Cultivating Civility

Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.
C. S. Lewis

As I pursue the idea of building foundations of truth and beauty and loveliness into the souls of our children, I have to say that we cannot pass on what is not a part of our own lives. A mom is the CEO of her home, the one who determines and cultivates the life, activities, values and soul, she must be working from the depth of her own soul. This is a long term call–a long distance run, and so pacing ourselves, making sure our own emotional cups are full, seeing that we are growing in grace and beauty is essential to modeling that to our children. I will be more intent on writing about how to build foundations in little ones, but first I would suggest that a mom must define, “What kind of a woman do I want to be? How can I become more excellent? How I am doing on growing more in grace and civility each day?” I suggest that each year, moms who want to grow in wisdom, must take a morning or afternoon away to think through personal goals for themselves and the plan in time to make those goals happen. I will be writing more about that after I finish writing about how to establish values that build children into strong, godly leaders. But, first, you must define who you want to be, so that the influence you give to your children will come from your own soul-set values and convictions. Below I share a story of my own life from a few years ago–and I see that my children love it when I am a picture of civility–it draws them to their finer selves! Enjoy.


Excitement bubbled up inside as I considered the day I had charted for myself. A morning away as a real, live friend, around my own age! Carefully applying my make up, smoothing my hair to its most beautiful style and dressing up in something a bit more sophisticated than my regular jeans marked an adult day out with a beloved friend. Time away from my work-a-day world of children, dishes, teaching, writing and then doing it all over again, is rare. I am one who sometimes likes the predictable on such days–depending on those places I know will bring pleasure and comfort. Meeting my friend in a favorite cafe promised to provide a spot for catching up and sharing dreams and ideas. Now the reason I am telling you this is that I was looking for a day off–a day without conflict, a day of rest before the “busy-ness”  of the year starts again!

High-backed, overstuffed chairs provided privacy from the other customers and just the settling in we needed for our morning together. A steamy pot of tea, warm apple-caramel coffee cake all went down easily. Times like this help me to find my center. A busy and passed-too-fast summer had left me a bit fragmented and out of breath. I was storing up this pleasure and goodness and relaxation against the very busy next few months of a new school year, which is upon me!

After an hour and a half of conversation, we were ready to proceed on to our next pleasure–a stop at a lovely gift shop, filled to the brim with china tea cups and pots, delectable bits of jams and jellies and tea; a beautiful array of cook books and biographies and children’s books, feminine clothing and an array of other girl-pleasing artifacts. We hoped to exchange some ideas with the owner about books and art and other future projects.

Just walking in was a pleasant sensate experience, because of all the pretty and fine gifts scattered around the shop. As we chatted with the store owner about our day and some of the books and one of my new projects, she engaged with us in lively conversation. I looked at my watch and realized that I needed to be home to take Joy to a choir practice and so I tried to savor my few minutes as of quiet heart-sharing with my friend. We left the shop and I drove home. Much to my pleasure, the traffic was much less than usual and I found myself home with a half-hour to spare.

I chose not to glance in the kitchen to see what messes were there, but instead, made myself a cup of hot tea. I knew the messes would be there to tame when we all got back home later. I walked over the backpack and a small stack of books on my stairs to my bedroom. They could be cleaned up before dinner. I walked in, lit my candles, turned on my cd with the soothing piano melodies rising and flowing from my Pride and Prejudice cd (very beautiful, by the way!). Joy, who had been in her room reading, heard me and gently knocked on my door.

“Come in, sweetness!” I responded. “Here, have a few sips of tea with me before we have to leave.”

She sat down, and began to bubble all over me with thoughts and ideas and incidences that had happened in her morning. I intentionally took a deep breath and observed with thanksgiving at my child who has so much become my delightful friend. We had fifteen minutes together in peace and pleasure.

“Mom, I am so glad you take time for civility–it makes me feel special, and most of all, it really makes me feel like you like listening to me and just celebrating life together.” (Has she been around Sarah lately? And now, she regularly lights candles, sips tea and reads–hummmm–where did she get the habit?)


I taught my monthly mom’s group and we were discussing chapter 8 in Mission of Motherhood. Our topic was becoming the gardener of your children’s souls. Even as you would not expect a garden to emerge from throwing a handful of seeds into the wind into your back yard, so we cannot expect our children to have excellence in their own personal lives by just hoping it happens. Though education is important, it is mostly the way we invest in the other moments of life when our children’s souls, manners, habits, skills will determine who they really become. When we become the gardener of their souls, we plant beauty, memories, confidence, and  winsome ways of living that  will capture their own imaginations. (Mission of Motherhood)

First, we must take time to be civilized. I know that my soul dries out if I don’t plan in time that fills my own emotional cup. Getting away from my home (where all the chores cry out my name!), to a lovely place where I can think or read or share time with a friend is something I try to plan into my schedule. It doesn’t happen as often as I like, but I need it so that I can get back to my center and fill the cups of all those who are in my life to take from my own heart–children, husband, friends, and ministry. I will have nothing to give if I don’t take care of myself first. So each year as I plan my children’s needs and schedules and activities, I take time to get alone and evaluate, “How am I doing–physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally? How can I simplify my responsibilities so that I can make it with grace through the next months.

Next, though, I make sure to plan in civilizing times with my family–traditions like family dinners or deserts that we will share with our friends, special Sunday afternoon tea times–the first Apple Pie time with a story book. (Giving my children the responsibility of decorating the dining table, writing little notes of encouragement  to their guests who will come, lighting the candles, making the meal.) We plan a time for making cookies or bread or flower baskets to share with those we know who are in need of encouragement or love. (We found cute pumpkin baskets and filled them with dried flowers–Joy sold a few to raise money for a dog she hopes to purchase and then we chose two for special family friends who need to know they are appreciated.)

Plan civility into the moments of your life this fall. Make time for you to have your own experience, however small, that will remind you that you are royalty–as a child of the king. And then, make time for your family, to have peace and beauty and manners and elegance in your home, however small. It will produce a soul that values taking the time to celebrate the importance and intimacy of friendship and fellowship. Happy weekend!

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  1. Patty Yellis says

    Dear Sally,
    I guess walking along by the beach, being pulled by two unruly dogs as the girls and I struggle to enjoy the fleeting days of summer, would count, right? :) Memories of yelling “Heel”, “Slow down or my arm will break”,”I can’t hold your hand,dear, or the dog will pull away from me” somehow seem less than civil. Despite all the turmoil, the beauty of the wind whipping up the waves, the feel of the spray, and the majesty of the expanse of the ocean felt great. Our excursion was not at all romantic due to those two unmannerly poodles, but still a refreshment to our souls, I think.

  2. Suzy says

    Thank you Sally for once again encouraging us. I am celebrating my 40th birthday tomorrow with some dear friends and family. I wanted to celebrate all the wonderful friends the Lord has blessed me with so I decided on a High Tea with lots of beautiful pink & white roses, fine china teacups, tiered cake stands overflowing with delectable cakes etc and little presents for each of my quests. It truely does refresh us and fill our emotional cups when we enjoy the fine things in life. I am hoping that tomorrow will be a time of refreshing and blessing for all my dear friends, and that they go home with their cups filled to overflowing. Have a great weekend Sally and thanks again for all your encouragement.

  3. Rachel says

    Thank you Sally. This is just what I needed this morning! I came to your conference in Atlanta back in January. I think of you and your special family often. You all were such a blessing to me. Seven years ago when I had my first child, I told a woman I had met that I planned to homeschool. She brought me Educating the Wholehearted Child to borrow. It was the first book I read before homeschooling. I later went on to read the Mission of Motherhood and the Ministry of Motherhood. I have often thanked God for placing your books in my hands so early in my life as a mother. God has used you and your family so profoundly.Thank you for all you do!

  4. says

    I loved your conversation with Joy and your precious time with her. You have inspired me to have tea time with my own kiddos and to make it special for them. I wrote on my blog about tea time with Sofia (her first tea party with me!) and what a success it was. Thank you for the suggestion =).

  5. Caroline says

    Thank you so much for the reminder to include civility in our days. I do let chores and our homeschool bog us down at times, but I want to take time each day for some civility! I love the way you express things! Thank you!

  6. says

    Sally, I’m a recent convert to drinking good tea–it just seems to make me slow down and savor the best parts of the day. That and a long bath with a good novel in the evenings is almost mandatory (we had to put a clock in the bathroom because I’d forget to go to bed!) to make up for long days with three little ones.
    I am a better wife and mother when I have a few hours to myself each week–my whole family reaps the benefits of it!
    And by the way, your Sarah just has to be the most delightful girl I’ve ever heard of–I love reading her beautiful words on her blog. :)

  7. Shari says

    Thank you for such a lovely post!!!! I am printing this out so I can read it over and over! I do hope you plan on sharing more about civility in the future! I LOVE this and need to hear it!!

    You mentioned Sunday afternoon tea. Does your family do that every Sunday? Please share if so!


  8. says

    I have four and five year old boys and a little girl who turned one today. I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It wouldn’t matter how we lived our lives out here. The townfolks nearby all live plain lives as well.
    It matters to me though to have a beautiful home. Now, it is 90 years old and needs a ton of work and we’ve been working so hard since we moved here from Denver earlier this year. It has character for sure, but nothing really nice. It is not a fancy place at all. We filled it with our antiques and treasures. There is always a pot of tea ready to go, and the coffee percolator on standby. I light candles and constantly have beautiful music playing. Often, it is P&P and other like soundtracks.
    My boys love it all and comment on it regularly. They are just little boys, but they notice everything. I decorated for Autumn a few weeks ago while they were napping and they were delighted to see it all when they awakened. I sewed fabric bunting and have that all hung up in the dining room as September is filled with birthdays for us. They comment on how fun it is.
    They are rough and tumble boys and live to play in the dirt, but they also ask regularly to have tea and sit on the couch snuggling and reading. :)
    Your writings make my heart sing. For years, I thought I was just an oddball. But I have found a friend in you. Not saying you are an oddball, of course. ahem. You have encouraged me to not just do what I love, but to wholeheartedly embrace the life I want to lead and want my kids to experience. Thank you!
    Off to turn on the music, light a candle and bake some cupcakes!

  9. says

    Sally, I have had your book, A Whole-Hearted Child for ten years but I absolutely love reading about all the ways you flesh it out!

    Thank you for sharing so many of your lovely memories!

  10. Janell says

    Thank you sooo much for sharing you wisdom, tips, heartaches and experiences with us! As a Mom of 4 under 4, I appreciate your Biblical view and child raising info. I wasn’t raised in this manner, though we did go to church. I did not know the kind of Mothering you speak of and I truly want that Mama for my children. It is much harder being intentional as a Mom, but sooo worth it. Needing God’s grace to get throuh each day! I am already seeing the benefits of that in my 4.5 year old.
    I LOVE your blog and have been praying for you during this time of transition and change. Praying God gives you clear direction, peace & comfort. Love you!

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