Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frugal Friday -- Contentment

As this is my first Frugal Friday posting, I decided to post the one thing that makes the biggest difference in keeping our budget low – contentment. Maybe a little too philosophical, but I have something more practical in mind for next week, born out of contentment.

Contentment
: Paul summed it up well in Philippians 4, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Contentment does not desire things to be different than they already are.

Contentment sometimes means not flipping through department store or home improvement store ads. It sometimes means going months, or years, without an item that might actually make life easier, maybe never getting it. Contentment means recognizing God’s provision right where you are (Paul often wrote from prison, and yet exhibited great contentment.)

Contentment has saved me financially as I trust in God’s sovereignty, God’s provision, God’s wisdom in blessing me as He sees fit, God’s timing. I can then wait and have joy in where I am with what I have. I have truly learned to be content without some things that at one time or another I wanted to own (a horizontal breadmachine, a Dyson vacuum, a grain mill, various books, a food processor, stoneware pans, etc., etc.) Some of these items were silly whims, some I would still like to have, but I am content without any of them. This has saved me hundreds, and likely thousands of dollars over the years.

Contentment comes from trusting God first and foremost. He will give us the wisdom and the faith to trust Him.

Contentment comes from counting blessings.

What do we really need? If you have a computer, then you likely have far more than you really need.

We need some clothes, daily food, and shelter. We don’t need a dozen outfits for each season, multiple course meals every weekend, snacks, houses with multiple bedrooms, two cars. Many Americans have all those things and more, but the essentials that we can find contentment in are much simpler. What has God blessed you with beyond what you need? Children, a loving and hard-working husband, a stand mixer, a three bedroom (or more!) house, three full meals each day, Christian fellowship, the Bible, the internet with more information than you could ever track down or process, shoes, great recipes, and on and on. Contentment comes when we realize just how much He has given.


Contentment comes from an eternal perspective. How much does any of that even matter when we remember what a drop in the eternal bucket of time this earthly life is? If we only pass through this life with our salvation, it is more than we deserved.

I don’t know that anyone can say they have mastered the attitude of contentment, but when our choices intentionally and through faith in God take us further down that path, living a frugal life will be just one of many blessings we will receive.

Laughter doeth good like a medicine -- and sleep isn't bad either

This week has brought with it numerous stresses into our home, both big and small. Decisions regarding the future bombard us as we pray for wisdom and seek to make the best choices, with so much unknown just over the next hill. Little things abound from illnesses, to fingers cut while opening a can to forgetting to put baking soda in the cookies (after having already started a batch of chocolate chip cookies with only 1/2 a bag of chips left on hand.) Yet, through it all, God is good.

As I type this that song pops into my head, "He lifts me up! I get down, He lifts me up! I get down, He lifts me up!" Often the cycle in our God controlled lives, as our flesh tries to battle for control. Through all the stress this week, sleep comes only at a minimum, as usual. And, yet today this amazing family that God gave me was just what I needed. This morning as my alarm went off my husband rolled over and said he would get up and take care of things and I could sleep a little more. I so needed that. He lifts me up!


Then, this afternoon, take two on our cookies I said they could each make a cookie to eat. Yeah, can you guess which ones are theirs? They crack me up. And if you are wondering what Brooke is doing, Blake said, "Bunny ears!" She didn't know what he meant, so she gave herself bunny ears.

He lifts me up!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Decision Time

The following is the lesson that I taught tonight at AWANA. I like to write out completely what I plan to say, and then speak loosely from what I wrote. This was a powerful story to prepare. If you are a Christian, saved for eternity by the shed blood of Jesus Christ then I pray you will read it as a challenge to our perspective of those around us, and our need to spread the gospel. If you are not 100% certain of your eternal destination then I pray you would read this and be challenged by Jesus' teaching. Any questions, I would love to answer them . . .


Jesus often challenged people on their perspective of wealth. There is a great temptation in this world to focus on earthly wealth rather than issues of eternal value. We often can’t see much past tomorrow, or even today. This teaching of Jesus comes from Luke chapter 16, starting in verse 19.

Jesus began . . . Once there was a very wealthy man. He dressed extravagantly. All the gold, diamonds, latest styles and brands. He was put together, and everyone knew that he had everything money could buy. Everyday he lived the best life anyone could afford – the best food, clothes, houses, everything the top of the line. He spared no expense for his happiness and comfort. At the same time there was also a very poor man. The complete opposite of this rich man. This poor man was named Lazarus, not the same one that Jesus raised from the dead. He was covered with sores, diseased and weak. He had nothing to his name, no physical wealth whatsoever. He longed for just the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Dogs licked at his sores and he was powerless to do anything about it.

Eventually they both died, as people do, as we all will one day. The poor man was buried in the simplest of graves. Yet angels carried the poor man away from this world to eternal peace. The rich man received an expensive burial, maybe a parade procession, and opened his eyes in Hades, eternal torment.

The rich man saw the poor man in peace and cried out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” Just a drop of cool water is all he asked. His agony was so great that even a drop of water seemed like a blessing. We cannot even begin to comprehend the agony of hell. It is definitely not the freedom that some expect. Just as God’s character is higher than description, hell’s pain is beneath description. Nothing that anyone experiences in this life begins to compare to the pain, judgment, loneliness, sadness, grief, guilt, all things bad and evil that hell contains.

Abraham responds, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things [he had been wealthy and lived a life of ease, comfort, and all good things the earth had to offer], and likewise Lazarus bad things [illness, hunger, cold, disease, loneliness, poverty, and all the bad things the earth had to offer]; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.”

However, Abraham also had to point out that the rich man had missed his chance. Earth is the place of decision making. This story that Jesus told makes it quite clear that our decision for or against Him must be made in this lifetime. If we do not choose for Him, we have chosen against Him. Abraham continued, “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us." The gulf between heaven and hell cannot be crossed in anyway by anyone. The decisions made in this life are final.

The rich man recognized the desperation, and had one last request, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." This punishment was so bad; he wanted to do something to warn others about it.

Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

The rich man said, “No, father Abraham, [that’s not enough] but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”

Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

We have all the evidence we need right here – in the Bible. We don’t need to look any further for some dramatic experience, although God does use those at times to strengthen our faith and speak to us in special ways. We must make our decision and live our life founded on the Word of God.

In Matthew 16:24-27 Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”

So, what will your reward be? God will be the final judge and jury. He knows your actions and the heart behind them. He knows if you have surrendered to Him as your Lord and Savior, the sacrifice for your sins. Don’t wait until it’s too late. The only thing certain in this life is right now.

While this life may seem like a long time, it is hardly anything when compared to eternity. What we accumulate in this life we may enjoy for up to 70 years or so, but what we build up in the next life through following Jesus Christ and the Bible (rewarded by peace and joy), or by choosing to follow our own way (consequenced with agony and pain), will last for tens of thousands of years, and still have just begun.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday -- Tree with a Snow Coat



My husband snapped this picture last night as the most gorgeous snow of the season fell. Yes, I am entirely tired of snow, but even still it was unbelievably beautiful! A sweet reminder from God to "Be still" this week.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Greasing pans

kitchentiptuesdays.jpg


I have kitchen tips to share!

Sometimes we are so used to doing things that we don't realize how much easier our life has become thanks to these habits.

There are two simple ways I grease my pans that seem to make meal prep easier.

- The first is thanks to Pampered Chef. I really wanted to get away from canned cooking spray and Pampered Chef sells this nifty, refillable spray bottle that you fill with your own oil, pressurize by pumping air into it, and then spray onto your pans. I bought this a couple years ago and have saved so much money, not to mention the health benefits, by using olive oil and refilling this handy spray bottle as often as necessary.


- The second is a simple silicon brush that my husband picked up in a four pack on clearance at Target (I didn't figure you needed to see all four, with two I think you get the picture). I use this for sooo many things now. I keep it near the butter dish for greasing pots and pans, spreading butter on waffles and cinnamon rolls, as well as any regular pastry brush uses. Best of all, I don't have to pick bristles out of my food! So simple, and made my life so much simpler!

For more kitchen tips, check out Tammy's Recipes.

It's contagious

Flus and colds are running rampant around us right now. Of the 11 boys that live with us during the week, 6 of them are home sick right now, and one just came back today after being out sick. Of our own 5 children, 3 are in some stages of illness. However, with illness also tends to come jealous healthy children. One daughter, who has yet to have any verifiable symptoms, now and then complains of a headache or she will 'cough.'

My two year old even got in on the act tonight. As I was preparing his evening snack he said,

"Mommy, I have a sore throat." Really . . .

"Nathan, you have a sore throat?"

"mmmhmmm."

"Nathan, where's your throat?"

Cute little impish grin, "I don't know."

Vision check

I recently searched out an article that a friend of mine recommended a while back. I have so many books and articles that I want to read, and not nearly the time to read them. Now and then God calls one specifically to mind, and I obviously needed my vision focused in this regard.

Overall schooling has gone very well this year. The kids are learning so much, soaking up the core subjects and extra topics that we read and study about each day. I have a schedule that seems to work well for us to get everything done, most days anyway. Yet, despite that I have seen more impatience in myself at those interruptions that come each day, often multiple times throughout the day, and usually at the hands of my youngest one. This article carried exactly the vision check up that I needed. Diane Hopkins, a homeschooling mother of 7, knows the ups and downs of homeschooling well. Her heart for her kids and insight into a mother’s heart really challenged me. She talks of the realization one day as she struggled through similar interruptions that, “The baby IS the lesson!”

Just as Diane mentions, I have often tried to plan activities to keep my younger ones busy so they didn’t interrupt the others’ school time. Unwittingly, I taught that babies and toddlers interrupted learning, rather than that they should join us in the learning process. Here is where her words clearly and concisely refocused my vision, “How to be a Christlike person is the most valuable lesson a child could ever learn! The lesson is learned moment by moment; watching a parent being patient, handling frustration with kindness, pressing on for the goal in spite of numerous interruptions, valuing each child's needs regardless of inconvenience.” Our children observe us all day each day and see how we truly live, our actions and reactions. I need to remember one of my primary objectives in homeschooling: raising disciples of Jesus Christ. This can only be accomplished as I submit to His plan, and exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in each situation.

God has placed me in this home, with these children. When one of them has a need outside of the academic arena, that is my responsibility. He placed me as caretaker over these little ones and although the math, science, reading, and language must be taught and learned, I have missed the mark if I don’t capitalize on those opportunities to show the value of human life, teach honesty, and model dependence on God’s strength and character.

Especially in these early, preschool years, I need to focus on character development and obedience training. The older kids do a great job modeling, but I need to remember it was by God’s grace (mostly) and my diligence in training them before we even thought about academics. My younger ones need that as well. God gives us enough time each day to accomplish everything that He wants us to with it. So, while I may think of them as interruptions, I need to truly recognize them as God leading me a different way for the moment. He has a different plan for my schedule at times and I need to be sensitive to His leading and set the example of obedience and character growth.

Each day I want to look back and see time well spent, decisions made in submission to His Spirit and not my flesh, relationships built with each one of my children (which means different things to each one), and interruptions capitalized on. I cannot think of homeschooling as just my ‘day-job.’ It begins as soon as the first child awakes, and ends with the last good-night kiss and the benefits I seek are eternal.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Verse of the week -- Psalm 46:10

Motherhood is busy. The days are non-stop from the time we awake until we crash on our pillow at night. With five kids filling our house all day, and 12 more in the mornings and evenings, our house enjoys constant motion, activity, and noise. At any given time I can guarantee that at least one person needs help with cleaning a mess, completing homework, resolving a dispute, or just a listening ear to share the troubles of the day. Now, add into that some other situations: external family situations that have brought additional stress, financial decisions that require our attention and energy, and some challenges in our work environment. All this laid the backdrop for what God had to tell me this week.

BE STILL! Sorry, He had to shout it to get my attention. It was hard to hear over everything else clamoring for my attention. How do I forget that He maintains control of all of this. He walks this path with me?

This morning to complement my devotions I picked up Linda Dillow's book, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul. She has a wonderful framework for beginning your personal worship time with God. I took her challenge to go through the letters of the alphabet as I focused on the attributes of God: Awesome, Beautiful, Counselor, Divine, Excellent, Father, Great . . . I often seek to use the ACTS format for my prayer time (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), but this brought a fresh form of adoration. As I continued through the alphabet I thought of S.M. Lockridge's well known "That's My King!" oration.

video

Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Something like that

Tonight at AWANA we had another interesting discussion, again reminding me how much Bible knowledge these girls lack. We have arrived at Romans 3:23 (For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). And, the question came up in the book, "What did Christ do about our sin problem?"

One girl's answer had an interesting summary of Scripture stories we have learned this year, "Jesus took all our sins into himself and then flooded the earth to get rid of all the bad people, everyone except for Joseph because he was good."

I guess we still have a bit of work to do. . .

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time
we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

-- Galatians 6:9

Successful grocery shopping

Improved grocery shopping has been a key goal of mine this year. I set out to spend less, saving more, have smoother grocery trips with the kids, introduce more green habits into my shopping experience, and surrender all of this to God.

So, I remembered to pray before shopping today. Something I have heard from a few of my friends that they do regularly. I often pray, but more for patience and sanity than the actual grocery shopping. It really changed my attitude while I shopped. I wasn't even tempted to buy those yummy, expensive cookies even if they were on sale, just one pack, I'm so good about everything else, so why not? Not today, didn't even cross my mind, until now . . . It kept my thoughts on being a good steward of what God has blessed me with. Definitely a habit I hope to grow in myself.

I also spent less than $90 and had a very full cart of groceries. I should be able to put off shopping again for about 10 days. With that I spent less than $500 on groceries for our family of 7 since January 24 (about a month ago, and the first day I finally lived out my motivation to restart tracking expenses). I used to spend over $800 a month on groceries! I am quite excited about all I have learned in the past 6 months about grocery shopping more frugally. (Thank you, Crystal!) That's a lot of extra money each month to save toward college, give to those in need and toward ministry, and to save for other expenses that are bound to come up with a growing family.

Another very little thing that I did today, I brought my own paper and cloth bags to bring my groceries home. I have often thought of doing this, and always do at Trader Joe's when we go there, but haven't bothered elsewhere. Well, today I did it and it felt so good to not be using up more plastic bags. I do reuse them, but not even as many as I already have. If I can do it, while shopping with 5 kids, anyone can!

Last, but most certainly not least, I hit on an inspiration to help keep order to my little clan as we shop together. The kids wanted to spend their own quarters in the gumball machines on the way out. So, I gave them the following condition: if they behaved. They generally do pretty well, but I also have pretty high expectations. We have laid the rules: hands to yourself, conversational voice volume only, no asking for things, stay with me, and no lying on the floor (don't ask). We have also rehearsed this at home in the past. The expectations are very clear. Sometimes I have the kids walk in a line behind me as well, but it depends how big of a hurry I am in and how crowded the store.

Well, today we added a little twist, a concrete way of tracking their grocery shopping behavior. I gave each child 2 coins (could be anything -- pennies, paperclips, scraps of paper, pen caps, etc.) I told them that when I had to speak to them about their behavior they would lose one of those coins. If they lost both over the course of the trip, no buying a gumball on the way out. They were amazing! Only the 2 year old lost his coins. I don't know how well he understood the set up, but he did really well at first and for a while after losing his first coin. Obviously, after losing the second coin I will need to come up with a consequence for additional infractions. However, for today the system worked very well.

I pray that as I work with these little hearts and lives that they would continue to seek to do what is right. I pray that our lives would produce good works. That those around us may see those good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My best earthly friend

Women need women. Right? Many church programs, writers and speakers work off the assumption that women need intimate relationships with other women. They tell us that if we are struggling with life, our stresses would be greatly reduced if we had a ‘girlfriend’ to share our struggles with. Husbands are great, but we need someone who understands us to really connect with and unload on. I swallowed this assumption for many years and longed for a good female friend with whom to share my meandering through motherhood and daily dilemmas. God kept listening, and gently met me and loved me each morning and evening, and often throughout each day as I cried out to Him for greater strength and patience. If I could only have a fellow woman to compare notes with! And my dear, sweet husband loved me faithfully and listened compassionately.

As our schedule got busy with homeschooling and other family responsibilities, I longed to connect in a women’s Bible study and find some refreshment each week. However, for years I simply could not give up the kids’ school time, or child care was not available, or conflicts in schedules kept that from happening. God taught me individually each morning with deep words of wisdom that penetrated my soul, growing my faith. He met with me personally. And, my husband listened patiently, served me lovingly, and encouraged me daily.

Why it took so long, I’ll never know. And, yet God patiently taught, and my husband patiently waited, and I finally realized that the relationship I longed for was the one that God had already given me. It was there, listening, loving, serving, encouraging. God had already given me the best earthly friend I would ever need. He designed this relationship at the beginning of time in a garden paradise. He showed us His model for companionship -- man and woman, not same gender intimacy. My relationship with my husband had always been a solid, intimate one, but I didn’t realize all that I had.

God gave me just what I needed. My husband is an incredible man and everything that I need from a person. God fulfills my deepest needs and longings in Himself, and He also blessed me with my husband, someone to stand by me in the physical sense as well. Charles has loved me for almost 18 years now, faithfully, visibly, unwavering.


He has cared for me through six pregnancies, one that was far too short. He witnessed each birth, and was the sole attendant at one of them, four blocks before we reached the hospital! He loves each of those children dearly and wants the best for them.

He faithfully provides for our growing family. Each day he tirelessly works to fulfill his God-given role as provider. He listens attentively and contributes his wisdom as we talk about nutrition and the grocery budget. He trusts me.

The kids know we are on the same team. No matter how rough the day, how troubling the news, how aggravating the circumstance, we walk through it together. Charles doesn’t barge ahead or shy away or stand alone. United we face each day and the future.

He establishes Christ as the head of our home. Church is a priority. God is involved in our decisions and conversations. The Bible is our family handbook and policy manual as well as our spiritual light.

He brings laughter. The practical jokes, the tricks on kids, the games, the wrestling, the magic. He fills our home.

Charles is an amazing man in and of himself. He is strong and driven. He has an amazing ability to figure out almost any problem. He is a great leader with vision and focus. Hard working is putting it mildly. I never knew the depth of his being when I glimpsed this cute blond guy at youth group. God blessed me with so much more than I ever realized.

I wonder now if the divorce rate at all relates to this drive that women follow for relationships, or on a wider scale, for fulfillment outside of the home. How often have we overlooked what God gave us in our own homes?

God created Eve as a wife to Adam, and right now that is my primary role as well. Wife to Charles: my friend, lover, confidant, provider, encourager, iron-sharpener, cheerleader, adviser, comforter, and so much more. What else was I looking for?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Verse of the week - II Corinthians 10:5

The first steps toward victory in any battle take place in the mind. Taming the tongue requires great diligence, but capturing our thoughts, takes never-ending, painstaking determination. If we seek victory in an area of our lives, we must first win that battle in our minds. God has constantly called me to task in this area. I fall into the 'laid-back' category, and generally refrain from verbalizing my frustrations, but if my thoughts betrayed me many situations would not end so innocently.

The verse of the week is yet to come, but some introduction first. Proverbs 23:6-8 s
ays, "Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. 'Eat and drink!' he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words." God paints such vivid pictures through the writers of Scripture. How often do I outwardly display generosity, but inwardly I'm running my budget numbers, or tax deduction? I pray that my actions overflow from a genuinely generous heart.

Jesus often spoke of the importance of actions born of proper thoughts. As parents we know that true obedience must begin with an obedient heart. I recall the story of a young girl told to stay seated. She sat, while loudly proclaiming, "I may be sitting on the outside, but I am standing on the inside!" True obedience overflows from a submissive heart. We may not verbalize it so plainly, but we still perform shallow acts of deceptive obedience. We need to attack this issue at its root.

Second Corinthians 10:5 says, "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." This verse shouts at me every time I read it. As I dress for battle this week, this will be my battle cry. I must take each thought that pops into my head captive, destroying those arguments and lofty opinions that are so far removed from God's perspective. When I begin to mentally roll my eyes at yet another child's request for a snack or drink, or story read; when the phone call interrupts my routine and I prepare to complain internally about the disruption; when an academic concept isn't getting through after multiple explanations, no matter what the attack, I must destroy those lofty opinions that I begin to raise, and take those thoughts captive. God's thoughts and ways are so far above our own. I need to step back and see the big picture, His big picture, and focus on what is good, right, just, holy, pure, of good report.

Thoughts can quickly spiral my day into negativity, transforming my quiet spirit into frustration and tension. Not a temptation uncommon to others, I know, and God has graciously provided a way of escape.This commitment takes daily diligence and God's strength, to capture all we can of our energies and focus for the glory of God.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against
the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

II Corinthians 10:5


Friday, February 15, 2008

Full week

Wrapped up another full week of work. A little drained, but that's okay, a restful weekend stretches out before us. Ha! Now, we need to tackle all the projects that we didn't have time for in this overstuffed week. This is the way things go, they ebb and flow, and right now, things are really flowing. Before I go fold those six or so loads of laundry that somehow at least got washed this week, I wanted to blog about our great club we had at our house today.



This school year I started up a Keeper's at Home and Contender's of the Faith club. We meet once a month with about 9 families and about 24 kids total. The club has been better than I envisioned for the first year, and I look forward to being able to put even more time into it next year.

As homeschoolers I love this opportunity to hit on some of the non-academics that I need to teach my kids. This year we have done decoupage, letter writing, prayer, and today baking. There is so much to learn in life beyond math, science, reading, social studies, etc. This gives us a great framework to do just that. Today we baked pretzels together and talked about baking in general. The kids all did a great job, made a big mess and cleaned it up, and hopefully learned how to use even as practical an act as baking to honor God.

I would encourage anyone looking for a framework for all of those 'extras' we want to teach our kids to look into this program. It can be done as an individual family, with a small group of families, or as a larger club. It is flexible to almost any situation and is extremely cost efficient. We are having a great time with it, and I foresee using it for quite a while with my kids.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day

With yesterday being Valentine's Day I heard many stories of people married for extraordinary numbers of years. It reminds me of so much of what is lost in our society today. I love hearing about couples that have been married 'forever.' I look forward to those days with my husband, looking back at these busy times with young children underfoot from a distance and treasuring these times all the more. I firmly believe that so much of what makes our marriage a good one (aside from the amazing husband that God blessed me with) is faithfulness. The two of us have committed to each other from the beginning to be committed until "death separates us temporarily." The only option is working together to be as happy as possible and honor God in our home, family, and marriage on a daily basis.

Last night as we went to sleep my husband apologized that the gift he had tried to order for me had somehow fallen through and been canceled. I think he is more disappointed than I. I would have loved it, and appreciate his thoughtfulness, but I can bask in his love for me with or without the present in hand. He said he had the receipt to show for it, but not the gift he had planned.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to facetiously reuse the 'excuse' though. I told him, "Yeah, same for me. I, uh, tried to get you that, um, what was it you wanted?" He didn't fall for it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

AWANA

Every Wednesday night I have the privilege of working with the kids at our school in a little different capacity. Our school is not a Christian school, just private and privately funded by businesses and individuals, but not Christian. However, there is an openness to religious teaching and training. A couple years ago a local church approached us about drumming up volunteers to run an AWANA club on the campus of our boarding school for children from disadvantaged homes.

It took a bit of work, but this is now our second school year with AWANA. These kids do not generally attend church. Their parents want them to learn the Bible, but they don't know it very well themselves either. Last year was very much a learning year as many of the leaders were not familiar with the AWANA program or our kids and program. This year, we started off in a much better place, and the opportunities have been extremely exciting. We are building off of the Chronological Bible Storying method and have really drawn the kids into the story of the Scriptures.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, this method of Bible teaching is great for oral learners and those not well acquainted with Scripture. I think anyone can enjoy it, but it especially targets that type of audience. I started out by looking over a sample list of Bible stories, figuring how many club nights we would have, and assigning a story/topic to each club night. So many stories fell in place perfectly, Christ's birth right before Christmas, and the passion week just prior to Easter Break. God's amazing timing! As leaders we take turns teaching and we basically get up there and tell the Bible story for the week. The kids get drawn in and listen so attentively to all these stories they never heard before. It has been such a powerful year, and so cohesive. Just to give you an idea of what our Bible time looks like, here is a link to the story I told before Christmas. The end of the year culminates in His death, resurrection, and our response to that.

Tonight during handbook/small group time we talked a bit about Moses. Somewhat off topic, but the girls had some questions, and it snowballed. I gave a quick history of Israel, from pre-Egyptian slavery to wilderness wanderings (including a fun conversation about manna!) to moving into the promise land. The Bible, the true story of His-story is such an incredible script. They were so engaged, and regretted that we had to clear out because it was game time. So different from the Sunday morning class I work with where the kids have heard all the stories over and over since birth! It reminds me how fresh and powerful these truths are, to change a life, a heart for Jesus Christ. I pray for each of these girls that they would see what all these stories have to do with them and surrender their lives to Him. I know they listen and have learned, and pray that the seeds will sprout and grow into a great harvest some day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Homeschool Flexibility

One thing that I love about homeschooling is the ability to individualize the learning to each child. In a class of 20-30 students (or more!) teachers have no possible way to learn the bents of each student and tailor the class to his or her challenges and strengths, and speed of learning. This is also the reason that I like to spend time each day one-on-one with each of my school age children.

Some examples of how this has played out in our home:

- My oldest son has a far more mathematical mind than I. Now, I know more than him, for now, but he can think better mathematically than I can. (He is sooo his dad). This math-bent was clear from preschool age. As we started working on various math concepts, he clearly just naturally knew and understood pretty much everything I said in that subject. So, we skimmed quickly through first and second grade math. By six he was doing third grade math, and now, at 10, he is in pre-algebra. He would have been BORED to tears in a traditional classroom setting. And, I may never have known what a great math mind he had.

- Sometimes kids just need a little extra time on something. I have seen time and time again that my kids did not 'fit' the curriculum schedule. They were either capable of going faster or needed to go slower than we were 'supposed' to go. None of my children, so far, have been ready to learn to read in kindergarten. We started working on sounds and various phonics activities, but it did not progress very far very fast. Then, BANG! At some point between 5 1/2 and 7 the light bulbs suddenly fired up and they got it. So often learning seems to go in spurts like that. They may plod along through some topic or task and all of a sudden they get it and their understanding is weeks ahead of where it was yesterday. I love that I don't have to follow a mandated schedule, but can take more time as they need it. At the end of each year we are far ahead of where we were supposed to be, but got there by leaps and jumps more often than baby steps.

- Of course the flip side, we can skip the boring stuff!!! I don't have to have them do 30 math problems to prove they know how to divide. After three, with me watching over their shoulder, I know if they get it, and how progressed their mastery of the subject is based on how quickly they worked and where they paused the most. You just can't do that with 30 kids.

- We school year round (lighter in the summer, but still 2-3 days a week) and so we don't have to play catch up in the fall. If you pick up just about any math curriculum (this builds on itself more than any subject, so I notice it most here) the first 20-40 lessons are review of the previous year. That's the first 1-2 months of school! Obviously you need this since kids may come from different classes and schools and you want to all be at the same starting point with a large class. My standard practice is to skip to a topic I don't think they have mastery of and give them the test they would hit around that lesson. If they ace the test, the next day they take one a little later in the schedule. When they start getting a B or C on the test, that's where we pick up. This has worked so well with my three school age kids, puts us a little ahead overall, and saves so much boredom over repeating what they already know, and what I already know they know.


I absolutely love homeschooling. I couldn't imagine our family any other way. I love having my kids at home, I love knowing what they have learned, I love interacting with them every step of the way, I love tailoring their education to them individually.


I joke now and then, "Reason number 234 that I homeschool . . ." I can't imagine how long the list would continue if I actually sat and composed it.

Before and Now

I cannot believe how quickly time flies. It seems just yesterday I posted this
Now, here we were this morning:

And, a short (well, okay, waiting in an orthodontist's office with four young kids is never "short," but it didn't seem too long) hour later, Blake emerged with this:


He got to pick the design, pretty cool, eh?


He's loving the freedom of a retainer and getting acquainted with the surface of his teeth again.
Now I have a post-braces child! He's a trooper, and the others are all begging for their turn to wear braces. Although, the caramel apple from the ortho today might have something to do with that . . .

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lapbooks

Something that I have done only a little work with, but have enjoyed, is lapbooking. Today I came across a site that had lots of free lapbooks to download and work through. It also gives some great understanding of how to create various lapbooks.

Right now we are listening to Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, a book about Lewis and Clark's famous expedition. It is a fascinating story and vivid picture into life two hundred years ago. Amazing how far we have come in just the past couple hundred years! On the other hand, it amazes me how much of American politics has changed little in that time. Anyway, I plan to use some of the lapbook ideas on this site to help my kids hold onto and condense all the information into a more manageable size. The audio book is 24 hours (!) so we are chipping away at it a little at a time in the car mostly.

Hopefully in a few weeks I will have some fun pics to post of their projects! So much fun stuff to do and simply not enough hours in the day to experience it all! I'm glad I have at least another twelve years of home schooling to pack it all in.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Verse of the week - Galatians 5:25-26

Sometimes as I search through Scripture, verses just leap off the pages and cut me deep to the innermost of my being. God speaks through words I have read countless times in a new, fresh, convicting, nurturing way. How could I have missed this before? How could this writer have known thousands of years ago how fitting this would be to me today? Of course God is the same forever and always, and people are largely the same as well, so no doubt this has struck many others as well.

Galatians 5 wraps up with a powerful section on walking and living in the Spirit. Next to the closing verse, verse 26, I wrote, “Today’s mom!” This of course refers to me, specifically, but also an epidemic I see sweeping motherhood, Christian and non-Christian alike, and perhaps not even new to this era, but something not apparent in history books. “Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”


I have seen and have this tendency to boast in two different shades. Sometimes I boast with my rose-colored glasses on. Highlighting the victories while shading over the struggles, painting a masterpiece out of what may be little more than a watercolor picture. Other times I boast out of vanity, I really feel that I may have ‘arrived’ in one area or another. That second type of boasting doesn’t often last long. When I feel accomplished, God quickly uses a situation to bring me back into reality. One of my children often reminds me, unintentionally, how far I have yet to go. I have nothing to boast in, but Christ alone.


Regardless of the type of boasting welling up inside of me, the remainder of the verse hits home. In my boasting I approach others with a wrong attitude, sometimes challenging their knowledge and ability, other times envying their accomplishments. While I lift up my own experience, I know the hollowness of what I say and envy those who seem as put together as I am trying to sound. I love what a poster on another blog said recently about how we often judge others’ outsides compared to our insides. I rolled that around a while and it again brought me back to this verse.


In this Scripture the hope actually precedes the words of caution. The solution to this wrongful boasting and ultimately selfish view of others is to live and walk by the Spirit. I love this reminder, so simple, yet immeasurably deep. Each day this week, each moment, each thought, must be controlled by the Spirit, and reflect His fruit to others. Nothing that I have is worth boasting about, and walking by the Spirit will allow Him to shine through all my cracks.


If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:25, 26

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lotsa pasta


Today the snow kept us house bound and the kids really flew through their school work, so we were looking for something to bust our pending boredom. We had already spent quite a while reading (with the whole afternoon yet ahead of us) and we had a neighbor boy over for a little bit as well, so I cooked up some expired fettuccine noodles and we went to work.

We used old file folders for the work surface. Most of the noodles stayed their natural color, some I tossed with a little food coloring and rubbing alcohol to dye them. The results: 45 minutes of fun and a cool art project.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Typical Day

Sometimes hearing another person’s daily schedule and routines can help and encourage us. So, today I revamped a post of mine from a couple years ago on my old blog and figured I would post just what exactly a normal day looks like for me.

Writing up an ordinary day is a bit challenging, because very few days truly fit that category. I try to get out of bed at 6:00 when my alarm goes off. Dressed, dog out to ‘take care of business,’ and personal prayer time before waking up the 12 boys at 6:45. Okay, maybe a little explanation would be helpful here. We live at a residential school for children from disadvantaged homes. These boys (grades 4-7) live with us Sunday night through Friday afternoon. They attend school here on the campus and eat their meals in the dining hall. We work with them on chores, homework, learning social skills and other Mom and Dad type responsibilities. We are truly their home away from home. More about our job here.

Some days my own five kids are up before the boys, some not. The boys get up, get dressed, and do chores. My role is to supervise and make sure they are dressed neatly in their school uniform, and don’t mess around while doing their chores. Everyone has an assigned chore that rotates each month from cleaning the bathroom; to vacuuming and straightening the great room; to cleaning the kids’ kitchen. At 7:30 they are on their way out the door to breakfast and then school. My husband accompanies them to that, so I stay at home with our own kids and their day really begins then. I check chores, and then we have breakfast and clean up the kitchen.

Sometimes we have time for a few other chores before Bible time at 8:45. I realized that if my kids carry nothing else with them from their growing up years, I want them to remember that developing a relationship with God was a top priority, one I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle as the day gains momentum. So, we start with that. At 9:15 we jump into our other academics. I have the next two hours broken down in half hour increments. The kids rotate between one-on-one school time with me, personal Bible/reading time, chore time, and a time to play with the younger two. That gives me 30 minutes with each of the older three and with the two little ones together as well. This format has worked really well so far this school year. I allow some flex time at the end of the morning so if it took longer than 30 minutes to cover their individual work, we’ll still be all right. Whenever we finish up that (sometime between 11 and 11:30), we check chores and do any group chore that needs doing (scrub kitchen floor, fold laundry, clean out couches, etc.)

The kids take turns each day helping me prepare lunch while the others watch or listen to an educational video or tape about something relevant to their studies. My husband, and often his brother as well, join us for lunch sometime after noon and we spend some family time together with lunch, clean up and a little play time.

Our afternoon covers the rest of the academic subjects on a rotating basis as well as quite a bit of me reading out loud from various books. We cover history, science, music, literature, PE, geography, Spanish, and any number of other topics that catch our interest. This takes up until around 2:45 or so, sometimes with a little break in the middle.

At 3:00 I am back “on the clock” and check the demerit list on the computer to see what kind of day my boys had at school. They do time outs for any negative behavior at school and fix any chores (doing extra if they didn’t do well in the morning.) 3:30 is study hall and more school time for my own kids (homework, typing, silent reading). We check everybody’s homework (all 15 of them), make sure no one is talking, and sign off in their notebook when we have seen each assignment completed correctly. That is a task that often spills over into after dinner, which we leave for at 4:45.

We return from dinner around 5:45 and each night is a little different. Monday they have a rec time for about an hour, Tuesday night the kids have woodshop and get to call home, Wednesday night there is an AWANA club on campus that we are involved in, Thursday night we usually relax and watch a movie together, and Friday they are gone by 6:00. Other than that they have supervised free time in the evenings. We have cottage meetings now and then to conduct formal social skill training with everyone and then at 7:30 each night they have snack and shower time, alternating with their roommates. At 8:00 we usually listen to a story (right now we are working through Detectives in Togas) or I read out loud as a way of winding down before lights’ out at 8:30. Then we get our own kids to bed, and I try to get the house clean, laundry washed, paperwork taken care of, and relax with Charles before going to bed and doing it all again the next day. Needless to say, the school year is very busy for us. We have very little down time, but we enjoy our jobs and being able to work together as a family. We try to keep our weekends pretty quiet and just be together.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how much must be accomplished each and everyday, but I know it is where God has us right now, and our kids are loved and we are able to see so much growth in the boys that we work with each year. For now, I am glad we are here and doing what we are doing

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Worshipping in His Presence!

I had intended to run out to CVS tonight, but the snow has kept me housebound, so I wanted to share my brief and powerful glimpse of God this morning at church. I love when He brings Scriptures to mind during the songs of worship adding power to the lyrics.

First, the song:

Worthy is the, Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to him who sits on
Heaven's mercy seat

Chorus:

Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come
With all creation I sing
Praise to the King of Kings
You are my everything
And I will adore You


Clothed in rainbows, of living color
Flashes of lightning, rolls of thunder
Blessing and honor, strength and glory and power be
to You the only wise King

Filled with wonder, awestruck wonder
At the mention of your name
Jesus your name is power
Breath, and living water
Such a marvelous mystery

I have often loved this song, and the wonderful picture that Revelation 4 brings to us. I have thought about how God deserves all of our worship. So worthy is He that if all we did all eternity was proclaim his worth and holiness it would not be enough.

Today, another Scripture came to mind while singing this already moving and powerful song. Isaiah 6 kept running through my head. “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” The seraphim call to each other, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” Trembling and smoke add to the dramatic scene, and the realization of our own puny selves.

My mind and imagination is admittedly overactive, but this morning, picturing this throng in heaven, witnessing the majesty of God, overwhelmed at His presence, I closed my eyes and could picture all creation rising in praise of Him, all His saints, His bride joining our voices to worship Him, finally in His presence rather than from a distance. Then I thought of how small my voice would be in that huge mass of humanity. I thought about my large church and how the pastor could never know each of us, certainly does not know me. Yet, in heaven when we stand worshipping, God will know each one of us. Not just by name or face, but intimately. He knows every detail of my life and desires an ever growing relationship with me. WOW!!!!! That just blew me away.

Now, as I looked back at Isaiah 6, I contemplate my response. When I get a new glimpse of the power of God and realize His great love for me despite my own insignificance, I want to dwell there and remain just worshiping Him. Then I am prodded by Isaiah’s response, which should be mine as well. The question is posed in verse 8, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” And I can just picture him, cleansed, humbled, and full of a heart of worship, jumping up and down with his hand raised, “Pick me, pick me!” Actually he said, “Here am I. Send me!” Kind of the same thing, right? That’s got to be me. Use me, Lord, this week to show others your great message of love.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Verse of the week - Genesis 50:20

In my private devotion time I wrapped up the book of Genesis this week. Joseph’s life always draws me in. So much suspense, heartache, twists and turns, and drama! He also showed such great faith in God throughout his life. This is all the more admirable when I remember that he did not have the Scriptures in hand to encourage him in the lonely years living the life of a slave in a foreign country. God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, drink for my thirsty soul, and sustenance on a barren day. Joseph had none of that, just promises, and his faith in them.

He stood by his convictions because through it all he recognized that, “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:8) He could have easily seen his brothers after all those years and put them all in prison and left their families without food. He didn’t. He trusted God’s hand on his life and knew God, not his brothers' unkind deeds, had brought him to that position. I love that they show skepticism as to the genuineness of his assurances. After their father dies, they feel the need to revisit this topic and say that their father’s dying wish requested forgiveness for the brothers. Joseph again shows his faith in God. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

How often do I put myself or those around me in God’s place as the perceived provider of money, food, misfortune, jobs, housing, bad ‘luck,’ accidents, poor health, children, windfalls, etc. Every good and perfect gift comes from God, and often things we see as negative may be part of God’s plan for good. Sometimes we won’t even see it in this life. Many heartbreaks don’t make any sense, but I know God is in control and often what others may mean for evil, He means for good.

This also reminds me of a section in a book by Anne Ortlund, The Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman. She talks about how people stress about where the money will come from after losing a job. However, if we remember that all we have comes from God, the job becomes somewhat irrelevant. Obviously she does not encourage laziness, strongly condemned in the Bible, but rather to keep our focus on God as our Provider, our Sustenance. God is the same, doesn't quit and won't lay us off.

This week I desire to see my circumstances as the result of God’s working in my life. He loves me with an everlasting love, and regardless of the ups and downs of life, He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

As for you, you meant evil against me,

but God meant it for good in order to bring about this

present result, to preserve many people alive.

Genesis 50:20

Friday, February 1, 2008

Musical book

Right now my kids are enjoying this book with accompanying CD. We checked out the kit from the library and I popped it in while getting spaghetti sauce in the crock pot for dinner. It kept them dancing and interested until I was done. It has some great samples of classical music complemented by well known works of art. My four year old was able to watch the track number on the CD player and stay on the corresponding page in the book.


They start out as bumblebees (they would hover over the book, examining the picture, then take off in flight around the living room), enjoy time as ice skaters, honking cars, prancing horses, charging elephants, and a number of other characters. My two year old seems to have a fascination with classical music, which I definitely want to encourage. We went to see the Nutcracker at Christmas and he sat enthralled for the entire show, clapping for more in between each fall of the curtain. He loved this book and music. Once through was not enough!