• Simple Gifts

    May 17, 2021 4 min read

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    Encouragement from The Mothers of Two Great Scientists

    Mother’s Day has come and gone, but here at Science Shepherd it seems any day is a good day to celebrate mothers and so we’re offering you this article from Kristen Hardin that we hope will be an encouragement to you today.

    Mary Jump Cannon gave birth to her first daughter Annie on December 11, 1863 in Delaware when the United States was engulfed in the Civil War. Mary “taught [Annie] the fascination of star study”.1

    Earlier in history, Frances Cay Maxwell gave birth to her son James on June 13, 1831 in Scotland. In today’s language, we would probably say she homeschooled him until she passed away when James was a small boy.

    We mothers are busy people. Even if we have tried to simplify our lives and focus on what matters most to us, our days could still be filled to overflowing.

    I wonder if Mary Cannon ever felt that way. Was it hard for her to find time to learn about the stars with her daughter Annie at night? Was stargazing a refreshment to her soul after a long day? Or was it something she did - not so much because she herself was interested in it - but because her daughter liked it?

    And what about Mrs. Maxwell? She had an inquisitive and active boy to raise, and she was his teacher. As she encouraged him to explore nature and “Look up through nature to nature’s God”2, was she also reminding herself to do the same – a reminder to herself to keep a heavenly perspective? When she became ill when her son was only 7, did she worry what would become of him? Did she hope the Scripture he memorized as a child would stick in his heart and steer him through life?

    “Look up through nature to nature’s God.”

    Looking at these little pictures of these two mothers, I see a few gifts they gave their children. Both mothers gave their children the gift of presence and time. Frances Maxwell gave her son the gift of sharing her faith with her encouragement to “Look up through nature to nature’s God” and the Scripture he memorized.

    On the one hand, these seem like such simple things, don’t they? Out of all the things we want to give our children, these things are not purchased items that are wrapped and given as a birthday present. They don’t require master’s degrees or big budgets.

    On the other hand, I’ve been thinking that these gifts really do cost something – something valuable. Giving the gift of presence with our children takes focus, perhaps laying aside our phones, and probably some planning. Sharing our time with our children costs us our time that we cannot get back or increase. We may have to give up other things for a season that we would like to pursue or perhaps be seen as not as “productive” by others. To give the gift of sharing our faith, does it seem like it helps to also give the other two gifts? I’m thinking so. Sharing our faith may also require planning, focus, and, in this world, even being willing to be seen as odd.

    Will it be worth the sacrifices?, we may wonder when we’re tired and overwhelmed. While we don’t know what the return on our investment will be, we can look back at Mary Cannon and Frances Maxwell to see what their investment yielded.

    When Mary’s daughter Annie grew up, it turned out that Annie life’s work involved the stars that Mary had encouraged her to study. Annie worked with Harvard cataloguing stars – hundreds of thousands of them! She also created a system for classifying stars that is still used today. I’m sure that would have made Mary proud.

    Frances Maxwell didn’t get to see her son James grow up (at least not from an earthly perspective). She passed away when he was only eight. But James continued to be curious, and his personal faith shows that he did “Look up through nature to nature’s God.” What did he accomplish? Well, he did research in electromagnetism that laid the foundation for Einstein, showed that Saturn’s rings could be made up of solid objects (not liquid) and took the first color photograph – and that’s not all! I think Mrs. Maxwell would be proud of James, don’t you?

    Of course, our children may not grow up to be world-famous or world-changing scientists. And may we be OK with that! If God calls them to be artists, lawyers, writers, builders or entrepreneurs, etc., may they simply work heartily at whatever He calls them to. For me, it is still inspiring to see how Annie Jump Cannon’s and James Clerk Maxwell’s lives were influenced by the not-so-simple gifts their mothers gave them. It’s a good reminder and an encouragement to me. I hope it is for you as well.

    1. “Girl Star-Gazer Now Specialist”, Statesville Record And Landmark, November 19, 1928 (accessed May 14, 2021 at

    2. Irene Howat, Ten Boys Who Used Their Talents (Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 36.

    From board books to read with your little learners to our parent guide for our high school biology curriculum, Science Shepherd seeks to come alongside you in giving the gifts of presence, time and shared faith with your children. Have questions? Our friendly customer support loves to help, so contact us today.

    Kristen Hardin is happily the wife of Bill, mother of a baby, Spanish teacher for wonderful homeschool students and author of a children’s picture book called Miss Mary: A Tale of Old County Clare.

    Until next time!
    Science Shepherd