Friday, March 30, 2012

Life--not quite as we expect it

Last week, I was talking with a friend and she commented to me that her life just wasn't what she thought it would be when she got to the age she is now.  I understood.  I would say the same thing.  Actually, I have said it--to my mom several times over the years.  

My husband's coming home tonight after being gone or a few days.  We do not have one of those marriages where people never fight or argue.  I have heard there are a few of those out there.  Though we agree on many things, we also often disagree and we're both strong willed.  There are things I did before I was married that I don't get to do anymore.  He could say the same.  Sometimes it's because of limited time or resources.  Sometimes there's other reasons.

On Sunday, one of the young women at our church wanted to tell me about a local ballroom dancing spot, so that I could go.  I smiled and gently told her that I can't.  My husband doesn't like to dance.  She replied that she didn't take a partner.  I responded that I just couldn't do that--I'm married and it would be weird.  It feel very wrong somehow.  Dancing is something I don't do anymore.  I miss it a lot.

But, though I've given some things up, my life isn't the same when my husband is absent.  We complement each other.  He gives me structure--even when my mind and heart rebel.  I'd choose my husband over dance any day.  I love him and I'm glad he's on his way home.  

Life is like that I think.  We have one idea of what it will be or should be-- and it often simply isn't.  I had so many ideas when I graduated high school of what I thought my life would be like.  I had ideas of what the man would marry, if I married, would be like.  Then, I married, and I had ideas of what I thought marriage would be like.  

My ideas were not the same as God's ideas for my life.  But, I am thankful that I can trust that His plan is much better than mine would have been.  It feels like he gives me glimpses and reminders of this.  My husband's absence is one of those.  I love my husband and I am thankful for him.  I am thankful for how he loves me and our kids--and how he has treated my mom since she moved in with us.  He and I are often the iron that sharpens iron.  We disagree at times because we are not the same person, but there's no one else I'd rather talk to.  I think that's what marriage is.  


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Books that Can Scare You

I don't read horror books.  I don't watch horror movies.  I get scared really easily.  But some of the scariest books for me aren't horror books.  They're "realistic fiction".  I read one recently that  friend gave me to read called The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle.  It's a secular fiction book that was published a few years ago.  

It made me pause.  It scared me greatly because of a story I'd heard from a friend a few months ago.  Let me explain why.  The Kindness of Strangers isn't really about kindness.  In fact, it's about the opposite.  It's basically the story of the discovery a neighbor's predatory behaviors towards neighborhood children and the sexual abuse of their own son.  The book was well written as far as the actual writing goes.  The characters were well developed and believable.  But, at the end of the book I felt sick.  I felt sick over what the bad characters in the book had done.  I also felt deeply saddened about the worldview of both the characters in the book and the author.  

Basically, God definitely isn't a part of the picture for the characters and I also suspect for the author as well.  A few months ago, Ken Myers wrote about how Deism is the greatest threat to Christianity-- not atheism.  Basically, people like the idea of believing that God created the world and even created us, but then he checked out and it's up to us.  We can do whatever we want and have the good feeling that someone is watching out for us.  After reading what Myers wrote, I increasingly became aware of how much we hear this message:  "The truth and wisdom is in you.  You have the strength that you need.  You can be whoever you want to be.  All that you need is in you.  Everything will work out in the end."  

The characters in this book endure immense suffering and in the end survive and are okay.  Life's not perfect, but it's good.  Yet, God never entered the picture.  The characters mention going to synagogue a few times several years before the story takes place and the belief that they should do good to others if they are able.  I believe that what an author believes shapes what they write.  That's why I look closely at the dedications, forwards, and acknowledgments that they write.  My husband thinks I'm silly for doing this.  In this case, the author mentions thanking a woman for affirming her belief that there are angels watching over.  I feel like the idea of "guardian angels" is really people wanting some idea of God that feels good without the idea of sin or any consequences when we do something wrong.  I know that the Bible says there are angels and I do believe there are angels, but I also think that the way our culture portrays "guardian angels" isn't biblical.  

A few months ago, our pastor started preaching through the Psalms.  I remember him preaching on Psalm 2 and talking about what it means to rage against God--to take Him out of the picture.  The sermon articulated something I'd been seeing in a lot of books I'd been reading.  One of the books that particularly stood out to me was "Eight Keys" by Susanne La Fleur (   I wrote this sentence in that review "But, these keys all point to one truth that the author puts forth--that the answers to life were all inside of her. "

Since then, I feel like I've been seeing this message everywhere.  The message that the answer are in you--you have the strength you need.  God's taken out of the picture.  And that's a really bad thing.  It's like opening a present and not thanking the person who gave it to you.  Or It's not, "God gives us wisdom" or "We can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" or "God is our strength".  My concern is how this affects us as adults when we're bombarded by this message, but also how it affects our children when they're bombarded in it--in very "kid friendly" language.  It seems so benign!  But, really, it seems to be an offshoot of the idea of self esteem.  It's the message that kids can do anything they want to--and God's just not mentioned.  And by not not mentioning Him over and over, the message is sent to them that they don't need Him.  

As parents we want to shelter our kids and hide them from these messages, but that won't work.  We can't live in fear of the world and what it says.  After really struggling with The Kindness of Stranger, I went to my pastor to talk to him about it.  He said that we can't live in fear--our culture is built on fear.  So, instead, we must love God and love the people in our lives.  We need to know the people in our corner of the world, but we can't take on the world's problems all by ourselves.  

So, instead, we take one step at a time.  We remind our children daily of what God did.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

We share with our children that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.  We remind them that sometimes people forget God and it's important that we not ever do that.  We help them see what the world is telling them and learn to discern the truth and the lies.  At least this is my hope.  This is what I want to do with my kids.  

Recently a friend asked me about how a dear Christian lady I know is doing.  One of her children is going through some hard things right now and making some choices that have horrible consequences.  I explained that she isn't worried about the physical consequences as much as she is about the heart of her child that has turned away from God.  

It has taken me several years to understand this, but I think I'm coming around.  Another friend shared a story with me about some young adults who are on track as far as the world is concerned--doing well in school and their jobs.  But, then stories of how they saw others crept in and I saw that what I had thought was most important for so long really isn't.  A man can have everything the world sees as valuable, but without God, it's nothing.  

And now I really must end because I'm afraid I've rambled on again far too long.  If you made it to the end of it, I hope it made some semblance of sense, but if not, please accept my apologies.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Truly Imaginative Fiction

Lois Lowry is one of the best writers of kids' fiction that I've ever read.  I truly enjoy her books.  The Birthday Ball, The Giver (and its companions), Young Fredle...  When I open up one of her books, I'm struck by the way she uses words to vividly describe characters and settings.  She is clever in her use of words.

Once in a while, I come across a book that reminds me of her writing.  A few weeks ago, I read a book by a new author, Jennifer Trafton.  It is titled The  Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic.  From the first page, the book held a lot of promise.  The story is extremely imaginative.  It is the story of Persimmony Smudge and her quest to save the island's inhabitants.  It already sounds like there's a story there, doesn't it?

The story begins with Persimmony going to find Theodoore, the potter, to get a new pot because she broke her family's giving pot that gave them the food they needed each day.  She gets sidetracked on her journey and overhears a discussion of treason against the King.  This story has one of those plots that I don't want to explain and go into.  It is clever fantasy novel for children.  And somewhere in this story there's even a... a... well, I won't ruin it and give it away.  So, how can I describe it another way?  Well, it's the story of a girl who wants to prove that she is strong and able.  She wants to know who her father was and understand who she is.  She's always just been the basketweaver's daughter.  So, in the course of her adventures, she is brave and saves the day with the help of some unlikely friends. 

So, here's a quick summary:
Best age group?  4th-6th graders, advanced third grade readers may like it.  There are some pictures, but there's a lot of text.
Reading Level:  4th-8th
Anything to be concerned about?  Worldview?  Language?  There were times as I read this book that I was reminded of Dick King-Smith's books.  He often uses the word "stupid"--it's even in his well known book Babe.  His books made me think about my adamant avoidance of this word in books.  I realized it really depends on the book.  I still don't like it when characters in a book call each other stupid and have horrible attitudes.  In this book, because the story is so fantastical, I could overlook it.  The king is quite spoiled and Persimmony has her own peculiar attitudes, but they are truly "characters".  As for the Worldview, I really didn't find anything objectionable.

Now I have to be honest, I did already ask my daughter to read it and it hasn't caught her fancy yet, though she loved flipping through it and looking at the illustrations.  She seems quite funny to me about picking books.  She loves to read, but tends to read the books she loves over and over.  But, I know that she'll read this one in time.  It's right up her alley.  I struggle to find books for her that are at her reading level and appropriate given how young she is.  This book would be good for her to read.  

As a mom who's very picky about what my children read, would I recommend this book?  Yes.  It's fun and creative. 

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher, Puffin Books.

Printable Hundreds Chart

I have to be honest.  I like books.  A lot.  But, when we moved, my homeschooling area shrunk by about 66% and most of my books went into storage and a lot were donated.  I just didn't have room for them.  So, now when I'm missing something I used to have, I go to the internet.  Today I needed a hundreds chart.  I found a great one on this site.  Here's a direct link to just the chart:

I needed the hundreds chart for helping Sami understand what to round to, when rounding to the nearest 10.  So, I added an extra handwritten column on the left that said 0, 10, 20, 30, etc...   That way, we could talk through her assignment and go up or down to the nearest 10 without a super long number line that I just don't have room for, unfortunately.  I also wrote "Rounding Chart" at the top so that she wouldn't use it for addition or subtraction and get confused by the additional set of 10s on it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Not Yes/No, but Now/Later

There's a huge to do going on right now in the media about the movie The Hunger Games, which is set to be released in the theaters in just a few days.  This afternoon a friend of mine were discussing the books.  She asked me if I was the person who'd sent an email to our homeschool group blasting the books.  I said, no, but that I am concerned about young children reading them.  She, as a long time homeschooler and woman I deeply respect, felt they would be appropriate for teenagers, but not for younger children.  She loved the books and was drawn in.  She couldn't escape them.  

Her comments reminded me of how many of us felt about the Harry Potter series (which I still need to write about when I get a chance).  The books were engaging and imaginative, yet often scary and frightening.  

Over our vacation two weeks ago, I read a book by Tony Reinke titled Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books.  He goes into great detail about the value of reading secular books and why we should read them, but in another section of his book he introduces an idea that I think might be relevant to the discussion of the The Hunger Games series of books.  

Reinke tells of his young 9 year old son who is a voracious reader.  He explains that his feelings about what his son reads comes down not to a question of "yes or no", but of "now or later".  He goes on to say that there are many books that it is a matter of timing as to whether they are appropriate reading.  

I think The Hunger Games books might fall into this category of "Now or Later" reading.  This idea resonated with my friend.  She felt they would draw teenagers into a book who are reluctant readers.  The writing is pretty good as far as I could tell from the preview I read online.  My friend solidly agreed with me, though, that these books would not be appropriate for 4th or 5th graders.  She was shocked that they would read them.  It made me realize that I should clarify what age I think of when I say "kids".  I am thinking of anyone 13 years old and under.  Once a child enters high school, I think of them as a teenager.  

Now back to something else Tony Reinke mentioned in his book...  he expounds on the value of reading secular fiction.  Often such books shed light on what one believes because it is so different from one's own world view.  It was Martin Luther who said that heresy comes from within the church--not from without--from a twisting of the truth.  It is easier, actually, to discern what is true and what is false in something that is very different than something that is very similar to what one believes.  It's all in how one puts it...

So, The Hunger Games.  Should we read them?  Should our children?  Should our teenagers?  I think those are personal questions.  There aren't any easy blanket answers to them.  I do think we should be concerned though and know what our children are reading--whether they are in public, private, or home schools.  As parents, it is our job to shelter and protect our children.  For me, that means I wouldn't want my children to read these books in elementary school and likely middle school.  But, I know we also need to help our children grow and learn to spread their wings so that when they're on their own, they can stand firmly.  And part of helping them grow means to answer the question of now or later with a "now" answer when I see my children maturing.  

So, I hope to walk alongside them and help them process what they're reading and hearing.  I want to help them see that God created all people--even those who want to deny it.  And that God is also in control of all things--even when people would deny it.  I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I was just reminded of II Kings 19:25.  
25 “‘Have you not heard? 
   Long ago I ordained it. 
In days of old I planned it; 
   now I have brought it to pass, 
that you have turned fortified cities 
   into piles of stone. 

I know I only have young children, though I've taught students 5-60 years old.  But, I listen to my friends with older children and I listen to my mother in law and my mom and this is what I hear.  We need to walk alongside them.  We need to talk with our children and help them sift through what the world tells them.  If we run from it instead, they may grow fearful of this world and flee from it rather than face with it with the strength that God gives each of us.  

Dinner is calling me and as my mom puts it, I really pack a lot in a short amount of time, so though this is not a proper conclusion, I want to post these thoughts.  Please forgive my absent conclusion!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

When Something is Worth Doing

Two weeks ago, the ladies at my church had a retreat.  The speaker is a woman who's been a missionary to Japan for many years.  She shared many interesting things about Japanese culture.  I've thought about many of the points she made often since then, but one particularly came to my mind yesterday.

She explained to us that the Japanese people won't do something unless they are an expert at it.

I think we too often fall into this thinking as well.  If what we do isn't as good as what someone else does, then 1) we question whether it is worth doing
2) we tell ourselves that we just aren't very good at it
3) we don't even try if we don't think we can be successful at it

I found myself thinking these thoughts as I searched through my pictures yesterday.  I wanted to find some to frame and hang on the walls in our house.  But, pictures that once pleased me didn't yesterday.  I have several friends who take very good pictures.  My pictures pale in comparison.  And then I started thinking about what the missionary shared.  

I take pictures with my camera because I enjoy it, not because it's a job.  I also take pictures because I enjoy it, not because someone's going to tell me "Good job!"  

As a homeschooling mom, I want my kids to enjoy learning.  There are a lot of days when we're checking off the boxes.  But ultimately, I want them to love reading and writing.  Homeschooling has challenged me to think about what the goals of my children's education are.  My mother in law commented to me about this the other day.  She assumed that I had a vision for what I want my kids to learn that guides what I teach them and how we raise them.  I gave her a very incoherent answer that really made no sense at the time.  Later that evening I reflected on my answer.  What do I want for my kids?  I want them to love others well--to reflect God's love to others.  I want them to enjoy learning.  I want them to seek knowledge and to do things with it.  Do I expect them to be the best?  Actually, not.  I just want them to do their best and to glorify God in what they do.  I grew up getting accolades in school and while they're nice, they aren't my end goal for my kids.  I do think they are a blessing and encouragement though when they receive them, though.  But, the accolades aren't the goal.  

That's why I blog.  I enjoy writing and expressing my thoughts.  Not many people read this blog.  I'm not what you'd call a "successful" blogger.  But, do I need to be an "expert" to justify my blogging efforts?  If I look to God and His character and what I know the Bible to say, then I'd say no.  

These are the scriptures that came to my mind.  They may seem random or disconnected, but I think they're all related.

I Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I Samuel 16:7 (said to Samuel about David)
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Colossians 3:23-24
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

A few weeks ago, our pastor said in his sermon that the easiest way to figure out how we're doing is to compare ourselves to others.  It isn't right and it isn't what determines our worth, but it's the easiest way--so we do it all the time.  I have to constantly guard against this in my own heart and in how I think of my children.  

So, I think I'm going to pick up my camera this afternoon and go for a walk.  Who knows what I'll find!