from Frederick Douglas a lot, and then I know you’ve also used this quote that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And that’s not to say that it’s easy to raise strong children. Because it does take work, it does take prayer, it does take effort. And it can sometimes feel insurmountable but I think that idea of being unafraid to have those hard conversations or to make radical choices… that’s, it will still be more simple, and hopefully more loving to our children and more honoring to God, than to not do those things and have to deal with the repairing of the brokenness down the road.
Greta: yeah. Yeah, I agree.
Melissa: one other question. You have more sons than daughters, and that’s my… that’s my reality as well. So most of the time when I think about… especially pornography, but even just tech in general, my sons are more drawn to it than my daughter. She might grow into, you know, enjoying tech more but she’s not yet ten. The reminder that this subject and these conversations aren’t just for our sons, how do you… how do you approach that? Or do you approach it differently between your daughter and your sons?
Greta: I’m so glad you brought this up, because I always remind parents that pornography is not a male issue. It is not a female issue. It is a human issue. Because it impacts men, women, and children. And in the past, it was more common that men were engaging with pornography than women, but that is changing rapidly. Women, especially younger women are, and that includes teenagers, are engaging with pornography more than ever before. And so my daughter is not left out of the conversations. When we have conversations about the dangers of pornography, the damage pornography causes, um, it’s addressed to all my kids. I tend to divide the conversation by age appropriateness, not by sex. So my eleven year old is not having the same conversations… my eleven year old son is not having the same conversations that I’m having with the three teens who are, you know, eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen – two boys, one girl. So we’re just talking about it at an age appropriate level, not based on male or female. The place where we do have conversations that are separate would be more related to things that are, like, for example, when we’re gonna to talk about, you know, having a period. Well my boys are gonna know about that as well because I think it’s valuable and important for them to know um for, just for themselves just how the human body works for males and for females, for their future with their spouse. But then I’m gonna have a conversation with my daughter that’s gonna be different because she’s experiencing something that they won’t. But I understand her experience because I’ve had the same experience. So those conversations will be separate, but not entirely. And definitely when it comes to things like you know pornography or sexual predators or anything like that, those are for all of them because it impacts all of them.
Melissa: it’s not a male issue or a female issue, it’s a human issue. I really like that. Yeah. Well, what’s sort of your, um, your last… [giggling] your last thing. I know I promised you we’d keep it short.
Greta: it’s hard to! There’s so much to say!
Melissa: I know! I just want this to be a teaser. Because I definitely want to, somehow, bring you into the conversation more fully. Even if not in person, you know, some kind of webinar or something, because I do think it’s an important issue. And if I’m feeling like I need to talk about it, then I think there’s other people in similar situations… and… but if you could just say one more thing, like what…
Greta: yeah, well I think, I would just echo what you just said that if you feel like you need to talk about it, then you know other people need to talk about it. And that starts in your own home with your own family. So not being afraid to broach the conversation with your kids first. But then also broaching it with your fellow moms, with other families. And to just, even if it’s… you don’t have to say, hey, I want to invite you over so we can talk about pornography. Like, they might be like, hey what’s wrong with you? [laughter] But more like, hey, I have this book that I just read with my kids and it was so helpful. Have you heard of it? Do you want to read it with your kids? Because I want to know that my kids and your kids are safe when they’re playing together. So talking about this difficult subject in a way that is proactive, and that you are willing to step into that awkwardness, because it’s going to be protecting not just your kids but the kids they’re playing with, and the kids in your neighborhood, the kids in your school, the kids in your church… that’s what we need to do. We need to be willing to just step over the awkwardness and say, all right, here’s a book I want to tell you about, or here’s an article, here’s a podcast I think you should listen to. Start the conversation. Not just with your family, but with everyone around.
Melissa: that’s just full circle right there. Like boom, high five! That goes right back to relationship and connection and communication. So, well done! [laughter]
Greta: thank you!
Melissa: well I just, I really appreciate you taking the time, today, amongst all the other things, and just having this little conversation with me. At the very least, I’m just grateful for your voice on this, your encouragement, and the hashtag because that’s something that I know I can click on and find some community on that. So.
Greta: yes, awesome. Well thanks for having me! It was a joy to talk to you even though we talk about awkward things. It can be done with even with some laughter, and we can do hard things, right?
Melissa: yes, we can by the grace of God! Amen!
Greta: amen. [laughter]
Melissa: aw, thank you, Greta. Okay. Well, we will talk again soon, one of these days.
Greta: we did it!
Melissa: and I just really appreciate you.
Greta: yeah, thanks for having me, it was good. That was a good conversation, really good. Awesome.
Melissa: okay, well, enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much
Greta: okay, you too, and I’ll talk to you soon, okay? All right. Have a good rest of the day. Bye-bye!
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.
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.