Returning to a Family Sabbath

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“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness.
They grow in rest.” — Mark Buchanan

We lit a tiny, very average looking candle at the start of Sabbath last Friday afternoon. Staring into the amber light, I was flooded with memories of our Sabbath practices from years before. When Glenn and I first started learning about the spiritual practice of a weekly Sabbath about eight years ago, we became quite zealous and intentional about it. You know the feeling that comes with any new habit that you are determined to make a part of your life… In that season, we lit a ‘special’ candle each week, dropped all our screen devices in a basket, and said a special prayer to guide us into the next 24 hours.

Sabbath was a special time we purposely set aside each week to stop and rest from regular work activity and to delight in the Lord and His people. 

Over the years, we’ve struggled to be consistent in practicing a Sabbath rhythm. Just as we thought we were getting into a regular, healthy routine something like an extended sickness or a new soccer season…or, you know, the birth of another child…would derail our rhythm. So, we’re starting again by going back to a symbolic act at the start of our weekly sabbath, lighting a candle.

For me, as a mom, in order to be able to truly rest —as much as possible with young kids— this means preparing well. Preparing well actually means doing quite a bit of difficult work. At times it seems counter-intuitive to work, work, work — sometimes in a frenzy — to finally be able to rest and delight.

Our preparation for Sabbath looks like scurrying around an extremely cluttered house, picking up books, clothes, papers, random food bits that should have been dropped only in the kitchen area…since we have a rule of only eating in the kitchen and dining area…except that I have children who don’t always listen and walk around the house humming while eating crackers and dropping crumbs along their path. Do you ever feel as though there are certain statements you say to your kids that you think you’ll be saying forever? I guess training requires repeating the same admonitions over and over and over. Maybe when they’re adults we’ll look back and see some of the fruit of our labors when we see civilized adults making rules of their own…

Anyway…our oldest girls, who are now 11 and 10, are extremely helpful in the process of getting our home organized. One daughter in particular thrives in an orderly environment so she is just as much an advocate of keepings things neat and tidy as we are. (I have to admit here, I’m more inclined to stress tidiness prior to Sabbath than on most other days. I will normally let the house go in favor of doing just about anything else. Otherwise, I feel like I will only have time to do dishes, cook meals, and pick up. This doesn’t feel like a beautiful life to me even if it might appear to others that I have it together if my house is put perfectly in order. Relationship rules the roost for us and that usually means an untidy house!)

But, for us, getting ready for the Sabbath means putting the house back to order and preparing food. Unfortunately, as my husband can attest, it’s a struggle for me to think about planning meals. If I could only point my wand and have a healthy meal appear. But alas, the magic of food appearing hasn’t happened yet. I have a strong desire to eat healthy, but eating healthy seems to mean spending endless hours making your own dressings and condiments, chopping vegetables until your hand hurts, and well, not eating any sugar. We continue to navigate some allergies in our home so this only adds to a bit of struggle when it comes to food.

So, it isn’t restful or Sabbath-esque for me to think about food! But, thankfully, Glenn enjoys cooking! His creativity comes out in the kitchen. He throws a little of this and a little of that into a bubbling pot on the stove and usually comes up with some kind of culinary masterpiece. And for this, I’m grateful. So our Sabbath meals are typically quite nice as Glenn finds it restful to experiment in the kitchen.

Maybe you’re in a phase where you wonder if taking a Sabbath could actually feel restful. I remember the days of having three kids, five and under and feeling as thought the weight of sabbath preparation was entirely on my shoulders. I recently talked to a friend who is a new mom of a young baby. She mentioned feeling like taking a 24 hour Sabbath, as the Bible suggests, was almost impossible considering all the factors and stresses of life in their current situation. But, she said she could take two hours on a weekend day, if her baby napped to find some silence, rest, and reflection. “Can you start small?” Of course, and you don’t have to do it perfectly from the beginning.

I believe the Lord will honor the time we set aside to rest and delight in him even if it’s not an entire day. He asks us to take a Sabbath not only to attend to our relationship with Him, but also to give our whole being– body, mind, and spirit– time to rest. We will have nothing to pour out to others if we aren’t first giving ourselves the gift of Sabbath rest. 

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“The meaning of the word “sabbath” is “stop, cease, desist, pause, rest.” The first question we need to address when beginning a sabbath pattern is, “What will I cease from?” Only after we have clarified that question can we move on to the second question, “What will I do on the sabbath to nurture my ability to rest in God?” — Lynne Baab

Sabbath rest can look quite different for all of us. For me, a perfect Sabbath would include elements of solitude, reading and reflection, nature, and play with our family. It would mean me ceasing from my regular work during the week such as housework, most cooking, and teaching the kids. Since we live in a fallen world and various life events can interrupt a perfect Sabbath day, I’ll take what I can get.

It’s easy to hear messages from our culture that say we need to focus on getting more, and doing more. I’m consistently asking the Lord to remind me of His words to be grateful in plenty and in little. My temptation is to look for how I can work more to gain more material things. The irony is we can even try to get ‘more’ — rest and reading and renewal— out of a Sabbath, and undermine the spirit of the Sabbath in doing so!

On the Sabbath, I remind myself of who I am as God’s beloved child and of who He is.

There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more.

Sabbath is a chance to stop and hear the wind blowing through the trees, and to and listen to my sweet child narrating a story. Last Friday, Jane and I spent quite some time playing various card games like Memory and Old Maid. It was a delight to hear her giggle in her efforts to find a way for me to repeatedly get stuck with the Old Maid. It’s possible there are some holy moments waiting for us if we take the time to pay attention. 

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Joy in Disguise

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I sauntered into church today on this chilly, snowy morning to join with my church community in celebrating the third Sunday of Advent. Also called Gaudete Sunday, it is the Sunday of Joy (Gaudete means, “Rejoice” in Latin). We are glad because Christmas in near! 

Advent is a season of preparing for Christ’s birth, and of longing for His ultimate return when all things will be made new. I long for more time in meaningful relationships, for all the wrong in the world to be made right…and for the not-so-friendly neighborhood woodpecker to stop drilling holes through our siding!

Most years, we make plans to simplify life, to slow down to help us remember that at our core we are His children. And we need daily reminders that we were made to long for Him.

Sadly, this December, I didn’t have to purpose to slow down or make myself stop working. All my children and I got sick, terribly sick. I’m typically the kind of person who pushes through colds and just keeps going. Well, not this time. We caught a terrible virus that halted normal, daily activities. For a few days, it seemed a feat just to get all the dirty dishes into the sink. It took us all down— except my sweet husband. And, well, he spent many hours sacrificing his down time to serve and love us through it.

It seems easier to connect to the longing in our hearts when we come face to face with a physical or emotional challenge. When I’m physically not well and cannot seem to muster up enough strength on my own, my fragility is a light in the darkness revealing my need for Him. 

I know for some of you, a weeklong sickness is nothing compared to what you are living through. I’m aware of those who are struggling with cancer and hope to live another year. Or those who are grieving the loss of a child or spouse and are keenly aware of the deep, heart-wrenching sadness they feel daily. Much of our longing will never be fulfilled on this earth. And yet, Jesus has come to bring us joy in the midst of pain and sadness. Our struggle itself can be the carrier of joy, albeit joy in disguise.


In the midst of my own pain, I’ve neglected to do some of the new family practices I had had in mind for this year.

Nevertheless, after a handful of Advent devotionals (Glenn has powered through in doing this with the kids sans me), a few colored Jesse tree ornaments, and a reading of a St. Nicholas book, I hope to dive in a bit more in the upcoming week. I hope to read many more picture books with kids, sit by several crackling fires, listen to Advent music, and sip a hot drink. Hopefully not just hot water and lemon!

Speaking of music, I can’t sign off without giving a couple ideas of what you might listen to this season:

Advent Music Playlist from Spotify (from our friends at www.keepingadvent.com)

http://www.keepingadvent.com/advent-24

Mid-Winter Carols by Joel Clarkson

GIVEAWAY: “Journal the Word” Bible

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Do you remember more when you write it down?

Do you actually remember your grocery list after you’ve written down the items you need, even if you walk off leaving it on the kitchen counter?

Do you remember the ideas of a conference talk if you take thorough notes?

Over the years, I’ve realized the Scriptures I write in my journal seem to seep deeper into my soul. When I take the time to journal my thoughts and impressions, I find I become more aware of how God is speaking to me through His Word.

Deuteronomy 11:20
“Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…”

I’m excited about the release of the NKJV Journal The Word Bible as an aid in your journey toward remembering Scripture. This gorgeous Bible with a sturdy black leather cover and elastic band around the Bible has ample space in the single columns on the lovely cream pages for you to copy Scripture, write personal reflections…or even to sketch a drawing.

Think about this as a family heirloom: your recorded reflections can be enjoyed by your family for years to come as this Bible is passed on to future generations.

With Christmas soon approaching, consider giving this Bible to a friend or family member. She will be delighted by such a thoughtful gift!

I’m fortunate to have one copy of Journal The Word Bible (NKJV) to give-away.

CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway!

How to Choose a Great Read-Aloud Book

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Autumn has come; what a splendid season. The leaves have changed, but only to yellow here in the mountainous, desert-like climate of Colorado. The aspens have change to a gorgeous gold-like yellow blaze in the prime of fall. I have to admit, as much as I enjoy our autumn season here, I dearly miss the memory of fall in the Midwest. Not much can compare to the red, orange, burgundy, and yellow leaves of the tall, tall deciduous trees amassing the fields and hills. When I have a quiet moment, which is rare, in a house alive with four children, I hear the ring of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow my kids have been working on memorizing. The second stanza begins…

We hail the merry autumn days,
When leaves are turning red;
Because they’re far more beautiful
Than anyone has said.
We hail the merry harvest time,
The gayest of the year;
The time of rich and bounteous crops,
Rejoicing and good cheer.

Like poems, beautifully-written stories can shape the imaginations of our children. A good story is a gift to our children— a gift that enables them to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.


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So, what is a ‘great’ read-aloud? One possible indicator is when your child says, “Mom, will you please keep reading….just one more page? Please!!” You know you’ve likely found a great read-a-loud when your your kids are asking for more. There are numerous books out there that have a captivating story and are also wonderfully written.

Whether you have already created a culture of reading in your home or if you’re just starting now, there is hope. I had my first child eleven years ago and I had no idea at that point in time how to choose great books to read to her. One day, in a Borders bookstore, standing before the shelves of children’s books and feeling more than a little overwhelmed, I shyly gathered courage to ask a nearby mom. “ Umm…do you have any recommendations for what to read to a toddler?” She kindly responded with, “Two words….Charlotte Mason. Check her out.”

I discovered Charlotte Mason was a British educator living and teaching in the 1800’s. She recommends the reading of what she calls, ‘living books’. Living books are typically written by one person who writes in a narrative or conversational style who has immersed herself in a topic. I liked the sound of reading a ‘living book’ to my child— much better than a dead one, I suppose! Mason discouraged reading ‘twaddle,’ a word she termed as dumbed down literature with the absence of meaning. In our home, we aim to spread before our kids a broad feast of books to read and for us to read to them. And once in awhile, we all read a few purely for fun!

If you’re wondering what criteria to think through in selecting a read-aloud for your children, here are a few thoughts:

Great Read-Alouds…

  • include an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive;
  • stimulate the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults;
  • are often timeless classics, fairy tales, or chapter books;
  • include characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart.

Children are often able to listen to a book being read that is two to three levels higher than his individual reading level. We just finished reading Mr. Poppers Penguins to our four year old and six year old. This absurd tale is full of humor and you might find yourself laughing out loud along with your kids.

The goal in selecting stories for a great read-aloud isn’t finding one with the most well-behaved characters. The Bible certainly isn’t even an example of this! Rather, the goal is to find stories that help us wrestle with themes of good vs. evil, whether it be in an external battle and an internal challenge a character is facing.

“Having found the book which has a message for us, let us not be guilty of the folly of saying we have read it. We might as well say we have breakfasted, as if breakfasting on one day should last us for every day! The book that helps us deserves many readings, for assimilation comes by slow degrees.” Charlotte M. Mason, Ourselves


If reading aloud is a new practice in your home or if you’re trying to get back into the habit…start small. Try one thing on this list:

  • Spend 10 minutes a day reading aloud to your child. This small amount will actually total 30 hours of reading a year.
  • Set an alarm on your phone to read aloud to your kids. 
  • Play audio books. Our local public library system has an abundance of books on CD or playaways. Try out a free subscription to audible.com, or check out LibriBox– a free public domain books in an audio format written before 1923. Audio books or playaways  are perfect when you’re tired, or when you’re in the car, even if you’re just driving the kids around town for their activities.
  • Older kids can read to younger kids.
  • Replace wasted minutes in the day with intentional reading time. A 10-minute Facebook scroll time in the car may be a window of time you can read to your child.

Here is a short list (selected by our kids!) of our favorite family read-alouds….

Picture Books

  • Billy & Blaze by C.W. Anderson
  • The Bear Who Heard Crying by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
  • Roxaboxen by Alice McClerran
  • Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  • Mr. Books (Mr. Happy, Mr. Bump, Mr. Impossible, Mr. Greedy) by Roger Hargraves
  • My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray
  • The Three Bears by F. Rojankovsky
  • The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
  • Johnny Appleseed by Johnny Kellogg

Chapter Books

  • Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
  • The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Moby Dick (abridged ) by Herman Melville
  • All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  • Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery
  • Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  • The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  • Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones
  • Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite read-alouds?

Four Ways Reading Aloud Can Shape Your Home

 

I’ve been reading aloud to our kids since they were babies. First board books (which they mostly tried to eat), and then on to pictures books full of beautiful illustrations. It’s fascinating to think my one year old child would sit on my lap mesmerized by Good Night Moon or Go Dog Go or The Mitten, and then ask for a story to be read over and over and over again, never seeming to tire of hearing it. Children love to hear a loved one’s voice reading the same words time and time again.

One of my all-time favorite picture books is My Mama Had a Dancing Heart. I’ve read this so many times to our girls over the last ten years, I almost have it down by heart. Our youngest actually did have it memorized by the age of three and oh, it was the sweetest to hear little voice say, “My mama had a dancing heart and she shared that heart with me, with a grin and a giggle and hug and a whistle, we’d slap out knees and Momma would say, “ Bless the world. It feels like a tip-tapping, song-singing, finger-snapping kind of day. Let’s celebrate! And so we did….”  

It seems to come naturally to us as parents to pick up a picture book and read to a small child. But once a child can read on his own, its easy to continue to encourage him or her to only read independently and never be read to. It is a joyous day when our kids can read independently, but there are multiple emotional, spiritual, and mental benefits they can acquire through being read aloud to.


Reading Aloud Can Help You…

Introduce New Ideas
Hearing stories read aloud aids children in their ability to comprehend ideas and broaden their vocabulary. One of the single most important activities for building the knowledge required to be successful in life is reading aloud.

When we listen to someone reading, if we’re reading anything worthwhile, we’ll hear sentences with great language, flow, and structure. How could we not become writers and speakers, if we listen to Homer or Shakespeare? If you can understand their writings, even a little, you can comprehend anything. A child can be taught the proper structure of a sentence, but we learn how to form great sentences best by hearing and hearing excellent language.

Know the Same people
We’re committed to reading aloud as often as possible to our kids until they leave our home. One of the desires propelling us forward in this vision is for our family to ‘know’ many of the same people through the books we read. Through books, we can travel the world and meet people we would never have met like the hilarious, Pippi Longstocking or the trustworthy Lucy Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia.

“A family, a class, or any group that reads aloud has a sense of communion as they share together ideas and human experiences.” -Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

Enter the Big Story
As we share an experience through reading aloud together, we also begin to truly enter into the story God has been creating for the past thousands of years. Reading aloud Bible stories, poetry, fantasy, fairy tales, and animal stories helps us to see ourselves as characters in the story God created us to walk out. My friend, Sarah Clarkson, author of Caught up in a Story, has often talked about how books inspire us to see ourselves as a hero or heroine of our story. When I read Anne of Green Gables aloud to my kids, I hope for them to imagine themselves as Anne, one who cultivates beauty wherever she wanders. Anne can look at a serene sunset and be reminded of the goodness in this world. She can wander under willow trees and hear the sweet whispers of the wind. Hearing stories, shapes the imaginations of our children, which is truly a gift to them— a gift to be able to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.

By entering these stories, my kids also learn what to do (or not do). I hope to lecture them on character much less and allow them to read more and more about heroes they can emulate. I hope they will learn an abundance of character lessons by reading  great stories— more than they will by my lectures on what ‘they should do’ in any given situation.

My favorite question to ask when we’re reading a story aloud is, “Do you think he should have done that?” Should Abram have trusted God’s promise or acted in fear? Should Harry have trusted his dream leading him to believe a friend was in trouble?”

As we read aloud great books to our kids, we’re placing before them something worth loving, something worth giving their time to.

“What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we make them learn.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook

Cultivate the Love of Learning
Reading aloud to our children, inspires in them a love of learning that will remain in them throughout the entirety of their lives. What we listen to, we dwell on. Do you still remember a particular scripture you memorized as child that seems to seep in into your mind on occasion? Or the the worship songs that you still hum, but haven’t listened to in fifteen years?

What we learn in childhood is carved in stone. What we learn as adults is carved in ice.” – David Kheridian, poet


The stories and ideas our children meditate on will stay with them all their lives. Even if they don’t understand everything they hear today, comprehension and application will likely come later. Reading aloud creates an opportunity for a child to make connections, giving them food to delight their soul.

Despite my best efforts to read aloud to my kids every day, there are some days when sickness or tiredness weighs me down like the the heavy load of a donkey. It breaks my mama heart, when my four year old says, “Mama, will you read me this book, right now?” And now, her requests are no longer board books. They seems to be long picture books or even chapter books. This sweet request came a few days ago while I was scrubbing a stack of pans with caked on, dried up food. I would have been overjoyed to drop the task of dishes to be distracted by reading. I’d rather read to her than do almost anything else! The chapter book requested, Mr Poppers Penguins, is NOT a short picture book. My little one couldn’t quite comprehend why I wasn’t able to drop all my household tasks and sit down and read the entire book at that very moment.

Reading some is better than not reading at all. We all have a unique family puzzle requiring intentionality to figure out what works. Let’s intentionally try to make reading aloud part of our daily life, giving us and our children an opportunity to slow down, pay attention, and allow for the richness of reading to stir our hearts and minds.

If you’d like some research on the benefits of reading aloud, here’s a thoughtful and informative piece.

I’d love to know what you’re reading aloud to your kids. Please leave a comment!

Summertime Sabbatical-ing 

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The Badlands in South Dakota

Our summer sabbatical has come to a close. I am extremely grateful to benefit from a gift given to Glenn from our church. Glenn has been a pastor at New Life Church for sixteen years and every seven years, all full-time staff members are given a sabbatical. Ours has been around six weeks. Pastors take sabbaticals for various reasons; for New Life, this gift is given to allow those in full-time pastoral ministry from our church to have an extended sabbath.

Here are a few sabbatical reflections from Glenn

“Sabbath is a time to stop, to rest, to delight, to play, and to be renewed by the Creator and Sustainer of all things. When we set our plans for my pastoral sabbatical, Holly and I wrote out three key themes, each becoming a banner under which we could design travel, activities, and rhythms. These themes were rest, recreation, and renewal. We mapped out the six-week sabbatical in three successive phases. Of course, since we have four children under the age of 12, these lines blurred a little, and we needed to include more recreation into each day in order to keep them occupied and us sane. But to keep the theme of rest—true soul rest—going throughout the sabbatical, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and iPad, deleted my work email from my phone and iPad…and used a completely different not-so-smart phone for much of sabbatical The freedom and lightness of being that I experienced was remarkable.”

I decided to go off all social media as well. I had been off for four years when my kids were very young, but have been back on for the last few years. There are elements of it I enjoy, but I felt quite free not feeling the pull to post or check! That being said, I’m ready to engage in it a bit now!

In planning our sabbatical, it was a shared goal to make travel decisions from a prayerful and thoughtful place with our themes as the priority, not vice versa. This wasn’t just a large chunk of time to plan vacations we wouldn’t normally have time to take. Our hope was that each phase of the six week period would have elements of rest, recreation, and renewal. I’m happy to report that we were able to achieve much of what we hoped for in this time. As Glenn mentioned, it certainly wasn’t always easy as much of our time was spent with our four children. We had many quotidian days spent cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and separating fighting kids. But most days we were able to take some time for listening prayer, journaling, reading for delight, going on unhurried walks, having meaningful conversation, and taking fun excursions with our kids.

A few highlights…

Glenn and I began our rest phase by spending five glorious days together on a beach. The majority of every day was spent listening to the sound of the rippling waves on the shore, staring at the sight of the gorgeous aqua marine sea crashing on the sandy shore, and reading in between. Not too shabby!

I started the Pulitzer Prize winning book, All the Light We Cannot See, back in the Spring but really dug into on this trip. I’m not generally a fan of modern fiction but Doerr writes in an absolutely beautiful way, drawing you into a human story while pointing you to deep and meaningful themes such as fate and free will. I love it when a well written novel pursued for pure delight causes me to think and emotionally process on a deeper level. I was so immersed near the end, I was holding in my tears on the flight home! Read it; you won’t regret it.

We also read a marriage book, How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. I’m not sure if this was the best choice for this trip as it evoked some difficult conversations. But overall, talking about how our attachment to our parents affected our ability to give and receive comfort has been extremely beneficial to the health of our marriage.

Next, we headed into the recreation phase of our trip by heading out on a two week road trip through the Midwest with our whole family. We have had many rough road trips with tinies, but now that our youngest is four, our car ride was, somewhat peaceful mainly thanks to the entertainment of great audio books! We thoroughly enjoyed this dramatized version of The Hobbit. To those who are are parents of tinies….you will get there!

We made our way through the Black Hills in South Dakota, then to my family farm in Iowa, a quick weekend stop in Kansas, and then back home to Colorado. A highlight on our drive through the plains and hills of the Midwest was listening to an audio book, Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

He sums his book up by saying, “The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.” Glenn and I spent much time talking through all the areas of our lives and used essentialism as our grid. We continually asked ourselves the question, “If I wasn’t already doing this, would I start it again?”

Soon enough we were driving down the familiar gravel road to my childhood home in Iowa. My parents’ farm is a favorite destination for all our kids -lots of cuddly kittens to hold, a riding lawn mower to drive, and a kayak to paddle in the small man-made lake a mile down the road. I had the opportunity to make some special memories with both my parents by interviewing them with a small microphone I attached to my phone. Gotta love modern technology. I asked them questions about their family heritage and recorded their endearing stories. I hope this will be a gift to our family for many generations to come. I wanted for my kids to get a sense of my family’s land and what ‘home’ was like for me growing up. My parents took us on a driving trip to see all their farmland and old farmsteads, and along the way we happened upon my mom’s old, dilapidated country school. What a treat for my kids to hear so much history from their grandparents.

By this point in sabbatical, I’d hardly seen anyone besides my immediate family. No social media of any kind, no emails needing an imminent reply. Nothing needing my immediate attention or meetings to attend. I started to feel a bit agitated, needing something to do something to validate my existence. Maybe this was the place I was supposed to come to – as uncomfortable as it was. It had been wonderful to rest, delight, and enjoy life with my family for a few weeks, but now shouldn’t I be getting something more accomplished? I reminded myself I stop because I’m not needed for God to continue His work. I can ‘be’; He has things under control. A day’s work will never be done. He can continue to bring His kingdom about in His world when I am at rest. I can rest in the knowledge and understanding that I am His, in work and in Sabbath rest.

Eugene Peterson says,

“Sabbath is the time set aside to do nothing so that we can receive everything, to set aside our anxious attempts to make ourselves useful, to set aside our tense restlessness, to set aside our media-satiated boredom. Sabbath is the time to receive silence and let it deepen into gratitude, to receive quiet into which forgotten faces and voices unobtrusively make themselves present, to receive the days of the just completed week and absorb the wonder and miracle still reverberating from each one, to receive our Lord’s amazing grace.” 

We were soon home again and headed to the mountains, to stay in our generous friends’ home. Our time there involved a somewhat steady daily rhythm and one where I picked up a theology book, Simply Good News by N.T. Wright. Wright’s goal is to help us see how the gospel is truly ‘good news’ and how it applies to us today. Understanding that we as God’s people are already living in the kingdom of God, and that Jesus is already reigning as king now is hugely transformative in how I view my life and actions here on Earth.

As I reflect on our time away, I sense this is a season to see my relationship with our living God as central and continue to remind myself of my identity as a child of God. I’m drawn to focus on a handful of things and desire to do them well. I’m hopeful, personally and as a family, that we’ll be more consistent in rhythms of silence, contemplation, and my rule of life involving a weekly sabbath.

It may not always be green pastures and quiet waters, but we are trusting the Lord to be with us on the road.

Fighting for Beauty in a Screen-filled World

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Do you ever have repeated arguments— ahem— spirited conversations in your home about particular issues? For us, it’s about the tension of living in this unprecedented era of technology. Of course, neither Glenn nor I grew up with screens everywhere, so we aren’t exactly sure how to navigate this well with our family.

For me, turning on the TV is the last thing to do in order to relax; for Glenn, it’s often the first. (I get it: he spends a lot of time reading, writing, thinking, etc, while I can’t wait to get time to do any of the above!) As we have talked about this issue over the years, we have tried several solutions— from moving the TV to the basement, to my threatening to smash the TV! I know kind of primal, right? Even though I wouldn’t have followed through, too much TV or screen time of any kind drive me nuts.

Despite my strong feelings and not-so-nice empty threats, Glenn has challenged me by asking, “What is really going on under the surface? Is this really about the TV?”  Is it that I just have a disdain for screens? Don’t I see all the value and contributions they have brought to the world and to my life?

Worse still, am I not caught up in this in some way myself? When my three year old says, “MOM, will you put DOWN your phone?” When I obsessively read reviews on an educational curriculum, I realize I too am ‘numbered among the transgressors’. It’s easy to blame Glenn or get upset with him for spending too much time on screens or allowing our children to watch them when I’m implicated in it too.

After searching my heart on this issue, I realize it’s really not about what I’m fighting against; it’s what I’m fighting for. I’m not out to sabotage a family movie night, nor am I discounting the value of online education.

I’m fighting for beauty.

I believe God created a magnificent world for us to see Him in. 

I believe He created beautiful wildflowers like bright orange paintbrushes and purple bellflowers so we can see His goodness. 

I believe He created us for relationship with others— to know others and be truly known by them. 

I believe He gave us His Word so we may know Him and glorify Him. 

I believe He gave us great works of literature so we can see His beauty, truth, and goodness.

My desires for my family are fixed on these ideals, and I don’t know how to accomplish them if we spend much of our life in front of screens.

Summer is upon us and sometimes this can be the hardest season to resist screen time. I feel it too. I want to get work projects done in the house like cleaning out the garage or deep cleaning my shower (fun!) or spend an extended amount of time planning a portion of our summer. Or lets be honest, ignoring everyone and reading a work of fiction for hours. It’s so easy to turn the TV on or to hand them an iPad (for ‘educational games’, of course!) to keep the little ones occupied or to keep the big ones from asking me questions.

This can also be a great time to start afresh with a new plan. We’ve had all sorts of plans and charts over the years. But the one, we seem to come back to is what we call, 2 hours of TV credits/screen time a week. Its simple.

  • Each child gets 2 hours of parent-approved TV or iPad time a week. (I’m not the grinch, so occasionally we give exceptions.)
  • During the school year, this means no screens during the week because they have more free time to watch on the weekend.

This summer, Glenn receives a sabbatical from his pastoral position and church responsibilities. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to rest, be renewed, and delight in recreation with our family. In light of pursuing sabbath rest for him and I, it will be a great challenge not to put our kids in front of screens. We’ll head out on a road trip for part of the time, so we’ll probably watch a bit more, but not until they’ve listened to hours and hours of audiobooks in the car first.

Instead, they can use their imaginations. I had the great privilege of having to use mine as a child. Why should I deprive my child of the same opportunity? They may not see it as such, but we know better.

My brilliant psychologist sister-in-law Tracy Alloway said to me when my first child was very little, “Holly, almost anything she can do is better for her than watching TV.” (She wrote more about this for Psychology Today HERE.)

Time in front of screens may not be harmful; but it takes up the space for doing other things which are far more beneficial…and beautiful! They can go outside, read a good book, build legos, kick a ball around (as Jonas does endlessly!), serve a family member (as they do reluctantly), or…create a nature camp or ballet class for their siblings (as Sophia and Norah are fond of doing for the younger two).

God is calling us to hear, see, and taste His goodness in His world. There are many challenges, and we are sure to stumble in implementing any plan. It’s a struggle, but one worth engaging in.

So…let’s fight for beauty in our homes this summer!