Fifty Fun Ideas to Make Summer the Best Part of the School Year

If you’re a subscriber to With Love, From Here, you’ll know this isn’t a typical devotional/inspirational post… but I had all these ideas swirling around in my head that I wanted to share with fellow Moms & Dads trying to decide what to do with their kiddos over the summer… so I had to create a post to share or the ideas would never have stopped swirling! We’ll resume the usual good stuff shortly, but if you have kiddos and summer break is looming ahead of you, I hope this is an encouragement that will be helpful to you, and you’ll share it with friends! xCC
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Guess what!? If you live anywhere near my neck of the woods, this is the time of year where teachers are crossing off days on their calendars (or high-fiving because they already made it), while parents are scrolling the internet frantically for summer camp information. Yes… that long-awaited, (or sometimes dreaded?) special event is upon us:: Summer Break!

Now I’m a homeschooling Mama, so summer for me is kind of like… regular life, in some ways. But we do take a break from our usual school schedule between June and September, while finishing up any of those pesky lessons we just haven’t gotten to the end of. I’m looking at you, Math!

But here’s the thing. Summer is honestly an opportunity for some truly amazing learning to happen. It’s also a time for you to connect with those precious faces you might have felt like you were only seeing ever-so-briefly during the school year. With a few good tools in the arsenal, summer can be a time of fun, connection and learning, all rolled into one!  I’ve compiled a list of some of the things that have delighted and inspired my kids to love learning (often outdoors — bonus) and I am confident you will at least find a half a dozen gems on this list that can entertain and engage your crowd, too! And you can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want… know that encouraging a little creativity can take your kid a long way!

Shall we hop into the list?

{See what I did there? Photo by my eldest, nature-loving son}

Nature Study Books & Tools

A few days ago an unusual insect appeared on the wall next to our back door. My husband called our eldest over to have a look and encouraged him to get out the Insect Identification book to identify this creature. Our son amazed us by 1) Not getting out the book and 2) Identifying the Bug: “Oh that’s a ladybug nymph.” Like it was no thing, chicken wing. We were amazed. It did not look like a ladybug! It stayed put for a few days, just there on our wall, and then climbed out of its shell…a ladybug! Why am I telling you this? We’ve invested in some great Animal & Insect Identification Books, and our kids are obviously putting them to good use!! Here are some favorites…

  1. Kaufman Field Guide to Insect Identification :: Before my second son could read, he was flipping through this thing to show me bugs we were spotting outdoors because he’d gotten so familiar with it!
  2. National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America :: I’ve learned the names of birds I’ve been seeing my whole life thanks to this! Do notice what continent this is for and adjust accordingly!!
  3. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Rocks and Minerals :: This one is not super extensive, but a great starting point for identifying rocks. I’m honestly flabbergasted by how loved this particular book is. The boys are constantly picking up rocks and trying to identify them on the fly now.
  4. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Mammals of North America :: This one is pocket-sized and has less information than the traditional larger options, but is a great starter for getting kids interested and engaged.
  5. Pocket Microscopes :: We stuffed a couple of stockings with these little gems we got for less than $10 the Christmas before last and… drum roll please… these puppies have survived, and have given us a chance to look at feathers, spiders, bugs, tree bark, fingertips and so much more up close and personal. We’ve loved them.
  6. Binoculars :: When my eldest broke his first pair of binoculars because he wasn’t being careful with them (they were in a book bag he “dropped gently” on the ground) — it was a sad day. They were “grownup” and not the pair I’ve linked to here. He hasn’t been super careful with his second pair either. So the pair I’ve recommended here are appropriate for kids age 7 to 14, and parents with younger kids seem to be happy with them, too. However… if you think your kiddos will be gentle and careful with their binoculars and you’d rather make an investment in a better pair, it might be worth your while to get better views and more clarity.

{This art was not directed by Art For Kids Hub… but it’s hard not to love those long-necked people, right?}

Art for Moms Who Don’t Like Pulling Out Paint (Me Neither)

  1. Art for Kids Hub :: Do yourself a favor and bookmark this YouTube Channel! We have fallen in love with Art for Kids Hub and my kids have created so many masterpieces thanks to the step-by-step instructions here! They talk you through it one line at a time, and use a lot of the tools listed below…
  2. Oil Pastels :: Wowzers these things take coloring to another level. Some of the posts on AFKH will specifically demonstrate how to layer in colors with oil pastels to create different effects. There was a 15% coupon for this item when I created the link… I hope it’s still there for you!
  3. Pip-Squeaks :: Art For Kids Hub uses Sharpies (ya know, the permanent markers?) for a lot of the drawings that afterwards get colored with oil pastels or colored pencils. I do not like Sharpies because… I mean do I even have to explain? They’re permanent. So we draw with pencils sometimes, and other times with Pip-Squeaks. The eldest got this tower for Christmas a year and a half ago and it is still going strong. He has only drained a few colors so far, which is impressive.
  4. Colored Pencils :: Also awesome to have in the arsenal. Way better than Sharpies. And can I just say? We tried “Watercolor Markers” which seem like a kind of hybrid somewhere between oil pastels and markers… and dang if those aren’t the messiest things I’ve ever seen. Don’t go with that option, mmmmkay?
  5. Origami Paper :: Great News! Art for Kids Hub has instructions for making lots of cool things with Origami Paper! You can definitely cut some construction paper into squares getting started, but once you move beyond the most simple pieces, having some actual Origami paper will really, really make a big difference. I’m amazed at how quickly our eldest can (without following instructions now!) whip out a dragon, a ladybug, a popper frog, yoda… the list goes on…
  6. Ralph Masiello’s Drawing Books :: These step-by-step guides are easy to follow ways to learn to draw new things like Robots, Dragons, things in the Ocean, Dinosaurs, and even those Bugs you’ve been viewing with your pocket microscope!!
  7. Side Note: If you have any friends who deal Usborne books… they have some amazing Travel Activity books that we really love. You can sometimes find them on Amazon, but I have a feeling they’re not really supposed to be for sale there… so I’d say look for a local dealer! 😉

Writing & Calligraphy

  1. Handwriting Practice for Boys: If your younger students need help tidying up their print, summer is a great time to practice. This book has sentences for copying that will make boys laugh, like “No girls allowed” and “It would be so cool to have super powers.”
  2. Handwriting Practice for Girls {I’m sure it’s obvious — think pink and sweet and sparkly, right?}
  3. Cursive Practice: Some school systems have done away with cursive, but I totally believe in the value of learning it! How sad our kids would not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence or other important documents if they never learned cursive?! This cursive practice book has jokes to keep the kiddos smiling while they scribble!
  4. Calligraphy Book: Your older kids who’ve already mastered print (and maybe cursive?) may delight in learning beautiful writing with calligraphy. My kids haven’t made it here yet, but I’m thinking about starting this summer!
  5. Calligraphy Starter Set: This looks like a great starter set for jumping in with first-timers!
  6. If you’re just getting started with a writing kid, I highly recommend Handwriting Without Tears for print or cursive… and they have a keyboarding program, too!

When You’re Traveling (Kids Under 6)

  1. Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow :: I have no idea how long we’ve had these things, but they are survivors. Truly, you do just need to add water to the little pen provided. Number Three asks to do this at home on a regular basis. And if you lose the pen? Grab a regular paint brush and a medicine cup. Cleaning up a tablespoon of spilled water (as opposed to a whole cup) will make you feel like a genius. That link was girly. Here’s some boy stuff.
  2. Spot It, Junior :: This small, simple, easy to take-along game is great for identifying matches and developing thinking skills! For younger learners there is a Shapes and Numbers version. For older kids, there is also an Original Spot It game which is a little bit more difficult.
  3. Mini-Magnetic Tangrams :: My kids have an old set similar to this one that they will pull out and play with again and again.

Traveling With Any Age

  1. Primary Journals/Composition Books :: This might be my favorite travel idea EVER. Make sure you get the journals that have the space at the top for drawing a picture and the lines for writing underneath! Use a glue stick to stick on a Slice of Construction Paper and trim the edges to fit. Then print a little label like “Sarah’s Trip to The Beach” or “David’s Summer Adventures.” Invite your kiddo to draw a picture each day and write a few of their favorite things about that day of the trip or that summer activity (or you can help them write/explain what they’ve drawn). We’ve been doing this for a few years, thanks to a thoughtful Preschool Teacher creating one for us — and these books are like gems that remind us of all these funny, wonderful things we would’ve forgotten from our adventures together!!
  2. The Kindle :: We aren’t excited about screens for the sake of screens, and entertainment. So we decided to buy our kids the super basic black and white Kindles that do not have apps or games. We check out books from the library for the Kindle (I’m still amazed by that) and we also borrow books via Kindle Unlimited. If you have an eager reader and the spare cash for this investment, I have to say, we’ve been amazed to see how much more the kids have read, simply because we can check out new books without leaving the house. Note:: They make the all-singing, all-dancing ones cheaper but beware: I think the only reason our kids are using the Kindle to read is because it does not have games and apps. They will probably cost you more in the long run! Our eldest was given a Nook (which died) but he hardly ever read on it! Also note: the Paperwhite is backlit, the traditional Kindle is not — ponder whether you want your kids to be able to read at night or not. (And know clipping a little book lamp to a Kindle also works and saves $40 I think.)
  3. Kids Atlas :: This is a super-engaging little workbook that combines a heap of educational information with activities, and walks you through the states in the US. Includes maps, facts like state birds, flowers, and trees. #1 says, “There are lots of fun puzzles and mazes and it sort of helps you with Math a little bit.” 🙂
  4. Are We There Yet? :: Similar to the Kids Atlas, this is a travel activity book that will help your kiddo pass the time while learning new things at the same time! Win win!

{The eldest really wanted this lizard to make an appearance.}

Rainy Day Read-Alouds

We all know we should probably be reading aloud with our children. And when it comes to picture books, I have no trouble pulling three dozen off the shelf at the library, and then realizing I’m going to have to put some back until next time.

But we’ve arrived at chapter book stage, which is awesome and daunting. Every book feels like such a big commitment! Now the hardest part of reading aloud with my kids — especially when it comes to chapter books — is just picking a book that we’re actually interested in reading together. I’ve found that reading aloud with your kids can create this bond like nothing else… pass heaps of time… and be educational, all at the same time. It has proved to be SO worth the effort.

You can pull out the Legos and let them build while they listen. Pull out some coloring books and let them create while they listen. Don’t be afraid to put one book down and try another… but don’t judge a book by its cover! *Make sure you see my notes below about engaging kids with the book/movie combo!!

Remember to check with your friends… (maybe try a book exchange?) check at the library… check the used section on Amazon…

Here’s a List of Some of Our Recent Favorites

    1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia (We started with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, took a break to let them grow up a bit, and are planning to start again soon… excited squeal) — I haven’t found a set I love yet to recommend — but you can check the library, find a set you like on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble… or on Kindle!
    3. The Butterfly Lion :: This is a sad story, and is by a British writer, which means some aspects of it may take a moment or two longer to be understood by American ears. But it is a beautiful, meaningful narrative. (Bonus… I think it’s on Amazon for less than $1!)
    4. Mr. Stink :: This one is hilarious. But be warned: It has a bit of “potty talk” which I just skipped over and substituted for some words that I liked better. 🙂 Also British.
    5. Story of the World :: I thought this would seem like an overly educational suggestion, but this is a book actually requested by my kids as a Read-Aloud on a regular basis. It also serves as a wonderful history curriculum, but it reads in an engaging way, and often tells stories to help the kids picture the time period being discussed.
    6. Sassafras Science, Biology :: These books are truly a science curriculum disguised inside a page-turner story. We have loved reading about the adventures of the Sassafras Twins and learning lots of new vocabulary and Geography at the same time.
    7. Those are a few of recent favorites. Sarah MacKenzie at Read-Aloud Revival has a great list of her Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids that you should also check out! (She is awesome.)

Here’s a List of Some Favorites that You Can Read and then Watch the Movie!!

When we were first trying to encourage our kids to sit still and let us read aloud together, it wasn’t a super easy task. But we started out picking books that also had a movie version. Once we finished the book we watched the movie together. Suddenly, the kids were so much more engaged in listening to the books. We could talk about how they were alike and different from the movies, what we liked and didn’t like about the changes… so many things that were great conversation starters.

Side Note: We buy ginormous bags of popcorn on Subscribe & Save on Amazon and use this stove-top popper that we love. (You can pop popcorn for reading, too, ya know?)

  1. Charlotte’s Web :: We watched the live-action version instead of the cartoon version {from my childhood} after reading this one and everyone was delighted. And then we watched Babe because it just felt like it fit in.
  2. Pippi Longstocking :: I remember watching the 80s movie for this wonderful book in FIRST GRADE. It is kind of cheesy, but the kids, especially number three, ate this one up!!
  3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory :: Much to my dismay, the kids preferred the newer version of this film to the one I watched as a kid. But I guess the Johnny Depp character makes more sense to this generation than Gene Wilder?
  4. The BFG :: So many wonderful laughs are packed into this book! We are still repeating funny things that the BFG would say. (We loved this new movie, but some scenes might be scary for sensitive younger viewers!)
  5. Mary Poppins Oh my goodness I loved watching this again with my kiddos after reading the book! Having just seen the movies as a child, I had no idea Mary Poppins was a book series until I checked the first book out at the library. They are different from what I expected having seen the movie first, but just as fun and whimsical, and of course, mostly better than the movie. Even though I love Julie Andrews.

Last but not least… Math stuff.

I know you’re like… what? But there are some math tools in the arsenal at our house that our kids really enjoy getting creative with. Tape a blank piece of paper to a drawing board and give your kid a 30/60 or a 45 degree triangle and a T-square… and watch them amaze you!!

  1. Drawing Board – If you already have something flat like a good-sized clipboard, this is not necessary!
  2. T-square
  3. Ruler
  4. 30/60/90 Triangle + 45 Triangle
  5. Montessori-Style Tangrams

So there ya go, friends! I hope you found some gems in that list that will help make summer a fun time of learning, creativity, and kids being engaged in doing good stuff that’s good for the brain.

Have an amazing summer making memories with your kids!
xCC

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

It’s a challenge to put into words, really. But since words are my paint and this is my canvas, I’ll put it as best I know how.

A group of amazing people and I just had the privilege of locking arms and swimming through the Proverbs for 30 Days. If you weren’t subscribed to 30 Days Deeper, I’m sad that you missed it — but be encouraged! It was a wonderful experience and I definitely plan to jump into creating another study soon. (And I’m working on putting 30 Days Deeper into an ebook in case you want to experience it for yourself!)

But here’s what is amazing about the goodness of God, the thing that I’m struggling to put into words:

After 30 Days of digging deeper into the Word, and looking for God in the world around me, I’m more thirsty than I was when I started.

But not thirsty in a bad way, like imagining yourself in the desert and feeling so parched you’re on the brink of complete dehydration. Not at all. This is the thirst of someone who has tasted something wonderful — and wants to go back (or go forward) and taste some more.

And this is the glorious goodness of God I am unexpectedly discovering: the deeper you swim out into the waters with God, the more you find Him, and the more you want Him. And want to keep finding Him.

Maybe this is a contradiction to what I expected when I first started to follow Jesus. I guess I thought once I’d found Him, I could stop looking for Him.

Tozer puts it this way:

“How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers. Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ (a term, incidentally, which is not found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him.” {The Pursuit of GodA.W. Tozer}

How often have I been surprised by how much God seems to love a good paradox?

Everything in your earthly mind tells you that you look for something until you’ve found it, and once you’ve found it, you stop looking.

But God, but God! Our finite brains could never find Him all at once, so little by little, we get to look and find pieces of His goodness. Like a giant puzzle whose pieces are scattered across Creation for us to discover and put together.

Here we find His goodness. There we see a better glimpse of His mercy. Here is a revelation of His Truth. There we see His love for beauty.

Like we discovered in looking for Wisdom for 30 Days — when you find Wisdom, you immediately want to look for more. You are simply more aware, when you find Wisdom, how much more Wisdom there is still to find!

I once thought it seemed such a shame that Bono hadn’t yet found what he was looking for. I even heard the lyrics of that beautiful song altered to create a worship song that exclaimed joyfully, “And now I’ve finally found what I’m looking for…”

But what a mystery remains untold until we realize that our hearts, like David’s, should find the goodness of God, but continue to be like the deer that pants for water, souls longing after God, and more of Him, and more still.

Could this perhaps be the greatest joy of a relationship with God? The continual discovery of His goodness, His beauty, His mercy, and His Truth?

This could be the song for God’s people for now until eternity: we still haven’t found what we’re looking for… and we’ll never stop looking.

A side note of inspiration nothing short of glorious: Did you catch this beautiful surprise concert by chance?

Let’s keep searching friends!

xCC

Checking in While Going Deeper

Hey! I have a riddle for you! What’s writing and writing and happy all over?

Give up?

Me.

Was that a bit cheesy? At least it was an honest joke.

I’m popping into the blogosphere with just a few thoughts in mind today.

First, believe it or not, we’ve made it to Day 12 of the 30 Days Deeper series, and wow, I’ve been blown away by the positive response from the readers. (If you have no idea what 30 Days Deeper is, read this.) The texts and emails and Facebook comments that tell me that people are being encouraged deeper into Jesus are like water to my soul!

If 30 DD wasn’t something that fit into your schedule right now, but you’d still like to participate in it at some point in the future, fear not! I am planning to make it available either by offering it again to a fresh Email Community in a few months, or by formatting it as an ebook that you can peruse in your own sweet time.

But because I’d like to share a little encouragement in this temporarily-slightly-neglected corner of the web, I want to share a few of the highlights from 30 Days Deeper, that I hope will be a blessing to your soul.

These are 12 Days of Deeper, if you will, so that you’re enjoying a slice of each day to chew on…

  1. Who your people are will have a very, very profound impact on who you will become.
  2. Swimming your race of faith with a lot of drag can be a terrible drag. It’s important to deal with the things that are slowing you down.
  3. Otis the Tractor is an incredible example of why you should learn to carefully follow your Leader.
  4. Social Media can make a bright day seem like a thunderstorm — guard your heart.
  5. Just like Elvis says, you need to learn to recognize something that looks like an angel, but is the devil in disguise.
  6. Don’t leave throw-up in a paper bag in a minivan. And be careful what you say yes to.
  7. Anybody can be a doofus and get swept into a bad situation. We all need Jesus.
  8. Creation can teach you way more about the Creator than you probably realize.
  9. It’s easy to grow weeds, but much harder to make good things happen.
  10. Studying the Word in the Light will give you a flashlight in the darkness.
  11. The wicked won’t get off scot-free… so do the good stuff.
  12. Find people who will tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.

These tiny tidbits are just scratching the surface of some of the great discussions we’ve had so far! Would you like to have some of them unpacked for you? Like, what does Elvis have to do with faithfulness? And how is throw-up in a minivan related to saying yes?

Well, good news.

If you’d like to jump into 30 Days Deeper and join the conversation, it is not too late, and I’ll be glad to send you the emails you’ve missed so far if you want to catch up. But you don’t have to, so no pressure either way — you can really start going deeper any time! Isn’t that God’s goodness?

If nothing else, just hear this one thought today, friends. The Creator of the Universe loves you, personally, intimately, you-for-you you. Even if 30DD isn’t the right thing for you right now, I pray you are seeking and listening for those whispers of His love. His plans for you are amazing. His love for you is unending. Let Him sweep you off your feet. Soon.

xCC

You can click here to join 30 Days Deeper (do I need to mention that it’s free?) — and be encouraged to go deeper today. I’d love to welcome you in!

 

Heads up! Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

Four Things You Need to Know About 30 Days Deeper

[Insert seventeen random emoticons here as an illustration of the following…] When people actually started signing up to join the 30 Days Deeper Adventure, I was a mixture of exhilarated and freaking out. Now that I’ve had a chance to recover a little from that exhilarating freak out, I’ve realized there are a few questions coming up that I need to make sure I answer! If this email doesn’t answer your questions, please reply and I will try my best to do so!

1. If I already subscribe to your blog do I need to subscribe to the 30 Days Deeper Community?

Yes! I thought long and hard about this, but felt like out of respect for my subscribers, I didn’t want to make an assumption and begin flooding their inboxes with content they hadn’t requested. Do I hope every single subscriber decides to Opt-In? Of course! But I think free will is a good thing… so I’ve left that choice in the hands of each and every current subscriber (and the other folks who are subscribing for the first time.) And by the way, welcome all you new folks!! I can’t yet put into words how excited I am to have you!!!

So, if you already subscribe to With Love, From Here, you’ll still need to update your subscription preferences to Opt-In to 30 Days. If you’ve tried and you’re not sure it’s working properly, comment below and we will get it straight!!

2. If I subscribe to the 30 Days Deeper Community, will I still get your regular blog posts via email, too?

Yes! And can I tell you how much it blesses my soul that you asked? I plan to continue writing when possible during, and of course after 30 Days… so all that content will be coming your way… and you’ll always have the free will to opt in or out at any time!

3. Do I need to subscribe if I’m in the Facebook Community?

Yes! Facebook does not share your email address with me. And for several reasons (some of which I’ll try to articulate below) I am not planning to make this content publicly available on my website. So if you want to receive the daily emails to participate in 30 Days Deeper, you do have to subscribe to With Love, From Here and Opt-In to the 30 Days Deeper Email Community. (Check that little box beside 30 Days Deeper.)

4. Why are you doing this differently from your normal blog posts or past “31 Days” Series?

While praying and considering this community, I was nudged with a simple quote I’ll share later that basically talks about how much can be accomplished with small but consistent effort put in over time. If you aren’t receiving these posts via email, you might not see the little notification pop up on Facebook to tell you there’s a new post. Or you might not remember to check back over at carolinecollie.com to see if Day Such-and-Such is live yet. I felt like email was the best chance we have at staying connected consistently for these 30 Days — and I think part of the magic is going to come from the consistency.

Alrighty! I hope this answers your questions, but if you have more, fire away! And please? Ask a friend to join you on the journey. Life is better together. Growth is easier with encouragement. I’m stoked!

xCC

P.S. If you’ve subscribed to With Love, From Here but are on the fence about 30 Days Deeper, can I just tell you I’d really love for you to jump in? And if you jump in and decide you’d like to jump out… totally fine! No risk, high reward situation!! If you’d like to join, please update your subscription preferences here!

An Invitation I’m CRAZY Excited to Send Your Way

I’ve had this idea for a little while. I think it’s a pretty simple idea, but it could potentially have a profound impact. Can I just jump right in and tell you what I’m thinking?

We’re almost halfway through 2017. And a lot of my readers seem to fall in the category of being about halfway through running the race of life, too. Now, when you’re running a race, it’s a good idea to take stock of where you are and where you want to go to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. And if the race you’re running is toward Jesus, the road is usually long and hard… and it’s easy to get slowed down, sidetracked, distracted or discouraged.

What if you could get a jumpstart that made you feel like your relationship with the Lord just got fresher, deeper… more vibrant? You can’t pay to get closer to Jesus, but if you could, my guess is you’d probably want to. If you’re running a race in the literal sense, you might visit a trainer who’d look at your form, your gait, how you’re breathing while you’re running, and so on — someone would take stock and make suggestions for you to improve technique and perhaps shave seconds or minutes off your time, making you more effective in the race you’re running.

What if we could take stock together of the race we’re running in the faith toward Jesus, and look for areas that might be those “hindrances and the things that so easily entangle us”? Could we become more effective believers — people who are experiencing and sharing more of the goodness of God, because we have more than enough?

Here’s the idea. I’d like to ask you to welcome me into your inbox every day for 30 days. We will read one chapter of Proverbs each morning. (I’ll give you a link directly to the chapter to help make it super easy.) And then I’ll write about one simple thing to consider that day that might help draw you closer to Jesus. You read the Word, you read the words, and (hopefully) something strikes a chord in your heart that means something to your soul. I’m going to do my best to make it meaningful but brief because I know reading an email is not the only thing on your plate each day!

I’m not going to ask you to do anything overwhelmingly crazy. I’m not going to ask you for money. I’m not going to ask you to move to a different country. (Jesus might.) I’m only asking for the one thing you can’t get any more of — your time — to see if together we could perhaps find our way deeper into Jesus.

Because I believe He is and He is good and sometimes we get sidetracked running the race and we need encouragement to keep going, and we need help looking for the right direction.

We also believe He is, but get confused about Who He is, so sometimes we’ll take the focus off our particular race to think more clearly about the God we’re running toward.


I’ll be creating a private Facebook group to create opportunities for further conversations. My hope is that beyond what I’m able to offer, you will be able to offer each other even more. You don’t have to join that group or be on Facebook to participate — that is just an added option that could increase the impact of this experience for you.

I hope to be “most honest” with you. And I’ll be extending this invitation to all my Subscribers — if you want to join 30 Days Deeper you can Opt-In below. Since this is a different idea to the normal post series at With Love, From Here, these emails will NOT also be online as blog posts. I hope to continue writing and encouraging there during the 30 Days as well, but the content will be different.

So! Two last things: an invitation to you, and a special request. Please sign up to join in 30 Days Deeper. I truly don’t know exactly how Jesus is going to use this in your life or mine, but I feel confident that anytime we take steps to draw closer to Him, He draws closer to us and it is glorious.

And? Please invite a friend to join you on the journey. Having one more person to be accountable to — to ask if they had a chance to read, ask what they took away from it, how they were encouraged — always makes an experience more meaningful, and gives you a person alongside you cheering you on.

Will you take a deep breath and jump in with me? We’re going to get started Monday, May 1st and I cannot wait! Once you sign up below, you’ll receive an email confirmation and invitation to the Facebook group. I hope you’ll join me on an adventure toward deeper waters, and I hope you’ll invite those around you to join in on the journey!

xCC

 

Step One:

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Why the Cross is For Always

I comment to the Hero Hubs on the couch next to me — maybe that little one playing by the coffee table who’s acting up so much really just wants to be noticed? Just needs to know she’s loved? Her toes are always on the line, just barely on the right side of everything she’s told to do or not to do.

He invites her to come closer and she stretches her four-year-old frame out, she looks so tall, her head in his lap, blonde ponytail stretched to one side, the willing recipient of a little back rub. After a moment or two, he asks her to sit up in his lap. He looks her in the eyes and tells her how much we both love her. How special we think she is. How precious she is to us.

I watch all this unfold, watch as he holds her close, and the whisper in my mind is: “Mother and Daughter. I’m going to fail at this thing. So many times.”

Years ago, I sat at a tiny table cupping a coffee between my palms, across from a friend who was a mentor, a gift to my soul, in my earliest years of seeking to truly walk with Jesus. I asked her to please keep mentoring me, to look at my life and be honest about what she saw, to keep pointing me to Jesus.

It was less about being hungry for God, and more about being eager never to make mistakes.

She knew, somehow, (probably because I talk so much I said it aloud) and as gently and genuinely as she could, she looked across the table and told me the truth:

You are going to make mistakes.

I wanted to ask her to hush… like Bugs Bunny in an old cartoon, long ears laid back flat against his head, backing up, and shaking in a soft pleading voice facing the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s shotgun he says: Not that… anything but that…

I don’t want to make mistakes.

This week, I pondered when to put the cross out on the front door. This big burlap and blue and white fabric cross my Mom gave me usually makes an appearance in the Spring. At the beginning of Lent? At the beginning of the Holy Week? On Maundy Thursday or Good Friday? I didn’t mean to have a theological conversation inside my own head about something as simple as this, but these things just happen sometimes.

Eventually it struck me: the cross is always. And the cross is for always.

And this is the thing I don’t like about parenthood, the thing I don’t like about Christianity as a whole: it’s that I’m going to fail. I am going to make mistakes. I am going to close doors when I should open them. I’m going to raise my voice when I should lower it. My mouth will be wide open when it out to be tightly shut until it is certain what words will come out.

But this is what makes it all so glorious.

Before the kiss of betrayal, before the Last Supper and the Greatest Commandment, before Palm Sunday and the hosannas and cheers, even before Jesus was tried and tempted in the wilderness those 40 days, there was the Cross. Before the Incarnation, there was the Cross. Even before Creation, yes, before the whole world was spoken into existence, there was the Cross.

When the blood of those lambs was spread on the doorposts at the first Passover — the plan had already been set into motion.

An all-knowing God knew it all along — this is where this whole thing was headed all along. 

It’s in our nature, our human nature, to make mistakes, to fail and to fall short.

God wasn’t surprise when He first walked in the Garden and asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”

He knows it all. He knew where they were. But He wanted them to know where they were.

The plan of Reconciliation was already set in motion.

And our relationships, these failures? They are opportunities for Reconciliation, both with the God who wants to connect with our souls for always, and with the loved ones we care about and fail.

Jesus went to the first Cross, the Cross that would save us all, the Cross that would make a way for all of us to be reconciled to God.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” {Luke 9:23}

His Cross made our salvation possible, our forgiveness possible, our Reconciliation possible.

Our crosses?

They make us a little more like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross. {Heb. 12:2} Sometimes our crosses are the pain of admitting we were wrong. Admitting we failed, and saying we are sorry. Sometimes they mean closing tight our lips when we want to say all the wrong things. We deny what we want, and we try to live for what God wants. The world is better for this. And so are we.

As we sit between a Hard-But-Good Friday and the Sunday of life and Resurrection — let the symbolism leave an impression on your soul. If you take up a cross, and die a little to yourself, God has new life for you on the other side.

Every Cross can create a Resurrection.

This is the new life we’re invited to live and it’s in the living of it, that we somehow become the recipients of it.

I die to myself and say I’m sorry to the child I’ve wronged. New life is breathed into our relationship. Broken things are mending.

We forego the thing we want to give to someone who needs. New life is breathed into our soul, and fresh gratitude helps us give thanks for what we have already.

If there are 365 days in the calendar year, there are 365 days that the Cross can hang on the door — and more importantly, teach my soul how to find life that is the realest real.

We need not look afraid at the mistakes we’re going to make, the ways we’re going to mess up as we walk through life as mothers, fathers, employees, friends. Our failures are the reason for the Cross. And on the other side of the Cross, every willing soul can find a Resurrection.

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Bad News About the Good Stuff {The Stuff You Need to Do}

For the following download of information to make any sense, you’re going to need a little backstory. So here ya go. I’m a Mom of four. People like to say “You’ve got your hands full” which I do not enjoy hearing, but that’s a conversation for another day. Most days I don’t feel like my hands are ridiculously full, except for Tuesdays.

If this post were animated, a scary duh, duh, duhhhhhh sound would happen right now.

On Tuesdays, {duh, duh, duhhhhh} we have our community day with our friends in Classical Conversations. I’m the director of this tiny community, and, even though it’s tiny, that still means I do a lot of stuff, think on my feet a good bit, and go up and down the stairs inside our church’s meeting spaces dozens of times for that one other thing I forgot upstairs. Or downstairs.

Wherever it is it is never where I am.

Okay. So after our community time together on Tuesdays, the kids play on the playground and I chase the toddler who is picking up speed very quickly and never wants to be where I am. Go figure.

Sometimes I shove almonds and a clementine in my mouth while chasing the toddler and feel good that I had something to eat.

And then I scurry home and put that toddler baby down for her afternoon nap, and if I’m lucky I sit on the couch for five minutes, and then I round up the other three kids, because homeschool P.E. is also on Tuesdays. The rest of the week does not feel rushed. But ohmygoodness, Tuesdays.

So we scoot off to homeschool P.E., which is great for the boys who are old enough to participate, but is hard for the four-year-old girl who is not old enough to participate. She is not six years old. So she is supposed to sit on the bench with her Mama and play nicely with the toys I bring for her. She could also eat the snacks I bring. She wants to play with the big kids instead.

Sometimes I keep her on a tight leash and say no.

Sometimes, when it doesn’t seem to matter too much, I don’t go and fetch her when she sneaks off into the midst of the crowd and participates with the bigger kids. Because. Y’all. It’s Tuesday. Is she really hurting anybody? Plus, it’s Tuesday. duh duh duhhhhh

Now the last part of this backstory is this part where I admit something I wish I didn’t have to admit.

Close your ears and forget I said this.

Remember that scene in the movie Gladiator where the Caesar, Marcus Aurelius tells his wicked mess-of-a-son “Your faults as a son, is my failure as a father.”? Well, I could totally turn to my mischievous four-year-old princess right now and say, “Your faults as a daughter are my failings as a Mom.” Am I being hard on myself? Maybe a little. But the truth is, if we are inconsistent in the way we manage our kids’ discipline, if we sometimes let it slide and other times deal with it, we raise children who simply tend to gamble with bad behavior, because experience has taught them that less than half the time, there probably won’t be the consequence there should be.

For example. I didn’t introduce consequences quickly enough, and one kid decided it would be appropriate for the greeting “You’re stupid, [insert sibling name here]” to come out of that kid‘s mouth each time a particular sibling walked into the room. The behavior went on uncorrected until it became a habit. And goodness gracious habits are hard to break.

So, before I digress any further, let’s get back to last Tuesday. Where, in additional to the normal director responsibilities I filled in for our tutor who wasn’t able to be there. Basically just picture a frazzled, exhausted run-ragged Mama. Got it? That’s me. And action.

Enter the four-year-old who joined me at P.E. and briefly watched from the sidelines while the older siblings played. She starts out doing her usual “running along the sidelines” (which I allow), but quickly jumps into the action and forces me to go and fetch her. I fetch her, sit her down with the toys we brought and continue my conversation with a friend. She takes off again.

I notice a Mom on the other bleachers giving me a kinda harsh look. I ponder the situation for a moment. And y’all, it is Tuesday and the last thing I want to do is correct that cheeky four-year-old’s behavior.

I look at the friend I am chatting with, with a sort of imploring What would you do in this situation? look. Or maybe I even asked. Yes. I did.

She says, “I wouldn’t let her do it, because the other kids had to sit on the sidelines until they were six and it doesn’t seem fair for her to go out there now.”

It was Tuesday and that was not what I wanted to hear. My heart even grumbled a little I think. Et tu, Brute?

Now. You ever come across this Proverb?

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” {Prov. 27:6}

Such good truth. My friend told me the honest truth. When her daughter, who’s now six, was a four year old, and a five year old, she sat on the sidelines because that was what she was supposed to do. And that other Mom that gave me that harsh look? Same thing. Her daughter is now out there playing with the other kids at P.E. thanks to crossing that six-year-old threshold, but she probably had a good handful of years of sitting on the sidelines, watching her older siblings, too.

It’s not fair for my little doll baby princess mischief incarnate to run around and join the big kids in P.E., when everyone else did the hard thing that was the right thing: they kept the younger kids on the sideline because those are the rules.

Letting my kid break the rules now makes her think the rules don’t apply to her. And if they don’t apply at P.E., where else might they not apply? Well, she might as well test and see where else she can get away with whatever she feels like getting away with… because… maybe the rules don’t apply at church or Chick-Fil-A or the library!

What This Means For All Of Us In Plain English {The Bad News}

Whether or not you’re parenting small people right now, or teaching a classroom full of them, or doing something else kid-related, I’m here to tell you this is not a lesson about child-rearing techniques. {Turn to H. Clay Trumbull for those child-rearing thoughts. Way more insight than me. $.99 on Kindle.} This post isn’t about the kids — it is about doing hard things.

Managing my mischief maker on Tuesday afternoons was hard and I didn’t want to do it. But guess what? It was the right thing to do.

And this is the bad news I’m sorry I have to deliver today: {But don’t close your ears this time} All the stuff in life that is really worth doing… Yes seriously, all of it? Requires hard work. And requires you to do the hard things.

Proficiency at a musical instrument? Practice. Consistent effort over time. Hard.

Gaining the position of CEO of that corporation … and staying there? Tons of dogged effort.

A PhD in Theological Ethics? More hard work than I was willing to put in. Honest.

Eating real food that is good for your body? Man! It takes planning and preparing and work.

Raising kids that will actually listen and obey you? There are no words. Hard. Really really hard.

But get this — the opposite is also impressively true. The stuff that’s not worth it? Easy.

Sitting on the couch and watching TV every night? Easy.

Eating rubbish and putting on some pounds? Easy peasy.

Choosing not to make that phone call, write those words, say that truthful thing you ought to say because it’s too scary? Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Waste an hour on Facebook instead of cleaning the house or cooking decent food? I can do that with my eyes closed.

You picking up what I’m putting down here?

You have good and important stuff to do with this one rare precious life of yours. You were created to do great things. Big things. Awesome things. But? Achieving what you were made to do is not going to come easily.

If all of life feels super easy right now, you might want to check your compass.

You know how the good food isn’t cheap, and the cheap food isn’t good?

Well, doing the good things isn’t easy… and doing the easy things isn’t good.

Look for (and cherish) the friends that are willing to tell you the truth when you’re taking the easy road. And remember to look further down the road because the short term choices make or break the long term goals.

When P.E. starts up again in the fall? I have my heart set on doing the hard things. Because those are the good things.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: I can do the hard things. Because they are the good things.

Even on Tuesdays.

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How Your Short Term Decisions Make {or Break} Your Long Term Goals

While texting a friend, I had a crazy flashback this week that threw me back a decade or two… maybe I’d not like to admit how long ago it was… but it threw me back a good many years to when I was learning to drive. I remember being at a friend’s house one evening in our neighborhood and admitting to a kid a year or two younger than me (named Thomas, who, oddly enough, should not have known how to drive yet at this point) that I was struggling with keeping the car going straight down the road in Driver’s Ed. I felt like I was constantly making these tiny corrections, constantly turning the wheel, and it just didn’t feel right.

With all the wisdom of (I guess) a fourteen year old or so, Thomas said:

“If you want to drive straight, you can’t look at the road right in front of you. You have to look further down the road.”

The next time I got behind the wheel, I put wise young Thomas’s words into practice. I found that when I looked further down the road, I stopped making all those tiny jerking adjustments and corrections to try to make sure my tires were right between the lines, and found that as I kept my focus further down the road, I naturally steered the car exactly where I wanted it to go.

You might already know: I’m one of those crazy people who homeschool their kids. And I’m constantly inundated with ideas, methods and curriculum choices. When you’re just getting started, it can be so overwhelming you almost don’t want to homeschool at all. You can homeschool online, in a co-op, with the Classical method or the Charlotte Mason method, with Classical Conversations (my favorite), with methods that are student driven and based on the child’s interests… there’s even un-schooling. Yep, that’s totally a thing.

But the challenge in midst of the tendency to constantly want to jerk the wheel back and forth in response to this trend or that New York Times article is to focus “on down the road” and think about what the real goals are, what the non-negotiables are, and to plan from there.

I’ve fallen in love the Read-Aloud Revival site, and was listening to a class this week where I was encouraged by this G.K. Chesterton quote:

Just now there is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.

What in all that is good and fluffy does that mean? Well, we sometimes tend to forget that education is just a part of the process for preparing children to grow up and contribute to society and be responsible adults and (if we’re Christians) hopefully do with their lives what God created them to do. But what do we really want for children when they grow up? It often goes without saying (and therefore doesn’t get said) we most of all want our children to be happy, well-adjusted adults with a good family life.

Yes, we want them to be able to pay their bills and earn a living, but we know deep down that if we have raised selfish or greedy kids who expect things handed to them, they are not going to have a peaceful life at home, and one way or another, that’s going to catch up with them.

But how about if the goal is what the Westminster Catechism says? “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

When I have the glory of God in mind for my kids, I don’t skip over our morning devotional time at the beginning of our homeschool day — because I remember that these kids knowing Jesus is, in the light of eternity, more important than anything else on the to-do list. Yes, we will do school, but first? Jesus.

So, question:

Where do you want to go? What do you want to have accomplished in five or ten years? Because whatever your long-term goal, your short-term decisions will make or break you getting there.

If you want that book published, can you make it a habit to write a few hundred words every day to help get you there?

If you want a happy marriage, can you start asking your spouse what you can do to help make their day better? And doing it?

The problem is, the methods and tips and tricks at our fingertips aren’t just for homeschooling. We are all constantly inundated with options and ideas and the next way to get there fast. Wherever there is. If we are constantly trying to keep our metaphorical wheels between the lines by making those adjustments and corrections, because they say you should… and we’re blowing with every breeze pop culture tells us is the way to get there, we will find ourselves swerving all over the road.

And possibly hitting mailboxes.

Or parked cars.

So ask yourself a question about your life you should probably ask yourself when you get behind the wheel of the car: Where am I going and how am I going to get there? Like…

I’m on a journey to lose weight so I’m going to make sure thirty minutes of exercise are a part of my daily routine.

I’m on a journey to be more generous to those in need, so I’ll make coffee at home, and each of those $3 lattes will add up to enough to sponsor a child with Compassion or World Vision.

I’m on a journey declutter my home, so I’m going to spend ten minutes a day, going through the house section by section until I get there. (If that is actually a goal the step-by-step in this book is a really helpful tool.)

I’m on a journey to find a deeper and more intimate relationship with Jesus, so I’m going to read two chapters of the Bible every evening, and spend ten minutes in prayer every morning…

Once you know where you want to go, you can focus your eyes down the road on that goal, and give some thought to the plan for getting yourself there.

This is the way the writer to the Hebrews put it:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! {Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message}

As we consider in the week to come, that Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, which led to the Holy Week that led to the cross, remember that Jesus knew where He was going. And He endured the trials necessary to cross the finish line, to achieve the thing no one else could achieve, but everyone else could benefit from. He fixed His eyes on the finish line. And we should fix our eyes on Him.

Don’t let the short term, day to day decisions blow in the breeze of what the world thinks you should do with your one precious life. Because the sum total of those short term decisions? That will be your whole life. Lived one day at a time.

Fix your eyes on the God who never took His eyes off you. With His glory at the center of the dreams and the goals, anything is possible.

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