homeschooling: struggles & blessings from my 1st year

homeschooling: struggles & blessings from my first year

Back in August, I mentioned that I was embarking on a brand new journey. Specifically, the journey of homeschooling.

As you may remember from my initial post, the most prominent emotion at the beginning was fear. God gave me a verse that really helped me harness my thoughts during those first days and here we are now – our very first year of homeschooling in the books.

I’m planning to do a post in the next week detailing the materials we used during Anna Grace’s kindergarten year, but today I want to write out specific struggles and blessings from my first year as a homeschooling mama. I have a feeling they might sound familiar to you if you teach your kiddos at home. Maybe it will be an encouragement knowing that someone else has the same struggles as you? Here goes: 

  • Homeschooling with preschoolers underfoot

This was undoubtedly one of the toughest parts of homeschooling this past year. We began the school year with a 1 and 3 year old as our sidekicks. Sidekicks who were not always a fan of the learning process, by the way. There’s this elusive picture of being able to read to all of your children at the same time, thereby allowing the younger ones to simply “pick up” lessons as they listen to their older sibling’s material.

Perhaps I should have tried benadryl.


You can clearly tell that the scenario of homeschooling my 5 year old with my 1 and 3 year old quietly gathered around was not reality in my home. Sometimes my boys would sit on my lap when I was reading an especially interesting story to Anna Grace. And I did discover they both picked up quite a bit from hearing her routinely quote catechism answers. But for the most part, it was Anna Grace and I working at the kitchen counter while the 2 boys romped around the house. I mean, while they played quietly building impressive structures out of all natural, ethically made building blocks and never once fighting or yelling at each other. Of course not. After all, we aren’t human or anything.

One mama friend shared that she sometimes put her youngest in the bath and let him play while she taught her older ones. Brilliant. I did that many times. My boys absolutely loved it, Anna Grace and I were able to have some quieter learning time, and I got a clean bathroom floor at the end of the experience. After I mopped up the water, of course.

Bottom line of this struggle: Homeschooling with littles underfoot is tough. But it’s definitely doable and – dare I say – even enjoyable at times. I involved the boys when possible and attempted to provide them with other activities (benadryl guzzling contests) when they just needed to get energy out of their little systems.

  •  Dealing with sinfulness

Let’s be clear: I’m talking about the sinfulness of the teacher, not the student. Oh for sure, there’s a sin nature in any student. And as a parent, it’s certainly something I am called to work through lovingly, prayerfully, and consistently. But one of the biggest struggles of homeschooling this past year was not my student’s sinfulness, but my own. I’m looking at you impatience and selfishness.

There’s something about sitting down with your child, explaining a concept to them in (what you think is) a perfectly understandable way, and having them not understand that does something to the blood pressure.

It’s an odd correlation, I realize. But it happens. I’m living proof.

Sometimes these situations called for an impromptu break time in which I went to my room to confess my sin & plead for strength. And then they finished off with asking my daughter for forgiveness and attempting to explain the concept in a different way.

Bottom line of this struggle: The Lord always gave grace. Grace for the teacher, the student, and our relationship. Actually, we had some really sweet times and conversations about our desperate need for Jesus through it all. There goes our redemptive God – redeeming what looks to be an impossibly ugly situation into something beautiful.

  • Daily time with my kids

Oh, this was one of my biggest blessings of homeschooling. I mean, sure, it was a challenge at times. But such a far greater blessing than it was a struggle. Especially when I stopped being selfish about my personal time and focused instead on the immense privilege I had to educate my daughter. I regularly found myself giving thanks to the Lord and texting my husband about little blessings from the day. Seeing Anna Grace read her first words, sentences, and books. Working to figure out her learning style and seeking to explain things in a way that made sense to her. Watching the light click on as she understood something in math. Hearing her talk about what she was excited about in history.

Bottom line: All these moments are gifts to me as a mom and teacher. It takes work, yes. But what an absolute gift.

  • Determining our curriculum

Curriculum. I spent many hours laboring over the decision of what materials to use. And we’re just talking kindergarten here, folks.

I read a blog post that said something about how choosing curriculum was the fun part of homeschooling and I thought, “THE FUN PART???? I have no clue what you’re talking about!”

Despite the angst I put myself through in the choice of materials, I absolutely loved the ability I had to choose what Anna Grace and I would study together for her kindergarten year.

Bottom line: Both the struggle and blessing lay in this fact: the choice was all up to me. But seriously, what a privilege to be able to consider my daughter’s interests and learning style when choosing materials!


This school year, I’ll get to experience homeschooling with a newborn. I have no doubts that will present a large learning curve. I would panic and begin hyperventilating except for the fact that I am absolutely certain I can trust God to help me through the changes. It kinda changes everything when you view life through the grid of God’s truth, doesn’t it?

Grace upon grace, y’all. Grace upon grace.


have you ever participated in the journey of homeschooling? what were your biggest struggles/blessings?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! 

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Interview with Jani Ortlund :: Dwelling Richly

Dwelling Richly Series

Jani Ortlund

Jani Ortlund, Executive Vice President of Renewal Ministries,
loves spending her energies connecting women with the Word of God.
Serving Jesus Christ through writing, speaking and discipling are her chief passions in life.
Jani and Ray, Pastor of Immanuel Church, have four married children and twelve grandchildren,
and minister in Nashville, Tennessee.

What's your regular routine for Bible study-

I need to meet with God for personal, intimate time together first thing in the morning, or else my daily duties deplete my time and energy for real, heart-felt communion later in the day.  For the past twenty-eight years I have loved reading through the Bible each year, 3-5 chapters a day, often using Walk Thru the Bible’s guide called “Daily Walk.”  The benefit of reading God’s book cover to cover, year by year, has been a growing confidence in the One who breathed out these very words to complete and equip me (I Timothy 3:16-17).

In these early morning visits with God I try to ask myself the same two questions that Saul did when he first met with the living Christ—“Who are you, Lord?” and/or “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:8,10).  These questions help focus my mind and heart.  Who is this God in Leviticus who demands a blood covering for every kind of sin?  What shall I do in light of the glorious and eternal provisions for me in the second part of Isaiah?  Who is this God who became man in the Gospels?  What should my response be as I read God’s messages to the early church? etc.

After my reading, I review the verse(s) I am meditating on or memorizing during that season.  I try to choose three passages a year—one for fall, winter, and spring.  Summer is a good time for me to review.  Then I go to prayer, praying God’s Word into my life and the lives of those I love and care for.

This is my personal devotion time with the Lord.  I try not to use it for ministry responsibilities.  For then it might become, “What do they need? rather than, “Here am I, Lord Jesus, speak to me.  Show me your way for me and create in me a clean heart.”  I am involved in various Bible studies and in leading Renewal Ministries with my pastor husband, and I take an hour or two during the day—on my lunch break, or after things have slowed down a bit in the evening—to go deeper into a specific book of the Bible, or a topic.  Sometimes I am preparing to teach a Bible study or teach at a conference. Right now I am working on developing five lessons for our grandchildren’s cousins camp this summer.  But I consider this a separate time with my King from my morning devotions.


Are there any non-essentials that you love to have during your study time

Yes!  A hot cup of English Breakfast tea with real cream, my notebook, a good pen for marking up my Bible or taking notes, index cards for my memory work, and a sticky note for all those distractions and details that come flying in under the radar as I’m trying to meet with the King of the Universe.


What resources have influenced you the most in giving you a desire and tools for dwelling in the Word-

I love the English Standard Version Study Bible for my personal devotional time when a question comes up in my reading.  When I am studying to teach or just go very deep into a passage that intrigues me, I find Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible and Grudem’s Systematic Theology invaluable.


Do you-have you ever used accountability in the area of time in the Word-

YES!  I disciple a group of 6-8 women each year and we commit to read the Bible through together.  Each week we share how it’s going and try to encourage each other.  We need each other!


Have you ever taken time for a personal spiritual retreat-

I try to take time out for an extended time with the Lord four times a year.  I block off a 2-3 hour time slot and gather up my Bible and notebook and hymnbook, find a place to meet with Him either along a nature trail here in Tennessee or in the lobby of one of our beautiful hotels in Nashville, and just sit with Him.  Sometimes I catch up with my Bible reading.  Sometimes I write out my prayers or work on Bible memory.  I try not to read what others have written about the Bible, but rather just meet with God and let Him have my full attention.  It gives me time to go deeper with Him, set things right again, confess and repent of new sins or repeated sin patterns.  On occasion, my husband and I have gone away for a day, just to meet with God and pray together.


Is there a favorite Bible study method you use-

One Prof Hendricks (at Dallas Theological Seminary) taught us way back in 1972:
Observe:  what is it saying?  or gather the ingredients
Interpret:  what does it mean?  or mix up the recipe and put it in the oven
Apply:  so what?  what does it mean to me?  or eat it!


What has been your driest time spiritually and how did you overcome that period-

With many young children all needing me!  A friend and I exchanged kids for two hours on Tuesday mornings with the commitment that we would take that time to be in the Word—no errands, etc.  So I knew that I would have two mornings per month, at the bare minimum, to meet with God.  We did this for two years and it really helped get me through those hard, exhausting times.

How did you encourage a love for God's Word in your children- Did you have a method for helping them learn how to study for themselves-

The Bible was very visible in our home— on our kitchen table, at my desk, near my bedside.  They saw me reading it.  It had a place of respect and prominence.  I continue to have it all over the walls of our home, in each room—verses that are framed or stenciled onto the wall.  We talked about the Word whenever we had opportunity—at breakfast, in car line, during homework time, at bedtime, on vacation, at wedding and funerals.  We had family devotions and prayer time after dinner most nights.  We memorized Scripture together as a family, with fun prizes for all!  When problems arose with hurt feelings or stealing or lying or not enough money, etc., we would see what God had to say to “light our path.”

Children most likely will love and prize what they see their parents love and prize.  We treated His Word as “sweeter than honey” and it became sweet to them, too.

Thank you so much, Jani!
Guys, isn’t there a lot of gold in that interview?? I love the idea of trading childcare with another Mom for the express purpose of spending time alone with God. For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking Jani’s two questions (“Who are you, Lord?” and/or “What shall I do, Lord?”) and using them in my own Bible study time. Profitable indeed!

Plus, the practical tips on encouraging God’s love in our children are incredibly helpful. Memorizing Scripture as a family – with prizes for all? What fun!!

I trust this interview has been an encouragement to your heart as you continue to pursue God and His Word with passion!

Find Jani:

Fearlessly Feminine: Boldly Living God’s Plan for Womanhood
His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy: Living the Ten Commandments and Giving Them to Our Children

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Reading the Bible in 90 Days :: pros & cons

reading the bible in 90 days

3 months ago, I told you about a crazy goal I set out to complete before my 30th birthday – read the entire Bible in 90 days. I am incredibly happy to report back that I did, indeed, complete this goal the very day before I turned 30. Some of you mentioned an interest in starting this Bible reading plan yourself, so I thought I’d answer a big question I had throughout this experience:

Would I do it again?

In a word? Maybe.

Clearly that’s no help.

Here’s what I mean:

Will I ever attempt to read through the Bible in 90 days again?
Yes. Yes, I think I will. But I don’t know that I’ll do it again while my children are so little.

What didn’t you like about it?
I’ll answer this question by telling you what I missed. I missed having time to study passages of Scripture in greater detail. Over the last couple years, I’ve begun studying Scripture in a different way than I ever had before, using the method outlined in Women of the WordI had just recently begun a study on the book of Hebrews when I decided to begin this 90 day Bible reading challenge and it greatly pained me to set that Hebrews study aside for 3 months while I used my Bible study time to read through large portions of Scripture. There were quite a few times when I would read a passage and want to take more time to study it out, but NOPE – no time for that! Gotta get in 10 more chapters today!

So, was there anything you liked?
A lot, actually.

  • I liked the goal itself. I never would have pushed myself to read the entire Bible in 90 days had I not agreed to this challenge.
  • I greatly appreciated the need to read/listen to the Bible during most of my free time. It meant I didn’t have as much time to read and listen to other books and podcasts. While I missed that, I highly value the time I had to focus mainly on God’s Word.
  • I loved getting a broad overview of Scripture. This was one of the greatest benefits to reading the Bible through in a relatively short amount of time. Whether you read the Bible through in a month or a year, it’s such a help to get an overview of Scripture in a way you simply cannot when doing in-depth book studies. It’s the difference between a plow and trowel study.

How about giving us a straight answer then… Would you participate in this goal again?
I definitely want to read the Bible through again. But there are 3 things I want to do differently next time:

  1. Look for an overarching theme while reading.

I discovered several themes while reading these past 3 months (most notably the necessity of trusting & obeying God’s Word), but I would like to trace a theme through Scripture next time. Such as the theme of the temple, the role of sacrifice, or God’s presence. This is something Kelly Collier mentioned in her Dwelling Richly interview.

2. Read through the Bible chronologically.

I’ve never done this before, but my sister just finished and mentioned how helpful and eye-opening it was to read through in a chronological manner. Like sister, like sister. Or something like that.

3. Read through the Bible while also studying a passage in more detail.

This may not make sense if you didn’t read this post on 2 Methods of Bible Study. Assuming you did, though, I want to participate in both a plow and trowel study at the same time. That might mean I take 4 days of the week for an in-depth trowel study and use Friday – Sunday as my broad plow study days. Or it might mean I use my morning Bible time for an in-depth study and read/listen to the Bible throughout the day. I’m not sure what it will look like exactly; I only know that I want to do both types of studies next time I read through the Bible so that I always have a piece of Scripture I’m meditating on and trying to figure out throughout the day.

What are you reading now?

I finished reading through the Bible on Saturday. Sunday morning, I decided to read through one of the passages that stuck out to me while listening through the Bible (specifically Colossians 2 & 3). I’m planning to take some time to study that passage before jumping back into the Hebrews study I began before this challenge. I also began memorizing 1 John several months ago, but set the memory work aside while completing this challenge. I’ve already started listening through the book again in an attempt to refresh my rickety brain of the verses it memorized earlier in 2016. I don’t know – maybe my brain will rebel now that it’s the ripe old age of 30. I’m sure repetition will do its work, albeit more slowly as the years continue to pass.

I trust this post will be helpful as you consider your own Bible study habits!


A while ago I shared some of my favorite resources for studying the Bible.
Here’s the list again in case you missed it last time!

favorite bible study resources

Friday Faves :: a recap of our 8th anniversary trip

Last week, Jonathan & I celebrated our 8th anniversary. Before my pre-term labor, we had planned to go away for 2 days in celebration. But after my water broke, we put that plan – and a lot of other ones – out of our minds.

When God surprised us by giving me 6 more weeks (& counting!!!) of pregnancy, we decided to put our getaway back into the schedule.

Some kind friends watched our 3 precious littles for us while we got away for some couple time. We hiked, canoed, walked, biked, and took advantage of the empty hotel pool. We talked, scoped out some local eats (thai food! pizza! avocado smoothies!), and browsed a used bookstore (homeschooling resources!). We finally finished reading a marriage book we had started a year ago (#9 on this list. #5 is next on our list.), prayed together, talked through goals. We missed our kiddos a lot, but really enjoyed the time to focus on each other.
a recap of my 8th anniversary trip

If you’re ever in the Mount Airy, NC area, check out Thai Cafe. We liked it so much that we went for lunch and dinner! And a fun side story: the first night we ate there, a waiter came to our table at the end of our meal and said another couple had paid for our meal because they thought we looked like a sweet couple. Another reminder that God provides!

Yesterday, I asked Jonathan if we could just make our getaway a weekly thing. I mean, I don’t ask for much, right? 😉 I’m so thankful for the way the Lord provided this trip away for us – from sweet friends to lovingly watch our babies, health to get away and be so active, and resources to get away. He’s a kind Father indeed.

Did you miss the Dwelling Richly interview with Carolyn McCulley this week? Catch it here!

Carolyn McCulley 2


4 lessons learned through 8 years of "I do"

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Interview with Carolyn McCulley :: Dwelling Richly

Dwelling Richly Series


Carolyn McCulley 2

Carolyn McCulley is an author, speaker, and filmmaker. She has written three books—The Measure of Success, Radical Womanhood, and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?— and contributed to the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (this is the one I referenced in my list of  favorite Bible study resources!), Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope, and Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. Her latest book, The Measure of Success, was a silver finalist in the ECPA 2015 Christian Book Awards and won an award of merit in the Christianity Today 2015 Book Awards.

Carolyn is an award-winning producer/director/editor at Citygate Films, a nonfiction film company she founded in 2009, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City.  She is the proud aunt of six nieces and nephews and is a member of Redeemer Church of Arlington.

She describes her life as living by grace and fueled by caffeine.


What's your regular routine for Bible study-

It starts by brewing a cup of coffee. If I don’t drink coffee, I have an extraordinarily quiet “quiet time!!” I actually have a spot in my living room all set up with my Bible, devotional journal, and study materials nearby so that I don’t have to think about where everything is. I just wake up, make coffee, and head to my study spot. That said, I’m trying right now to figure out whether or not to start first with exercise and then have devotions. I always thought devotions should be the first thing of the day, but I am already inclined toward sitting and reading, anyway. It’s much easier to put off exercise and that is quite evident right now, so I’m currently experimenting with prayer walks to see if I should get moving first before I sit down with my beloved coffee and Bible.
One day of the week, my sister and I phone each other, read a passage of Scripture aloud, and pray for our family and any major issues in our lives or the world around us. We also track answered prayers and spend time thanking God for His kindness toward us. We have been waiting for many years for some prayers to be answered, but we also see that each week that we have much to thank Him for that’s already been answered. My personal journal is filled with many emails from her containing Scripture-soaked encouragement and the corresponding entries of how the Lord worked in my life in a time of need.


How do you personally cultivate a desire to be in the Word-

I love to read and study. I was that nerd in middle school who went to writing camp instead of somewhere fun over the summer. So I have shelves of commentaries and other study aids. But just because you can collect a lot of information doesn’t mean you are transformed by that same information. Studying the Word is different from submitting to it and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform you to the image of Christ as you try to apply what you are learning. 
In my case, the Lord tends to use tough circumstances to help me grow in the blind spots of my character—and there is usually one verse that seems to be the overarching theme of that season of correction. So my Bibles have a lot of underlined/circled/squared/notated/dated passages that are reminders of various seasons of my life and their lessons. To this day, whenever I get to Philippians 4:5 (“Let your gentleness be evident to all” or “reasonableness” in some translations), I remember how God was teaching me to respond kindly to the needs of others in the high stress period of writing my first book years ago. To me, that was a nearly insurmountable goal, but the Lord did not let me off the hook for being patient with the needs and interruptions of others around me. The rest of that verse is “The Lord is near,” and that’s what He was teaching me. My anxiety, impatience and irritableness was because I thought I had to do this incredible task in my own feeble strength. But I could be gentle and reasonable because I had the best thing in the wold: a God who draws near to me because He is that merciful, not because I am that incredible.


What has been your driest time spiritually and how did you overcome that period-

I tend to experience dry periods in two ways. The first is when I have allowed disappointment or suffering to create a root of bitterness in my heart and I’m not that responsive to the Word or the presence of God because of it. Repentance is the only way back from there—at least that I know of. But I’ve learned that God is immensely patient with us, more so than we are with each other. Sometimes all I can mutter is, “Help me in my unbelief.” And He does. He sends His love through His people, His provision, and His powerful Holy Spirit. In each of those dark nights of the soul, He has eventually met with the blinding light of His love and warmed my hard heart. But that’s not always a fast process. So in those seasons, I try to make sure that my family and close friends know the real issues in my heart so that they can pray for me, counsel me, and keep me from going over the edge.
Now that I’m in the second half of life, I’m more aware of how fleeting life really is. That sounds like an old person’s cliche, but I don’t know of a single human who is not emotionally surprised by the reality of aging. I know that aging and death are a result of sin, so I think it’s hard-wired in humanity to think it shouldn’t happen to us, that aging and death wasn’t meant to be. But the reality of aging is also wrapped in God’s kindness—it forces us to face the fact that this life is not where we will find our rewards. This broken world is not where we are meant to live forever. So the reality that we are pilgrims on a battlefield heading home means that when I’m tempted to drop my spiritual armor or check out of the battle altogether, I’ve got people nearby who will pull me up and make sure I keep going. I cultivate those relationships in the good times so that when the inevitable hard times come, they can fast-track truth to me.
The second way I tend to experience dryness is when the circumstances of my life are squeezing me because of intense travel, deadlines, and the needs of other people. I can feel more keenly the expectations of others, so I rush in and out of God’s Word. That’s entirely my own stupidity when I allow that to happen. I KNOW better than that. In fact, I nearly always think of the famous Martin Luther quote, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Full disclosure: I have never followed his example.
Unsurprising result: I have not had the spiritual impact of Martin Luther.
The simplest remedy for this kind of dryness that I know is to go get the living water.


What resources have influenced you the most in giving you a desire and tools for dwelling in the Word-

I am a filmmaker professionally, so I love show and tell. When I was a new believer, I listened to a number of preaching programs on the radio as I got ready each day. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 30 (though my mother did take me to her church faithfully as a child), so I had a lot of basics to learn and that was a great way to catch up as I got dressed or commuted to work. I also watched the “Faith Lessons” video series from Focus on the Family, which took viewers to various parts of Israel and Turkey to show you the location, topography and history of the Bible. That made the Old Testament, in particular, become very visual to me.

But some of my favorite study resources include the
IVP Bible Background Commentaries,
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,
Mark Dever’s The Message of the Old Testament and
The Message of the New Testament,
the Reformed Expository Commentary series,
and various individual commentaries from John Stott.

My favorite study Bibles are the ESV and HCSB and I use their apps on a regular basis. I especially like being able to look at the original languages in the HCSB app. I also owe a huge debt to the research of Bruce Winter in Roman Wives, Roman Widows to understand the culture in which Jesus ministered and the early church was born.


Is there a favorite Bible study method you use-

I’ve used lots of different study methods over the years. But for the last two years, I’ve been using a Bible reading plan that my elders at church introduced from New City Networks. It’s a Community Bible Reading Journal, in which you have a daily schedule for reading a chapter from both the New and the Old Testaments set in a journal format where you can write about those passages and pray through them. It’s designed to have groups work through them at the same time to share relevant insights, though inevitably people get off-track. So it became my personal Bible reading and study tool, instead.


Have you ever taken time for a personal spiritual retreat-

I try to take a spiritual retreat twice a year. It used to be at the beginning of the new year and sometime around my birthday in the middle of the year. But in recent years, that mid-year retreat has migrated to Labor Day weekend. I guess years of starting school at that time always makes me think it’s time for something new—and often it is a new season. I have noted several years of significant changes in my life at that time. I try to go for an overnight if I can, but sometimes it’s just a day. I will fast (sometimes just a juice fast so I keep up my energy when alone and quiet), journal, pray, study particular books, and take time to meditate on what I’m reading. I will often walk around outside to enjoy the day and think about what I’m studying. One time I took a retreat at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and took a water taxi around the harbor to think and reflect. Water is my happy place and it can be helpful to keep moving when I’m thinking a nap might be coming on! I will often mind-map random thoughts, capturing any impressions or ideas as I read or meditate. At the end of the retreat, I can often see a pattern emerging of what God wants me to focus on. But sometimes it’s nothing earth-shaking—just a good time of reflecting on His kindness and many answered prayers!


Thank you so much, Carolyn, for sharing your heart and time with us!

Find Carolyn:
and find her books here!

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