30 August 2006

Divorce/Remarriage in the Midst

We love our church. The teaching and doctrine are solid, we have developed a good community there {even if it is "large"}, the elders and pastors meet the Biblical requirements for their ministries, etc., etc. It isn't perfect, but it is home {I grew up in the church, Si and I were married in there...}. There are, of course, places where we dream of improvement. And if no one ever dreamed of improvement, no improvement would ever be made.

Sunday School and Custody Arrangements
Sometimes, it seems that divorce and remarriage stand in the midst of our church like big, giant hurdles that cannot be leaped by the greatest Olympian. I first became aware of one of the practical ramifications of this a couple years ago. Si and I were hosting a small book group in our home for some members of our newlyweds Sunday School class. We were reading and discussing a book on parenting. For our final meeting, we had invited some older couples to attend and answer any questions these young couples {some were parents and some were hoping to be parents} had.

One of the people in attendance was our Director of Children's Ministry. That was when I discovered that our church actually has numerous children that attend every-other-weekend rather than weekly due to custody arrangements. I don't know why it never connected in my brain that this would be an issue, but it didn't. But it makes perfect sense. Mom and Dad divorce {or perhaps never marry}, and work out a custody arrangement whereby they alternate weekends. The children spend every-other-week at Mom's church. Sometimes, Dad goes to church, too, and so the children also attend a different church in town on the weekends when they do not attend ours. And the Sunday School teachers essentially have two classes that meet every-other-week, rather than one class that meets weekly.

Does this make sense? I get confused just trying to articulate how this works. The poor babies, sadly enough, understand it better than I, for this is their reality.

Difficulty Defining "Parent"
I was discussing with some others tonight the idea that perhaps the greatest service Sunday School could do for the family is to remind the children that they are to obey their parents. I do not mean for this to be the only Biblical instruction they are given in Sunday School, but it seems to me that, since the only direct instruction given to children {that I can think of, anyhow} is to honor and obey their parents, this is an appropriate concept for the church to be instilling in the children. And I imagine that this would bring a greater peace to the home, and aid the father as he seeks to spiritually lead his family by encouraging the children to submit to their father {and mother} as they submit to God.

I found the feedback I received to be...interesting. I wouldn't call the response to be oppositional in nature. The point was more along the lines of seeking to be realistic: instructing the children to obey their parents will confuse the children because they don't even know who the "parent" is. Is it just their mother and father? Or also step-father, and possibly dad's live-in girlfriend. Exactly where is the line of obedience drawn?

Now, of course, I don't think the speaker was intending to say that the church should actually avoid speaking truth because of an apparent difficulty in application. He was simply reminding me that these things are not as easy as I would like to imagine them to be.

And yet, I was also reminded of a distinction I began to make not long ago, which is the idea that what is normative should never be determined by exceptions. In this instance, children are plainly instructed (and it is for their good) to submit to their parents, and it is not the church's right to overrule the Bible on the grounds that the "family" life of these children is too complicated to apply such a truth to their lives.

Can Structure Reinforce Sin?
But I found myself pondering again the issue of divorce. I find that though our church's teachings are quite Biblical, some of the structures cater to divorced homes. Just as I believe split-wing home plans were inspired by divorce and a desire for the "new" marriage to have a place away from the "old" children, much of the physical separation of the family {not attending church together, not attending small groups together, etc.} within our church is, I think, symptomatic of the bigger problem of divorce and remarriage: the "families" do not, naturally, belong together.

Obviously, the church is to love and embrace all repentant sinners, and welcome all who will come to Christ. But I find myself wondering if, in the process of trying desperately to accept and assist divorced "families," we are sending the message that divorce isn't serious.

Divorce According to God
Take, for example, the program known as DivorceCare, which is quite popular among churches in our area. I am unfamiliar with the actual program details, as I am {obviously} not divorced. But the promotional material has always made me uncomfortable.

The website for DivorceCare, for example, says
It is almost as if it is assumed that the God who first inspired this Word unfortunately did not foresee the massive changes that have come to late twentieth-century America. The Scripture that we have is, by itself, inadequate to address the pains and upheavals that erupt so frequently in our souls. It is insufficient for the nurture, management, and growth of the Church. To make it effective, we do not resort to tradition or a formal magisterium, as do Catholics, but to business know-how and psychology. When the Word of God is hitched up to these modern enterprises, then we think that mighty things can happen.
--David F. Wells
:
Find help and healing for the hurt of separation and divorce. DivorceCare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. Don’t go through separation or divorce alone.
And again, it says:
Healing from your divorce is not easy. It’s a long, sometimes painful process. We want to help you on your journey toward recovery.
So, to recap, divorce is framed in therapeutic, rather than moral, language, and defined as an "experience" from which a person should seek "healing" and "recovery." The Bible says,
But did He not make them one,
Having a remnant of the Spirit?
And why one?
He seeks godly offspring.
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
“For the LORD God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”
Says the LORD of hosts.

“ Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you do not deal treacherously.”
You have wearied the LORD with your words;
Yet you say,

“In what way have we wearied Him?”
In that you say,

“Everyone who does evil
Is good in the sight of the LORD,
And He delights in them,”
Or, “Where is the God of justice?”
{Malachi 2:15-17}


And again, it says:
[Jesus] said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."
The Bible views divorce as a moral issue, something against which the LORD Himself stands in utter and uncompromising opposition. It is said to be treacherous, violent, evil, and Jesus explains that it is born of a hardened heart.

These are tough words, I know. And yet Scripture never says that divorce is a sin beyond the reach of Christ's saving work on the cross. It simply says that it is sin. And sin is serious.

What to do?
So now my question remains: what should the local Church, as it seeks to live out Christ's call within the reality of the local community, do with divorce? How much should divorce be allowed to influence the structures and sensibilities of the church? Do any readers have practical, Biblical examples of how other churches have dealt with this issue?

I cannot help but try and free myself of all the complications brought on by sin and rest in the fact that the Bible is true for all times. The fact that one exists in a culture where applying the Bible is difficult does not absolve one from living according to God's design.

I don't pretend to have studied ecclesiology to such an extent that I can spell out here, in such a short space, the exact way a church should look and be and function. But I believe that following God's design for church as revealed in the Bible, regardless of how hard this may be for certain segments of the church's population, is the best course. I do not believe that the church is at liberty to redefine itself or its structures because of some sort of felt need within the community. Rather, the members of the church should seek to assist others in assimilating to the church's culture {which is, ideally, according to God's design}, while they continue to submit themselves and the church's structures to the Bible.

28 August 2006

God Who Suffered

We suffered a grave disappointment on Friday, and still we are not quite over it. True sadness, once it settles in our home, seems to hang in the air for quite some time before it dissipates and leaves room for brighter sentiments.

I found a bit of consolation while reading Wittingshire's Sunday Poem. The complete poem {His Savior's Words, Going to the Cross by Robert Herrick} can be viewed here. I also appreciated the editorial comments:
Jesus drank the bitter cup of God's eternal wrath against sin. But he left a little for us to drink. That is, each one of us has to endure our own portion of suffering so that we might never forget what it meant for Jesus to suffer. Our small sufferings should remind us of his great suffering for us.

25 August 2006

Thoughts from Charlotte Mason

I have really been enjoying Volume One of the Original Homeschooling Series. I've been reading it slowly, grabbing it when I have time to focus. Here are some of my favorite passages thus far, interspersed with a bit of commentary.

The fat child can easily be produced: but the bright eye, the open regard, the springing step; the tones, clear as a bell; the agile, graceful movements that characterise the well-brought-up child, are the result, not of bodily well-being only, but of 'mind and soul according well,' of a quick, trained intelligence, and of a moral nature habituated to 'the joy of self-control.'
I have heard many homeschooling families say that "all of life is school." And though there be lessons, the learning never stops, so that the family is in constant mind of each child's body, mind, and soul. This is the harder path, I think, and yet the most rewarding. {Note: a family that chooses institutionalized education for their children may not be able to work with their children during the time that the children are away from home, but it should still be a goal for the family to be in constant mind of what is best during the time they are present.}

If education is to secure the step-by-step progress of the individual and the race, it must mean something over and above the daily plodding at small tasks which goes by the name.
I love to learn. I picked this quote out because, when I read it, I thought, Please, may my child never consider learning a "daily plodding!" I want the learning of my child to be so intertwined with the idea of growth, that learning is always a pleasing occupation, and never a burden.

...A mother whose final question is, 'What will people say? what will people think? how will it look?' and the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-intentioned to outsiders, with very little effort after beauty, order, and goodness at home, and in each other's eyes.
Mason takes advantage of every opportunity to deter mothers from parading their children before the world. Education must be genuine, and never for show. I think that the overwhelming opposition some homeschoolers face leads to the temptation to show off a child's "tricks." I have often been temptated to drill my son in front of skeptics to make the point that he does not need to go to preschool. But this quote humbled me, and reminded me that we never chose this path for the sake of appearance, and that putting my child on display in any way may communicate otherwise to him, something I absolutely want to avoid.

[A] life full of healthy interests and activities is amongst the surest preventives of secret vice.
I recently read something similar at In a Shoe: "Bored children are trouble waiting to happen." Boredom in early childhood leads to little bits of trouble, but if it carries on into early adulthood, it can become a foothold for the Devil himself. Small towns are famous for this. The youth do not understand the joys of learning or creativity, and instead they roam the countryside throwing parties celebrating drink and extramarital sexual activity and even illicit drugs. When I think back to why these things were never tempting to me, I cannot avoid the idea that I had too many other things to be interested in for anything like that to catch my fancy.

[T]he highest intellectual gifts depend for their value upon the measure in which their owner has cultivated the habit of attention.
In a world plagued by ADD/ADHD, I find it interesting that Mason described attention as a habit to be cultivated. What is implied here is that perhaps every child has some sort of deficit in the area of attention that must be remedied over time. I don't want to go so far as to say that ADD/ADHD doesn't exist, but I do think that when there are such huge numbers of school children and adults being diagnosed with such things, there is probably something to be said for the habits that were formed (or not formed) early in life.

On the whole, the children who grow up amongst their elders and are not provided with what are called children's books at all, fare the better on what they are able to glean for themselves from the literature of grown-up people.
This quote made me brave enough to read E. The Hobbit this summer. Well, I was mainly reading it to Si, but I didn't wait until after everyone was asleep to pull it out, and I didn't worry that E. wouldn't understand it or would be bored. I wasn't sure how much he caught, though he did laugh at the funny names, and giggle with glee at the mere mention of the word "adventure." But he surprised me the other day. After glancing at a drawing that resembled an arrow, he told me the whole story of how the brave man used the arrow to shoot down the dragon, Smaug, and how Smaug fell down upon the whole town and everyone was happy that the dragon was gone. Apparently, he is capable of taking in more than I give him credit for.

The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs us up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors, and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development.
And here it is, the beauty of schooling from the home. Instead of my child knowing only other children exactly like himself in stature and ability and age, we are blessed to have a huge extended family within a small geographic area. So not only does E. learn at home with his father and me and his younger sister, but he also has a standing Friday night swim party at Great Gran's house, many playdates with his aunt and cousins at a nearby park, and visits to Granddad and Granmama, too. He is part of something much bigger than himself, and yet he knows that the whole would never be the same without him.

24 August 2006

Working the Sixth Day

I recently felt convicted. I read this article, linked to the Large Family Logistics email newsletter that I receive once a month. The subject was on keeping a consistently clean house, and I always feel like I need a bit of a push in that direction, so I read it. The article starts out with this verse:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
Deuteronomy 5:13
The second I read the verse, it dawned on me that I was very resistant to working a sixth day. I suppose I am a union member at heart! The unions worked hard early on to create a five-day work week, and I think my way of thinking about work {until now} has been more formed by union platforms and policies than I would ever have liked to admit. I expected all of my work to fit into five days, with two days for relaxation and, admittedly, a bit of self-indulgence. And it doesn't fit, ever. And I would usually sigh and wonder where all my time went.

Maybe I am slow, but I feel I finally understand that I was trying to do six days' work in five. Something I think I needed to accept is that there is nothing wrong with working the sixth day, for this is the model set out by God.

I hear a lot of people, even if they don't believe in celebrating a literal Sabbath, encouraging a weekly time of rest. Speakers will often tell listeners that they are too busy, and rest needs to become more of priority. And, when I look at the rat race outside my door, I can see the point. But I also think that there is embedded in all the busyness a constant striving for leisure that holds work in very low regard. I often hold work in low regard.

I recently read this quote, from the book on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards entitled Marriage to a Difficult Man:
[A] Puritan housewife shined up her house on Saturday, and did a colossal baking. Then after three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the mood of expectancy began to build up to the pivotal day. These people really believed that Sunday would bring an encounter with a living and dependable God who had brought them to the new land and watched over their effort to build His holy commonwealth.
What I noticed was that the beautiful, exciting day of rest was preceded by a day of hard labor. Perhaps one does not fully experience the depth of leisure and renewal the seventh day offers when one does not fully work.

As for me, I have begun to work more fully. It was amazing to me a couple weeks ago that working hard inside on Saturday morning really lessened the load of the other five days. The work was still there, but the stress of cramming it into a space where it didn't fit was gone.

23 August 2006

Childrearing #8

Correct bad pronunciation once the child begins talking. I want to clarify and say that I don't consider saying a handful of words to be actually "talking," and I would only correct once a child really gets going. A. calls me "Ah-mee" half the time, and I don't say, "Now, A., please call me 'Mommy'" because she isn't capable of that yet. But somehow they all transition from saying mere words to actually talking.

Sloppy pronunciation is often considered "cute." I, for one, think it is adorable. But I do my son a favor, especially now that he is four, and work with him at home {never in public!} on pronouncing his words correctly. I have also worked on my own pronunciation, being sure, especially when reading aloud to the children, that I say the words thoroughly and correctly each time. I have actually learned to appreciate the beauty of spoken language through this activity.

Besides the common-sense fact that baby-talk is cute at the age of two, but not so much at six, there is a very important area that is eased or hindered by how a family treats pronunciation: reading. I was blessed about a year ago to have a woman share with me that reading and pronunciation were tied, and so I thought I would pass on this tip.

Yesterday, during reading lessons, E. and I were discussing the word "were." E. decided to try and use it in a sentence, and immediately he said, "As in, 'Were are you?' Were." I cringed. I hadn't realized that he was pronouncing "were" and "where" the same way. And since he hasn't been introduced to "where" yet, I had to be very deliberate about differentiating the two words in a number of sentences until he got the idea.

Another example is the color "yellow," which E. often calls, "lellow." The first time I had him read "yellow," he had no clue what the word meant. He was completely shocked that "yellow" had "y" at the beginning. Sometimes, poor pronunciation is actually a result of inattentive listening. Even though I pronounce "yellow" correctly, he was hearing it only the way he said it.

When a child begins to learn to read, he is {ideally} at the point that he understands {though he couldn't articulate the fact} that the words that are written are symbolic representations of the words that are said, and so expects the written words to accurately depict his spoken words. It is a huge favor to the child to make sure that the majority of the words he speaks are words that he will recognize when it comes time for reading.

As a final note, I will mention that the way parenting magazines often encourage a parent to deal with this sort of problem is very passive. For instance, instead of telling E. that "yellow" has the "y" sound at the beginning and prompting him to repeat it after me for practice, I would simply be instructed to repeat the word back to him using the proper pronunciation. Perhaps there are some children that would respond to such subtlety. E. is not one of those children. Subtle goes right over his head. I have had to learn how to gently, but directly correct him. For the most part, he seems to feel very triumphant when he finally gets it right.

22 August 2006

Beginnings

Since yesterday was the first official day of school around here, I thought I'd share a bit about what we are doing and why. This takes a bit of bravery, because there is something about saying what one is doing that leaves one open to criticism. Cindy often mentions that she has to defend her own claims that she educates Charlotte Mason-style, or classically, or whatever. Perhaps failing to label myself will offer a bit of self-protection.

Another reason I hesitate to share is that E. is only four. There are a lot of people out there who believe in delaying "formal education" until a much later age. The Trivium folks wouldn't start math {officially, though their kids would pick it up in real life} until about ten. And yet here we are today, with a whole hour of lessons. We even {gasp!} did math {more like pre-math, but still}.

But, share I will, mainly because I like it when homeschooling moms will actually tell what they do. Usually, it seems like this big secret, culminating in the mysterious phrase, "We do what works for our family." That's great, but I'm the kind of person who needs a starting point.

Planning and Guidelines
In order to prepare for school, I asked my husband this question: "What subjects would you like to see E. learn about this year?" This was important because I cannot teach him everything, and yet I know some things are more important to my husband than others. I needed a focus. We settled on reading, math, drawing, writing, nature studies, and stories.

Then, we bought some books. Not a lot of them, but we bought some. I used to teach reading, so most of that comes out of my head, with a bit of help from Give Your Child a Superior Mind {didn't buy this one, but found it for free in our church's homeschool library}. For math, I chose Singapore, because it seemed like something E. would like, and I thought it offered a lot of opportunity for me to actually be the teacher, which I liked.

I mentioned in the past Drawing with Children. This was chosen because E. wants to be able to draw realistically, and his mommy doesn't know how. So we learn together. Writing is just some tracing practice on manuscript paper. When he does this, he does five letters, a combination of upper and lower case. Nature studies are inspired by Charlotte Mason. Since he cannot write, we will keep a nature journal together, and he will dictate to me what he would like me to write down.

And all of this in one small hour per day. How? Enter Charlotte Mason's guidelines that lessons for small children should be of great variety and no longer than 15 minutes. So, everyday, we learn a bit of reading and math. Writing, drawing, and nature studies are alternated, never occurring on the same day. Every hour ends with 15 minutes of storytime. Yesterday, for example, we read two tales by Beatrix Potter*.

Order of Priorities
E. is only four, as I said, and still finding his place in the family {though I think he is finally over the trauma of being dethroned as our only child}. I like to think that this is the order of priorities in his life: play, do chores that constitute real work and he is able to do well, formal lessons. There are other activities in there. I am sure he would place eating somewhere near the top of the list. But the point is simply that, at four, we have some formal lessons without having a day that consists of nothing but school.

Opportunity of the Day
I knew that Singapore's first book would be a bit easy for him in the beginning, but I also thought he would enjoy the feeling of success. The Headmistress mentioned the other day that Mason believed a child should feel triumphant in his lessons, and I thought that was a good way to start out a new subject.

And triumphant he was. It was a basic concept to be learned really, one that he already knew from real life: the antithesis of same and different. What I did not anticipate was how elementary his perceptions were. And then I remembered what Cindy had written the other day, about the mind needing to be both formed and filled, and I jumped on the opportunity to gently form his mind.

The activity was simple: look at a row of four drawings and circle the one that is not the same. A glance of the eye, and he could circle the correct answer. The issue was that he could not adequately articulate why a certain drawing was different. And so we began to talk, and what would have taken him only five minutes took fifteen. By the end, he explained that one drawing was different because the man's arms were to his side rather than down, and he wore a tie rather than a plain shirt with buttons. The extra ten minutes did nothing to help him better perform the task, for he did the task correctly right away. But there was an increase in the depth of understanding that I found much more important than merely having the correct answer.

The ability to really see is something I value in general. And I think that "forming" his mind in such a way will help him in his drawing lessons {which essentially teaches one to see well enough that one can duplicate what one has seen} as well as nature studies, where he needs to be able to observe.

I have decided after only one day that rather than asking, "What do you see?" or "What is that object?" I might do better to direct him through, "Tell me three things about that tree...five things about that flower." After all, he's four. Do I really think he doesn't already know it's a tree? I want the questions to form his mind in such a way that he goes beyond the obvious. Too many people are mere masters of the obvious.

More Resources
I have been devouring any information on education I can get my hands on. I am determined to become an expert for the sake of my children. I will end this post by sharing some of the best I've read on the subject in recent days:
  • Math the Laundry Way: This is an old posting I stumbled upon, and full of practical advice on how to use everyday activities to teach mathematical concepts. This was very good for me to read, as I tend to separate learning from chores in my limited brain, and have to work hard to see the connections.
  • Cindy's Circe Series: I am loving this whole series, and hoping she isn't finished. I can't say I have a favorite, because it is all helpful and insightful.
  • Leisure: The Basis of Schooling: This was something Cindy linked to in her Circe series, but I wanted to list it separately. I don't want to say too much about it, for I think it deserves {as most writings do} to be read in its entirety.

*Please note that this is not the only reading aloud that occurs in our home. We prefer to read often. This is just a way of easing from lesson-time into waking up little sister and preparing lunch.

21 August 2006

My New Ride

I have been driving the same car since I was seventeen. I remember when my dad told me I got to pick whether to have two doors or four, and what color I wanted. My girlfriends and I perused the catalog all day at school, and finally I told my dad I wanted the blue one with four doors. I remember thinking that I might still have the car when I first had children, so four doors seemed quite practical. She is still in my garage, my beautiful 1995 Chevy Cavalier.

I love my car, and she has been quite the tank all these years, but she doesn't have room for more than two carseats. California car seat laws being like they are {and there is a debate about raising the requirements to eight-years-old and eighty pounds, meaning my son--35 pounds soaking wet--could be in a carseat until he gets his own license}, we needed a new car. A minivan was out of the question, particularly due to the complete lack of storage space in the back. When we travel, we like to bring luggage.

On Saturday, Si bought me a new kind of Chevy:



When he asked me what I thought I needed, I told him low mileage {so that I could drive it a long time}, seating for eight that still had significant storage, and automatic door locks to keep little people safely inside. He searched Craig's List almost every night, and that is where he found it: a 1999 Suburban with only 50,000 miles. It drinks gas like water, but since I only drive around 4,000 miles per year, that isn't a huge issue.

This vehicle ended up offering more than I asked for or needed, which is a nice little bonus:



Yes. Those are leather seats! I wasn't sure what I'd think about it, but the leather combined with the tinted rear windows seems to keep the inside much cooler than my little car. I've also never had automatic windows, but it's a nice touch. And the space! There is so much space! Next time we visit out of town family, we won't have to borrow a car from someone.

So there was great rejoicing in our family on Saturday.

All we have left to do is sell a very reliable and faithful Chevy Cavalier!

18 August 2006

The Darndest Things {08/06}

I've been a slacker on the Darndest Things lists lately. Last month's wasn't close to complete, but I suppose a bit is better than nothing at all. We also had some challenges lately: weird issues in E.'s health, A. deciding she has her own ideas about rules, etc. Some parts of life aren't cute, and though I share fairly openly around here, the Darndest Things section is primarily for cute.


22 August 2006: Boys are Smelly
E. has a fondness for lotion. One upon a time, he had a really bad scrape on his knee, and we put a special lotion on it to help accelerate the healing. He has generalized this experience so that he now seems to believe that all lotion is equal, and should be spread liberally on every bump and bruise. The other day, he came out of his bathroom smelling like a woman. I investigated the bathroom to determine the source, and, sure enough, he had generously applied some of my Bath and Body Works ginger-scented lotion to his recent injuries!


20 August 2006: Bossy Baby
That lovely Sunday evening I described on the 6th? It really was just a glimpse. A. was very precocious this evening and we ended up in the "Cry Room" together, rocking a bit. The only other mother present in there had a 2-week-old with her. Though A. refuses to obey me when I shush her in church, she was quite comfortable shushing the newborn! The poor new mother! I felt terrible. Her baby would cry, and little A. would keep hissing at him!


20 August 2006: Early Bloomer??
E. at the end of a long-winded description of his morning in Sunday School: "...and the girls were beautiful!"


18 August 2006: Mother's Helper
This morning, A. broke one of her favorite rules: "Do not touch the fireplace." I was absent for all of thirty seconds, so naturally she took advantage of the situation. The baby monitor was still on, and I heard someone open her door, so I went to check it out. E. was taking care of everything! He went into her room and got baby wipes, and by the time I arrived, he was already carefully using wipes to clean the soot off of her hands. He told me that he would take care of everything, and headed over to the closet, got out the vacuum, disassembled and reassembled the vaccuum so that it would have the proper attachment for the job, and vaccuumed up the pieces she has knocked to the floor. What a big boy!


8 August 2006: Chalk Drawing Theology
Whenever Si tries to explain theological issues to E., he tries to use a drawing. He thinks it helps when describing the abstract. One of the things he has repeatedly drawn is a heart, which he colors in to show that it is full of sin. {Later, he will erase it out as he explains that Jesus cleanses the heart and makes it new.} So, today when my sister-in-law was drawing a heart on the sidewalk with him and colored it in, he told her she was drawing a sinful heart!


6 August 2006: Warm Sunday Evening
I've mentioned before that we take our kids to "big church" with us. Our church has a number of different services, and the one we attend with our children is the evening service. We find that a lot of the families who want to worship together attend that service, so we feel our children are much more welcome in that particular service.

It must be mentioned that taking children to church involves training, and lots of it. It is not for the faint of heart. The children will appear to have finally "gotten it" and learned how to behave, and then one or both of them will suddenly start over at square one. I am sure when they are older, these difficulties will be a distant memory. But for now, I sometimes dread church because it is "hard."

But tonight was different. Finally. A. made it all the way through church without too much fuss, and E. behaved the way I knew he could if he only put his mind to it! And in that moment, it all paid off. There we were, children in our arms, singing hymns and other songs, together as a family. The months of grueling Sundays became brought us a short harvest of joy.

I don't pretend that next Sunday will be the same, but this merciful glimpse of what is possible in time was enough to keep me persevering!

17 August 2006

"Parent" is a Verb

It's all the rage to verb nouns. Unfortunately, it seems all too common to noun words that it would be very helpful to remember are also verbs. Parent is one of those words, and I would also include the more specific terms mother and father.

No one uses the word father as a verb any more, unless it is a seedy daytime television show determining which male donated a certain genetic material. Unfortunately, the term is devoid of any significant meaning outside of the church {and sometimes inside}. When I hear "father," I think of a head of a household and specific childrearing tasks, but I am learning others do not think the same.

Mother is not entirely lost, and yet the idea of requiring that mother be acknowledged as a verb is. Si and I have recently met women {more than one!} who tell the story of how, early on in their childrearing lives, they decided to go back to work {notice I didn't say they had to go back}, and that going back made them a better mother.

If mother is a verb, going back to work can do no such thing. One cannot perform a given task if one is not present to do so. But if mother is narrowly defined as a mere position that a woman giving birth to a child has in that child's life, then perhaps going back to work would allow someone to become a "better mother," because when mother is only defined as a noun, there is room to judge a better or worse mother based on how the woman feels about her position as such.

Early on in my motherhood years, there were days when I wanted to go back to work. Work made me feel smart and competent...and beautiful {better clothes and no spit-up}. I distinctly remember telling Si on more than one occasion that I was quitting. I don't think he ever believed me, and he usually looked at me with laughing eyes, which, in the midst of my passionate outcries, I found quite annoying.

And then he would ask the inevitable question, "Well, who do you plan on leaving the baby with?" Immediately, I would change my tune. Leave the baby? My baby? I didn't care how miserable E. made me while he was teething, I refused to leave him with a stranger who I knew could never love him like I did.

Let me reiterate that part: I know a stranger could never love my child like I do. This is important. I am often tempted to buy into the idea that when parents choose to enroll a small child in daycare, or even get a nanny, the child is being mothered by someone else. I am beginning to believe that the truth is that they aren't being mothered at all. Not really.

Mothering starts with a noun, the word mother. It is a position that only one woman can hold in a person's life. The verb mothering pours out from the heart that gave the child life {or the heart that adopted that child and gave the child a family}. It is a connection that a nanny, even a really good one, can never have with that child. It is an instinct that a paid caregiver can never be trained to have.

I have nephews that I love, but I don't love them like I do my own kids. I have good friends who have children, and I love those children, but I don't love them like I do my own kids. And I don't believe this to be some sort of failing on my part. I was created to mother my own children. Every mother was created to mother her own children. This is reality.

The unfortunate side-effect of this is that the popularity and acceptance of hiring paid caregivers {remember the Outsourcing Parenthood post I quoted yesterday?} effectively creates a generation of orphans.

16 August 2006

Oursourcing Family Vacation

Over a year ago, Spunky wrote a post entitled Outsourcing Parenthood. In it, she explains that outsourcing is not only happening in business, but also in homelife. My favorite paragraph says this:
No parent would readily admit this of course. But the increased reliance on day care, before school, and after school programs demonstrates something else. We want the schools to provide nurtritious lunches without ever thinking we should pack the child one ourselves. We want the schools to bus our children to school without ever thinking that we could drive them ourselves. There are companies that will send a day care provider {paid for by the company} to the house when a child is ill so that mom can still go to work. On the weekend, daycares will provide overnight care so that the parents can go out on a date or catch up on house work.
I see this same attitude {the desire to pay someone else to do one's job} in my neighborhood, most notably in the form of gardeners and cleaning ladies. My husband is the only man I can think of in our whole neighborhood who cuts his own lawn. Now, some people may have better reasons for having a gardener or maid than others, but the fact remains that there is now a trend for all to purchase such services, regardless of actual need. What was once a luxury is now commonplace.

Well, I feel I have now officially seen it all. At our hotel in San Diego, there was a day camp for children. Here is the information on the front of the brochure placed in every room:
The resort experience just for kids! Enjoy weather-perfect San Diego with fun outdoor activities, Radio Tag!, arts & crafts, PlayStation, foosball, s'mores cookouts, ice cream socials, movies & more. Join us for a few hours or all day for active, organized & age-appropriate events for kids ages 4 and up...Half day $40/Full day $65, includes meals.
Now, it is my understanding that the traditional view of a family vacation is that the family not only travels together, but also enjoys all activities together. My husband and I wanted a vacation alone {other than a couple nights away, this was our first vacation alone since our honeymoon}, so we left the children with their grandparents for a few nights. This is because we believe that children should be raised by the family, and not entrusted to outsiders. The idea of sending my child to day camp run by complete strangers at a resort baffles me on many levels.

I think the saddest part is the lack of memories the children will build concerning family. I have no doubt that this resort works very hard to ensure that these kids have a full, fun day. But the family is necessarily torn apart by the entire idea. The family that is not geographically together throughout the vacation is not on a true family vacation. S'mores cookouts should be done around a campfire, with the parents teaching the children about fire and marshmallow-roasting techniques, and the entire family enjoying the special treat together. Ice cream should be a shared treat at the end of a tiring day at the zoo, or building sand castles by the ocean.

I am becoming increasingly away of the forces tearing the family apart--physically tearing it. Whether it is my well-meaning church asking my husband to spend twelve hours in only three weeks away from his family in order to receive "leadership training" {which I heard was great, by the way}, or woman I know who has her child in the care of others for over twelve hours each weekday, it is not surprising to me that families disintegrate over time.

What sense of understanding, what set of shared memories and history, what foundation of a family can one build in such limited hours?

15 August 2006

Wild Animal Park: A Thing Apart

It is my understanding that the San Diego Zoo is one of the best {if not the best} in the world. But by going to a smaller, simpler zoo, one can easily guess what the best zoo might be like. And something similar can be said about Sea World. After all, if one has been to an aquarium, one can guess what Sea World might be like, even though it is much more than a mere aquarium. But the Wild Animal Park is, as I said in the title, a thing apart.

The thing about a zoo is that the animals are cooped up in such small places that they often act quite differently from how they would act in The Wild {as the tour guides incessantly called it}. The Wild Animal Park, however, is as close as one can get to going on a safari without actually going on one. As a person who is officially afraid of places like Africa and Alaska, this is the closest I ever plan on being.

We saved for two years for this trip, and we made sure we went on one of the Photo Caravans offered by the Park. This is a flat-bed truck with seating built into the bed that takes a small group of tourists out into the animal compounds. Consider it the opposite of the zoo, with humans in a small, motorized cage, and animals running all about.

Now, granted, all the animals at the Park cannot run free. They wouldn't want the lions ruining their breeding programs. But still, there are these huge, open areas that contain herds of various kinds of animals, all interacting the way they would at a watering hole in Africa. It is truly astounding.

Here are some photos, though they can never do real life justice:



This is similar to what we saw when we first drove in. It was a regular Jurassic Park moment, with all the different herds interacting and living together. Absolutely amazing!



Giraffes are such beautiful creatures, though I was a bit intimidated by their height and strength (not that they would hurt a person intentionally). This photo shows the ordeal of bending over to nibble grass or drink water. I also watched a young giraffe spend a good deal of time trying to sit down.



This guy walked right up to the truck and stuck his head in next to me, sniffing around for food.



So, naturally, we fed him! {Well, I didn't. I prefer to only feed animals that are shorter than I am.} Here is my handsome husband giving one of the ladies some acacia leaves. We later learned that the giraffes "chew the cud" and are in a state similar to our REM-sleep while they are doing so. This is why they seem to be in a daze when they wander around chewing.



Here are a couple adult wildebeests, with a younger one lying to the right side. We actually got to see a wildebeest in labor before we left the area {I saw part of the delivery, but not the entire baby was out yet}.



This is not one of our best shots, but I was having trouble picking and choosing, it was all so amazing to me. This is, obviously, a rhino in the forefront, but also notice the herds grazing in the background.



This is a pretty good close-up, but from a distance, these guys looked just like a heap of rocks. I was surprised to see them get up and move around!



There are two types of rhinos, and this is the second, known as the Indian or Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. Does he look hungry?



This is a close-up of someone on our tour feeding an apple to a very hungry rhino.



After dropping an apple slice in the mouth, we were allowed to pet them a bit. They like the human touch. I fed the rhino, too, but the photo came out without me in it! So here is Si again.



Here is a lovely married couple of East Africa Crowned Cranes {this type of bird mates for life}. God gave them their spiky hair to help them blend into the brush and better hide from predators.



This is a herd of Cape Buffalo, with one deer mixed in. Apparently, this particular deer has been taken in and accepted by the buffalo, and rarely spends time with his own kind outside of breeding season. These buffalo are mean. There are a set of criteria an animal has to meet in order to be allowed in these areas. One of them is that they "play well with others." This buffalo barely made the cut, and has been known to chase the veterinarians!



Here is a closer look at the Cape Buffalo. This is one of the only animals tame enough for the area that will look a person in the eye.



I am pretty sure this is a small group of Kenya Impala. They were so beautiful and graceful in their movements. We loved to watch them run when they were spooked by a lion's roar in the distance.



Check out the antlers on this Swamp Deer! Some of the deer we saw {various kinds} still had fresh antlers, transparent enough that they were red with all the blood running through them. We learned that deer in such a state are extremely vulnerable. They cannot use their antlers as a weapon until they harden; breaking them could cause them to bleed to death.



For those who cannot or do not want to afford the Photo Caravan, there is also a {free with admission} train that travels the perimeter of the areas we were inside of. We took the train at dusk, a time when the animals tend to be excited. This is the view looking out over the areas where some of the wild cats are isolated. It was such a beautiful ride. And the drivers take their time and tell you about what you are seeing; the average ride lasts 45 minutes {Caravans are 2.5 hours}.



This is an Okapi, and though the stripes on its hind legs might remind one of a zebra, it is actually a relative of the giraffe, which becomes more evident when one sees the extremely long tongue on display during feeding. Though not in the large open areas, there are some wonderful places to walk and see lesser-known animals like this one. I believe there were three types of animals in the tiny field where this Okapi lives.



Here he is, the King of the Jungle. Lions sleep a lot, and yet we were able to view him awake not once, but twice. It was a delight. In the morning, we had seen him out, surveying his territory. He moved exactly the way I imagined he would. He walks like a king.



I will end with one last giraffe photo. Besides the rhinos, the giraffes were my favorite (from a distance). And seeing them run excited me. The limited space in a traditional zoo doesn't allow for such behavior. And that is what sets the Wild Animal Park apart: the space. When the animals run free, people can get a realistic glimpse of The Wild.

13 August 2006

The News Lens

I have decided to add another facet to this little gem I like to call Afterthoughts. Si inspired me a bit the other day. He teaches a Christian worldview class {he is a graduate of Wilberforce Forum's Centurions Program} once a year at our church. I like the way he describes what a worldview is on the first day of class. He has a few metaphors that are similar, but the one I remember best is that of a lens. He explains that we all have a mental lens through which we filter all the information coming in, through which we interpret reality. The goal of his teaching, of course, is to train students to analyze and adjust their "lens" so that it is in conformity to Christ rather than culture.

I read everything through a lens. Often, when I read a news article or editorial, a Bible verse or a passage from a book I'm reading will pop into my head and inform my analysis of said article. So I've decided to "share the lens," so to speak. I want to {on occasion--I'm not turning this into a news blog by any stretch of the imagination} offer the quote from Scripture or literature that I used to influence my interpretation and link it to the piece of news I've read.

Sometimes, this will be brief, and sometimes longer. For instance, I might do something simple like this:


Notice that that verse was linked to a commentary on the recent Mel Gibson fiasco. I would prefer to link these directly to a supposedly objective news story, but since the Gibson pieces are older and harder to find, I thought commentary would do fine, especially since this is just an example.


A longer example would reveal a bit of my views on the War with Islam/Terrorism/Islamofascism or whatever else news sources like to call it:
...Thorin and Fili and Kili and the hobbit went along the shore to the great bridge. There were guards at the head of it, but they were not keeping very careful watch, for it was so long since there had been any real need. Except for occasional squabbles about river-tolls they were friends with the Wood-elves. Other folk were far away; and some of the younger people in the town openly doubted the existence of any dragon in the mountain, and laughed at the greybeards and gammers who said that they had seen him flying in the sky in their young days. {J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again}

That one I linked to my favorite blog on the problems Islam is causing worldwide, Gates of Vienna.

Gates of Vienna, by the way, often attempts to drive home the point that we are "in a new phase of a very old war." Perhaps a bit of reading on the Battle of Vienna would assist one in understanding this. A historian friend of Si's once told us that he believes Bin Laden chose September 11th as a date because that was the first day of the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which was esentially the first day of the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire. Our friend believes Bin Laden was making the statement that he was picking up the old war.

See the difference a verse, a passage, or a bit of history can make? Ideas are best when they stand on a firm foundation of Scripture, wisdom, history, or some combination of the three. So I will share my lens, for what it's worth.

And perhaps some won't think me so crazy after all.

10 August 2006

Aquatic Animals are More Fun

Most people don't realize that the majority of time one spends at a major zoo will be spent watching wild animals sleep. Except for giraffes. Giraffes only sleep thirty minutes per day, and not all at once. But they are a big exception. Lions, on the other hand, sleep twenty hours per day on average. The King of the Jungle spends a lot of time lying down on the job.

This is probably the biggest difference between Sea World and a zoo. A zoo will have shows with mostly people in them because the animals are sleeping. But Sea World trains animals to perform every thirty minutes or so, rain or shine. And dolphins seem so playful, no matter that it is the fifth time they performed that day.

Now, Sea World is much more commercialized than the Zoo or Wild Animal Park. It's all glitz, glitter, and Shamu at Sea World. Oh, but it is interesting. And the animals, may I remind the reader, are awake.

Below is my small collection of photo highlights from Sea World:

Sea Lion Tail Up
This is a sea lion {seal} doing one of its many impressive tricks. These creatures were much more entertaining than I expected. I live in California, remember. The seals here are allowed to lounge around, lessening the quality of life for humans and being impertinent {Californians frown on basic animal husbandry unless it occurs within a zoo or aquarium}. I often call them the sloths of the sea because California sea lions don't do much of anything. But these guys at Sea World made up for all of that and raised my opinion of the creatures before the end of the day.


Pepsi Otter
This little otter was just darling. In this photo, he is bringing his trainer a Pepsi! It was half his size, but he very slowly carried out his heavy load.


Walrus
Check out the tusks on this guy! We enjoyed watching him gracefully move his cumbersome body through the aquarium waters. I suppose it is to his advantage that he weighs less in water because he is a BIG boy.


Four Dolphins
Oh, they look so sweet and innocent. But their favorite game is to then turn around and use their tales to splash all the audience members they just wooed with their big, friendly faces. Don't be fooled. These are EVIL dolphins. It was, however, so hot that we were grateful for the soaking.


Dolphin High Jump
I don't remember this dolphin's name, but he is the highest jumper at Sea World, and the trainers are quite proud of him.


Beluga Whales
This is one of the three beautiful beluga whales we spent some time watching. It was hard to take a perfect photo because of the density of the crowds. These creatures are a popular attraction. I suppose I will have to do something very old fashioned, like remember them in my mind.


Penguin
The normal penguin exhibit was being renovated, but we were still able to take a look at some penguins, basking in the extreme heat in a small pool outside the closed exhibit. I was surprised at how little penguins are (or at least the breed we saw--are there different kinds?). This guy was the one that came the closest to us.


Penguin Swim
Penguins are funny. It is almost surprising that they swim so well after watching them be so clumsy about getting into the water in the first place. They almost appear afraid of it, as they pace back and forth, seemingly trying to make up their mind about getting wet. And yet, once in the water, they do seem quite at home.


Killer Whale Jump
This was a very impressive jump performed by a killer whale. We learned that killer whales are quite the predators, eating fish and dolphins and seals, to give a short list. They look so cute, but they are more like sharks than a dolphin. The big question over this photo is probably, "Is that Shamu?" I have no idea. All killer whales look the same to me.


Jelly Fish
I have never really had the chance to watch jelly fish close up, and it was quite amazing. For some reason, I expected them to be singing a song as they floated about. They seem like space creatures, and they are so close to being completely transparent that it is hard to imagine they are alive. And yet they are. To quote a book I often read to my son, "What a God we have!"

08 August 2006

The San Diego Zoo's Recipe for Fun

Add each ingredient slowly. Savor in between additions. Stir well. Cook all day long in extreme heat. Smile.



In extra-large bowl, start with something traditional like an elephant or two...



...or three!



Add a couple friendly giraffes.



Mix in two fiesty male zebras in a power struggle and stand back!



Scoop in a dead fish with attached polar bear.



Dump in 3/4 cup of little creatures that sit like humans.



Allow to soften thirty minutes with a beautiful Greek-inspired ballet routine, complete with gorgeous opera music wafting in the background.



Add in two cups of huge hippo rear end...



...make sure it floats!



Add one cup of giant panda sleeping on its back.

Panda on Back

Mix well, then serve topped with one amazing acrobatics show liberally sprinkled with neoPagan goddess worship.

02 August 2006

The Digital Eye

Everyone has a digital camera nowadays. I was quite the holdout. I liked my film and that little clicking sound, thank you very much. And I was convinced that digital photos wouldn't last like film developed in a darkroom. But as the technology improved, I could see the benefits, and Si convinced me that it was time. We used our Christmas money to buy a digital camera.

I like it. I have replaced taking the children to a professional photographer with having numerous photo shoots at home. Si has a pretty good eye for photos, and since we can simply press "delete" if we dislike a photo, the process works pretty well.

Digital cameras have a wasteful sort of mood with them because of the delete feature. Remember the days of film? Film was expensive, and so was development. And one never knew if the photos were going to turn out. One did not photograph everything, but rather only one’s favorite things, and even that was done with a certain amount of care. Digital cameras have changed this. One can be truly excessive and careless with one’s photo-taking because of that wonderful “delete” function.

I have felt harassed by cameras before, to be honest. Especially at birthday parties. I want to sit and take it all in. I want to remember not just what the event looked like, but also what it smelled like, tasted like, sounded like. I wanted to be there. Other people wanted to take a lot of photos, which I felt ruined some of the fun, what with people having to stop and pretend to have fun while someone took a photo.

There are a lot of cameras at a place like the zoo. Did I mention everyone has a digital camera these days. It’s true.

It was interesting to see how the new technology effects how people see things, or don’t see things, which rather seems to be the case. A photo is not the same as an actual memory. A photo is more like a prompt. It reminds the viewer to remember something. But at the zoo, I saw people substitute snapping a photo for really seeing. I would not be surprised if those people went home and discovered they took photos of animals they had already forgotten seeing.

I confess freely that we took many photos at the zoo {and Sea World, and Wild Animal Park}. We took good ones, which I have promised to share, I know. We want to build a book of animals and their names for our son to practice his reading skills on. But early on, we noticed the effect of photography on the act of storing a memory, and tried to be deliberate about seeing things.

Cell phones have a similar effect. While we were driving this weekend, Si had to speak briefly with a client. He was driving, but didn’t remember changing freeways or merging because he had been on the phone. The technology separates mind from body, and the mind is not fully present in the body’s location.

I have seen the camera do this. I mentioned before that we saw children being rushed through various exhibits, and assured that the parents had taken a photo for them to look at later. Really, they should have saved their money and purchased a really good picture book. One does not go to a zoo to take a picture of an animal. One goes to see the animals.

It is not that I think humanity should throw out all the cameras, but I also don’t think that one should swallow technology whole without examining some of the effects. Digital photography, after all, has only exaggerated a problem that was already present with the film camera.

The challenge, then, is to really see. A photo should never replace a memory. If one is deliberate with photography, taking photos with the intent to capture beauty and/or spark a memory, one should find they begin to remember things better in the first place. A memory is built by taking the time to see the big picture along with the details. A photo captures a small facet of the whole effect, and usually does so without context.

Later on, I will add a photo of a monkey jumping through the air that Si took at the zoo. The photo will not tell the viewer that it was hot, or that there were actually three monkeys, chasing each other up and down trees. It will not reveal what time of day it was or what a delight it was for us to stand for a while and watch the monkeys play. It will just show a monkey, flying through the air. But because I really saw, I can take the photo and remember and tell my kids all about what happened. And in telling them, I will pass on a memory to go with the photo.

More Than a Glimpse

Since I haven't yet uploaded the trip photos {actually, I am waiting for Si to work his computer magic}, I will continue with some of my trip-inspired thoughts. We really enjoyed visiting the various parks without our children. We often like to do things alone first, so that we can think about how we would do them later with the kids in tow. Does that make sense? We tend to overanalyze a lot of things {we do it on purpose}, and we like to go somewhere we think we might take the kids and think about how we would do it, how old they would need to be to go, and learn what we can from the parents we see while we are there. I jokingly call these activities "pretrips."

I was fascinated by the parent-child dynamic that I saw, especially at Sea World, which was by far the most crowded {the spaces were smaller}, and it had the most shows {dancing dolphins, that sort of thing}. I am sure the crowds and scheduled events influenced the parenting.

What we saw were parents hurrying their children along. Fast. Too fast, in my opinion.

I couldn't help but think that here we are in this world where there are constant complaints that children are lacking in attention spans, and yet I saw, over and over, parents discouraging any development of concentration whatsoever. The most pronounced example I can think of was when we were watching the beluga whales. Really, the aquarium was much too small to have three whales in it, and there were so many people one had to crowd one's way to the front.

I remember a little boy wanting to stay and really look at the whales. He might have sat there for ten minutes, he was so interested. The parents rushed him by, consoling him with the fact that they took a photo he could look at later.

Charlotte Mason came to mind. In Volume One, which I am currently reading, she speaks of developing the mind's eye. She even contends that many childhood memories are blurred not because that is how childhood memories are, but because the scenes were never fully seen in the first place. A haphazard glance does not a memory make.

I now raise the questions: is the point to see, or to have said one has seen? Is the point to build a good memory in one’s mind, or stage a really good photo? In the end, is it more important to have conquered the park, or indulged a little boy’s whim and spent “too much” time staring at amazingly white whales?

I understand that some children dawdle. But I don’t think that was what was going on with the children at Sea World. They wanted to soak it in for a while, but their parents got in the way. These children wanted to really see, but they were only given the chance for a mere glimpse. It's like wanting to read a book and being given a soundbyte instead.