Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Biographies for Children

A while back, I wrote a review about YWAM's series of biographies of Christian Heroes from history.  Last week, I had the chance to read one of the books from their Heroes of History series.  I liked it, but I liked it even better with the corresponding Unit Study guide.  I'd like to tell you about it and how I felt as I read the book.

I read the biography of Alan Shepard: Higher and Faster by Janet and Geoff Benge.  I realized as I read how little I knew about the development of Aviation and aeronautical history.  I learned so much!  It was quite interesting to me.  As I read the story of his life, I was struck early on by how competitive this man was.  I was also struck, as a wife and mom, by how much of his life he was absent from his family.  I struggled with these two facets of his life as I read through the book, but I pressed on.  I discovered that after he retired from the Navy and NASA, he went on to pursue philanthropic efforts.  He gave much of himself to others.  He did also commit to raising his wife's sister's daughter when she passed away.  Yet, I was still puzzled as to how to feel towards this man who was extremely competitive and struck me as possibly abrasive towards others.  In fact, he was known for having rough edges.  But, what I didn't know when I finished the book prompted me to begin searching for more about this man and about space travel.

I learned that Alan Shepard was a very private man.  He did co-author one autobiography of himself and other astronauts, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon.  It is one of the sources the Benges list in their bibliography at the back of the book.  I discussed the book with my husband and he explained to me that in order to do what Alan Shepard did, he needed to be extremely competitive--to have the drive in order to persevere against the odds and when things were tough.  Indeed, his competitiveness was of great value to him in this sense.  I also struggled with the realization that only college graduates were considered when NASA was beginning.  It seemed rather elitest for that time to me.  But, my husband explained that in order to be an astronaut, someone needed to have the skills and knowledge that came from attending college.  I knew he was right.  

But, it was actually the curriculum guide that set my heart at ease and helped me respect Alan Shepard more deeply.  It was the curriculum guide that helped me see him as a flawed man, but as one worthy of respect.  In the curriculum guide, there are comprehension and discussion questions for each chapter.  These questions follow Bloom's Taxonomy (see here for more information: http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm) for comprehension.  The first questions are aimed at recall and then they progress up the triangle towards analyzing and evaluating.  The essay questions in the guide take what the student has learned and moves to the top of the pyramid of "creating".  We are all flawed and it is easy for biographies to present someone as an ideal hero.  This seems dangerous to me.  But, the Benges' book did not portray Shepard as a perfect man.  I am thankful for this.  The book and comprehension guide will help students see Shepard's strengths and flaws that they might learn from and be encouraged by his example.  

This book is one of a series of books on historical heroes.  The Benges have chosen a variety of people from different occupations to write about from the course of American History.  YWAM has posted a plan of how one might use these to help teach American History.  http://ywampublishingftp.com/websitePDF/HHHomeschoolOverviewGuide.pdf  They have posted separate guides for classrooms and for homeschoolers.  The link above is for the homeschool guide.  I am planning on using these books for our American History studies according to this guide.  I will purchase the books with the corresponding curriculum guides (which I think are just as important).  Along with this guide, I am going to use an abbreviated book about American History and form a timeline with my children.  We will compile a notebook containing maps, discussion questions, essays and projects from these curriculum guides and History Pockets.  

YWAM has a wonderful page on their website where you can access helpful information about the series and how you can use it:  http://www.ywampublishing.com/c-78-heroes-series-bonus-material.aspx  

YWAM has published a book of maps that are perfect for this unit and for other history studies of the United States.  In the book, you'll find a basic map of the United States with an information sheet to fill out about the United States.  Then there is a map and corresponding inquiry sheet for each of the 50 states.    Following these maps are several historical maps for the 13 colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Civil War.  Below the forms are lists of locations for students to place on the maps.  At the end of the book, is a list of activities and ways to use this book.  I am going to incorporate this book into our state studies for 4th grade and American History Studies in 5th and 6th grades.  You can see a preview of the book here:  http://www.ywampublishing.com/p-664-maps-of-the-united-states-workbook.aspx  or here:  http://ywampublishingftp.com/websitePDF/MOTUSMaps  

Let me be honest, I did not expect to like this series or that map book as much as I have.  But, I love it!  I do think that the curriculum guides are essential.  I am not going to give my children one of the books to read without also going over the comprehension questions with them.  I want them to learn about life--the good and the hard parts.  I want them to see that the people who they are reading about are admirable, flawed people.  No one is perfect.  I think the curriculum guides do a wonderful job of teaching students how to think through what they read about people--to see all sides.  We study history that we might learn from it--to learn from the good and the bad.

One last note...I do also want to talk to her about what role faith in God has played in their lives.  For Alan Shepard, it does not seem that faith played a part.  His wife was known to be a strong Christian Scientist (who though they believe in Jesus, do not believe evil is real).  The Christian Heroes Series and curriculum guides by the Benges address how people lived out their faith.  

Usually, I am not quite so blatant about my recommendations, but I do highly recommend this series of books and the curriculum guides.  I also do recommend the Maps book if you are looking for a book of US Maps to supplement your cross curriculum studies.  

Please note I received a complimentary copy of the Alan Shepard biography, curriculum guide, and Maps of the United States from YWAM Publishing for review.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wendell Berry and Computers

My husband's favorite author is Wendell Berry.  Periodically, he will ask me to read an excerpt from one of his books or an essay.  On Saturday, he asked me to read this essay:  http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berrynot.html  The essay is titled "Why I am NOT going to buy a Computer".  

Though you may disagree with his decision to not buy a computer, his 9 standards of whether or not to purchase a technological innovation are worthy of contemplation.  My favorite is number 9.  I think the computer and social networking often hinder our relationships and our ability to be present mind, soul, and body with the ones around us.  We can be so distracted by what we may (or may not be) missing on the world wide web that we don't pay attention to what's right in front of us.  I often mention the book Distracted and the ideas that Maggie Jackson articulated which I'd already been feeling about how distracted we are because of all of the technology in our lives.

My husband and I have been discussing this essay for the past two days.  So, this morning I began a chart.  Here it is:  

Lower Tech                                                   Higher Tech
Prepaid, simple cell phone                              Blackberry
Phone call                                                    Text message
Desktop computer                                         iPad
Books                                                          Kindle/Nook
CDs                                                             iPod
Books on CD                                                 Car DVD player
Videos                                                         Cable TV
Cable (which we've discontinued)                     Apple TV
Clover--Let it go                                          Trugreen, or similar lawn service
Small house                                                  Big house/lots of space
Board games                                                 Video Games
Walking/Running/Hiking                                  Gym membership

I want to seek to choose the Lower Tech way as much as possible.  I want to choose to be physical and engaged with people.  I want to use less electricity and more of my brain.  I have felt a growing emptiness inside over the past year and I feel that it is due to a growing desire in my heart to escape what makes me upset.  I run to the computer to do that.  I don't think turning off the computer entirely is the answer.  The problem is my heart and where I place my own worth and what I value.  I need to accept the struggles in life and trust God with my weariness.  

Each item on this list is something that matters to me.  My husband and I are such intentional people that each item has been consciously chosen over the years.  

We went to the prepaid cell phones to cut down on a bill.  

I don't carry a cell phone, so texting has never become a part of my life.  

I don't want to be connected to the internet wherever I go via an iPad.  

I love the feel of books in my hands and the ability to write with a pencil in them.  I love to pick them up and set them down.  

We try to minimize how much our children watch on tv, so a DVD player in the car would be contrary to that goal.  I know from many friends that they love them, but we would rather have them choose to talk to each other, listen to a book on tape, or read.

We decided to get rid of our cable 2 months ago when the montly fee went up.  I haven't regretted the decision.  On Friday, my husband impulsively wanted to purchase an Apple TV device.  I said okay, but with misgivings.  I was very thankful when he came home without it and we were able to talk about it.  We both agreed it isn't something we want to bring into our home.  

We live in an area where many people live in big houses.  We live in the part of the county that many people look down on.  I need to not worry about how they see the area I live in.  I know that it is what God has provided for us and it is easy to lose sight of the huge blessing that it is!  Truly I am thankful for our home, but I get caught like everyone else comparing my life to others.  Yet, those comparisons are never fair or true.  

My husband is about to discontinue his gym membership.  His preference is to get outside and run rather than to drive (and use gas) to go to a gym and run on a treadmill (and use more electricity).

Speaking of which ...1 minute pause to put my son's shoes on him...  I need to go be present with my family.  I hope you enjoy Berry's essay if you get a chance to read it!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Value Tales: Then and Now

When I was growing up, every Sunday I would check a Value Tales storybook out of our church library.  The books were about historical figures like Louis Pasteur and Helen Keller.  I loved them.  Each story had a "value" that the person exemplified.  Helen Keller was the value of Determination.  My favorite was actually Elizabeth Fry, who was the Value of Kindness.  When I was becoming a teacher, I found a collection of the books and bought them.  I've held onto them with the hope that my children would someday enjoy them.  And they do.  

A new treasury of these stories has been published.  I was very excited to read it.  I read the first story and then put it down.  I've posted a short review on Amazon about the book.  Basically, the old stories each feature an imaginary friend that encourages the main character to pursue their dreams and care about others.  In the new treasury,A ValueTales Treasury: Stories for Growing Good People  each of their characters is pointed to their "inner voice".  Confucius was among the first five picked to update in this volume.  It concerned me that this book was about pointing children to themselves, rather than to God as having the answers.  Someone commented on my review and said that people don't need religion to be of good character.  The quote below is my response.  I wanted to post this in case anyone else enjoyed the Value Tales books as a child.  The new stories are very different.

"Without a belief in God, then there is no way to delineate what is right and what is wrong. It all becomes relative--each decides what is right in their own eyes. Yes, there is much debate about what "truth" is, but for me and my family, we believe that Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins. I believe in the Bible. I am not arguing that someone cannot have "good character" without a belief in God. But, I am one of those people that believes we are sinners and that we need God. I was a good kid and a perfect straight A student growing up, but I couldn't get rid of the anger and bitterness in my heart on my own. I couldn't live a "good" life on my own. That anger and bitterness seeped into my whole life, though many would deny that it does. When I surrendered to the Lord and believed, my heart was changed. We can try and do good things on our own, but there's a very important piece, or rather peace, that is missing when God isn't a part of the picture. And I want my children to know that."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Talking Too Much

Have you ever been surprised at what comes out of your mouth?  I have.  I was today!  I grew struggling to know how to get along with people and I still make mistakes.  Sometimes I keep talking when people really don't want to.  Sometimes I say too much--way too much!  And sometimes I pry or seem nosy when I really don't mean to.  I'm just curious.  And something else that happens to me is that I want to fix things.  I love to brainstorm.  I don't mean to offer advice.  I simply love to talk about things and learn about what others know.  But, I get carried away.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm still trying to make up for all those years of not having friends.  I did have 15 of them after all.  But, whatever the reason, my mouth still runs away with me at times like it did today.

I used to go over and over the things in my head that I wish I had or hadn't said.  I don't do that very often anymore.  But, a new issue has come up.  I have begun to realize that I haven't been as aware of people who don't want to or aren't able to talk with me, whether because it isn't the time or for another reason.  I have continued to pursue these conversations with them unwittingly!

I am trying to grow more aware of this, but I realize that it is a double edged sword of sorts.  I could begin to question whether many people who I talk to don't want to really talk to me.  That's where I am now and it feels a bit unsettling.

But, then things happen like tonight.  I went to Men's Wearhouse to pick up a suit.  I ended up telling the gal at the counter about Eli's speech and how he had speech therapy for eight months.  She wanted to know more because her sister is concerned about her son.  I gave her one of my blog cards with my email and told her to email me.  I'm going to send her the number for them to contact the county about having him evaluated.

Then, I was in McDonald's and had a discussion with the other couple about what a smell we found at the shop and were so surprised that three managers were standing by while we waited 15 minutes for our drinks.  Hmmm...  We talked about milkshakes and where to get good ones.

Yes, I talk a lot.  I realize this.  I hope you chuckled at my stories.  That is me.  It is the best part of my mom--her ability to talk to anyone anywhere.  I love that about her.  I've never noticed anyone not want to talk to my mom.  Maybe I should watch her to learn more from her.  ;)

I want to be more sensitive about what I say and to whom.  I am thankful that I have many friends who are very gracious to me about my loquaciousness.  I hope that I can learn to be be even more aware of when it is time to talk and when it is not.  I'm sure I won't always get it right, but God has given me a deep love for people and I love to hear folks' stories and get to know them.  I hope He'll help me grow in how I listen and talk with people.

Finding Community in the Body of Believers

A few years ago, we moved here to the community where we now live.  We happened to move two weeks before I had our second daughter.  I was very isolated and alone.  We tried to find a church, but in the midst of experiencing post partum depression and other suffering in my life, I struggled to find someone to turn to.  I wrote this free verse poem after I had sought help from someone and they shut the door.  I believe now that the woman had no idea how deep my struggle was or how deep the pit was that I found myself in.  She had reasons for shutting the door, but it sent me to my knees.  I don't think she meant it out of ill will, but would she have done something different if she'd known how truly I was in need?  Sometimes I think people say no without considering helping them find another source of help.  I was left questioning what the church is supposed to be and what it is.


The church
Community or Clique?
Filled with boundaries or open doors?
Reaching out or isolated?

The body of Christ
Only in one building?
Only in one church?
Only in one denomination?

The community of believers
Is there such a thing?
Does it exist anymore?
Or do people only take care of their own?

People are falling down
Who is going to pick them up?
Who is going to help them walk?
Who is going to help put the pieces back together?

Remember the Good Samaritan…
Aren’t we supposed to love others well…
Even if they aren’t in our church?

Tonight my heart hurts
I’m falling down
I’m not in a church
I love the Lord

But I turned for help…
and the door was shut…

in the name of community
in the name of taking care of one’s own

Where do I go?

Lord, Help me to love others well and reach out again.  Help me to believe that help will come someday.  Help me to know that I am not alone.  
I love you, Lord.

...  It took several years, but we finally did find a church home.  We settled for a time in a church where we heard grace preached.  But, we realized that we deeply needed and longed for community.   To me, a community of believers is one where people encourage one another, folks support each other with acts of service when needed, check on one another, hold each other accountable, and love the people in the body of Christ.  Last year, when we began attending the church we go to, I felt like I'd finally found a church family.  I can't think of my church without being thankful for the body of believers there. Honestly, tears often come to my eyes because of how thankful I am.  It is not perfect, but I know that I can turn for help there and I know that every family in my church is actively supporting other families in and outside of our church.  I have found that it is our suffering and pain that helps us learn to love others best.  And that is my heart--that no one would come to our church and not feel welcome.  Being an outsider can make one bitter and hard hearted or it can help one trust God as one finds a new place to belong.

There are some pastors that feel they are simply to be preachers.  They cannot be expected to be shepherds.  I know this because two pastors said this directly to my husband and I.  At one church, I asked an elder who I could ask for help while my husband was away for work and he didn't know.  He told me he'd have to think about it.  I was shocked to hear these things.  We only live in a tiny corner of the world and I fear that there are other pastors and elders who feel this way.  This belief deeply grieves me.  As much as we value independence in our nation, accountability and wise counsel are critical.  

I Peter 5:1-2 NIV 

1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve

A church is led by its pastor and elders.  Though I doubt any pastors or elders will read this, I would want to encourage them to shepherd the flocks God has given them.  If you go to church, I'd like to encourage you to look around on Sunday morning and see if you see anyone like me--the woman who is hurting but holding it together enough to not let anyone see it.  If you see someone who isn't talking with anyone, take a risk and go talk to them.  Find out who they are.  They will see God's love in that small, kind gesture.

1 John 4:12 NIV

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We have the chance every time we walk out our doors to love others and share God's love with them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Devotionals for Children

The more devotionals I read for parents and children, the more I am growing to see the strengths and weaknesses of one compared to another.  Often I have been surprised by some, but disappointed by others.

On my lovetopaint.wordpress.com blog, I have posted a list of Children's story Bibles and devotionals.  

For ages 4-7 years old, I have found these books which I love:

Read and Share Bible, a biblical story Bible with pictures and language that my children loved
The Big Picture Bible, explains to children what the point is--what the Big Picture of the Bible is
The Jesus Book: The Who, What, Where, When, and Why Book About Jesus by Stephen Elkins, a unique book because it has maps and a timeline of Jesus' life written with age appropriate language for this age group
Get Wisdom! by Ruth Younts (Grades K-4), a wonderful book that will help you explain why we desire to be good, what Christian wisdom is, and what the characteristics of such wisdom are

For ages 6-10 years old, I have these books listed:

Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade, is a more detailed reformed story Bible which explains such concepts as predestination and why missions are important
Church History ABCs by Stephen Nichols, introduces children to people who have had significant parts in the history of Christianity
God’s Names by Sally Michael, a devotional on how the names of God reflect who He is, essentially it's a devotional about who God is
Get Wisdom! by Ruth Younts, described earlier
Biography Series for Young Readers by Simonetta Carr Ms. Carr has written books on John Owen, John Calvin, and Augustine so far.
For Middle Schoolers, I have these books listed:
God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation by Starr Meade, addresses topics from Galatians including who wrote Galatians and to who, Paul's authority, freedom in Christ, salvation plus nothing, faith producing works, and real fruit
God’s Mighty Acts in Creation by Starr Meade, 
explains and talks about how all of creation points to God
Recently, I read a book that would fall in between these two categories for children 9-12.  The book is for children 9 and up, but I would limit it to students 10-15.  The book is called Big Truths for Young Hearts.  The title might make you think it would be for children ages 5-10, but it really isn't.  I read the first entry to my daughters, 5 and 7, and we had to stop half way through it.  I quickly realized it was over their heads.  
In Big Truths for Young Hearts, Bruce Ware talks about the basics of the faith for young people.  I hesitate to say children, because I think of children as 10 years of age and younger.  (Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor covers these basics on a level appropriate for 3-6 year olds.)    
This book is a good resource, but the question I've begun to ask myself with such books is "How would one use this book?"  Would I use it for homeschooling, for family worship, for personal devotions, as a reference to answer my children's questions, for Sunday school or midweek church youth group, or for another purpose altogether?

The topics that Mr. Ware covers are God's Word, the Trinity, God as Creator, Human Nature and Sin, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and the church.  He covers all the bases.  All the subtopics are important ones that young adults need to understand.  The short essays address the questions well and thoroughly.  They would be more easily read independently than aloud.  If you wanted to read them aloud as a family, I would read ahead and consider where you wish to pause and discuss.  I would also read while encouraging your children to stop you when they don't understand so that you might pause and address their questions.

This book might also be a good reference for you as a parent if your children ask questions that you aren't sure how to answer or can't remember the biblical references for (as often happens to me).  You could also use it to guide  your family worship and ground your children in sound doctrine.  It is important for them to know what they believe and understand God's Word.  It is easy to get carried away by emotions and experience and the scripture says that 

Proverbs 22:6 NIV  Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
That is our hope as parents--that if we teach our children, then they would choose as adults to walk with the Lord.  And it is our responsibility.  

I have been pondering the question of how much we should teach our children and want them to learn and understand.  How much can they understand?  Sometimes we expect too little of them, but we can also expect too much.  This is a book that will help you answer a lot of tough questions kids can face about God as they grow up and want to understand.  What we and our children believe about God, the Bible, and who God is will help us all when our hearts fail us.  Doctrine--what we believe about God--matters.  This is a book about doctrine.  It isn't a Bible story book.  It may be a book that you will pick up with your fifth grader and realize that it is not connecting with them.  So, you set it down for a year or two and come back to it when they are older and more mature--emotionally and intellectually.  It is also a book that may help you understand how to explain the basics of the Christian faith to someone who doesn't believe in God when they have questions.  I find that often books written for children are very helpful.

This is a book with much potential, its purpose depends on the person in whose hands it is.  For my family, it will probably be a reference more than a read aloud devotional.  I may also hand it to one of my children to read if they have specific questions.  I know many families for whom I think this book would be a great fit for family worship times and devotionals.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Big Truths for Young Hearts from Crossway Books for review.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Friendship is a curious thing.  There are friendships that whither and some that grow.  There are friendships that survive distance and others that don't.  There are some friends you may talk to once a year and feel as if you just spoke with them yesterday, but there are others that you run into and feel at a loss for words with.  There are some friends you call to rejoice with and cry with.  There are friends you know you can call at any time of day if there's an emergency, but others that you might hesitate to call or lean on.  

When you find friends who you can trust, you've found a treasure.

When you find a friend who when you talk to them and haven't spoken in a year and it feels as if you're picking up where you left off, then you've found a treasure.

When you find a friend who needs you and you need, you've found a treasure.

When you find a friend who listens and doesn't just hear you, then you've found a treasure.

When you find a friend who will listen even when they're mind is preoccupied, you've found a treasure.

When you find a friend who will check on you when you haven't spoken in a while, you've found a treasure.

When you find a friend who you can be yourself with, what a treasure you've found.

This was a week of spending time with friends for us as we neared the end of our school year.  One particular friend was one who I'd never been to her home before.  It was such a blessing to hear the story of her home and see how it reflected her family.  She told me this wonderful story of how her family searched for a magnetic refrigerator, because a refrigerator without pictures just isn't home.  I don't think I'll ever forget this story.  I was struck by the joy of spending time with this friend who wanted to spend time with me.  Whenever I realize this or have a similar thought, I am often brought to tears by the realization.  I enjoyed her company and was blessed by all that she shared with me--her home and her heart.  

Then, today while shopping, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in a year.  What a blessing it was to see her!  She heard my voice and found me!  She has one of those gentle, giving hearts that always cheers me when I get to catch up with her.  There is also something about her that always feels so familiar in such a comforting way.

What I am often struck by is that friendship requires two people that want to be friends.  I would daresay that they even need each other's friendship.  Friendship is a dear gift from the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV)

 9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Preferring What is Real

Last year when I read Distracted by Maggie Jackson, I had no idea that I would be reminded of the insights in her book as often as I have been.  One of the ideas I have pondered often is what is real and what is not.  What was once considered artificial is now considered real in our world.  Online relationships are as real to many people as their relationships with their physical neighbors.  

There was one particular story in Distracted that hit me hard.  Well, actually there were several.  One that comes to my mind is her recounting of a group of people involved in an online game with avatars.  When surveyed, there was a large number that believed that their avatars were their real lives and this life is their artificial one.  My mind was alarmed!  

Over the past year, what is real has come to be something that I desire to choose.  I know there is a place for technology in our lives, but I love to think that someone has done or made something with their own hands, mind, or heart.  I suppose it's always a mix of the three whether you are gardening, writing a letter, singing a song, playing with a hula hoop, or dancing.  

In our home, we often listen classical music, bluegrass, or independent Christian artists like the folks you find on the Rabbit Room.  (https://store.rabbitroom.com/)  When we first married ten years ago, my husband and I listened a great deal to contemporary Christian music.  But, since then we have listened to only a little.  

I thought I would give some contemporary music a chance.  This week, this CD arrived from Thomas Nelson Publishing, Women of Faith Worship: Rejoice.  It is the new Worship CD from the Women of Faith tours.  There are 10 songs on the CD.  9 of the songs are contemporary worship and the last is a hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness.  If you enjoy contemporary worship as you hear on the radio, then you will enjoy this cd.  If you have enjoyed past Women of Faith, then you will also likely enjoy this CD.  Sadly, I did not.  The music is mostly synthesized. I had hoped that it would feel more real to me, but it didn't.  It left me longing to hear a piano and an acoustic guitar.  I did enjoy the last song, though, which was simpler than the others in instrumentation because it was a hymn.  The other songs were quite repetitive.  

I do not think this CD is much different from its predecessors.  If you are looking for a mix of contemporary worship songs sung by women, then you might want to take a listen to this one.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Books We Choose To Read

My husband and I are readers.  Interestingly, though, we read very different books.  He loves books by Wendell Berry, Flannery O'Connor, John Piper, and P.D. James.  I, on the other hand, enjoy Francine Rivers, Jerry Bridges, Cynthia Heald, and Lois Lowry.  I do enjoy a good book, but my husband enjoys literature.  I enjoy books that are easy for me to read.  He enjoys ones that are hard--that challenge him with their vocabulary.  I enjoy ones that challenge me to think without keeping me mired down rereading one page several times.  

But, as a way to love my husband, I periodically read a book that he wants me to read.  Last year, I read Distracted by Maggie Jackson, as his request.  It deeply impacted my thinking about technology and it's part in my life.  I read George MacDonald's books The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie at his suggestion as well.  I actually chose to read The Princess and Curdie because I loved the first book so much.  Another time, he suggested that I read Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.  It is still one of the best books I've read.  

This week, I read P.D. James' novel An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.  It took me a bit to get into it.  But, as the deeper I got, the more I wanted to know how it ended.  It ended rather unexpectedly.  I found that it was very interesting to see what kind of books he reads.  The main character was quite cynical and the book was dark.  It was the yuckiness of man.  There was little hope in the book.  It reminded me of The Stranger by Albert Camus, though not nearly as dark and hopeless.  These characters still lived their lives, though seemingly without a purpose.  God is nowhere to be found.  No mention.  No acknowledgement.  But, the writing was excellent.
I have read and been told that when we create as humans, we reflect God.  He gives us the ability to create.  P.D. James has created character with depth and heart, albeit ones who rage against God (Psalm 2) by taking him out of the picture.  Her writing is descriptive and skillful.  God has gifted P.D. James as a writer, that is certain in my mind.

But, I have no desire to read another book of hers.  Isn't that strange?  It is not her writing that makes me reluctant.  It is subject matter and the characters.  I know the world is full of sin.  I struggle to make sense of it sometimes.  When I hear stories from friends about what people have done and how they've treated one another, my heart deeply grieves.  In the world I live in, the people aren't that way.  For many years, I lived in a Christian bubble.  Everyone I knew closely was a Christian.  It wasn't that I intentionally sought for my life to be this way--simply that it was this way.  Then, we moved here.  

My world changed.  I met more folks who weren't believers than were.  We became a part of a church that wasn't a community.  Well, I suppose it was.  But, it's the modern idea of community (where people come to church Sunday morning and then leave and live their own lives the rest of the week) and not the one that we dearly needed without family around us here.   So, the people who were my friends and who I talked to most frequently the first few years were folks who once went to church and no longer went, or folks who had never gone to begin with.  That gradually changed as I joined a Bible study became involved in a homeschooling group, and then as we found a church community which has become a family to us.  My husband on the other hand, has found one or two people in the five years he has worked where he does who are believers.  He is surrounded by people that don't believe in God.  The characters of P.D. James' books are the ones he knows.  

Once when I was particularly troubled by a story a friend shared with me, I asked my husband why I was different than the people in the story.  He reminded me that Christ has given me a new heart.  Without Christ's work in my life and heart, I would be much like the people in the story I read.  I was thankful that he pointed this out to me and it often come to my mind.  Sometimes when we've been a Christian for many years, we may find ourselves in a valley and wonder what on earth God is doing with us.  He's doing quite a lot, really.

How do we know we are Christians?  I think the truth is found in the Scripture.  
1 John 4:7-16, NIV 
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

It is our love that sets us apart.  It is that love that I longed for in the lives of the characters in P.D. James' book.  Sometimes it feels like more often than not, I do not recommend the Christian fiction books I read.  I find a few here and there which I love, but often I wish for more in what I read.  I have spoken with friends who have chosen to read secular fiction instead of Christian fiction.  

Sometimes I think it is good to be reminded of the difference that Christ makes in our lives and hearts.  What we read can bring this to mind.  But, if that is all we read, I think it is dangerous.  For we need to be reminded not  just of the depravity of man, but also of that which reflects our Creator.

I am looking forward to reading a book that is on its way.  Paul David Tripp has written a book titled Broke-Down House.  Here is a video which describes this book:

I thought Paul David Tripp's words in the video were good food for thought.  I'm looking forward to reading the book and reflecting on this world we live in.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Get Wisdom! Day 1

This morning we were sitting with our kids at breakfast and it felt like the right time to bring out Get Wisdom! because of the topic of our conversation.  So, I went to the homeschool room and brought it back out.

We began with the first page which explains what Christian Wisdom is and why we should want to be good.   When the first question talks about the truth, I explained to my children that truth is what is right in God's eyes and that we know what is right in His eyes because He tells us in His Word.

We went through the first lesson on Listening.  My husband added one thing that I thought was very important.  He clarified for the girls the difference between "listening" and "hearing".  Listening involves paying attention to what someone is saying.  Hearing only means that we have heard the sounds someone has made, but not that we  were actively giving the sounds any attention.  We often hear what people have to say without listening to them.

I am going to plan on compiling the other tips I think will add to the teaching of these lessons and post them, in the hopes that they might be helpful to you if you use this book to teach your children.

I will say that I loved the first lesson and our discussion about Christian wisdom.  My husband and I both felt that it was a very important concept to understand--why we are good (not because it will get us to heaven, but out of love for God) and the discussion questions on listening were perfect for my 7 year old while still relevant and engaging for my 5 year old daughter!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wisdom and Grace

One thing I love to do is write a review about a book I enjoy!  Yesterday, I received a book in the mail that I've been looking forward to reading for two months.  

That book is Get Wisdom! by Ruth Younts.  I shared a few months ago that I'd begun to search for devotionals that I like for children.  I found a good one in God's Names by Sally Michael.  This is another good one.  It's very different than God's Names, though.  God's Names is much more of a read aloud book and is less interactive than Get Wisdom!.    

In the beginning of the book, Ms. Younts wisely begins by talking about what Christian wisdom is and how wisdom and the Gospel are related.  She explains that we can't be good enough and we can't earn God's love.  She also explains why we want to be good.  The scriptures in this page are ones that I want to memorize with my children so that they will be written on our hearts.  The next section gives a definition for each of 23 traits (like listening and orderliness), a Bible verse, a prayer, and a symbolic picture to help children remember what the words mean.  The next section includes a lesson plan for each of the traits.  There's a short introductory activity, the memory verse, discussion questions, and often role play suggestions for each trait.  

At the beginning of the book, Ms. Younts says that the best age range for this book is K-4.  I agree with that age range.  This book would be perfect for children's church or another time when you have children of these ages together.  I thought of my church and the times that we have been volunteering to help watch children while the parents are taking classes at a local shelter.  Most of the activities would work for home devotions as well.  Only one of 23 activities wouldn't.

What I liked best about this book is the appropriateness of both the questions and the definitions.  I know that my Kindergarten and Second grade daughters would both be able to answer these questions and understand the definitions.  When I was a classroom teacher, one of the most difficult things was to structure an activity so that all ability levels could participate.  Ms. Younts has done an excellent job with this book of making that possible with this book.  

If you're looking for a book to use once a week for homeschooling, for family devotion times, for Sunday school, or for children's church with K-4 graders and you have multiple age children, I highly recommend this book!   

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Shepherd Press.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Word and Experiences

This morning I heard on NPR that the PCUSA denomination passed a measure that will allow clergy who are not celibate to be ordained.  When I listened to this on the news, I realized that this will allow the denomination to have clergy who are actively homosexual.  But, if it is worded in a certain way it will also also heterosexual, unmarried clergy to be ordained and pastor congregations.

To me, this seems like such a stretch from what the Bible says.  And in truth it is a stretch from what the Bible says.  But, this quote from this article on Christianity Today India's website (http://in.christiantoday.com/articles/presbyterian-church-usa-acquits-gay-minister/6082.htm) explains how this stretch is made:

"Rather than the Bible, the beginning point for discussions on homosexuality, he maintained, should be "the personal experiences we all share".

While Protestants always look to God's word to guide them, Barron contended that Scripture is not the only source of moral authority.

"We also look to the continuing revelation of God in our experiences in history and tradition, in science, in reasoning, and in everyday events to guide us. Scripture and experience both must guide our moral decision-making. And reliance on one without the other can be dangerous and offensive," he stated.

"Experience should lead us into the Bible instead of beginning with the Bible and discounting the importance of personal experience."

This is the same reasoning that Grudem talked about in the book Evangelical Feminism.  It's the same reasoning, but a different issue.  

My heart grieves for the PCUSA as they go away from the truth of the Word.  I don't want to enter an argument about why this man is wrong.  To me, it's obvious.  Our world has come to believe that experience trumps the truth.  But, that's not true.  One scripture haunts me when I ponder this.  It is the last verse of Judges.

Judges 21:25 NIV In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Last Sunday, our pastor was speaking about Psalm 2.  He preached about what 

1Why do the nations rage
   and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth set themselves,
   and the rulers take counsel together,
   against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3"Let us burst their bonds apart
   and cast away their cords from us."

He explained that to rage against God means to not take Him into account--to pursue one's own way--one's own counsel.  When we allow experience to trump the Word, we are our own counsel.  What this man above speaks of--our experiences...in reasoning.  That is putting what man thinks equal to God's Word.  

These are things to ponder.  I wanted to write about these things so that you would be aware and be wary.  We have to guard against this thinking.  It sounds good and logical.  Be careful of the weight you place on experience as determining what is true and what is not.

I have a tangent that just came to my mind about this.  It was what I read in The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman 10 years ago.  Though the book is Christian psychology, not really theology, there was an idea about marriage that I have kept in my bonnet for many years.  I will paraphrase the idea here.  It is that Falling in love is an emotion and staying in love is a choice.  It is a mental choice that we make every day.  Often that choice must be made despite feeling and experience.  There is a similarity between what Chapman talks about and the choice to believe what the truth is--experience draws us to the Lord and His Word, but we choose every day to Trust God and His Word--on days when we feel his presence and on days when we don't.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fun Princess Fiction for the Young at Heart

What a cheesy blog title!  But, it's apropos to the books I want to post about.

As the mom of two girls, I have grown to enjoy fairy and princess stories.  Before my girls were born, my husband gave me a copy of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.  That book was my first introduction to fairy tales that weren't of the Disney genre.  I loved it.  MacDonald's descriptions were wonderful and the story, though a bit dark, drew me in.

There is a sequel, The Princess and Curdie.  I dearly loved both, though it's been several years since I've read them so I can't recall a lot of details about the stories.

Because of these stories, I always pick up princess stories when I get a chance.

On Saturday at a yard sale, I picked up The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye.  Before you read the story make sure you read the author's forward.  It added to the story to understand why she wrote it and how it came to be written.  Some reviewers on Amazon criticized it for being too predictable--but aren't all fairy tales predictable?  The story is one of a princess who is ordinary--she has no beautiful hair or remarkable good looks.  She is simply ordinary.  This is considered a horrible thing by the rest of her family.  The story is one of her finding her own way and enjoying life.  She finds what really matters.  In the end, she finds a prince who sees her for who she is--which is what everyone who reads a fairy tale really wants to read.

Last Wednesday at Barnes and Noble, I bought a collection of Gail Carson Levine's Princess Tales, The Fairy Returns and Other Tales.  This book is a collection of Ms. Levine's six princess tales.  I read Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep several years ago.  I enjoyed the wit with which she added a little twist to the story of Sleeping Beauty.  The twist was that Princess Sonora is given the gift of being 10 times smarter than everyone else.  It's fun to see how that twists is woven through the story.  I enjoyed all six of the tales in this book.  They were clever and witty.  I will say, though, that I began to sense some feminist undertones in the stories.  Nothing overt and nothing objectionable.  But the princesses were all definitely strong protagonists.  One friend mentioned to me that as she and her daughter read the American Girl books, they began to realize that the bad people in the stories were always men.  I thought that was very interesting.  There was one commonality that the stories all had though which I think you should be aware of.  In each of the stories, the princess (or prince) was smarter and wiser than the parents.  It was very subtle.  I think that I will let my daughters read this book because the characters are not disrespectful or sassy to the parents, but I will definitely talk to them about it afterwards and see what they think of this commonality among the stories.

Another princess story just came to my mind.  Two or three years ago, I read The Princess Academy. It is the story of Miri and her time in the Princess Academy.  One of the girls will be selected to become the prince's bride.  This is not a book for elementary age students, but is more appropriate for middle school readers.  It is a good story with suspense and twists. I enjoyed it.

As an adult, I often struggle to find light hearted reading that I can pick up for fun.  These books are all ones I'd highly recommend.  For middle school and high school girls, I also think these books would be fun reads.  Just ask what they think about Ms. Levine's after they've read it, though, and bring it to their attention about the relationships between the parents and children.  It's a good example of how things can slip by unnoticed unless we think about what we read.