Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dealing with Distractions

Distractions are a constant struggle with homeschooling.  I deal with them very imperfectly, but I have come to realize that there will always be distractions.  We hold ourselves often to an ideal--our house should be clean and picked up, meals always made on time, shopping done, kids happy and quiet.  But, I don't think that is the way life really is.  One friend once told me that she had come to realize that at different phases of her life she needed to accept a different level of cleanliness in her house as well as modifying her own expectations of her cooking.  

When we became moms, I think that most of us realized it would be difficult to wash clothes and linens as often as we did before we had kids.  And meals, well, they went from several dishes to one main dish and maybe a side dish for a while if not forever.  If you are like me, you've tried to be supermom and do everything.  It's very hard at times to balance our expectations, our husband's expectations of us, and our children's needs and their expectations.  I haven't quite figured this part out yet and I am definitely a work in progress so I don't feel that I can adequately address it.  But, I bring it up, just to say that if you're in this boat--so am I.  In my mind I know that I cannot do it all.  But, there is a battle going on in my mind that tells me I have to or else I won't be good enough.  Lies.  My worth is not in how perfectly I do things.  It is not in what I do or don't get done.  My worth lies only in Christ.  That is the truth that I often lose sight of.  This morning our pastor spoke of the difference between promises and expectations.  Promises are kept and are not about us.  They are made to others.  Expectations on the other hands are almost entirely self centered.  They are about us and what we want--what we expect.  I'm realizing that's an important distinction.  We have promised to love and honor our husbands and take care of our families (though that one is unspoken).  We do our best to do that.  Sometimes we will fall short of others expectations and we have to trust that to God and trust His love for us over the love of others who are imperfect just as we are.  

This idea that we have to be supermoms only becomes intensified when we begin to homeschool.  More on our plates and less time to do it.  I remember reading in one of Cynthia Heald's studies that God knew her heart and that she needed to have 3 children in 3 years.  It was God's best for her because it drew her to Him.  Homeschooling is one of the most humbling things for me.  I realized when I became a middle school teacher that God had for me to become a teacher because it brought out all of my weaknesses.  I had to depend on him.  Homeschooling is very similar for me.  I wish I could say that every day is a step forward for me.  Sometimes it's one step forward, two steps back and sometimes two steps forward, and one step back.  

This year as I've transitioned to two full-time homeschooling students and one 2 1/2 year old to keep an eye on, I've been adjusting my own expectations and what I get done.  I've broken down my responsibilities to the basics that I have to get done now:  laundry and cooking, floors cleaned.  All other cleaning has been cut down a lot.  And I'm really working on having the kids learn to pick up after themselves.  But, we don't have the same expectations of Eli, our youngest.  As my pastor's wife has told me--these years when they're all so young are hard!  There really is more work on us because they can't help us with it!  So, we have to try and make things as simple as we can and not expect ourselves to be perfect.  Sometimes we have to adjust our expectations even of how much schooling we can get done as well.  Choose simpler curriculums and not do a lot of extras.  There will be time for such things, I believe.  This year is much easier than last year as Eli has grown even one year older.  

Homeschooling does take time and I am often distracted.  But, I have seen over time that this is God working in me as much as he is in my kids.  I need to grow in my patience and my focus and my self discipline.  But, it's important that I not condemn myself.  Some days I do well and other days I don't. 

With all of our struggles with distractions, it's easy for me to conclude sometimes that our children might be better off in school.  But, there are a lot of reasons I believe that they wouldn't be.  The biggest one for me is that my children wouldn't get to be kids--they have to grow up so fast in school (one of the preschoolers in Sami's public PK class liked Michael from the Halloween movies on Halloween ?!).  Autumn and Sami are so sensitive and I realize how much they would probably get bullied.  Young girls do need to learn to stand up for themselves, but they can do that when they're strong enough.  The wounds from K have stayed with me all my life.  The school would be teaching her what's right and wrong, not me.  I wouldn't always even know what had been taught.  And as for the friends they'd have--that's as much a blessing as a curse so to speak.  My girls are learning to include everyone and play with children of different ages.  And I'd also have to juggle getting them to and from school and doing extracurricular after school and on weekends (whether public or private) which would really steal from our family time and from the time that my husband gets with our kids since he works a lot.  

Private school has different challenges than public school.  Often the academics aren't as strong (even at the strongest ones here).  And grades aren't always fairly given--parents expect A's.  Children are expected to be cushioned and the students I taught expected A's and also didn't know what to do when they were faced with a challenge.  And you have the other extreme of being around kids who can afford a lot of things when your own family can't.  That can be hard.  That's how I grew up.  The people around me were a lot more well of than we were and made comments about my clothes--I wish we'd had uniforms at my public school growing up ;).

No schooling option is perfect and I believe that every family makes the best choices they can for their children and for their families.  Homeschooling is not always the best answer for families.  For ours it is for this time.  If God laid it on our hearts to put our children in school, then we would do it.  I have friends whose children are in public and in private school and they are doing well!  I rejoice that they are!  And at the same time, I believe that homeschooling is right for my children. I hesitate to say "for now" because I hope that it will be for a long time, but as I've listened to my older and wiser friends who've gone before me, I've learned that there may be a time when God directs us otherwise.  

I think distractions are a part of this life.  Whether you are homeschooling or not.  The decisions we have are when to ignore them, how to cope with them, and when to deal with them.  But, I think they're here to stay, so we can't let them defeat us!

Homeschooling Encouragement

Recently I shared some thoughts about homeschooling with my sister in law and she suggested that I might post some of my response to her questions here on my blog.  Before I share, let me explain who I am and where I'm coming from.

I've been on all sides--public school, private school (to a lesser degree), and homeschooling.  I have a master's degree in education and taught both Elementary and Middle School, have tutored high school math, taught math in a community college GED program, taught unsuccessfully at a private Christian school, and have now been homeschooling for five years (if you count the two years that we formally homeschooled for preschool).  The unsuccessful jaunt is a story in and of itself which I learned a lot from.  But, I think I'll save that for another time...

I remember the middle of PK3 and my husband doubted whether or not I could commit to homeschooling.  We were two of those parents who couldn't wait for our kids to start learning, not realizing that it would all come in time.  There is no need to rush.  But, now I see both sides and I can genuinely encourage other moms to not worry about rushing as I did with our first daughter.  My husband and I conflicted and I became more resolved to homeschool and prove that I could do it.  He became more concerned so I set about finding ways that I could show him our daughter was doing fine.  I found the World Book Scope and Sequence and went through the list of what she could and couldn't do.  I used this as an evaluation every 6 months for PK3 and PK4.  I also found other evaluations which I added on to show how much Autumn learned during her PK4 year.  What I realized the next year when we began kindergarten was that as much as I thought I'd gotten the hang of homeschooling, I really hadn't!  I did have assessments in place and I'd started on my journey, but I realized that each year is a new adventure.

In the middle of Kindergarten, I began to fall apart and doubt myself.  I questioned whether or not I could really do it.  I hadn't sought out any homeschool networks (as a way to save money) and so I was very isolated since there were no other homeschooling families at our church.  Autumn and I survived the second half of kindergarten with me learning as much as she did.  Maybe I learned even more.

The first thing I learned was that we all have these times (and they aren't just during kindergarten) when we get discouraged and think we can't do this homeschooling thing!

Here is the story I shared with my sister in law about that time during Autumn's kindergarten year...

    I remember breaking down several times the year Autumn was doing Kindergarten (which was only 2 years ago!).  She is a very compliant child, but she struggles with procrastination and I just can't do the work for her.  Sami is my strong willed one and with that comes determination, but different challenges.   I remember days when I would get so upset.  One day I even explained and asked Autumn if she wanted to go to school and for me to go back to work (since that's the only way we'd be able to afford it).  I even worked out in my head that I would need to make $50k per year to put two children in day care and one in private school.  Then last year, Autumn was mourning that she can't play all day anymore and then I explained to her that her friend Abby gets on a bus at 8:30 a.m. and then gets home at 4:30 p.m.  She realized that the only reason she'd want to go to school is for recess.  I've watched her come to terms with being home and realize that she wouldn't want to be away from me all day--and just as much I wouldn't want to miss out on seeing her all day.

We often take these struggles and turn them inward towards ourselves.  I compared myself to other homeschooling moms and fell short in my own eyes.  In time I would meet a group of other homeschooling moms who helped me see that we are all different--and those differences are on purpose.  

At the core of it all is finding peace with God, I believe.  Peace with trusting that He made us the way He wanted to--imperfections and all.  Trusting that there is good in us--this is a bit tricky theologically, but there is good in us that is the reflection of Him.  But, at the same time, coming to a place where we like ourselves and who God made us to be.  I was reading about the Amish and their beliefs because of a book I just read and I realized that they shun all individual ideas.  They see all of it as vanity.  I would differ with them on this one. God created us all differently--we are not carbon copies of one another.  Logically, if God had wanted us to be, he would have made us that way ;)    I actually think it's a good thing to like ourselves--to enjoy the things we do well.  We don't have to be better than everyone else at things in order to feel good about what we can do--that's a conclusion that is still working its way into my heart.

Here's my list of things I like about myself and the way God made me:  I am a good cook (I like my cooking), I like my handwriting, I like my voice and singing, I love people and care about them a lot, I like being able to take something that's ready to be thrown away and fix it up, I like saving money and doing math in my head (I'm glad I can do it).  Most of all, I am thankful that I am a Christian and that I love God--I wouldn't want to go through this life without Him!  Anyways, those are random things that came to my mind.  

It is easy to lose ourselves in being moms and lose sight of who God made us to be.  Being moms is part of that, but we need to make efforts not to lose our interests and personalities.  It is these things that shape us and that we give to our children and share with our husbands.

I don't do this perfectly at all.  I am on this journey with all other homeschooling moms.  I think our identities and our confidence that we can do what we have set out to do is often shaken.  Honestly, my kids and I have had a crazy January!  Our days have been different every week.  I long to get back to a Monday through Friday schedule and I'm hoping to next week.  But, that is the life of homeschooling.  We do need to be committed to sticking it out, but we also need to allow ourselves grace and take break days when we need to whether it be for sickness, holidays, or family crises.  

I do believe we need to stand firm in the knowledge that we have sought God before starting out this homeschooling journey and that we are trusting Him with our lives and the lives of our children.  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wonderful Read Aloud for Children

Every once in a while you pick up a book and you think, "Wow!  This is a wonderful book!"  That is just how my family has felt about Young Fredle.  I remember reading Cynthia Voigt's books when I was growing up.  So, I wanted to read this book.  From the first page, her writing was extremely vivid and clever.  Young Fredle is the story of a young mouse who is kicked out of his den and finds himself outside.  The book is the story of his journey.  I don't want to say any more about the plot except to say that I enjoyed all of twists and turns (as did my children who are 2, 5, and 7).  My youngest two often didn't understand what was going on, so we would summarize at the end of each chapter and it gave them a chance to practice listening and paying attention to the store.  The verbal imagery was often also beyond their skill level so we would talk about it.  But, I felt it was still very good to read it to them because it stretches their little minds and helps them to grow in their ideas of how to describe things in their own writing.

It is often hard to find good, appropriate books for advanced readers.  My 2nd grade daughter has a 5th grade reading level.  When I was teaching in the public schools, I also faced this dilemma.  This is a book that would be very appropriate for advanced readers at younger ages as well as students in 3rd through 5th grade.

I would highly recommend this book to homeschool parents--it's a keeper and one that you will be able to talk through with your children--for example, why does Fredle think there are many moons?  I would also highly recommend it as a read aloud to classroom teachers.  The verbal imagery in this book is amazing.  Fredle, by the way, is pronounced "fredal" because it rhymes with "metal" which you learn on the first page.  Rather than leaving the reader in a lurch about how to pronounce the main character's name, Ms. Voigt gives a clue on the very first page.  How wise!

If this book doesn't become a Newberry Award winner this year, I will be very surprised!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bible Storybooks

I have to admit that when a new picture Bible storybook comes out I am always curious about how it will be different from others that we've read as a family.  Today a new one arrived in the mail.

The Beginning Reader's Bible, illustrated by Marijke ten Cate is a little different than other Bible storybooks we have in our house.  I mistakenly assumed that it would be a Bible storybook for early readers, written at a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level.  I did note that the description mentioned that it had excerpts from the ICB, but I assumed these were short.  In actuality, the text is almost entirely excerpts from the International Children's Bible with illustrations.  There are verses in boxes for almost every lesson that are good to repeat and memorize with your children.  There are also scattered boxes titled "Do God's Word" which include ideas for activities to reinforce the theme of the passage or to explain a theological concept such as sin.

At first, my daughter didn't like the illustrations because they weren't neat--every hair wasn't in place like most books she reads.  We talked about it and I explained that their hair is drawn that way to illustrate the blowing of the wind and to illustrate that it was or wasn't still.  After she understood this, she liked the pictures much more. I was actually quite impressed by the illustrations.  Here's one example of the illustrator's attention to of the illustrations shows Sarah spilling the tea as she was eavesdropping on her husband and laughed.  We don't know if she did this, but I can imagine it happening and the illustration does imprint on my mind that she was focused on overhearing the guests and her husband--which the Scripture says she was doing.

The formatting of the book is very nice.  It's a large book and is easy to read, though the font size is probably a 12 or 14.  It would be nice for a third grader and maybe a strong second grade reader to read.  But, I don't think I would describe it as a "beginning reader's Bible".  It is a nice Bible storybook to read with your children when they have outgrown younger Bible picture books, but you don't feel ready to read the entire Bible with them yet.

The Bible is the Bible and Scripture is Scripture.  The one thing I would note is that a few of the "Do God's Word" thoughts didn't quite sit with me.  Sin is explained this way:  "Sooner or later, everyone does something that they know they shouldn't do.  That is called Sin.  The next time you do something wrong, if you will simply tell God about your sin and you are truly sorry, he will forgive you.  He will wipe it all away--just as if it had never happened!" p.128  Yes, sin is when we do things wrong--but what is wrong is to disobey God--that is sin.  It is important to know that we ourselves do not determine what is right and wrong.  God is our compass.  The heart is deceitful above all else.  I believe it is important for children to understand that.

There are several additional pages after the stories which include The Lord's Prayer, the 10 Commandments, the 23rd Psalm, and others.  I felt unsure as to why they included a memory verse chart.  As a parent with multiple children, I wouldn't use the chart at the end.  The very last page also needs to be mentioned, though.  It is a prayer of salvation.  Many churches instruct children to pray "the sinner's prayer".  It is the same prayer that is gone through at altar calls.  I haven't attended a church in several years that teaches this, but my girls go to church for Awanas that does.  Each family has beliefs about this prayer and whether or not children should follow this formula.  I think it is a matter of personal preference.

Aside from the Do God's Word thoughts, it is a very nice book.  I do like it.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Eli's conversations

Eli, my little boy: I was thinking about you Mommy and I wanted you.

Eli:  If me hear Sound, me get you Mommy?

A few moments later after I've left the room...

Eli:  Mommy, I need you.

(Mommy enters the room.)

Me: What happens Eli if you hear a sound?

Eli:  If me hear sound, I get out of bed and get you.

Me:  No Eli, I will take care of any sound.  I love you.

It is an amazing thing to me to have an actual conversation with my late talker.  When he turned two, he didn't say a word.  He started speech therapy two months after he turned two.  I learned a lot.  It was very humbling.

When I became a parent I resolved not to think that what my kids did or didn't do was about me.  I saw that in my dad when I was a kid.  He took my actions personally when they weren't about him.

As our children grow, we want to make sure they're hitting all the benchmarks they need to.  And when they haven't hit one that other children have, we might wonder if we did something wrong.  Some pediatricians will even question us--in the case of speech, the question is always "Are you talking for him?  Are his brothers or sisters talking for him?"  The assumption is that you are.  Whenever I would explain or mention to someone that Eli was in speech therapy the next statement or question.  I would get asked that question or hear a similar assumption that I or the girls have been speaking for him.  But, that wasn't the case.

At first, I kept defending myself and the girls.  I wasn't able to stop myself.  We didn't.  Eli actually didn't want to talk.  He happens to have a stubborn spirit.  After the first few visits from his speech therapist, I asked her if she agreed with my conclusion that he simply didn't want to talk.  She agreed with me.  Over the next few months, she and I broke through that.  Often it was a matter of discipline.  When he wanted me to read a book to him, I refused until he repeated what I had asked him to try and say.  I realized he needed to want to talk.  Over the course of the fall, this happened.

Usually late talkers then begin to struggle with articulation, but Eli has really caught on to this.  He is repeating words well for me and working on the sounds that I ask him to.  He is now right on target for his age.  His speech therapy may end soon.  I am thankful for this, but I will also miss it for his sake.  He has come to enjoy his time with Miss Rachel playing games and reading books--all with a purpose.  But, again, his success is not about me.  I realize it doesn't make me a better or worse mom.  But, I am excited for him.

Now I get to tackle the typical two year old behavior like I saw today.  We were leaving church and he didn't want to.  So, he cried the whole way out.  I let it go and addressed it at the car, where he settled down as soon as I did.  I can't imagine what the folks at church thought.  But, I did talk to him about it.  And it wasn't okay.

When there are other issues going on, it's easy to be more permissible of behavior.  I have at times fallen into that trap.  No longer.

But, the conversation I had with him tonight still melts my heart.  I can talk with my son!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Amish Fiction

I've discovered that I feel a sense of concern about the budding genre of Christian fiction that I would call "Amish Fiction".  You see, I live near Pennsylvania where the majority of Amish live in the United States.  I had a friend who was a Christian while we lived in Pennsylvania whose family was Mennonite.  I remember her sharing with me how her family ostracized her when she married a man who was a Christian, but not a Mennonite.  

The Mennonites, Bretheren, and Amish are all Anabaptists.  If you saw a family tree of Protestant Christianity, there would be five branches:
1. Orthodox  Greek and Russian Orthodox churches 
2. Anabaptists - Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren 
3. Lutheran 
4. Anglican - Most denominations trace their roots to this branch: Baptists, Methodists, 
        Pentecostals, Episcopal, etc. 
5. Reformed - Reformed Church in America, Presbyterians

Interestingly, when I looked for a family tree online, the Anabaptists were placed in several different places in the Protestant line.  On one they were even listed as reformed from which they are significantly different.

Most people don't realize that the Anabaptists have some beliefs that are very different than other protestant denominations.  I think the recent rise in Amish fiction idealizes their "simple" lifestyle.  What they believe is also very shrouded behind closed doors, so to speak.  Both Amish and "English" alike make a living from their chosen lifestyle. 

Why would this concern me?  When Eve was in the garden, she fell for the Serpent's twist that she would be wiser if she ate of the forbidden fruit.  You see, the saying that "the grass is always greener on the other side" is as old as time.  It stems from the fall. 

When we portray a culture as being the perfect life, it encourages in our own hearts a discontent with the life we live and what is before us.  I believe that we, and I mean I, have to be careful about what I ponder and set before my head and heart. 

In an attempt to dispel my idea that Christian Amish fiction generally idealizes Amish culture, I chose to read The Search by Suzanne Woods Fisher.  Ms. Fisher lives in California and hosts a radio show called Amish Wisdom.  She has written several other Amish novels. 

Here's the storyline:  Bess' grandmother tricks her son into sending her granddaughter to stay with her for the summer by claiming she needs help on her farm while she's recovering from a medical procedure.  Lainey's car breaks down in Stoney Ridge and she gets a job at a local bakery frequented by Amish and "English" alike.  The two are connected and their families are intertwined which is what the plot of the story is all about.

Writing:  The writing is fine. The story is well told and easy to picture except for the glitches I mention under the plot.

Plot:  The plot is more the interweaving of the characters and how they're really connected to one another.  But, there are several inconsistencies and one oddity.  The story is actually set in 1971, though you don't know that until 3/4 of the way through the book.  I live near the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area where the story is set and the story could have been set in modern day.  It was disconcerting to realize this so far into the book.  The inconsistencies are in how the Amish culture is potrayed.  Amish people don't associate with "English".  For Bertha, Bess' grandmother, to have taken Lainey under her wing as a child is not plausible.  The forgiveness in the Amish sect is also in contrast to what they believe, I've read, about the New Testament.  The forgiveness they have for others outside their community has received much attention last year due to the heartbreaking killing at an Amish school in that area.  But, they hold themselves to a very high standard.  It is believed that when we are dead to sin, then we should sin no more--that it is possible to live a perfectly righteous life here on earth and that is what we are to pursue.  The simple life is to prevent them from feeling vanity and pride.  Individualism is discouraged. 

Scripturally, God created us all the way He did.  If he had wanted us to all be carbon copies of one another, then he would have made us that way.  Isn't that logical? 

Unfortunately, this book completely idealizes Amish culture.  An "English" person even becomes Amish.  I don't believe that life in the Amish culture is quite as it is presented in this book.  I know it is fictional, but when you set a fictional book in a real setting, the story and characters need to be consistent or else the reader will realize it isn't quite real after all and awaken from the dream.  I know that we do read books to escape life and enjoy an imaginary story.  It is one of the biggest reasons we read.  I think my concern is not simply with this book, but the idealization that this book represents to me.  I don't know about you, but I struggle so often with the thought of the grass being greener and it can feed a feeling of jealousy and a longing for something other than my life is and that isn't God's best for me--to feel that way.  

I was reading a verse from the Message yesterday as we rearranged our house and it said something about being exactly where God wants you to be.  It's so easy to chafe against that and yet we are to find contentment in what God has for us.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Revell Publishing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

First "Must Read" of the Year

There are many books that come through our house.  Every once in a while, I find one that I think of as a "Must Read".  If anyone chose to ask me (which I would feel very humbled by), what books I'd recommend, these are the books that would jump to my mind.  I just finished the first one for this year.  There are tears in my eyes and I simply want to cry.  But, I'll get to that in a moment.

     "Were you really so gullible?...Were you and your pro-choice coworkers really driven by compassion and tenderness, by motives of truly helping women...
     I often find that people don't like my answers.
     That is understandable.  My story is not neat and tidy, and it doesn't come wrapped in easy answers.  Oh, how we love to vilify our opponents--from both sides.  How easy to assume that those on "our" side are right and wise and good; how those on "their" side are treacherous and foolish and deceptive.  I have found right and good and wisdom on both sides.  I have found foolishness and treachery and deception on both sides as well.  I have experienced how good intentions can be warped into poor choices no matter what the side." 
                                                       p.x from Unplanned by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert

My husband and I had an hour and a half discussion the other night about another book.  One of his major concerns was how the authors of that book speak of unbelievers--people who don't believe in Jesus.  Several of the comments in that book sounded disrespectful and looked down on them.  It also painted a stark picture of "two sides".  

Abby Johnson begins in the introduction of her book by addressing my husband's concern.  From the introduction, I knew that this was going to be an easy to read (intellectually, though not always emotionally), hopeful and encouraging book.  I would liken it to watching a drama movie.  You know that there's going to be suffering and a hard conflict in the middle of the story and that it's not always going to be easy to watch, but that there will be a good ending.  That's the way it is with this story.  I picked it up yesterday morning and just finished it twenty minutes ago.  In the midst of the past day, I homeschooled, cooked three meals, took my children to Awanas, had a coffee date with my husband, and went to bed at 10 p.m.  Can you tell how much I liked this book since I just finished it?

Abby Johnson is the former director of the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Bryan, Texas.  She had been with Planned Parenthood for eight years.  One Saturday in 2009, she was asked to assist in an ultrasound guided abortion.  That day she walked out vowing to find another job.  After two weeks, she left.  That two weeks was not a period of two weeks notice.  Rather, it was the timeline she had given herself for getting her ducks in a row to leave.  

She describes what she saw in that ultrasound and my eyes cannot fight the tears even as I think about it now.  It isn't graphic, but it explains the truth--what an abortion really is.  But, this story is not just a story of abortion.  It is a story of "Right reasons, wrong choices." (p.10 from Unplanned)  It is a story of compassion and seeing the other side, not as enemies, but as misled, decieved, and lost.  It is a story of God working in Abby's life just as he worked in Joseph's life.

Genesis 50:20 NIVYou intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.


One thing I loved most about the book was her story of how she can now see God working in all things in her life.  He has brought her to the place she is now.  He was watching over her even as she made wrong choices.  He is working in all things.  

Jesus calls us to love our enemies.

Luke 6:35 NIVBut love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. 

Abby's story shares with us what it really looks like to do just that.  The people at Coalition for Life respected her, prayed for her, loved her...  And they didn't give up.  

Her story is also very human in that it acknowledges the imperfections of people.  She is not self righteous and she does not cover up the reasoning that led her to make the decisions she did.  She sees her own culpability, but also fully lives in God's grace now.  Many people turned away from her on both sides as she walked through these eight years.  Many others did not.

Let us be like those who did not.  Let us love people those who are easy to love and those who are not well.  Let us love those who we agree with and those who we disagree with well.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this review from Tyndale Publishing for review.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Twisted Theology

Ugh!  There are times when my stomach and head get so upset by books I read.  What I am most sensitive to when I read nonfiction Christian books is twisted theology.  I just finished reading Hope, Help & Healing for Eating Disorders by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD with Ann McMurray.  I requested this book for review because I've had several friends over the years who have lived with eating disorders.  I have had my own struggles with my body image and weight over the years as well.  

First of all, I don't recommend this book.  At all.  Let me explain why.  This book is very good at explaining the motivations and behaviors of people with eating disorders.  The problem lies in the answers the book gives and the theology that is incorporated into those answers.  

When it comes down to it, all eating disorders are about control.  Dr. Jantz explains that before control, though, the roots are found in negative feelings that won't go away.  Those feelings grow into a desire to control and eliminate the source of those feelings or the feeling of such things.  Then that control feeds a sense of self-loathing that is self-feeding and perpetuates itself.  It's a cycle that once entered is not easily broken.  I know from friends that once you've had an eating disorder, it will be with you for life even after you recover.  

My main issue with this book is that the first 3/4 of it point the reader with an eating disorder to hope as their answer.  That hope is hope in themselves and for their own future.  It is not the hope of Christ.  The author says over and over that you should go to God for what you can get out of him and for what He can give you.  Not once did I read that you should go to God because of who He is.  The relationship that is advocated is entirely self serving.  No thank yous.  The reader's eyes are solely on themselves.  The problem with that is that in order to take one's mind off of food your mind must refocus.  And keeping your mind on yourself is not refocusing.  One must take one's eyes off of themselves and put them on God.  

I was talking to a friend and she said that the picture the book was presenting of God was incomplete.  I told her, no, it was actually wrong.  Here's why I believe it's wrong.  Whenever God is mentioned in this book, except for near the very end, Jesus never is.  It is not explained what Jesus did.  It is not explained that in fact we are ALL sinners and fall short of the glory of God.  Jerry Bridges explains this well in The Discipline of Grace that in order to put off our sin we need to acknowledge our sin and imperfectness while at the very same time fall into God's grace and his love or else we will become overwhelmed.  

Grace is not explained in this book.  When Christ's death is mentioned, it is mentioned as a comparison of how the reader needs to put to death their eating disorder and then they will be resurrected--like Christ.  The issue I had with this was not the statements they made but what they didn't say.  In the first half, all of the statements about God were about God without mentioning Christ and his redemption of us.  It felt like taking the parts out of the Bible that you wanted and not what you didn't.  The big picture of the Bible wasn't mentioned.  

"Relationship is the goal, salvation is the means, and eternity is the scope." p. 30 from the Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton

Another issue I had with this book was that it isn't addressed that God is in control and we aren't.  In essence, the answers the author gives are all about the reader taking control, but in a new way.  Controlling one's mind by choosing to feel.  Controlling one's body by choosing to eat healthy foods.  Controlling one's environment by choosing wisely who you turn to.  In our culture, the message constantly bombards us that we are in control of our lives.  In reality, we just aren't.  We have to come to peace with this and trust in God--not in ourselves.  Yes, we are responsible for making responsible choices, but ultimately "control" lies with God.  This was my whole issue with why I wouldn't surrender for years to God.  I thought I was in control.  But, what I learned was that I couldn't change my heart on my own.  This leads to my final concern about the book.

The chapter on forgiveness.  In this chapter, forgiveness is written about as something we solely have the power to do on our own.  In actuality, it is the Holy Spirit (which is never mentioned in this book) which enables us to forgive.  It isn't actually even explained what forgiveness is and what it looks like in practicality.  I have found this deficiency in many books.  

This is the first definition that I have found that really explains what forgiveness is:
"When someone has wronged you, it means they owe you; they have a debt with you.  Forgiveness is to absorb the cost of the debt yourself.  You pay the price yourself, and you refuse to exact the price out of the person in any way.  Forgiveness means you free the person from penalty for a sin by paying the price yourself."  from Paul's Letter to the Galatians Participants Guide, by Tim Keller, p. 68, 2003.  

We can't really do this of ourselves, of our own strength.  We need God in order to forgive others.  But, the other issue I have with this chapter is that it uses the word "forgiveness over and over" without really explaining what that actually means and what it looks like in the short term and over time.

I realized as I was writing this that some may disagree with me that we need God in order to forgive.  Here is the grounding of what I believe:

Galatians 5:22-24 NIV

 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Philippians 4:13 NIV

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Before I surrendered to Christ, I was a very angry person. I held grudges against other people whenever I felt wronged.  It was the what I was raised to do.  I tried to get rid of those feelings on my own--I tried to forgive on my own.  But, I wasn't able to.  Ever.  I am also very aware of my sinful nature and that in my sinful nature I do not want to forgive.  There have been many times that I have not wanted to forgive someone and yet God has worked that in my heart--against my will! This is why I believe that true forgiveness isn't possible without God.  So, this is a very personal issue for me and it grieves me when it is taught that we can forgive others on our own.  

Towards the very end of the book, there are some wise words.  I thought this statement was very good. "At the start of each day, deliberately turn to God and not to your behavior with food." p. 205  There is a lot of good information in this book, but I hope there are other books out there which would be better.  

There are two other books that friends have recommended to me on this subject.  One is Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick.  The second is a new one by Lysa Terkhurst titled Made To Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food.  Have you read either of these?  What are your thoughts?

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Hope, Help, and Healing for Eating Disorders from Waterbrook/Multnomah for review.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What We Choose To Read

For the most part, I choose to read Christian fiction because I feel safer.  I'm less likely to have my mind led to places it isn't wise for it to go.  

A month ago, I read a book that was very disturbing to me.  It was published by a Christian publisher that is thought by many to be one of the most dependable, but there was a lot of crass imagery in the book and lustful thinking by the characters.  I literally thought the characters had made love in the book.  I set the book down and didn't realize they hadn't until I read in another person's review that they hadn't.  But, the language had been that strong.  I did contact the publisher and ask about the decision to publish the book, but I haven't received any response.  

I was relating this story to a friend of mine who is single and she commented that she thought that was only a struggle for single women--why did married women need to be concerned with such things?  My response was that when you're reading a book, you aren't picturing yourself with your husband, you are imagining the two characters.  It's like looking into someone else's bedroom.  Please forgive the imagery, but that isn't something we should be privvy to.  And I don't believe it's wise to let our minds go there.  But, it wasn't just that one scene that set me ill at ease.  It was also the way the characters thoughts were related--full of lust.

My conclusion that I've come to is that although Christian fiction may not always be written as well as I'd wish, I am safer than I'd be if I chose to read secular fiction.  I've read several secular books in which I got hijacked by the agendas of the authors.  The scenes in the stories made me sick to my stomach and ultimately I set the books down or skipped large sections. 

I don't have to post this review, but I did enjoy this book and it was an interesting read in light of these conversations I've had recently about secular and Christian fiction. 

A friend of mine who knows Lisa Samson asked me a few months back what I thought of her books. I only recalled reading a book of hers several years ago and didn't have any particular strong memory so I wasn't sure what to say. In the past few years I've read over 200 books and likely 50 of those were fiction. This book, Resurrection in May, will stand out to me for several reasons. 

First, the writing is good. The pace is slow, but the story never completely stops moving. If you've read Wendell Berry's descriptions of country life, you'll be able to glimpse that life in the character of Claudius. At one point, the author mentions reading "Old Jack", which is a book by Wendell Berry. The descriptions are very much in the vein of contemporary secular writing rather than the typical Christian fiction. But, in contrast to Amy Inspired, which I read a month ago, the descriptions are never crass or lustful. Ms. Samson writes well without ever going in the gutter, so to speak. 

Second, the plot has multiple twists and layers. It isn't simple and straightforward. It is a journey of healing and redemption. The ending has a sense of closure and peace. It isn't written like a made for tv movie, like much of Christian fiction today, which is a good thing. 

Third, this book is not what what I'd call typical Christian fiction. It falls in a gray area. It reads a lot like secular fiction, but God is in there too. And Claudius' faith is real. It reminds me of my neighbor who is an older man who was once a brick layer. I can see him saying the things that Claudius says about faith and God. But, expect this to be more like secular fiction than most Christian fiction you've read. 

Sometimes hope takes time. Sometimes it doesn't grow very quickly, but takes a lot of watering and a long dormant winter. That is the story of May-May. 

One last note, this book did remind me that we shouldn't take our theology from fiction books. There were a couple of things that the Episcopalian priest says that I didn't agree with. But, I will say that the church goers in this book are real--flaws and all. The bumper sticker is true. Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven. Corny, very corny, but true. 

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ancient Practices

Over the past year, Thomas Nelson has published a series of books called The Ancient Practices Series.  The books cover such topics as fasting, prayer, tithing, and the liturgical year.  My husband and I were curious about the book by Joan Chittister titled The Liturgical Year.  The book is actually by Sister Joan Chittister.  She belongs to the Benedictine Order.  That is an important piece of information because it tells you what perspective this book is written from--a Catholic perspective.  I was curious as I read the introduction how that would shape the information in the book.

It is a very readable book.  But, the one word I would use to describe this book is "hyper-spiritual".  There are some wonderful quotes in this book, but there are also several that verge on the line between Christian and New Age thinking.  And it's very hard for me to discern the difference while I'm reading it.  Sometimes it was very clear in the book and then other times I felt like I was walking through grey areas.  This feeling is why I wouldn't recommend this book.  Here is an example from pg. 7 "The seasons and feasts, the fasts and solemnities, if we are open and alert to them, lead us deeper and deeper into the self, beyond the present, higher and higher into the One who beckons us on through time to that moment when we will dissolve into God, set free from time to become one with the universe."  So, although there is some good exposition in this book, unless you feel confident that you will be able to discern which thoughts cross the line into New Age thinking, I just wouldn't recommend this book.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing

Understanding and Accepting Suffering

A few months ago, I read a devotional entry about suffering and it didn't sit well with me because the author said that God's purpose in suffering was to increase our capacity for joy.  Though God does work in all things for our good, Rom 8:28, I don't believe that we in our finite understanding can say that suffering is to intended to increase our capacity for joy.  After reading that book, I continued to puzzle about suffering and it's place in my life and in the world around me.

Someone suggested another book on suffering to me titled Be Still, My Soul, 25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain, edited by Nancy Guthrie.  I finished reading it this morning.  It has taken me over a month mentally and emotionally to sift through the essays in this book.  I read several things that will likely stick with me for my lifetime.  The essays are mixture of contemporary and classic readings just as the title said.  I counted how many of the essays that I enjoyed and felt deeply fed by and the number was 16.  Of the nine that I did not resonate with, most of them were by Puritan preachers.  I have discovered in reading these essays that I do not particularly enjoy reading essays from that time period.  They are well written and explained, but they speak from a very thinker oriented perspective, rather than that of a feeler--which I am.  Philip Yancey, Tim Keller, and Corrie Ten Boom's excerpts, though, deeply connected to my heart.  And though I did not enjoy nine of the essays, they were wise and thought provoking.

If you have puzzled about the place and purpose of suffering in our lives, I highly recommend this book.  It has brought me through a time of struggling with God and crying to him as to why there is suffering in my life.  There is a verse from one of the essays examining Habakkuk which I am committing to memory, "The just shall live by faith."  Hab. 2:4  From the beginning, Ms. Guthrie's book dedication struck me.  The book is dedicated to Joni Earekson Tada in which I think she says something very wise about Joni, "We listen because she lives where only our deepest fears take us.  And we listen because the way she articulates how she has made sense of her suffering helps us to make sense of ours."  That is the purpose of this book--to help us see from many perspectives purpose in our suffering.  I hope it will encourage you as it has me.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Crossway Books.

The Puritans

What did you learn about the Puritans in school growing up?  What I remember learning is that the Puritans were the people who came over on the Mayflower searching for religious freedom because there was religious persecution in England.  And that's about all I remember learning.

I learned a lot more about the Puritans this week because of a children's book I read.

The book I read is Simonetta Carr's book on John Owen, a Puritan theologian, from her set of Christian biographies for young readers.  The cover of this book is inviting and might make you think that this is a picture book about John Owen, which it is not.  This book is a solid biography for young readers in grades 3-6.  It is formatted wonderfully, especially for this age group.  The font size and type as well as the background on each page is beautifully done.  The book is very easy to read because of the formatting.  The younger readers may have some difficulty reading some of the words on their own, though.  My daughter struggled with the words in this book, because though her phonics are very strong, many of the words in this book need to be read aloud because they don't fit the typical rules of phonics.  So, this will be a book we read together the first time or two.  She loves history books, so I am sure she will then begin reading it on her own once she knows what the difficult words sound like.

The first time I read this book about John Owen, I had many thoughts that I discussed with my husband.  His view of this book was very different than my initial view and that is why I clarified from the beginning that this is a biography and not a picture book.  The cover made me think of this first as a story book.  I expected a lot of personal information about John Owen.  Instead, this is a story of his life and the things he did, which is what a biography is.  Simonetta Carr did not infer things about his life.  I believe she strove to stay true to what we do know about Owen, rather than embellishing his story.  That is a difficult thing about figures from the past--to portray them in an unbiased way.  I enjoyed Ms. Carr's blog post about just this aspect of writing biographies:

On Ms. Carr's website: you can see a video which shows the illustrations from the book by Matt Abraxas, which are wonderfully done.  But, the book includes many pictures of real places and other historical documents and artwork as well.  The explanations of difficult concepts such as what a theologian is and the book of common prayer are very good, though your children may have a few more questions about what Parliament is.  It is explained at a very simple level in this book, but they may still have more questions.  

A month ago, I read an article by Ms. Carr about why we teach our children church history.  I loved it.  It helped me articulate the thoughts that had been rattling around in my brain.  Reading this book left me pondering church history.  Her blog includes this article as well as other thoughts about teaching our children church history.  It is interesting and easy to read.  Her blog is:

This book would be a good resource to help children understand the lives of the Puritans and that period of history.  It would be a wonderful addition to a church library, to a Christian school's Church History curriculum, or to a homeschooling family's church history lessons.  It is very easy to read about events in history and not see how the little pieces fit together.  Reading a book like this may help your children see that the figures in church history matter as much as other key figures like the great scientists and inventors that our history books are filled with.  On CBD, you can see a preview of this book which will give you a better idea of Ms. Carr's writing and the content of this book.

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of this book for review from Reformation Heritage Books.