Saturday, April 30, 2011

Parenting isn't for the faint of heart...

This morning the kids and I were blessed to get to spend time with a friend and her children.  The other mom, my friend, and I snuck bits of conversation in amidst talking to our kids, getting them what they needed, putting coats on and off, eating, walking...  Bits is a good word.  Altogether they made a conversation, but on their own, they would be "bits".  That's what life is with kids, isn't it?

I was struck as the kids and I left them by something that I have been pondering.  As much as I learned about my two strong willed children in the past two weeks, I also learned a lot about me.  I am very black and white.  I am loyal to the core.  I am a mama bear to my children, husband, and friends.  I don't live in the grey area very easily.  If there is something that my attention is drawn to, I feel the need to decide what I "think" about it.  It's hard for me to let things go.

What came to my mind this morning is something that I've said about homeschooling.  I believe firmly that if you are a homeschooling parent that it is important to remember that you are the teacher that your child needs.  We struggle with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, but at the end of the day God knows our temperament and our children's temperaments and how they're wired.  And I have seen in my own family and in my friends how God has matched us all up.

In this same way, we are the parents our children need.  God does everything on purpose.  (Rom. 8:28) Parenting is hard.  At least, I think so.  One day I'll feel good about what I've done that day and the next I'm humbled deeply what I have or haven't done!  Even so, we are the parents our children need.  I'm a pretty strict parent, I think.  My friend and I were talking about strictness this morning in regard to parenting.  If something works for my family that doesn't mean that it is the answer for another family.

I realized that there is no one size fits all or "right" answer about parenting.  Parenting books that say they have the answers are off the mark, I think.  I don't think there's a silver bullet.  But, there is hope.  I think there are right perspectives on parenting.  We need to remember what God has called us to in His Word.

Deuteronomy 11:19 ESV You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

...I wrote this post a few weeks ago and never finished it up.  I'm going to let it end itself there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Crossway Impact

Over the past few years as I've been reviewing books, there have been three Christian publishers that it has been an immense blessing to review books for.  One of them is Crossway.  Crossway specifically asked me when I began reviewing to make a commitment that my words in my review never malign the Word of God and are edifying to the body of Christ, not devisive.  That request spoke volumes to me about the heart and mission of this publishing company.  

Crossway is starting an exciting new program for everyone.  I say "exciting" because I think it sounds really cool and I plan on joining.  Here's a video that explains the program:
Introducing Crossway Impact from Crossway on Vimeo.

You can go to the Crossway website to sign up if you're interested.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reading That Feels Good

Reading can either put a smile on your face--and on your heart--or make you feel like you wish hadn't read the book.  Sometimes that feeling is just a twinge, sometimes it's a lot more than that.  I remember once hearing that without sadness, we wouldn't be able to feel happiness.  Perhaps, it is the same with books.  I've read many books that have made me cringe.  So, when I read one that leaves me with a smile, it's a blessing.  

When I began pondering books for reluctant readers recently, several friends suggested YWAM's Heroes series of books for kids.  They have four series of books for children.  I received a book from their Christian Heroes: Then and Now series and Heroes for Young Readers series as well as the curriculum guide and activity guide for these books.  These are the books that I get to review today and the books that put a smile in my heart.

I read the Heroes for Young Readers biography of Gladys Aylward by Renee Taft Meloche and Christian Heroes: Then & Now biography of Janet & Geoff Benge of Gladys Aylward.

As soon as the books arrived, my kids were eager to open them up, so I sat down on the couch and opened up the younger book with them.  They sat and listened to the whole book.  I cried at the end.  Afterwards, I opened up the activity guide and we did the character activity for Gladys Aylward.  We started by laying down on the ground.  I read the script and we acted it out as I read.  My children loved it.  I looked through the Activity Guide and I was surprised and pleased.  With one activity, I had concerns with the beginning but as I read on, I began to understand it and I liked the lesson the activity taught.  The activity guides for the young reader books each cover 4 books.  There are books on heroes from American history and missionaries.  On Google Books, you can see a preview of the book for young readers, but not the activity guide.

Later that afternoon, I opened up the older novel and read the first two chapters.    I was immediately struck that this book was interesting and had great description, though it was very easy to read.  The vocabulary is about a 5th or 6th grade reading level.  I'd say it would be great for students in grades 4-8.  Over the next week, I read the book and the farther I got into it, the more I wanted to read it.  It drew me in.  It is a biography that is written in story form.  When I reached the end, I was glad I had the entire book--every page of it.  

But, when I read a book, I am usually thinking about it as more than just a simple story.  I want my children to read books that are worth reading.  So, I ponder what message this book would tell kids--what will they take from it?  What did I take from it?  Interestingly, I'm reading a book about evangelical feminism right now which really made me ponder her actions as a woman.  I came to several conclusions.  
1) I need to focus on the strengths of Gladys Aylward and what she did.
2) George Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  What can we learn from Gladys Aylward and her life?  Hopefully, the reader will be able to see the Chinese as people and with compassion after reading this book.
3) When we make decisions, I have come to believe that we should seek God in prayer, in His Word, and seek out godly counsel (Proverbs 15:22).  Psalms is filled with David crying out to God in prayer.  That is the one thing that isn't mentioned in this book and what I struggled with.  In the story, Gladys isn't encouraged by anyone to go to China.  If anything, she is discouraged.  What I realized is that this story is told from the authors' perspective--it is not an autobiography.  I don't know if there was anyone who encouraged her to go, but there could have been.  If you or your children have questions about book, do more research!  Find another biography and see if you can find an answer to what you're questioning. 

While reading the book, I perused the curriculum guide for that book.  I was very impressed!  I liked the comprehension questions for each chapter, the essay questions, creative writing topics, and activity suggestions.  One thing that was interesting was when one of the essay questions suggested something that wasn't in the book.  The question asked about dyslexia.  It would explain a lot about her struggles in Bible school and I wish that the authors talked about it in the story, but they don't.  They don't talk about it because it isn't certain, but I like how the question is written in the essay questions.  They don't claim it is true, but instead encourage the student to examine how her life fits the profile of someone who has dyslexia and how it could affect her.  On the curriculum guide, there is also information about the authors and the series of books.  It is interesting and helpful to hear what their perspective is and how they've done their research.

My conclusion?  I like the series.  I would definitely recommend getting and using the curriculum guides with the novels.  The activity guides also bring much more life and understanding to the younger books.  There may be topics you want to discuss with your children that are covered in the books.  I would recommend that you read them too.  I think you'll probably enjoy them.  I did.  You could use them for multicultural studies, social studies, English, as Unit Studies, or as part of your Bible curriculum and discuss what it means to be a missionary.  I do think it's also important to help your children understand that we can be missionaries write where we are and love the people in our communities.  My plan is to read several of these books with my children when they are in grades 4-8 and contrast the lives of the missionaries with our own lives.  As a culture, we have an idealized view of the past and expect there to be less suffering than there is.  In the past, people expected life to be hard.  It's reflected in their writings.  These books don't idealize the past and will hopefully help our children that God didn't promise that life would be easy.  

There is one last note that I want to make about these books.  It is important not to see missionaries as saints.  They were sinners too.  They weren't perfect.  God used them just as he uses all imperfect people.  In the Bible, we see that over and over--God uses imperfect people.  They spread the gospel as we are all called to do and they answered this command in a particular way.

If you are interested in getting any books from these series, you can see previews of them online at Google books.  The best prices are on YWAM's website and they have specials this spring if you buy several books at once.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of these materials from YWAM for review. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Basics

When a child is born, we love them so dearly.  We want the best for them and not the worst.  We want to guarantee that they will turn out to be healthy and loving adults someday.  We want to guarantee, as much as we can by what we do, that they will learn to make the right choices and choose God.

When I was reading God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger, I appreciated his point that as parents we turn to this book or that book searching for a parenting philosophy or method that will guarantee that our kids will turn out the way we hope they will.  In reality, there is no guarantee.  We cannot guarantee by anything we do that our children will come to know the Lord or that they will be healthy, well balanced adults.

But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try our best.  It doesn't mean we don't need to love them well.  It doesn't mean that we aren't responsible for being the best parents we can be to our children.

Let me pause and paint a picture of something that happened somewhere today.   A little girl, younger than 3, went to the door to open it.  The woman in the room, who was not the little girl's mother, reminded her that she was not allowed to go outside by herself.  She looked back at the woman and reached up for the door handle with the look that tells an adult "I'm going to do what I want to do."  The woman reminded her not to open the door and that the little girl was not in charge.  The father, who happened to be present in the room, replied "Well, she makes the decisions at our house."  The father had no compunction or regret in his voice.  It was as if a smirk could be detected in his tone.  He didn't tell her to wait.  He didn't tell her to stop.  He didn't even tell her not to open the door.  The danger in the situation is that two days ago, this little girl climbed into her parent's car--into the driver's seat when no one knew it.  Her older sister followed her with glee and smiled at the angry faces that found them where they were not supposed to be.  What if the car had shifted into gear?  What if it had rolled backwards into the street?  Outside that door was a world where a tiny little girl could easily be run over in the street when the little girl is one who will not listen, but would rather run into the street if she pleases.

I once had a mother say to me that she didn't have the energy to discipline her daughter.  My heart hurt deeply with the conviction that we have to do what our children need us to do.  We need to be their parents--even if there are times when one parent isn't present for one reason or another.  There is no justifiable excuse for us to check out and abdicate our responsibility as our child's parent.  There are enough times we get distracted on accident--we need to be careful not to check out on purpose.

We need to be our child's parent.  It is important for them and for us.

The week before last, I read "Be The Parent" by Kendra Smiley with input from her husband, John Smiley.  Ms. Smiley talks about the seven basic choices that we can make to raise our kids well.  On the cover, it actually says "The seven choices you can make to raise great kids."  Now, while I actually don't think that we can guarantee that we can raise great kids, we can do the best we can to love them well.  That is the point of this book.  We need to raise our kids with a vision and goal in mind.  I agree with what Ms. Smiley says our goal and vision for our children should be.  It should be our desire to a great kid... "someone who loves God, who obeys God, and who glorifies God in what he does." p. 138

The seven choices Ms. Smiley talks about are choosing to be the parent, to be a role model, to be present, to be an encourager, to discipline in love, to allow failure and success, and to pray.  This would be a great parenting book for the parents of a little one.  It will give them a good balanced view of parenting and what our job as parents is.  It really covers all the bases of caring for the spiritual and emotional well being of your child.  The What to Expect Series really covers how to care for the physical well being of your child.  I would dare say that a child's spiritual and emotional well being are just as important if not often more so.

Ms. Smiley takes a very strong stance that parents are the parents--not the children.  It is up to the parents to be do their job and teach, love, and care for their children.  Parents need to build a relationship with their children, spend time with them, listen, be genuinely present in their lives, and discipline them.  They shouldn't let their children do whatever they want.  I believe that Ms. Smiley would have walked up to that dad in the story at the beginning and told him that he is the parent and that his child is the child.  A child is not ready to be the parent--if they were, he or she would be the parent instead.

Ms. Smiley has a very straight forward way of writing.  It's like reading a book by SuperNanny except with a lot of grace and God's love in the mix.  I appreciated her anecdotes and stories.  If you feel discouraged and find yourself checking out and wanting to escape from being a parent--this book would give you a good kickstart.  Which happens to be what I need today, so I better get off this blog and get to my children!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Books for Boys

Last week, I read a book by Max Elliot Anderson titled Barney and the Runaway.  I was interested in this book because of recent discussions I've had with friends about what their sons are reading and about finding books for them to read that they are interested in.

Rather than focusing on that discussion (which I'll save for another post) in this review, I'm simply going to review this particular book.  

Max Elliot Anderson was a struggling and reluctant reader when he was growing up.  His work experience is in the fields of motion pictures, videos, and commercials.  He has written several books and Barney and the Runaway is his most recent.  Here's a trailer for the book:

Storyline:  The story is about a boy, Mike, who runs away because he doesn't like the rules in the house.  He and his dog, Barney (who I pictured to be much smaller in the book than is shown in the trailer), get trapped on a railroad car traveling southeast.  When the train stops, they discover that they have been on a circus train and have traveled quite a distance from home.  Big Bob is a circus clown who takes Mike and Barney in.  And the story goes from there...

Strengths:  The book moves at a good pace and flows well for the most part.  Readers are put in the driver's seat to imagine what everything looks like.  The book is a very fast read with simple language and sentence structure.  My husband felt it was a very competent book.  I asked his opinion since I happen to be a woman and not a man.  He felt it would be a very easy read for a child who is used to watching television and video games rather than reading books.  

Weaknesses:  This book is written at a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level, in my opinion.  It has as much description as Dori Hillestad Butler's The Buddy Files series.  Whereas, I felt the description was appropriate in The Buddy Files series, that is a weakness to me in this book because I would want even reluctant readers to learn to comprehend writing that is more detailed and specific.  This book (as you can see by the trailer) is really set in the 1950s or 1960s rather than today.  That isn't specified in the book.  There were also several points in the story that were very stilted to me.  For example, I wasn't sure how he got home in the first chapter of the book.  

Best Audience for this Book:  This book would be great for a child that is used to watching television and isn't used to a lot of descriptive language in a book.  It is written like a movie script without illustrations.  

My conclusions...

Is this a book you could hand your child and not worry about?  Yes. So, if you are of the mind that you just want your child to read and just want to make sure there isn't anything in the content to be concerned about, then this book would be fine.

Is this a book I would recommend across the board?  Well...what we read becomes our model for how and what we write.  We want to read good examples of writing with description and good sentence structure because it helps us become better writers.  Reading helps our children learn how to write, how to spell, and even how to speak.  In education theory, there is an idea explained by Vygotsky about scaffolding.  We want children to read a step or two above where they're at.  We don't want them to get frustrated, but we do want them to be challenged.  This book is written at a 3rd grade reading level for readers 8-13 years old.  I think it would be appropriate reading for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade boy who is a reluctant reader.  If a boy is in middle school, they will need more examples of description so that their own writing can improve and they can grow in their ability to complete their school assignments.  This book is what I think a middle school boy might write.  That is fine.  But, by Vygotsky's theory, you want them to read a step or two above that.  The book I received in the mail today from the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series is a good example of that step above for a middle school reader.  

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

Monday, April 4, 2011

Parenting and Marriage

It's a funny thing I think about marriage.  One week all is well and then the next, ah, happens.  We each have our strengths and weaknesses that we bring to our marriages.

A few years ago, there was a book that was very popular titled Love and Marriage by Emmerson Eggerichs.  I will always remember my husband's opinion of this book.  He disagreed with the premise of the book.  The premise was that if the wife respects her husband, then the husband will love his wife.  It was the "If..then..." that concerned my husband.  In his mind, there is no guarantee in marriage.  I know many people were encouraged by this book and I am glad for that.  But, I'm very aware that there is no "right way" to do marriage or to be a parent.  We cannot guarantee the outcome of our efforts.  But, what we can do is do our best to glorify God in our marriages and as parents.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men...
Titus 2:4-5
4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

My favorite book about marriage is This Momentary Marriage by John Piper.  When I read that book, it was the first time that someone explained to me what it means to "bear with one another in love."  This is something that I needed to be reminded of today.  In his book, Piper, explains that we need to forbear and forgive: "1) because there is going to be conflict based on sin, we need to forgive sin and forbear strangeness, and sometimes you won't even agree on which is which; 2) because the hard, rugged work of forgiving and forbearing is what makes it possible for affections to flourish when they seem to have died; and 3) because God gets glory when two very different and very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ." (p. 53)  In Piper's book, he explains that we are each responsible to forgive and bear with our spouse as Christ has forgiven us.  Our forgiveness is not based upon what the other has done, or rather not done, for us.  We are each responsible for our own hearts.

So, what are these things that make up our "strangeness"?  What do they look like? How can you try and navigate them (and accept them)?  

This week, I read a book titled Do Your Kids a Favor...Love Your Spouse by Kendra Smiley with John Smiley.  Though this book is not connected in any way to This Momentary Marriage, it answers those questions about our strangeness.  The primary aspects that Ms. Smiley focuses on are gender differences and temperament differences.  Both of these are very valid and important, I think.  In a culture that continually tries to tell us men and women are equal and even the same, we need to remember that God created men and women differently!  So, there's bound to be some conflict!  In the next chapter, she talks about temperaments and how understanding your spouse's temperament can help you love (and forbear with them) better.  Ms. Smiley then moves on to family and both the baggage and traditions we bring into our marriages--two more sources of strangeness.  As I read these chapters, I felt like I was reading a summary of what I've learned in the past 10 years.  How nice it would have been to read this about 8 years ago and realized that most of us struggle with the same things!  Now 8 years later, it's a nice reminder of what we've learned and the territory we've learned to navigate through.

What I did like, in particular, about this book is how it addresses the relationship of marriage to parenting and family.  I remember early on in our marriage hearing a talk on Family Life Today in which the topic was how important it is to make your marriage a priority.  I have listened to many testimonies about how easy to get lost in the busyness of childrearing and lose sight of your marriage.  I remember consciously deciding that our little ones would go in their own room at 4 weeks old and that we would not have night time guests in our room.  I needed to protect our bedroom--it was not our children's space.  

If you have been married several years, you've probably learned what's in Do Your Kids A Favor...Love Your Spouse but if you know a young couple who's just starting out in their marriage and has just begun to have children, then I think this would be an encouraging and easy book to read.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Ms. Smiley's book from Moody Publishing for review.