St. Nicholas, Christmas, and Reasons to Teach Children Church History

What does church history have to do with Christmas? Well, for one, it tells us that Santa Claus did not originate as a way for Macy’s to sell more jewelry in December. :)

Though the historical record is sketchy, we think that The Real Saint Nicholas was a bishop in Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 300s. He might even have defended the doctrine of the full divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicea, though that might just be legend.

This little tidbit gives us a taste of what church history is like: it sheds light on our modern traditions, worship styles, and how we talk about doctrine. The idea of Santa Claus, for example, didn’t pop out of thin air. Even the very notion that Christians should or could celebrate Christmas is something that our predecessors wrestled with before accepting it into common practice.

Far from a dry list of dates and names, church history is the story of people trying to follow Jesus and figuring out what that means for their doctrines and how they live in the world. It’s the story of how the Gospel spread from a tiny Jewish community in the Middle East to the largest faith in the world. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but it sure has been interesting!

So if you’d like some fascinating fodder for Christmas school this year … or if you’d just like to learn some interesting history with your children this season, why not dig into a little Christmas history? The Saint Nicholas link above also includes intriguing short articles on the origins of Christmas trees and why we celebrate on December 25 instead of, say, May 20.

But aside from curiosity’s sake, why should we teach our children about historical Christian figures and the old councils of the church?

I greatly appreciated this article called 7 Reasons to Teach Our Children Church History.

I believe our children deserve to know the broad strokes of Christianity’s past. I want our children to know that Christianity is a historical faith, that it didn’t start with Martin Luther (or the chief theologian of your particular denomination), and that Christians have been working to understand and stay faithful to the Bible and Christ for 2,000 years – with varying results.

I want children to see their lives in the context of the bigger story God is telling. We live in the exciting chapter between when Jesus came to earth the first time and when he returns. We are co-laborers with Christ to bring his work of redemption, truth, love and healing to the world!

Sonlighters naturally pick up church history along their way as they read missionary biographies throughout the years. But the real depth comes in high school, with Sonlight 200: History of the Christian Church as we spend a dedicated year looking at world history through the lens of church history. Even if high school is years away for your children, I encourage you to skim the description of Sonlight 200 to get excited about why we tell our children the story of our faith. Let’s let them know how Jesus of Nazareth has truly changed the world forever.

Blessings to you this Advent season,
Sarita


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If your home won’t look like a magazine spread this holiday season …

I saw an email from a fancy grocery store chain this week. Packed with culinary tips for Thanksgiving, the tone of it suggested that my self-worth depends on me presenting a gorgeous and complex feast next week.

I laughed because I’m here to tell you, I gave up on that ideal a long time ago. I don’t like to cook, and I don’t prepare a fancy Thanksgiving meal.

But that doesn’t mean that Thanksgiving isn’t special in our family! We’ve just found other traditions and ways to make it meaningful. We cherish that special time together, and our traditions are our own quirky style.

On that note, let’s all remember that our society will be in overdrive these next six weeks of the holiday season. You will be bombarded with Pinterest images and blogs telling you what you “should” be doing for your family. Some will truly inspire, and many might make you feel inadequate.

But as you prepare for Thanksgiving next week and then the Advent and Christmas season, I’d love to remind you: You are already enough. Christ has already redeemed you. Your salvation is not dependent on how well you conform to society’s expectations of you this season.

You will see countless ads whose first goal is to make you dissatisfied with your home, your plans, your food, your gifts, your clothes, your gadgets, or your family. So let’s walk into that with eyes wide open this year. No big box store or grocery boutique gets to decide for you what you and your spouse want for your family. You, your spouse and God decide that!

As you juggle homeschooling and all your other duties these next weeks, I’d like encourage you: don’t try to copy anyone else’s holidays this year. Do what is meaningful for you. Do what brings your family joy. Do what truly blesses others. Do what helps you all focus on Christ and Christ’s Kingdom.

What does that mean for you?

God bless you and yours, and enjoy a very blessed Thanksgiving!

Sarita


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How to Raise Children When They (and You) Keep on Changing

I’d like to put words to a difficult reality that all mothers face: your life changes very quickly in this season of raising and educating children. May I encourage you in the face of this?

One habit that can help you live in freedom amidst this fact is simply this: accept the reality of change. The daily rhythms that worked for your family last year, or even this past summer, may not work anymore. When you can acknowledge this, then you are free to consider what does work for your family now.

Maybe in the summer you enjoyed taking the kids outside first thing in the morning. You’d all get fresh air to start the day, you could get some exercise, and the kids could get some energy out. But now it’s late autumn and that may not work anymore. It’s still dark in the morning and it’s getting cold. Does that mean you shouldn’t have enjoyed your summertime ritual? Or that you should drag the kids out in the dark now? Of course not. It was great while it lasted and now your mornings look different.

Accepting the reality of change means making a habit of asking yourself periodically what’s working and what isn’t for your family. It means considering new possibilities when it comes to rhythms, routines, and how to meet everyone’s needs. It means facing reality when a member of your family (whether that’s a child, your husband or you) is truly struggling in life and asking for help.

Here’s a clear example of how family life changes quickly. When you add a baby to your family, she can sleep anywhere during the day and she keeps you up at night. There’s some freedom in that reality – you can go to the park any time and she’ll nap there if she needs to. And there’s hardship in that – you are inevitably sleep deprived for a while.

As she grows, your baby will probably start sleeping better at night, but depending on her personality, she might need to be home in her own sleeping space for two solid naps a day. There’s some new freedom in that – you can function a little better because you’re sleeping more at night. And there is some restriction in that – you have to plan your schedule each day around getting her down for her two naps. And of course her sleep needs continue to change as she grows.

As you move through these inevitable changes, you could choose to resent or ignore them. You could try to make your child’s new needs fit into old patterns. Or you can embrace the new reality and be grateful for the new freedoms and opportunities they present.

I think great freedom and dignity lies in this idea. You are a capable woman with God-given intelligence and hard-earned wisdom. As your children grow, as you grow, as the needs of everyone in your family change, you will gain peace by doing what works until it doesn’t work anymore. Then you reconsider your options.

I think this principle can apply to all sorts of aspects of a mother’s life. Here are some changes you can either resist or embrace:

  • Your body changes as you carry children in your womb, give birth, and nurse them. Can you rejoice in the strong and competent body you have now?
  • Your children have continually changing emotional needs. Accept what your children need from you in this season and know that it will continue to change.
  • You’ll have seasons with discipline issues. Sometimes you will need to focus a lot on discipline and training. Then after a while it will pay off and you’ll have an easier season.
  • You personally will have times of expansion and times of turning inward. Some years you’ll have extra energy and turn outward to learn and absorb all sorts of new ideas and challenges. But eventually that will give way to a season where you’ll need to reign in and focus on the basics. Be grateful for the gifts of each season.
  • Even the mundane tasks of housekeeping will ebb and flow. Some seasons you’re learning new recipes, deep cleaning, and redecorating. Other seasons you’re just keeping everyone fed and in clean clothes. Both are fine and worthy.
  • Your spiritual needs may change over time. Sometimes the spiritual disciplines that used to be very meaningful don’t seem sufficient any more. Even as you persevere, you’ll discover that you need new ways of connecting with God – perhaps through learning a different approach to prayer or reading theologically challenging books.
  • Your relationship with your husband changes, stretches and shifts. Neither you nor your husband are the same people you were when you married. As you both change and grow, consider what your relationship needs right now. Is there any way you two can connect now that you couldn’t before (perhaps a weekly walk together)? Be honest about what works now and celebrate that.  

One of the big lies the enemy tells young moms is that things will always feel like this. If you’re overwhelmed with the daily grind, the enemy wants to steal your hope and make you feel like a prisoner to your circumstances. But that’s just not true. God is with you right now in your reality. And truly, as your family grows, things will change. It will not always be like this.

So what do you think? Does this stir up anything in you as you read? Are there any new realities youd like to accept in order to move forward with joy and clarity?

As you assess your life honestly right now, may you have the freedom and courage to walk forward and do whatever God is calling you to do.

God bless you!

Sarita


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Enjoy Your Life More: Add one good habit

A recent study showed that Americans spend eight minutes a day looking for their keys. Sound familiar?

If that’s you, it could be easy to berate yourself for that reality. When we think of habits, we tend to think of the negative – like a bad habit of losing things.

But I find it much more encouraging to think of the positive side: what good habits would I like to add to my life? Just as bad habits can drag us down, good habits can point us in the right direction.

Good habits can save us time if we want them to. If a homeschool mom could get back 40 minutes a week by cultivating the habit of hanging her keys by the door – or figuring out why she loses her keys and changing it – wouldn’t that be a good thing?  

Homeschool moms carry so much responsibility. If we can put some of that on autopilot so we just do it automatically, it can really make life easier. When it comes to dishes, laundry, cleaning and cooking, could a few simple logistical habits make your life easier? Could you put something on autopilot so you just do it automatically and don’t have to fuss about it?

Or for more inspiration, try this. Answer these questions to help you clarify a good habit you might like to add to your life:  

Dream about what you want to do with your life. Consider:

  • What you want a good day to look like?
  • What do you want a good week to look like?
  • What does a good month look like to you?
  • What about a good year? 10 years?

For me, a good day includes a 30-minute walk and a quiet time. It includes a few minutes at mid-day to listen to Christian music, which helps refocus and reset my day. And of course a good day for me includes reading. If I don’t read, I feel like I had a terrible day!

A good week for me includes a Sabbath rest. A few weeks ago, John and I were at a conference that lasted all day Friday through Sunday. When we got home I felt like I’d never catch up. When I take a day of rest the entire week goes better. I feel more focused, more energized, more able to meet life with perspective. A good week for me also includes time at church, which is so good for my soul. It includes time for John and me to sit under the tree talking with the kids as we laugh and eat together. What does a good week look like for you?

A good year for me includes two opportunities to get away and gain perspective on my everyday life. One of those is a week of fun with all the kids and grandkids, and another might be a trip to visit ministry partners in another part of the world and see what God is doing among them. Even if you can’t get away twice in a year, does a good year for you include some sort of intentional family week?

Ponder those questions and see what you might want to add. For me, that was adding a walk every day. I had wanted to do this for a while but I’d leave it to the evening and then feel too tired to go out and do it. So now I get up first thing in the morning, throw on yesterday’s clothes, run a comb through my hair and go walk. If I do it first thing I actually get it done. Plus, the beauty of the mornings has really surprised me – the sky, the air, it all has such a special quality first thing in the morning.

I also added a green smoothie for breakfast every day – I just fill the blender with greens, throw in a protein, some juice, some fruit and some coconut oil. What an easy way to honor my body and get more vegetables in my life! My daughter Jonelle started cleaning up her room every evening. It gives her a brand-new start on the day in the morning.

Experts say it takes 30 days to build a habit. It seems so easy to us. Just decide to do something and then do it. But it’s always an uphill climb. We are creatures of habit, so to build a brand new habit takes incredible perseverance and push. You have to plan to say every day “I’m just going to grit my teeth and get it done.” And eventually it’s almost automatic.

Experts also recommend just adding one habit at a time. I recently added five, and I’m here to tell you it felt like my efforts were going to take over my life. It was too much to think about, too much will power to exert every day in addition to my normal tasks.

Of course, we shouldn’t let habits rob us of our ability to be free and flexible. But I actually think many habits allow us more freedom in the world. Here’s an example. We used to camp a lot as a family. Camping, as you know, is a messy and dirty business. You come home and the temptation is to just throw all the equipment in a corner to deal with it later. But I got in the habit of taking the tub of cooking equipment and setting it on the kitchen counter as soon as we got home. I’d refill the salt and sugar containers, clean everything, change out the dirty towels for clean ones, and repack it all. Then when someone suggested we should go camping, I’d give the kids their packing checklists and we could get out the door surprisingly fast. Because of some good habits we were free to be flexible and go camping more often.

As another example, keeping your house a little cleaner (or accepting a lower standard of cleanliness) can mean you feel free to invite company over more often. Likewise, meal planning can help you feel free to play with your kids outside more afternoons instead of scrambling to pull something together for dinner at the last minute.

So dream about how you want your life to look and pick one new habit to start today. Don’t overwhelm yourself with five new habits like I did. But enjoy the freedom your one new habit provides!

Blessings,

Sarita


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Sonlighters Have a Heart for the World

I write this one with some trepidation. You know the Great Commission: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” I am not nearly as Great Commission-minded as I wish I was.

I grew up reading the Global Prayer Digest every night after dinner. I had a period in my adult life where I would get the annual 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World guide, and pray in a more focused way during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

Right now, though, I’m lucky to keep my younger boys’ attention during Window on the World, and to pray a bit as I go about my day.

So I recognize that “a heart for the world” is not as primary in my life in this season as I wish. I do seek to be faithful and pray that my heart might be bigger.

A few years back, a Christian was thinking about how to deal with the rise of terrorism. And he thought, “Terrorists need Jesus! I can pray!” And so he began the organization “Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer.” You can go to atfp.org and sign up to pray for a terrorist. That seems like something Sonlighters would like. It’s a bit outrageous. It’s a chance to change the world.

I love that, for long-time Sonlighters especially, when you read that previous paragraph, you probably either thought, “I should do that,” or, “I don’t have time for that.”

But you probably didn’t think, “Why would I want to pray for terrorists?”

Because, distracted as you may be, as stretched thin and weary as you may find yourself, you still have a heart for the world.

And if you haven’t done Sonlight for very long, you haven’t had much opportunity yet to read missionary biographies, to pray for various people groups around the world, to learn about the ways that God is at work in the world. But you will!

 

Warmly,
Amy's pic

Amy Lykosh
John and Sarita's oldest daughter
Second-generation Sonlighter
Homeschooling mom to five

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Sonlighters Appreciate a Nuanced View

If there is one extreme of the postmodern who feeds on doubt and uncertainty, and the other extreme of the modern who offers absolute assurance, I feel like Sonlighters are in the middle, at least in some things, saying, “I have done some research, and thought about this, and I think X. At least until you persuade me otherwise. And you might! And that’s okay!”

Thus, not wallowing in doubt, but not dogmatically asserting one’s correctness, either.

Or, as my sister said, she wants to have the ability to hear more than one side, to be respectful of others’ opinions, while not losing her own beliefs.

For things that she has assurance about—like the resurrection of Christ—she teaches her children with conviction.

For things that she is not fully persuaded about—say, the age of the Earth—she teaches multiple perspectives and allows room for further research and information.

That’s what we mean by education, not indoctrination.

I saw one Sonlighter mention recently that she loved her children’s reading in Sonlight E, that they had the perspective of both sides of the Civil War. I remember that, too—how interesting to hear the other side.

I am thrilled that Sonlighters appreciate hearing multiple voices, and learning about peoples and places around the world. It is exciting to learn new things, and I’m grateful we have that opportunity.

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Sonlighters Talk with Their Children

One thing I notice when I'm around my Sonlighting friends is how much they talk with their children.

When, for example, the 10-year-old comes up to ask a question, my friend pauses the conversation and she and her son interact. Her son matters. He has value.

I also have watched Sonlight parents explain things to their children, spontaneously, because the world is interesting. A few examples from the grocery store. When faced with the number of eggs and the various labels: what does it all mean?

Most hens live in cages. This keeps them safe, and keeps the eggs from being expensive, but it's not very comfortable. So some people don't want eggs from hens in cages. Those eggs are "cage-free." The hens might live inside their whole lives, but they are more free to wander around. "Free-range" means pretty much the same thing, although they have a door in the wall, so they could go outside, though maybe a fan keeps them from wanting to. The most expensive eggs are "pasture-raised." It is nice for birds to be able to eat grass and bugs, but it is also dangerous for them, as they can be picked off by hawks, or eaten by foxes. And the label "vegetarian feed" means that the hens were always inside, hens eat bugs. The only way to make sure that they do not eat bugs, is to keep them away from bugs, by keeping them indoors. "Natural" means nothing, because every single product on Earth comes from something on Earth. It's all "natural," even cotton candy! " Organic" means that the feed and care followed a specific set of instructions: no hormones, no genetically modified feed, no automatic antibiotics in the feed.

And then, in produce. . . .

I think I'd like a watermelon. Do you know how to choose a watermelon? You knock on it to make sure it sounds hollow, and then pick one that is heavier than you'd expect for its size. I read, too, that it should have a yellow spot, which means that it ripened in the field (the yellow spot is where it rested on the ground). I don't know if I've ever seen one without a yellow spot, but maybe we'll find one today!

Of course, not every trip to the grocery store is filled with great educational moments. But the world is interesting, and we, as parents, get to share it with our children. And because we Sonlighters spend part of our days interacting with our children, and learning together, there is always more to talk about.

I appreciate that I can talk with my boys about everything from nutrition to inappropriate touching, from the origin of life to what we liked most about the latest Pixar film. And because we've also read about a wide range of topics, even the most difficult topics don't feel (too) embarrassing. Those topics are just part of education.

This is something that I see in the Sonlighters I know, and I suspect it's true of you, too. You engage with your children. You talk with them because they are real people.

I love how much Sonlighters talk with their children. Thank you for doing that.

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