Thinking about Thinking in 2017

It seems appropriate that this post go out in January; otherwise it doesn’t really feel like a New Year post.  The truth is, though, I’ve been experiencing a lot of ambivalence and indecision about the kinds of study I want to pursue this year and about the way I want to focus my time in general.  So let’s just say this is less of a plan and more of a trajectory, which could potentially change course.

We’ve got some categories:

1. Ambleside Online Year 11

I got attached to Year 11 when I was looking around for a Bible reading plan for myself.  Lamentations through the minor prophets looked especially appealing and challenging to me, and I’m making myself narrate every reading.  But the general theme in Year 11 (equivalent to junior year of high school) is that remarkable point in history when “the sacred canopy” fully disintegrated (post WWI), which is of particular interest to me.  I am a lover of modern art, especially abstract expressionism, and some of my favorite literature is that which squarely faces the despair of this time period.  So I guess I’m not your typicalsayers classical homeschooler!  I feel an almost desperate need to understand my own time–perhaps because we work with college students, or it could be that what was being expressed in the first half of the 20th century isn’t that far off from what’s being expressed now.  Year 11 offers me some fine options for exploration, especially from writers who were standing their ground for tradition, order and norms.

I’ve already read Brideshead Revisited, Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby and quite a few of the free reads, including 84 Charing Cross Road (so fun!).  Several of my all-time favorite books are also on that list: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Violent Bear It Away, Peace Like a River and The Chosen.  Why We Can’t Wait, originating from Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail, which is still frighteningly timely and was viral on MLKJ Day this year, is also listed.

I’m currently working on Ourselves and Christy, and I’m looking forward to reading The Mind of the Maker, Amusing Ourselves to Death and some Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

2. The Origins of American Conservatism

It’s probably fitting then that I am also planning to spend quite a bit of time with Russell Kirk and Marilynne Robinson, in an effort to understand our current political climate, especially the origins of conservatism in America, because I am completely in the dark.  eliotLiving in Detroit, I find myself asking questions that liberals are answering and generally unable to conceive of the questions conservatives are asking (and I’m not talking about Trump-supporters here).  I’d like to understand better, because honestly I feel a little alienated from the Christian homeschooling world at the moment.  Believe me, I come at this topic with fear and trembling and many many prayers for humility.

In this category also goes the poetry of T.S. Eliot–a volume of his collected poems is on its way to me right now!

3. The Leadership of People of Colorthe-warmth-of-other-suns

Lori Harris recently put out a list of her favorite books written by people of color, which I intend to read through.  One of my big goals for this year is to step deeper into community with people who are different from me, especially to allow their voices to speak into my life and lead me.  My favorite podcast right now is called Pass the Mic, put out by the Reformed African American Network, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for this purpose.


dante4. Group Discussion 

I’m facilitating discussion of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise on the Expanding Wisdom Facebook group this year for sure.  Beyond that lurks the ambivalence.  I have opportunities to join two separate local CM book studies, but I’m not sure I will do either (see point above about diverse community).  I was looking forward to following along with Close Reads’ discussion of a Dorothy Sayers mystery novel, but just finally admitted to myself that I don’t have time.  Maybe I’ll jump back on for the next pick.


5. Piano

I sorta kinda play the piano and got back into it in a big way last year.  Am currently working on Moonlight Sonata.  Am amateur to the max.

There you have it!  I’m sure I’ll have a good laugh over this “trajectory” in December.  As a beloved tour guide once repeated ad nauseum in Israel: “We’ll see what the Lord has.”


2016 in Books 

Happy New Year, everyone!

It may very well be that I only started this blog so I could write annual book wrap-up posts.  I love them.

2016 was an intense reading year for me.  I wrestled with a lot, challenged some long-held beliefs and assumptions and refined my understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image.  Here are some of the highlights (asterisks refer to the number of times I’ve read something, if it was a re-read):

Favorite Family Read-Aloud

A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne   51srx2kzbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

A dreamy combination of New England country living and vivid Greek mythology, this book is an AO Free Read, but I think it has fostered some of the most discussion, connections and spontaneous narrations of anything we read this past fall.  I relished the imagery and several passages made it into my commonplace.

Most Spiritually Impactful Read

the-broken-way-ann-voskampThe Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

I knew I definitely wanted to read this book when I got around to it, but one day in November I felt an almost overwhelming need to find a copy right away.  I was in a terrible mood, so it’s hard to say confidently that it was the Holy Spirit, who knows, but from the first page, it was an almost instant correction, call to repentance, call to something more, and the truths it preaches have gotten me through a very difficult holiday season.  I don’t usually ask my husband to read my favorite books, because we have very different tastes, but I’ve been begging him to read this one.

I’m also thinking this will become an annual read for me, a ritual I’ve never practiced before but often admired.

Biggest Reading Challenge

Norms and Nobility by David V. Hicks

This book 6b9b5b4270c1d2a6fc8d19ccff9a5b2ajust required such slow, careful, researched reading, but it was worth the time and effort.  The chapter on Christian paideia cleared up some significant questions I’ve had for the last three years about the Christian classical education movement.

Honorable Mention: America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis (this one I labeled a challenge because it addresses some very painful issues in our country that are much easier not to acknowledge, but I found it a very helpful, clarifying read when I pushed through the discomfort).

Most Pleasurable Re-Read

wind-in-the-willows-kenneth-grahame-ernest-h-shepardThe Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame***

This book came alive for me in a big way the third time through, and I absolutely loved reading along with the Close Reads podcast and discussing further on Facebook–one of my comments even got mentioned in an episode!  I developed a new admiration and affection for Mole this time.

  • Honorable Mention: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis** (I read this immediately after finishing a year-long study of Revelation with BSF…a perfect conclusion)

Favorite Fiction

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson**housekeeping

I’m SUCH a Marilynne Robinson groupie and am moving on to her essays in 2017.  This is her first novel, published way back in 1980, long before she breathed life into the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa (aka, my family…I think they will be in heaven…just kidding, but possibly?).  Anyway, Housekeeping is difficult (I read it twice in a row) and haunting, and it speaks deep truths about the homelessness all humans feel in this life on earth.

  • Honorable Mention: Lila by Marilynne Robinson (the third of the Gilead novels, also about home, homelessness and transience)

The Rest of the Books of 2016

Novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen***, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Short Stories: “Fidelity” by Wendell Berry, “Revelation,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor, “The Chief Mourner of Marne” by G.K. Chesterton

Epic Poetry: Dante’s Inferno

Nonfiction: Generous Justice by Tim Keller, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie, Minds More Awake by Anne White, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

AO Years 1/2 (with Ellary): Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, Tree In the Trail by Holling C. Holling, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling**, The Door In the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Pocahontas, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Buffalo Bill and George Washington by the d’Aulaires

AO Year 11 (for my own education): Ezekiel, II Corinthians, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (on audio). 


Coming Soon…my reading plans for 2017!

Living Cruciform

Last week my husband was out of town, and I watched myself follow the curve of the groove, right down into deep frustration, fatigue and very poor mothering.  “This is just how I am when Kevin’s gone, I guess.”  But in the midst of all the election fall-out, my ears have been a bit more tuned in than normal, and I sensed that this was no longer an acceptable response to my sin.  I can’t tell you why, but I got it in my head that I needed to read Ann Voskamp’s new book ASAP, so we made an uncharacteristic trip to Barnes and Noble.

{I liked hearing Mystie’s recent thoughts on 1000 Gifts and chuckled, because I am also someone who widely recommends Ann’s work, but always with a warning about her writing style.  It takes some serious getting used to, and is more like poetry than prose–grammar police, beware.  However, I will say that she is worth listening to on audio.  When Ann herself is reading her words, the writing comes off more like a lovely dramatic monologue.}

I am only four chapters in, but this book, The Broken Way, is radically correcting my thinking.

In chapter 3, Ann quotes Martin Luther at length, the basic thesis being that unity with Christ, “living cruciform” as she calls it, is a foundational element of the Christian life and a main purpose of the sacrament of Communion/Eucharist.  “[T]here is no physical body of Christ here on earth but ours. […] You are part of a body always.  There’s a cross that is your backbone, and all you have to do is reach out your arms.”

I don’t think these quotes are going to do the book justice, but I’ll still share them.

Martin Luther:

Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom.  From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body–so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse.  This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ…Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul.  The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ…Christ, the rich, noble, and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible, and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all His goodness upon her!  It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.

Christ redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all His goodness.  Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by Him.*


Can I incarnate being broken and given in thanks to Christ? […] [T]he Last Supper embodies the fullest DNA of the body of Christ, of the church.  Giving thanks–then breaking and giving.  The doxology, then discipleship.  The eucharisteo [thanksgiving], then koinonia [fellowship].

This hit me like a ton of bricks this morning when I was confronting my youngest daughter on deliberate disobedience.  It finally broke through to me that I am Christ to her, and when I rub her back as she cries and hold her till she’s ready repent, I am living out that Communion in the flesh.  Not just thinking about it, but actually living it.

Rubber met road, I think.

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More words at Ladydusk.

*I wasn’t able to figure out from Ann’s notes exactly which quote came from which of Luther’s writings, because they came from some compilations.  Sorry…

Still Processing the Election

Here are some responses to the election outcome that I thought were exceptional, and which reflect my heart in the midst of the situation.

I’ve seen several people I know and love comment that there are “checks and balances in place” with regards to the amount of damage our future president could do. The overall sentiment is, “It won’t be that bad” or “I’m not worried.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I know there are “checks and balances” in place. I also know we will soon have a president whose campaign promises include building walls to keep our neighbors out, deporting image bearers, and stopping and frisking my children and friends. Will checks and balances prevent those things? We’ll find out.
What’s important for the majority of us to understand is that the people who are legitimately fearful, are so because of the CULTURE Donald Trump incites. A culture that promotes racism, grabbing women by the you know what, degrading the physically handicapped… Essentially a culture of hate.
So when you see someone saying they are scared, you should know they are likely not referring to your “checks and balances” mentality, although those are legitimate concerns, BUT scared of living in a culture that hates them. Hates their very flesh, the color of it, the makeup of it, and the differences of it. They are afraid because the imago dei in them is being assaulted by the future president and the CULTURE he has fanned the flames of.
I say this out of love for us all and a deep desire for understanding. If your skin hasn’t been the target of hate, perhaps it’s time for ears to listen to others whose skin God wrapped on differently than yours. We could all use a little understanding.

–Lindsy Wallace, fellow CM homeschooling mama in Miami (Light Breaks Forth) on Instagram


Friends, as we think about this election, I want to remind you that one of our candidates ran on a platform of removal and exclusion – “we’ll build a wall” – being the notable claim.

Problem was, he attracted folks to him who had much broader ideas of exclusion, and Trump was endorsed by KKK and neo-nazis with hopes of “making America great again,” or as they interpreted it, regain white power.

I am well aware that is NOT why most Americans voted Donald Trump into the office of President. No one wants that to be the reason why he’s in the White House. (I am not at all calling you a neo-nazi if you voted for Trump – I know there are always many complex reasons that go into supporting one candidate over another.)

BUT I know as a white woman, it can be hard for me to put myself in the place of minorities in this country. What does it feel like to have dark skin? White privilege can feel like it doesn’t exist anymore – surely we’re in a post-racial age, we rationalize. After all, wasn’t our last president black?

In this election, here’s what white privilege looks like: it is the privilege of not caring who won, not being concerned about the ramifications for you and your family, not wondering if you’re welcome in this country.

I pray and hope that Donald Trump’s is a normal presidency like any other. But what I hope MORE than that is that the church of Jesus acts like Jesus, who spent his days with whores, dropouts, criminals, and Samaritans, the most hated minority in the region. He spent his time with those on the outskirts, the marginalized. And who did he condemn? The rich, the powerful, the hypocritical – like me.

I hope we actively look out for those whose voices are not as powerful, and that we say we’re sorry early and often. We all have things to #confess

-Liz Grant (Literary Artifacts) on Instagram


Let’s start by noticing and listening to those who are hurting…

From personal interactions, I’ve already encountered minority students and women who are suffering a lot right now and wondering how so many people can overlook and even support a man who has said blatantly misogynist and racist things. Let’s listen to one another, be present with those who are feeling afraid and care for one another without having to argue our point. We can listen. We can care.

Let’s notice and listen to those who might be feeling shamed…

In all likelihood there are people in our congregation who felt the weight of a difficult choice and voted for Trump. That act alone doesn’t make them a bigoted or hateful person. In fact, some may be feeling a burden of shame or fear given the post-results fall-out on campus and around the country. Can we notice and listen to them without judgment? Can we be present with them and even hear the heart behind their choice? Can we care? We can.

Let’s be wise and a light to those who are openly prideful/hateful…

It is not the nature of our Savior nor of us as His followers to overcome hostility by force of hostility. Darkness cannot dispel darkness. Only light can do that.. Light looks like loving those who are hating as well as those who are hated. But we must be wise in the face of pride. Let us not become mired in heated arguments online or anywhere else when love is our point. If we would prove our point, we must ask the God Who is Love “Father, what does love look like right here and right now with this person?”. And then we must obey.

Let’s rely on the truth of the gospel…

We have One King in the person of Jesus Christ. This truth is not meant to short-circuit any grieving we or those we love may be experiencing. It is simply true that neither we nor this election has escaped Jesus’ watch. And we may take comfort in the fact that God, at any time, can raise up a leader, guide a leader or remove a leader according to His will.

-Kyle, a friend and campus pastor


For a seed to come fully into its own, it must become wholly undone.  The shell must break open, its inside must come out, and everything must change.  If you didn’t understand what life looks like, you might mistake it for complete destruction.

-Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Whose words have ministered to you during this time?  Whose words have challenged you or your perspectives?

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Wednesdays with Words

“Enfeebled in body and fretful and discontented in temper”

Instead of accepting the relations, friends, and neighbours that God sends us in the course of our lives, the devotee of Beauty chooses for himself, and cares to know only those people whose view of life are the same as his own. So with regard to places, he cannot tolerate for a moment things which are unsightly and unlovely, so he does not go where working people and poor people have to live. In the end, he misses the happiness to which the Beauty Sense was meant to minister. For happiness comes of effort, service, wide interests, and, last and least, of enjoyment; and when people put enjoyment, even of beautiful things, in the first place (and indeed in place of all else), they miss the very thing they seek, and become enfeebled in body and fretful and discontented in temper. […] [W]e must not let any better-than-my-neighbour notions get into our heads; and in the next, we must make it our business, as much as in us lies, to bring Beauty to places where it is not.

–Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

I wonder very much what Charlotte Mason would have made of our despicable new President-Elect and the kind of culture he is shaping for the unsightly, unlovely, poor and marginalized people in this nation.

The Mind at Work

You know that one book…It starts with Norms and ends with Nobility?  Its author’s last name rhymes with sticks?

(Anyone who happens to read this blog and is not into classical education is rolling their eyes right now, cause they’re like “No, I do not know that book.”  Sorry.  I do think you should read it though.)

Yeah, that book.  It’s a very fine book.  Here’s a quote about the concept of dialectic that I am in love with, because it is doing me so much good.

(Sidenote: you could compare “dialectic” to the words “dialogue” or “debate”.  Other large-and-in-charge words ahead; slow and steady wins the race when it comes to reading and comprehending N&N.)

Socrates identified dialectic as the form of the activity of thinking–the mind’s habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or in other minds and of engaging in a desultory [unfocused] dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved. […] By making his students conscious of their dialectical thinking processes, Socrates hoped to assign them parts in a dramatic dialogue that otherwise occurs unconsciously and haphazardly in the thinking mind.  Once the conversation between Socrates and his students took on the dialectical form of mental activity, learning became possible.  Man could now visualize and oversee his own mind at work.  The very form of these conversations provided Socrates’ students with a model for how their minds ought to work.  Whereas dialectical thinking may occur at an unconscious level in all men, education makes man conscious of how his mind works when engaged in an activity of thinking.

–David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 67


So to narrate this a bit, we learn two main things from this section:

1. My mind is probably always engaging in some amount of dialectic/dialogue with itself, even if I don’t notice it.

In fact, without education to establish in us the habit of noticing our mind at work, it will be an unconscious and haphazard process.  This was a light bulb moment for me.  The last year of my life has been extremely dialectical, as I have wrestled with belief, theology, orthodoxy and practice in my own life and in the life of my church.  Most of that experience felt haphazard at best, utterly anxiety-ridden at worst.  My heart, mind and spirit were up to something (under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, of course), but I didn’t have enough perspective to know what it was.  It felt as if my most deeply held beliefs were under attack, and I wanted to protect myself.  I could not “visualize and oversee [my] own mind at work.”

2. My mind ought to work in a certain way when faced with a conflicting belief or viewpoint.

This is comforting.  Cunning old Socrates gifted us with his method of dialogue (which I still don’t really get) as a way to educate the student in overseeing her own mind at work.  This can only instill confidence and peace, because a process that works is at work.

I ought to learn more about Socratic dialogue.  Everyone in a church with a lot of milennials could probably use to learn and then teach how to oversee the mind at work.  I think I’m technically Generation Y, but I do not feel at all confident in my ability to think for myself.

Here are some resources I’m planning on perusing in order to help myself out, if you’re interested:

Forms of Instruction Park III: Socratic Instruction {Expanding Wisdom}

Andrew Kern on Socratic Teaching {Circe Podcast Network}

Parents’ Review Articles on Socrates {Ambleside Online}

All of chapter 6, called “On the Necessity of Dogma,” communicates truths that challenge and comfort me.  It illuminates the need for that persistent discomfort that comes with real learning.  We would never feel the need to learn anything, if we never felt that dissonance which alerts us to contradiction; we would never explore that contradiction, nor come to a deeper understanding of truth.

All this to say, if I sense my mind gnawing on something, trying to figure out a way to digest it, I don’t need to be anxious.  This is good and right!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which passes understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

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Find more Wednesday with Words posts at Ladydusk.


Do You Make Yourself Narrate?

Well, do you?

Sometimes I’m so focused on growing Ellary up in her own narrating capabilities, that I forget how difficult it actually is, even for an adult.

For the last decade or so, I’ve been apart of Bible Study Fellowship or something like it, depending on where we lived.  I’ve often described these communities as anchors in a storm. They keep me coming back to Scripture daily, they force me to get out of my Scriptural comfort zones, and they allow me a space to discuss God’s Word in community.

Unfortunately, this year schedules didn’t align, and I’m not participating.  Sob.  So I’ve been trying to re-learn how to study the Bible on my own.  Enter narration.

Um, guys?  It works.

I read through some of the later Ambleside Online years, looking for a Bible reading plan, because I like someone else to give me structure.  I landed on Year 11, which is going through several of the prophets, along with some New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.  I am loving it.

Here is my narration for Lamentations 1-2 with responsive prayer.


Chapter 1

Zion (Jerusalem) is a princess turned whore, whose beauty, grandeur, influence and riches have been plundered and destroyed, as a result of her promiscuity. She is exposed before the nations as what she really is, naked, with her uncleanness on her skirts (her menstrual blood?). The young men and women of Judah have been taken captive; they have nowhere to turn for safety, like hunted animals with nowhere to hide.

Zion calls out and asks if anyone has ever seen sorrow like hers. She wonders how long she will have to suffer. She hopes that the nations which have plundered her will be plundered in like manner. But does she call upon God? [She does, she approves of this discipline. She sees that Judah’s overthrow was prophesied and that it is a result of her iniquity.]

Chapter 2

The walls of Jerusalem are broken down, the princes and maidens of Zion are dying or dead. Most remarkably, God has profaned His own Temple, destroying it, spurning it, and rejecting its priests. This is a physical picture of what has been the case spiritually for so long–the people have profaned the Temple for centuries. Now God will show them the reality of this Temple, empty and in ruins. Judah’s enemies are still surrounding it and laughing in delight, so pleased that finally this nation they have hated for so long is done for.

Jeremiah cries out on behalf of the people–“Help, God, please!” Children are starving, people are lying dead in the streets, and there is cannibalism.

Jeremiah urges the people to mourn and grieve and pour their hearts out to God, to turn back to relationship with Him, even/especially in this time of great devastation and desolation. He is still there, waiting to respond. Don’t be prideful, Judah. Don’t be independent and angry in your suffering. Approve of this discipline and mourn, and you will be comforted.

Abba, I approve of Your discipline, like Moses looking out at the Promised Land, knowing he cannot enter. I want to see reality, even if that means structures I have built up in my life must be torn down, because they’ve become places of idolatry and desecration. I praise You that when great destruction happens as a result of sin, this is never the end of the story. Even in this country right now, it is not the end of the story. You are always good. You are always loving. You always have a plan for restoration and redemption at the ready. I thank You for Your Wrath. I thank You for Your Justice. I thank You for Your Mercy. I thank You for Your Love.


Does anyone else do this?  I know Charlotte Mason did, and whole volumes resulted from it.