How a life is built

A life comes to us fresh and fragile—we handle it carefully, we watch as it grows, and we are patient with the bloom. There's no rush no rush no rush and then all of sudden, there is. All of a sudden that child is five and there is a hurry about our ways and a frenetic pace in our days and we have so much to cram in to that lovely life now, right now. Maybe the rush happens every year, as summer is suddenly fall and leisure gives way to obligations.

how to build a life

how to build a life

Is there an optimal time to begin building a life? Can we let it bloom as it will and watch all good things come, or must we suddenly stop and suddenly start and always separate leisure and learning?

Layer upon layer.

Of course we know that education begins at birth—breathe! drink! sleep! poop! We are all born reactors and imitators, following the groove laid down by a God who has always shown us the way. No one teaches us those first basic survival skills which all of life builds upon.

I wanted to lay down gentle patterns and habits when the kids were young, but it became a regiment and a schedule. I don't regret it—we needed structure and discipline—but it wasn't always gracious and I wasn't always patient and for the most part I didn't see life coming in layers.

I thought it fell down in giant chunks of milestones I guess.

There are lessons that take years to learn.

There is knowledge we only gain by experience. 

Mistakes can be good experience.

Layer upon layer, a life.

When each child turned five we started with the basics, but I kept trying to sneak in more. And you know that with that firstborn I started way before five, because zealous excitement waits for no child. For the most part my kids have survived, perfected their eye rolls, and I think maybe even somewhat learned to appreciate my bents and quirks, my over-enthusiasm promptly followed by burn-out.

We are never "done" but we are making it, and over the years I think we're making it better, layer by layer, bit by bit.

The "just add water" version—instant success, immediate gratification—calls to us all, but God does His work on us a little at a time. Faithfulness and consistency go so much further than ambition and excitement, and sometimes our best consistency is simply coming back, again and again, to the most important things. Constantly turning. Continually starting again. Consistently repenting.

Layer upon layer a life is built.

It's seen best in hindsight, like most things. Looking back on a portion of life, we never know if it's the greater portion or merely half of the life we'll live, merely a third or a fourth. But we look back and see the lines the years have laid down and the striations of accumulated experiences, and we see all the material that made us us today. All the ingredients. All the events.

We see it for our children, too, before they're ready for their own look back on themselves. We see those bents and quirks that have followed them from birth.

All the layers are not even, but they have been carefully measured and ordered and sometimes we've cooperated and sometimes we've just complied; sometimes we have fought; sometimes we have died, inside, just a little, and that's also His goodness because a death to ourselves is a life to God.

Layer upon layer you and I have grown, our kids have grown, our habits have formed or unformed, and the generations really keep learning the same thing. All of us who have wanted to improve on our parenting and our living have made mistakes and repeated mistakes and covered-up mistakes, but God's patient-grace keeps coming, because no one has perfected living yet.

Whatever you are impatiently waiting for today and whatever growth you are longing to see or accomplishment you hope to have, know that little by little your life is being built. Progress is being made in the sudden stops and in the long obediences, layer by layer.

We can trust in the slow way, impatient though we are.

What are all those summer lists doing to you?

You know it's not really even summer yet, technically. Right? We've been "done" with formal schooling for a month now so it seems like we had a jump on things and the ball should've been rolling, but I've done zero summering so far. I have lists ready and goals all set to go, but there have been a few major events that had to be taken care of first.

For instance, our daughter graduated from homeschool and we hosted a big party on her behalf. Cue all the sympathy, because 1) I'm done teaching my first child, 2) I'm peopled-out, and 3) I'm done teaching my first child.




Of course I'm not really done—I have years of wisdom left to give her. And, truth be told, she's been mostly teaching herself for a few years now. But this milestone is an exhausting mix of we did it! and now what?  and did we do it right?  Add to that the fact that our home has been full of people for the last month and you get one exhausted little introvert.

All the goodness piles up and I'm buried somewhere deep.

So the summer lists have yet to be broached, the camping trip hasn't even been planned, and I know it's only the beginning of June but I also know that time can whip your neck right around and all you have is a reminiscing, a vague remembrance that it was summer once.

This is a year of milestones for our family, a year of setting up remembrances and looking back over all the goodness God has shown us. Our daughter turned 18 and graduated. I turned 40. Next week we'll celebrate 20 years of marriage. God is good to give us memory, and since there is so much I've forgotten I'm sure there's also so much I never noticed in the first place.

What did we do with the time? How do we notice the gift of years?

And then I see the lists. What to Read this Summer, What to Cook, Where to Go, What to Wear... I love the lists and I want to tackle the lists and I have lists of my own but really?

All the summer lists need to be a buffet, not a strict diet. We need help remembering and marking the milestones, but we can lose the Everest-sized expectations.

I can see that there are great things to do and read and eat. I can hope that summer is a time to gather in some of the goodness, but "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.” and yet, we're not.

We're busy and disappointed and hot, sweaty and sticky, and the summer lists might be making us grumpy.

Maybe you don't even get a change of pace for the summer. Maybe while everyone is talking about vacations and camps and school-free days with their kids, you're still plugging away like you were in November. Only it's hot.

Here's what we can do about summer lists, before the summer lists undo us. We can choose our own adventure. We can mark a milestone. We can remember all the goodness summer offers and plan for more, and we can relax in our present circumstances. If our eyes are open, we're not going to miss anything.

And if you still need a list to feel like you've accomplished "summer", here you go:

  • eat fresh strawberries (grow them, buy them, get them from your neighbor)
  • bring in fresh flowers (grow them, buy them, get them from your neighbor)
  • take a nap in the shade
  • open the windows early
  • barbecue your dinner
  • swim
  • read ONE good book

Not everyone is tackling lists this summer. All hands up for sampling the goodness of the season, no strings (or lists) attached.





A Civility Lost

According to history, when George Washington was younger than 16 years old, he transcribed 110 rules of civility.

12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs rowl not the Eys lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.

74th When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended.

Copywork is good for the soul. Every king of Israel was commanded to write for himself a copy of the law given through Moses,

that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel." ~ from Deuteronomy 17:18-20

Isn't it something—to assume that a good leader would have a set of standards he or she was expected to follow? A way to treat people like people?

civility lost

I can't even listen to the news, can't stomach a full "debate", can't stand the rhetoric of rolled eyes and lifted eyebrows (yours, mine, all of us rolling and raising and questioning motives) anymore. I wish for better times but I know that Scripture is true when it says that a people who follows the Lord will have a king who follows the Lord (1 Sam. 12:14-15).

And the opposite, yes.


In September of 2014 I began tutoring a group of homeschooled middle and high schoolers on Wednesdays. Once a week we meet for discussion and drill, stretching ourselves a little more and a little more as we cover ground none of us, students or tutor, have ever seen.

In Challenge A, Classical Conversations begins the study of "Debate" with a year of world geography; as in, we draw the entire world, country by country, and finish the year with a blank-page assessment. We begin in Canada and end with New Zealand, seeing just how large and just how small all the countries actually are.

And the kids asked what you might be asking: how is this called Debate? What does drawing maps have to do with arguing your point?

The answer is that we become familiar with world, its borders, and its names, and we recognize war as the largest (and not the most honorable) form of debate, as it lays down artificial borders across the hubris of man.

In class on Wednesdays we work on exchanging our pride and desire to be heard for a humility that causes us to listen first. We work on it, but we're not ready for debate yet. We have to find our borders first.

This year in Challenge B, we have studied current events and are now preparing to participate in Mock Trial for Debate, and still, we're not technically debating. We are defining the terms of our discussion, learning to listen closely, using our study of Logic to detect fallacies and weak points, and also finding points of agreement and things all sides might have in common. We are acknowledging that every issue has more than one side, and realizing that everyone wants to spin their own story.

Sometimes we forego the hand-raising and just have an open forum—but we don't call each other names, don't shout over the top of another person's point, don't ignore the question in order to push our own agenda.

We haven't copied Washington's Rules of Civility and we aren't always patient in waiting our turn to speak, but somehow we all just know how people ought to be treated.

We are all learning that true rhetoric is the winsome persuasion towards truth, not the forceful or deceitful administration of our opinions.


I tend to be embarrassed on behalf of other people; I don't like it when someone is put on the spot or makes a blunder or is otherwise humiliated in public. So I am embarrassed at every sound bite I hear of the current run for office. I am red-faced at the way people speak to and about each other on the television and the way the talking heads antagonize the public figures, and I am shocked at the topics that seem important enough to make it into debate speeches.

We jump into public forums and forget the wisdom of Proverbs:

In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,

But he who restrains his lips is wise."

Proverbs 10:19

I am apolitical and apologetic about things that offend people, but I still think it's important to speak. Maybe the way is to come humbly into the public forum, to know our boundaries and our names and how we got them, to see the people as beating hearts instead of opponents or potential votes.

When I am tempted to believe that everything has jumped into the hand basket headed to hell, I know I need reminded of hope. I know I need these Wednesdays that exhaust me with more words spoken and heard in that one short day than in every other day of my week, because I know I need to be surrounded by adults and children who are still learning and willing to learn.

If our classrooms and homes are places of learning, then they are places to practice civility. If our public forums and offices are not places of civility then they are not places of learning, and those who know-it-all are fools on whom words are wasted.