29 September 2006

Theological Assumptions Embedded in the Advice One Gives

Since the last couple of days have been spent brainstorming about assumptions, I thought that the following would be an interesting exercise. (I am enjoying the collaboration process immensely.) Si and I recently received our latest copy of the Biola Connections magazine. In it, I found a couple of "assumptions" that I thought would be worthy of discussion, if anyone will humor me.

The article in question is Twelve Must-Read Books, in which twelve different professors from twelve different ares of study each suggest one book they think others should read. Except for The Brothers Karamazov and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, I haven't read {or even heard of} the majority of publications on the list, which I find exciting.

Anyhow, the format of the article is basically to introduce the book being suggested, and then the professor suggesting it, allowing the professor a brief moment to explain why he chose the book he did, and even give a bit of advice to students.

The advice varied by professor. Some didn't give any at all. Others advised students to study abroad or unplug their television. Two pieces of advice stood out to me as questionable. Now, it is difficult to really judge what is meant by a blurb {which is the biggest weakness of such a format}, but my desire is to take the blurbs at face value and think about them a bit. And if I still feel a letter-to-the editor coming on when this is said and done, so be it.

First, a little background. The two little red flags that popped up in my head did so because of my recent exposure to David F. Wells' book Losing Our Virtue {which, by the way, I have almost finished}. The most striking contrast in the book {in my opinion} is that drawn between what Wells calls Classical Spirituality and Postmodern Spirituality. This is what inspired my post awhile back entitled Tale of Two Conversion Prayers. Between reading the two prayers and the other information contained in Wells writing, I came to realize that the Classical Spirituality, properly understood, had a deep appreciation, respect and humility in regard to Who is in charge {to put it in modern language}. For instance, in newer conversion prayers, there is usually something mentioned about God taking over the throne of one's life, or even the convert giving control of his life over to God. This stands in stark contrast to the Puritan prayer, the first sentence of which declares that the convert "could never have sought my happiness in thy love, unless thou had'st first loved me."

In this country, we citizens make someone our President. So, essentially, the power is in the hands of the people {actually, the electoral college, but that is another post for another day}. The point being, the people sit on the throne, for the President only rules by their consent. The Classical understanding is that God is on the throne already and that the sinner has not bowed to Him, has been in utter rebellion to God's rule. Conversion is not putting God on the throne, but rather acknowledging that He is already there and vowing to love and serve Him, which is the only appropriate response to the Almighty.

Now, all of this really does come back to my first red flag, which is a bit of advice given by Dr. Daniel Maltby: "Know thyself. We can't give to God what we haven't first possessed ourselves. Seek to understand what drives you, give that ability to God, and He will multiply your life with good things." I added those italics in order to emphasize the assumption that I wished to place in question. C.S. Lewis, in his famous statement about one's tiny gifts to God making Him "sixpence none the richer," was expressing the Classical understanding that all there is already belongs to God.

Biblically, to the best of my understanding, God calls His people His possession, whether they understand themselves their drives or not, whether they possess anything or anyone or not. I feel compelled to question the idea that Christianity calls one to possess oneself in any sense. Christianity is a following of Christ's example of pouring Himself out. It is acting not only in moments or areas of strength, but also {and often} in weakness. It is also not giving to the Church in accordance with our own drives and passions, but according to the need of the moment.

The second red flag is a little more vague. Spoken by Dr. Todd Hall, students are advised to "understand that spiritual growth is a messy, unpredictable process and that it is important to stay engaged with God and in community even when things seem dry or stagnant--that God is working in ways they can't yet see." I empasized with italics the portion of the statement I believe to be a faulty assumption. But allow me to also add that I completely agree with the second half of the statement--that one shouldn't walk away from the faith when times are dry, that sometimes one just doesn't see or understand how God is working in the moment.

Spiritual growth is explained here using II Peter 1:3-8:
His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If one takes the II Peter passage to be a sort of outline of the spiritual growth process, one can only assume that this is an orderly process ordained by an orderly God. The writer goes one to say, "Perhaps the best summary of spiritual growth is becoming more like Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, 'Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.' Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of what it truly means to be spiritual."

To contrast, my observation is that sin and its consequences are messy and unpredictable. Sin can often have far-reaching ramifications that increase the difficulty of life both for the sinner and for those sinned against. {This is why it is so merciful of Jesus to give us the chance to "go and sin no more."} I have also found it true in my life that times of dryness are either the result of too much knowledge without actually acting on it {like when I was in seminary}, or sin in my life getting in the way of growing in spiritual maturity.

I think one should be careful in asserting that spiritual growth as messy and unpredictable is normative, or that students should expect it to be so. Should one expect trying times? Absolutely. We live in a fallen world. But spiritual growth should bring us great hope in this life, not be something difficult that we dread. Growth is exciting and natural and deserves to be expressed with far more positive terminology than "messy and unpredictable."

Comments? Assertions? Pleasant disagreements? Anyone?

25 September 2006

The Weakness of Pro/Con Parenting Decisions

I receive constant updates from BabyCenter.com. I get the pregnancy newsletter, the toddler newsletter, and the preschooler newsletter. Like a lot of incidental newsletters I subscribe to, I don't read them thoroughly. I simply rush through the table of contents and see if there is anything that might be helpful for our family. Recipes and educational games usually top the list.

This week's pregnancy bulletin contained the inevitable: the "pros and cons of being a stay-at-home parent." The pregnancy bulletins cycle through all the pertinent issues of the day for expectant parents, and unfortunately, the idea of staying at home is all-too-often a decision to be made rather than a conviction to be had.

And yet, I must confess that it was a decision that we made, too. We didn't have as many convictions then, I suppose. And we lived in L.A., where it is drilled into one's head that it is impossible to live on one income, so don't even entertain the idea.

I remember that when I entered the third trimester of my first pregnancy, my coworkers began to ask me what I was going to do. Would I be returning to work after my maternity leave was up? I am sure my boss was very interested in my answer to this question as well. I usually answered a combination of yes and no, which revealed the struggle. My mom had stayed at home, and I wanted to do the same, but I believed us to be in a situation where it looked near to impossible. I remember a wise woman at work later pulling me aside and telling me that she had stayed home with her children because she thought it was right. They were always poor, but she didn't regret the decision for a moment.

I can't say I really fancied the idea of being permanently impoverished, but I did grasp the concept that she made the decision differently than most people. There was no pro/con list for her. Rather, she asked the question, "Is it right?" and then decided to simply do what was right and let the chips fall where they may.

I find that the older I get, the more opinionated I am on certain issues. Staying at home is one of them. Pro/con lists are for deciding what color to paint one's living room, or perhaps even bigger decisions, such as what career to pursue. Pro/con lists are not for deciding whether or not to raise one's children oneself.

The reason for this is that I do not believe that one has the moral right {though one certainly has the ability} to dispense with one's responsibilities simply because the "cons" outweigh the "pros."

The BabyCenter article on advantages and disadvantages doesn't address the idea of responsibility. Nor does the second article on how choosing to stay at home can change one's relationship dynamics. Instead, they focus on perceived needs and desires. For instance, Baby might be more stable with Mom at home, but then it is difficult financially and Mom might get lonely. No where is it addressed that perhaps there is a level of responsbility that one must take on when one has children.

Responsibility is something that many modern conveniences encourage one to shirk. One is capable of surrounding oneself in a virtual technological cocoon wherein there is an almost complete disconnect between one's actions and the consequences that should naturally follow. Just as the Birth Control as an Idea series partly explored the idea that birth control expresses a desire akin to the desires of the promiscuous {the marital act without consequences}, so Day Care as an Idea expresses the desire for children without responsibility. And, of course, Breast Pumps and Formula as Ideas makes sure the children don't die while away from their mothers.

Staying at home is hard sometimes, and there are days where there seem to be more personal disadvantages than advantages. When the disadvantages begin to pile up, I often remember this quote from Created to Be His Help Meet: "A sober wife makes herself the match of every circumstance." I think the key is to see the "cons" list as the list of challenges one will possibly face, not the list of reasons why one shouldn't do one's job. In the area of finances, I must learn to be savvy and frugal. In the area of lonliness, I must learn to nurture friendships in a way that does not disrupt my ability to fulfill my duties at home {and I might also need to learn to be content with fewer friends}. In the area of caring for babies, I must learn to be the match of each individual child, studying each child, rather than treating each child as if God made them all the same.

Before one swallows the pro/con lists of this world, one must be certain that such a list is even appropriate. I am sure that the raising of children is only one of many areas in which the benefit/cost ratio is viewed as being of greater importance than the right/wrong, responsible/irresponsible ratios. It is time to look at choices in different light.

21 September 2006

The Wonder of it All

One of the first classes I took back in seminary was Genesis. There is so much to unpack in such a book, that even an entire semester's study devoted to it didn't begin to do it justice. And, unfortunately, much of what I learned I have already forgotten. However, I do remember being in awe at God's obvious command of the womb. One of my repeat assignments was to go through and pick out the various themes in the book.

There were many themes, but this "command of the womb" issue kept popping up on the charts I created. Perhaps the fact that I was dating Si at the time and thinking about the possibility of a family caused this particular theme to become lodged in my brain. It is probably more likely that God was beginning to do a much-needed work in my heart in this area. Regardless, Genesis class was the beginning of a journey for me, increasing my ability to value a child in the way that God would have me to.

And now, I find new reasons to marvel at His work within our family every day.

I think I have mentioned before that I lost a baby before A. was born. I was devastated. And I still think about that child from time to time. But overall, I have learned to appreciate God's graciousness, for A. was conceived before my due date with the child I lost. In other words, I couldn't have had them both.

Today, our tiny homeschool group {just three mommies and six children among us so far} met at the park. One of the moms mentioned to me what a perfect match her daughter was for her son, and how so few little girls could have held their own with such a forceful boy for a brother, but this particular little girl does just fine.

It was then that my mind wandered to my own children. About thirty minutes prior to this conversation, I had told our other friend how good A. is for E., who is quite shy in groups. He may be all exuberance at home, but in groups of children his age, he immediately clams up and stands close to Mommy. But A. is brave and social, and it has never dawned on her that there is a cause to fear much of anything {it helps that her big brother is such a fierce protector}. A. musters up all her 18-months and heads out to the playground to see what it is all about. And E. chooses to follow her every time. It never fails that fifteen minutes later, A. is in my arms {she's still a baby, after all, and begins to miss me, I like to think}, but E. is out running around and forgetting that he was ever tempted to be shy.

I can tell you what E. would be doing as an only child. He would be sitting next to me on a park bench for however long it took for me to decide to leave. He would take weeks, if not months, to make friends, and then if we didn't see a friend for a while, the whole process would start all over again. But A. softens him up, and gives him the courage he needs.

I don't know what the child we lost would have been like because we never had the opportunity to meet face to face. But I do know that A. is the perfect fit for our family. Of course, I would have been fortunate to have been spared the pain of ever losing a baby, but that has taught me lessons as well. Today, my focus in on the wonder of it all. I wonder that God created a little boy and girl to be such a good team together. I wonder that I ever worried that they were "too far apart," for it was the Lord who planned their birthdays, not I.

It is because of witnessing God's perfect design of our family that I am able to look forward with anticipation to the coming of this third little one. I am excited to see how she fits into our family. I am excited to see that God can create a third personality that is completely distinct and other. And I am excited to watch E. and A. grow in their love not only for each other, but for this precious addition we are about to receive. I am prepared to have even more reasons to wonder at it all.

20 September 2006

Studying History as a Form of Self-Congratulations

I've been thinking about World War Two a bit lately. Specifically, how one goes about studying such an event as a subject of history. This all began when I became aware of Prussian Blue, a white nationalist singing duo {homeschooled, by the way} that was featured at the end of August on ABC's Primetime. I had the opportunity not only to watch most of the Primetime show, but then later listen to an interview with them on a local radio talkshow.

On Primetime, it was most striking to me that the girls admitted that they thought Hitler had a lot of good ideas. When I couple that with my observations of the girls during the AM Radio interview, it seems that the girls separate the end results of what Hitler did from his ideas. (It is also obvious that they deny certain particulars concerning the Holocaust, which may explain their obvious lack of horror.) In all, it is hard to believe that such sweet-sounding little girls would sing songs praising Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer, Rudolph Hess.

I have never studied any alternate theories concerning the Holocaust, but I have been taught the (brief) history of World War Two, first in a public school classroom, and later at a private Christian university. And I can tell you that the approach to studying this period of history didn't vary from institution to institution. I always studied just that: the war. Which was, of course, followed by the gory details of the Holocaust.

I now call this studying history as a form of self-congratulations. When one studies the war in American classrooms, knowing that Americans won the war, Americans freed the Jews, it always seems to be implied that Americans would never have done such things or elected such a person. It is a constant patting of oneself on the back for being so superior to those horrible, heartless Germans.

Which is why I found this month's Epistula from Veritas Press so intriguing. The feature article was entitled Educating for Worship and it was written by Toby Sumpter. I wish I could link to it, but alas it was an email-only article. I will, however, offer up a couple excerpts.

It is probably important to mention that the article is addressed to teens who are being assigned Mein Kampf in their current curriculum. You see, Veritas Press is starting in a place most educators avoid: the rise of Hitler. It is easy to study the war. It is more unsettling to study how Hitler came to power. Sumpter starts his article by saying:
For many, Adolph Hitler was the conservative, “family values” politician. Hitler passionately cared about the German family. He argued vehemently for rights of common workers, he spoke out against the so-called “liberation of women” from their callings in the home, and he encouraged a community culture that welcomed children and large families. Nazi papers, movies and educational curriculum consistently encouraged sexual fidelity and chastity, and they honored the responsibilities of mothers and wives in the raising of children and supporting their husbands.
You see, Hitler started out by appealing to the concerns of people just like me.

And that is precisely the point. I love and appreciate history, but I also have a desire to learn its lessons, and to teach those lessons to my children. If all we do in our homeschool {when we are old enough, of course} is study the war and the Holocaust, we will simply pat ourselves on the back and convince ourselves that we would never be complicit in such evils. But if we instead study Germany and understand that we would have sympathized with her problems and looked to a strong, moral leader to solve them, then we realize that we, too, are susceptible. We see our weakness, rather than only our strengths.

This is not to say that one should diminish strengths and virtues when one is studying history, for there is a place for appreciating what was accomplished by this country in the war. But as an individual, one must look into the darkness and see that all are capable of evil given the right circumstances, and only the grace of God keeps us from allowing such horrors. I will leave off with this, again written by Sumpter:
This story of Hitler’s “wooing” of Germany also serves as a solemn warning to American evangelical Christians. Given that Christians are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of “family values” and “conservative politics,” we must recognize the slippery slope of following strategies like voting for the “lesser of two evils.” One of the most important ways we must protect ourselves and our descendants from the temptation of seeing politics as our savior must be the determination that all reformation begins in the Church. Faithful worship results in honest, joyful living before the face of God, and honest, joyful living is what results {eventually} in economic blessing, political stability and peace. Germany bought the lie that they were completely backed into a corner; they believed that Hitler really was the only way out. But Christ has promised that we are part of a Kingdom against which the gates of Hades will not prevail {Matt. 16:18}.

Studying history can take two forms. One can either exalt oneself as being superior to what has taken place in the past, or one can be humble and learn about human weakness with the intent to become more noble and rely on God's protection and direction more than ever. I believe it is the latter path that will be of greater benefit to one's children and one's own soul.

19 September 2006

Childrearing #11

Use a tally sheet to focus a young child on a sermon. I think I got this idea from the DHM, though I may have modified it. Awhile back, she gave out a bunch of suggestions on church with children, and I latched onto this idea.

Basically, when it becomes sermon time at church, Si gets out a little card and writes down three or four words that he knows will come up a lot based on the passage the sermon will be covering. He tries to pick words that E. can easily read himself.

All that is required of E. is that he listen hard enough to complete a tally sheet. Every time he hears the pastor say one of the words on the list, he makes a little mark next to it. When the sermon is over, he and Si count up and see how many times he heard each word. If he gets to make a lot of marks next to a word, he is very excited.

The reason we chose this is because though E. was sitting still, he wasn't really trying to listen to the preaching. He kicked his feet and drew pictures. Neither of these things is bad, but we were looking for a way to challenge him a little in the direction of paying more attention. With his current interest in reading and growing desire to write things down, this activity was a good fit for him.

Little Sister is still learning to keep her mouth closed. She is a louder sort of child. Lucky us, her voice carries nicely.

18 September 2006

Healthy Snacks for Little Hands

As this pregnancy has gone on, I have found myself feeding the children more and more cereal. It all started quite innocently, for smells turned my tummy and cereal was something easily served cold. But then, they decided they liked it. And I decided it was convenient.

Last week, I started to feel guilty. It's not that there is anything particularly wrong with serving children cereal, it's just that I had this great habit of serving extremely healthy snacks back when E. was an only child, and I feel like A. is getting the raw end of the deal. {By raw, I mean processed food.}

Anyhow, I remembered last week that I had two recipes that provide a pan full of snacks that are healthier than most snacks. I mean, it is obviously very healthy to cut up a piece of fruit or two, but that is not easy to grab and go if headed to the park. These are healthier grab-and-go snacks.

I will offer up the healthiest of the two first. This was given to me by an old aquaintance. Don't let the name cause confusion. A four-year-old will easily eat these if the amount of sweetening agent is doubled or tripled.

Baby Teething Bars
1 beaten egg yolk
2 Tb. real maple syrup OR raw honey {okay...I use 4-6 Tb. in real life}
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 Tb. olive oil
1/4 cup milk
1 Tb. uncooked rolled oats {not quick-cooking}
1 cup flour {I use whole wheat pastry flour, but anything works here}
1 Tb. soy flour {optional}
1 Tb. wheat germ {optional}
1 Tb. nonfat dry milk {optional}
Also consider tossing in shredded carrots, zucchini, bananas, apples, or pears.

Blend wet ingredients, then add dry ingredients. Dough should be fairly stiff, but it really differs depending on what is tossed in {for example, pears are juicier than carrots, and this changes the texture}, so add flour and oatmeal if needed until the dough sticks together better. Roll out the dough into a small (ungreased) cookie sheet {I think mine is about 12"x8" or so}) and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Allow to cool a bit, and then use a pizza slicer to cut into squares or strips the perfect size for little hands. These do not have preservatives, so unless you have many children, it is a good idea to store them in the refrigerator. The added chill also soothes toddlers who are teething.

And here is the next recipe. I think I may have originally found it on AllRecipes, though I'm not positive. This one also has a lot of options to toss in at the end, meaning that the end result can be different every time. Our favorite combination thus far was a combination of slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and raisins. And before one completely throws out the ideas of using seeds, please keep in mind that seeds offer some great health benefits. I remember reading once that a tablespoon of sesame seeds has all the calcium a woman needs for a full day!

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars
4.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup raw honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar {this is the healthiest part, right?}
2 cups total add-ins...consider: mini semisweet chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, raisins, chopped dried fruit, mini m&ms, chopped or slivered nuts, sesame seeds, etc.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease one 9"x13" pan. In large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda, vanilla, butter, honey and brown sugar. Stir in the 2 cups of add-ins. Lightly press this mixture into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes, then cut into bars with a pizza slicer. Let the bars cool completely in the pan before removing or serving.

16 September 2006

The Darndest Things {09/06}

Here we are, halfway through the month of September already. My how time flies by...I better publish this before my mom sends me another email about it...

30 September 2006: She Loves to Go
I don't know if A. has been this way all along and I am just now realizing it, or if this is a new thing that is developing in her personality, but she just loves to go places. If E. puts his shoes on, she is instantly hunting the house for her shoes and begging people to put them on her feet, insisting in her baby talk that it is "time to go." Emphasis on "go." She loves to "go" and it is pretty much her favorite word {next to the multi-purpose "Mommy"}. If she sees me grab car keys, or do anything else that implies we may be going somewhere, her whole face lights up and she is immediately babbling about "go." And then, when she is safely buckled into her carseat, she pats it every so often and asks me where we are going, with such a look of satisfaction that I am not sure the destination really matters that much to her. The point is that we "go."

29 September 2006: The Heart of Compassion
Tonight, as we left my grandma's home, E. asked, "Why does Gran live all by herself?" And so I explained about who my grandpa had been and how he had died and what a widow was. E. had trouble getting the word "widow" and called her a "podo" repeatedly throughout the conversation. But he thought about the issue for a few moments, and then he exclaimed, "I have a good idea! Why don't we bring her home with us sometime and she can stay with us." He even volunteered that they could share a room.

29 September 2006: Not Really Asleep
I didn't realize before that sometimes a little girl can be silent as a mouse in her crib, but not really be asleep. She can really make Mommy believe that she is sleeping longer than usual by making not a single audible noise. And yet, it must be emphasized that she is not sleeping. In fact, if there is a hamper right next to her crib, as is the case with A., she will stretch out her little arm and open up that hamper and slowly pull all the clothes she can reach into her crib. Then, she will pick them up in big piles so that, by the time Mommy discovers she is not sleeping, the floor is covered in dirty clothes and towels.

25 September 2006: Origins
This evening, E. was helping me make cornbread for dinner. He was talking a lot, and mentioned his full name, as if he were informing us of it for the first time, so I pretended to interview him.

Me: Well, it's nice to meet you E. And where do you come from?
E.: {stirring} Mommy.
Me: What do you mean?
E.: {still stirring} Tummy.

{Si later confirmed that E. indeed understands that he is from the United States, California, etc.}

25 September 2006: Good Ole' Boys
This afternoon after naptime, E. and I were visiting Si in his (home) office. E. was sitting on the floor, organizing the pencils his grandfather had sent to him. He looked up at me and said, "I'm just going to give you one because you're a girl."

Me: What if I was a boy? What would you give me then?
E.: Three.
Me: {After a long pause, deciding if I really want to know the answer.} Why?
E.: Because that's how it works.

17 September 2006: Goodbye, Spelling
Sometimes, we spell so that our children don't understand what we are saying. Like, "Do you want to go get I-C-E C-R-E-A-M?" This is so that no one gets excited before we know for sure that the answer is, "Yes." A word of wisdom to other parents: if you want to be able to keep this up, it is imperative that you do not teach your children to read. Here is what happened tonight:

Me: Daddy, do you want me to go get out the new B-O-O-K?
Si: No, not tonight.
E.: Why not?
Me: {innocently} Why not what?
E.: Why not get out the new book?

Goodbye, spelling.

16 September 2006: Farewell to a Summer Tradition
About halfway through summer this year, we began a new tradition of sorts. Every Friday night, we headed to Gran's house {this is my grandma, my children's great-grandma, but pretty much everyone who knows her calls her Gran}. Gran made us dinner, and then we swam in her pool, and then we usually ate ice cream. We spent two to three hours, including the drive, and it was time well spent. The children became braver swimmers. Little A. stopped crying everytime she saw Gran and decided to hug and kiss her instead.

Sometimes, we would arrive and other people would be there, too. A great-uncle, perhaps, or a cousin. And so some of the evenings became a spontaneous family reunion of sorts. Like tonight. We decided to go on Saturday instead of Friday this week, and when we arrived there were two third cousins, a second cousin, and a great aunt and uncle for my children to spend time with.

But, alas, we did not swim. The evenings are finally cooling off, and the pool became unbearable to even the bravest swimmer among us {she's two}. So the children chased each other on the lawn instead. It was a lovely evening.

Before we left, Gran said that it was getting too cold to swim now, and that probably meant we were going to stop coming over. It was a statement...and a question. I smiled at her and said that we would keep coming, but we would probably start bringing games. I think she was glad. It is an important tradition for her now, too.

15 September 2006: A Morning with Granddad
E. spent this morning with his Granddad. They went fishing, catching nothing, but I could tell E. enjoyed it nonetheless. He actually seemed happy he didn't have to touch a fish. Then, they had breakfast at McDonald's, and at lunch E. declared that it was there that he ate until he "alomst threw up, but I breathed it back down." Lastly, they rode through a car wash. E. told us that it was "very scary." He seemed quite proud that they did something scary.

15 September 2006: Growing Up a Little More
The little man is getting just a bit bigger, I can tell. Children are never really stagnant, but sometimes the growth is more profound than others. I've caught him growing again. It's in the little things, like how he has gone two whole days in a row without ever asking me to hold him. Usually, he will ask, if only to compete with his little sister's time in my lap. It is also in the way he now takes cutting the lawn so seriously. He imitates Si's every move. He pushes a seed dropper while Si pushes the mower, and even pretends to empty grass clippings when Si finds it necessary to do so. I also saw him using a tricycle to pretend to be edging. He has always followed Si around during yard work, but somehow it is different. Before, it was play. Now, it is training. And did I mention he likes to wear a collared shirt "like Dad?"

14 September 2006: What A. Can Say
A. is adding to her repertoire again. She is also mutating the meaning of words she already knows. So now "Mommy" means me, but also "Hold me" or "Look at me" or "Give me food." She is very polite, using the word "please" with great consistency. Also, we hear a lot of "Here you go!" and "Where's my shoes?" "Shoes" is said in such a funny way, with her lips sticking way out. I wish I could do it justice with written words. Lastly, there is my favorite: "I love you." It's really garbled sounding, but still a delight to a parent's ears.

6 September 2006: The Mystery of the Teenager
E. can be quite humorous about learning new words. Usually, I am quick to define it for him so that he gets the hang of it before getting confused. But when I used the word "teenager," and he latched on, I let him go for awhile because it had significant entertainment value. I am sick. Too sick for school. They're lucky I have my eyes open half the time.

This morning, E. comes to me and says, "But we haven't done school yet." And I say, "Mommy is too sick today. I'm sorry, Sweetie. Let's ask Daddy for pencil and paper and you can sit here at the coffee table and pretend to do school, and I will listen to you talk." E. replies, "But I can't pretend to do school...I don't know anything." I smile and say I'll remind him of that when he's a teenager.

E. wanders off, obsessing over what a teenager might be. I watch with interest. Even when I'm sick, I don't watch TV, so this is a good show for me. He dutifully brings back a pencil and paper and sits down. He draws a completely incoherent picture. I can identify a rectangle and a curvy line and some squiggles, but the rest is just plain messy. I don't say anything, of course, because I know it is because he doesn't know what a teenager is.

He declares that he has drawn a teenager a few minutes later. Then, he acts bored and runs to get his blocks. As he builds, I hear him ordering around not only his imaginary workers, but also a mysterious person named Teenager. When I ask him if a teenager is a person or an animal, he tells me he isn't sure. I let this go on for a couple days, but eventually Si has mercy on him and explains what one is while they are on a walk and have the chance to see one in real life {in its natural habitat!!}.

We still aren't sure if some of them around here are persons or animals. I suppose time will tell.

14 September 2006

Concerning "Choice"

It was January, and my husband and I were sitting with a friend in a deli in Washington D.C. The place was overflowing with businessmen and college students. A young female's voice projected above the lunchtime din. "Choice!" she exclaimed fervently. "This country was founded on choice!"

Not usually one to address strangers, I blurted out, "No. It wasn't." I was firm, and just loud enough for her companions to hear me. The words escaped before I had given them much thought. Though her fresh-faced ignorance was precisely the kind that troubles me, I was glad her only response was a brief glimpse in my direction.

Origins of Choice
I found myself pondering the idea of choice again this past week as I read this:
The notion of choice is, of course, one of the hallmarks of our time. In traditional societies, there are few decisions to make; in modern societies we become overwhelmed by the number of choices or options that we have. As Peter Berger, Boston University sociologist, notes, the role that fate or tradition once played has been replaced by that of choice. In traditional societies, great swaths of life were not open to choice at all; these included one's social standing, the kind of work one did, the person to whom one was married, the clothes one wore. And it was fate or fortune that assigned what life held in store for one, including its calamities. Today, however, all of this has changed. Social standing, for example, can often be acquired, for it is largely a matter of perception. It is, therefore, something that can be created or purchased. Vocation is chosen from among many alternatives. Parents have little or no role in their children's marriage choices. When and if we decide to have children is now a matter of choice, and we think that by prudent anticipation some calamities can be avoided--a belief that sustains the entire industry of predicting the future. . .

An immediate and disquieting consequence follows from this. If the circumstances of life are indeed determined by choice rather than by fate, then there is always the possibility that one chose unwisely. This is what lies behind some of our unease; we sometimes imagine what would have resulted if we had chosen a different career path, or a different spouse, or a different place to live. Things could have been different from what they are. The very reality of choice robs us of contentment over the paths we have taken {Losing Our Virtue, pp 86-87}.
There seems to be a certain consensus among the books I have read thus far that the Industrial Revolution made choice {as it is now understood and experienced} possible. For instance, leaving the IR brought about families leaving behind the family farm, which distanced family members from each other. Young men once either learned the family business or were apprenticed in a trade by a neighbor, but now young men {and women} choose a college, choose a major, choose a career.

One book I read a couple years ago {I don't remember which one} claimed that the invention of the car gave rise to the modern concept of dating, effectively relegating parents to the position of spectators of their children's lives.

Good or Bad?
My aim is not to explore whether choice is good or bad. I would rather simply acknowledge that it is. But before moving on from this admittance of Choice as Fact of Life, I think it is also important to understand that once upon a time, life was very different. Choice as one experiences it now is only 100-120 years old.

Here is another important concept: before Choice, this country had both freedom and liberty. As this culture seems to narrow the definiton of freedom to mean only a freedom to choose and then choose again, I think it imperative that one understand that freedom and liberty predate the modern obsession with Choice. In fact, I believe it can rightly be said that the sheer number of choices one is able to make does not directly reflect the level of freedom or liberty one has. The content and nature of the choices will be more likely to define this "level of freedom" of which I speak. For instance, if I can spend all day choosing this widget from that one, but have not the freedom to choose to produce widgets myself, own my own widget company and sell my widgets directly to the public, then I am actually quite restricted, in my opinion.

Choice and the Human Body
The copy of Brave New World that I recently read contained a foreward composed by Huxley himself. In it, he explained quite clearly that sometimes one sort of freedom is substituted for other freedoms within a dictatorship:
As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator {unless he needs cannon fodder and families with which to colonize empty or conquered territories} will do well to encourage that freedom. In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.
As our culture emphasizes freedom over the body as being of primary importance {sexual freedom, reproductive freedom, etc.}, I find it interesting to take note that Huxley would consider this a sort of salve that softens the pain of losing more fundamental freedoms.

13 September 2006

The Evolution of School

**This is my entry to win a camera in the "Capture the Educational Moment" Contest sponsored by Spunky and Academic Superstore.**

There has never been a time when there was not "school" around our house. We decided to homeschool before the birth of our first child, and we have always approached life with him from that perspective--that we would be his first and primary teachers, and that if he didn't know something, it was our responsibility to teach it to him.

We decided that this year was a good year to be more organized and have some regular, formal lessons. Our son is only four, but we thought that he was ready for a few simple lessons every day, and that this would also prepare him for even more structure next year. We like to ease into things around here.

So, we bought a couple books and organized a daily school hour. And I thought we'd be doing phonics, pre-math skills, writing, drawing, etc. Well, technically we are doing these things. And yet we are doing so much more, so much that I never expected.

Within the first day or two, I became aware of an obvious weakness in my son. He was unable to clearly articulate his thoughts {probably typical of kids his age}. I am not one to just sit a young child to work alone on a worksheet, so we spent time talking about the lessons, and what I learned was that though he could physically point out the right answers, he couldn't explain them verbally. My guess is that the reason for this is twofold. First, he speaks simply out of habit because we have never required him to do otherwise, and he needs direction and practice. But second, I believe that his grasp of the correct responses was instinctive, and he did not possess what I now believe to be of primary importance: a significant depth of understanding.

Because of this, our lesson time has become focused on honing his verbal and thinking skills. What I thought would be the primary subjects have become the mechanisms for teaching him these skills. This becomes especially obvious during daily math and his once-a-week nature journal dictation. If he is matching objects in math to see which set of objects contains "more," he has to dictate to me what he is doing. He was already able to match objects, and my original plan was to skim over the easy parts, but instead I use the ease of it to give him opportunities to explain himself: "There are three cats and there are four bowls of milk, so there are more bowls of milk than there are cats." I never thought something like this could be music to my ears.

Nature journals, likewise, are a great opportunity for a little one to put into words what their eyes are observing. After three weeks, I see a boy that used to point and say one word {"Birds!"} now describe, "I saw two brown birds fly over the house."

What has amazed me through this is how gracious God is to correct my priorities. It is so tempting to want to put a child's skills or knowledge on display in order to prove that homeschooling "works," to want to get him through as much reading and math as quickly as possible so that he can be said to excel. But when my son is grown, no one will care that he was what some would call an "early reader" or that he could compare cats and milk bowls at the age of four rather than five. I won't care. But having gained an orderly mind will be priceless. And if he is a rarity in his ability to clearly communicate while surrounded by seas of people drowning in inarticulate language {such as the ubiquitous and nonsensical use of the word "like," of which even his mother is guilty}, it will be a priceless gift we can give to him.

Proverbs 14:6 says that "knowledge is easy to one who has understanding." What I originally planned was for my son and I to pursue knowledge. Now, it is my desire to see knowledge and understanding become inseparable friends in our house. After all, if I assist my son in becoming the kind of person who truly understands, knowledge will easily follow.

12 September 2006

Real Popcorn

Even though I've been too sick to think on my own, or move very much, I have spent a lot of time reading. Mostly, I read real books with real pages, but I did read on the Internet a bit. And I read one article called Simple Pleasures that I thought worth mentioning. It's not overly profound, so I will excerpt a bit:
"Waffles are supposed to be HOT," I thought. Should I tell the waiter that? And then I realized, he had no idea what a waffle should look, smell, or taste like. He is 19, and never had a waffle fresh from a waffle iron, crusty, hot, covered with melted butter and swimming in Maple syrup. He, in his entire life has had only frozen replicas of the real thing.

He has never picked an orange from a tree, nor an avocado, or grapes from the vine, nor strawberries from the plant. He has never tasted ice cream from the hand cranked freezer, packed with ice and ice-cream salt. He has never put potatoes on the coals and covered them with dirt and let them bake in the ground.
Well, there are a lot of "real things" out there that others can teach a person better than I. We tried a garden this spring and summer, but I spent more time experiencing morning {afternoon and night} sickness than actually making sure that my children know that food comes from God and not the grocer.

But there is one thing that my kids know that, it turns out, is a rarity. They know that popcorn doesn't come from a movie theater or from paper bags or from microwaves. I have never grown my own popcorn, so I'm not exactly a purist, but we do cook it the old fashioned way around here, so I thought I'd explain how.

3/4 cup of popcorn kernels
3 Tb. oil or margarine {never had luck with butter--it scorches--I use olive oil}*

In a giant soup kettle with a good fitting lid, pour in the oil and salt the oil {this will help prevent scorching, and start getting that salty flavor as it cooks}. Tilt pan to cover with the oil, and drop in one or two kernels. Turn heat on medium and put on the cover. Watch carefully. When both tester kernels have popped, it is time to pour in the remaining kernels. Tilt the pan as needed to spread out the kernels so they are in an even layer on the bottom of the kettle. Once the kernels start popping, shake the kettle occasionally to keep separating the kernels from the popped corn. When popping stops, remove from heat and pour popped corn into a large bowl. Salt to taste. I use a long, dull knife to help me "toss" the popcorn to even out the salt.

Alternate options:
Si likes sweet popcorn. I suppose if one were really daring one could try using virgin coconut oil to give a sweeter flavor. Sweet popcorn still has salt on it, but it is sugared as well. It is the delicate balance of the two that makes it so yummy.

So...there it is. Not exactly riveting stuff, but I didn't want to go overboard on my first day back. The important part is the simplicity of it all. Mr. Redenbacher would like one to think that one must have fancy poppers or microwaves in order to have yummy, flavorful popcorn. But really, kernels, salt, and oil are all one needs. Well, that and a good soup kettle.

*Coconut oil works really well.

09 September 2006

Saying Goodbye to Old Blue

Yes, I am still sick, and I have the runny nose to prove it. But I am not so sick that I would overlook today's passing of the torch. Old Blue has left our family forever.

She was good to us. She took me to school for six straight years. She could hold nine churchgoing college students when necessary. She followed me into my marriage {which also occasioned my father to hand over the title, making her officially "mine"}. She was very patient in LA traffic. She brought my firstborn and secondborn home from the hospital. She spent 18 months faithfully lugging two carseats anywhere I asked her to. She didn't even grimace when a third person occasionally squished in between those two carseats so as not to require the presence of a second car.

But, sadly, with the addition of Number Three to our family, Old Blue just didn't make the cut. I did tear up a bit, looking at her out the front window for the last time. She was, after all, my first car. And she was mine for eleven whole years. And I loved her. Had she possessed a third row of seats, I would have kept her until she died a natural death.

Farewell, Old Blue, farewell.

05 September 2006

Childrearing #10

Break up a younger toddler's naps to provide for uninterrupted school-time. A while back, Cindy mentioned that she wished there was a homeschooling resource that explained what to do with a toddler. I do, too! I know that breaking up naps is only going to work for so long, but for now, it is my solution.

It is my understanding that most toddlers drop their morning nap between 14 and 18 months. But my four-year-old still naps in the afternoon, so morning nap is prime lesson time around here. My solution has been to figure out how to keep the morning nap as long as possible.

I can only say what works with my toddler. This may not work with other toddlers, but I do believe it is worth a shot for a mom who schedules her children's naps.

Of course, accomplishing this requires a comprehensive plan of action. First, I wake A. up at a reasonable time in the morning. I can't very well let her sleep in {though she'd very much like to}, and then expect her to be ready for a nap at 10:00. So I wake her around 7:30am, no matter what. Secondly, I don't allow the morning nap to go on and on, either. I only let her sleep an hour or an hour-and-a-half, depending on our need. Again, if I let her sleep away, she won't want her afternoon nap, and that nap is important because both of the children sleep at the same time in the afternoon. This means Mommy can do chores, or take a nap of her own if she needs to. I usually allow her to sleep {within reason} as long as she likes in the afternoon.

Most 18-month-olds sleep two to three hours in the afternoon. Essentially, what I have done is broken that three hours into two separate naps. So, there is the same amount of sleep, but it better fits our day.

A time is coming when she will refuse this nap, and I have no idea what I will do with her then. After all, I am sure that E.'s school time will seem to her a fitting hour to read Dr. Suess' ABC Book eight or twelve times. But for now, organizing her naps is working for us.

04 September 2006

Childrearing #9

Don't overly protect Baby's eyes and face during bathtime. This is advice I was given by a friend of mine {who, in her youth, spent many hours lifeguarding and teaching swimming}, after
a conversation begun by my complaining that my son seemed to have an aversion to water. After my initial complaint, she immediately questioned me about protecting his eyes when I bathed him {to which I answered in the affirmative because that is how one is taught by hospital staff to do such things}, and she pointed at A. {then four-months-old} and told me not to repeat the mistake with her.

This friend went on to explain that during her years working with children in the water, she noticed a pattern. The moms that were meticulous about soap in the eyes produced children that had greater difficulty with early swimming. She reminded me that the initial lessons consist primarily with learning to hold one's breath and immerse one's face in the water. The child is unused to having any water on his face, and so he responds with discomfort.

I immediately changed my bathing habits with A. After all, we live in a location where summer begins in May and ends in October, and the temperatures soar into the 100s without much mercy. Swimming is a must, especially when Mommy is pregnant and cannot bear the summer heat otherwise.

What I learned was that when I stopped protecting her face, there was a second side-effect. Whereas E. still squirms when I shampoo his hair, and screaches if I get any suds or water on his face at all during the rinsing process, she doesn't say a word. She sputters a bit, but that is about it. Now, granted, these children have very different personalities, but I like to think that my new habits have also helped.

With Baby #3 joining our family in a few shorts months, I am determined to repeat what I have done with A. I tend to sponge-bathe a newborn until about four- or five- weeks of age {unless immersion bathing is hygenically indicated}, so this is not to say that I will be pouring water on the face of a tiny newborn. But it is my hope that by four- for five-months of age the baby will be accustomed to a bit of water in the eyes, and ready to become a fish when it is time to learn to swim.

02 September 2006

Expanding the Divorce/Remarriage Discussion

The first posting is here. I wanted to pull this up from the comments and discuss it in a second post because my response was becoming too lengthy:
2 Corinthians 1

The God of All Comfort
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

DivorceCare I believe is trying fulfill this command as does our other counseling ministries. Many times divorce is unwanted by one party or sometimes there is a Biblical reason for divorce. Many times the people who attend are non-Christians and this is a way to introduce Christian love to them. It isn't about therapy it is about coming alongside those who suffer. Ignoring a fallen world isn't the answer but loving those who hurt can be as long as we are portraying Biblical values.
Ah, that is one of my favorite passages. But I also find it interesting how prone our culture is to extending the definition of suffering {and I do not mean myself to be seen as an exception here}. At the time the passage was written, the "sufferings of Christ" and being "distressed" referred primarily to persecution, from my understanding. Of course, the passage says "all our troubles," so there is a natural elaboration.

However, my concern is not that someone is giving or receiving comfort. My concern is how the problem is being defined. The Bible makes clear that when we sin, we can expect to suffer for it. For example, I Peter 2:20 says, "For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God." Sin has consequences, and those consequences can be very painful. And, naturally, the church reaches out to help people that are sufferin consequences of their actions. But I do not believe that it is helpful to the sinner to minimize the sin.

David Wells once wrote:
Wherein, then lies the difference between a classical and a postmodern spirituality? The latter begins, not so much with sin as morally framed, but with sin as psychologically experienced, not so much with sin in relation to God, but with sin in relation to ourselves. It begins with our anxiety, pain and disillusionment, with the world in its disorder, the family or marriage in its brokenness, or the workplace in its brutality, and insecurity. God, in consequence, is valued to the extent that he is able to bathe these wounds, assuage these insecurities, calm these fears, restore some sense of internal order, and bring some sense of wholeness...

This psychologizing of sin and salvation has an immediacy about it that is appealing in this troubled age, this age of broken beliefs and broken lives. The cost, however, is that it so subverts the process of moral understanding that sin loses its sinfulness, at least before God. And whereas in classical spirituality it was assumed that sinners would struggle with their sin, and feel its sting, and experience dismay over it, in postmodern spirituality, this struggle is considered abnormal and something for which divine relief is immediately available.
In my original posting, I did not so much question the methods of DivorceCare {of which I am quite ignorant} as I did the language in which their mission and purpose is couched. Though many people do not want a divorce, it is normative that sin leads up to a divorce. I am young enough that I haven't had many close friends who have divorced, but the times I have observed the divorce/remarriage process in action, there is sin involved all over the place. It is a sticky, ugly mess created by two people, not one. {This article, entitled Alone, has the interesting perspective of a woman who never thought she would reap what she had sown in the form of divorce.}

But really, my original post was meant more to deal with the existence of certain structures within the church that seem to reinforce divorce as normative. My question was, should this be so? What do other churches do in order to promote righteousness and faithfulness within existing families and yet also adequately deal with the bloody aftermath of the sin of divorce? Divorce is sin, and sin has exponential negative consequences in this instance because there are so many people who feel its effects. So how does the church deal with it in compassion--and the reality of its inherent sinful nature--and yet not find itself with structures that physically tear apart the families in their midst?

01 September 2006

Tale of Two Conversion Prayers...

I pilfered a copy of David F. Wells' Losing Our Virtue from Si's office a couple days ago, and I've been stealing glances at it ever since. I found within its pages something called the "Convert's First Prayer," the Puritan version of the Sinner's Prayer.

Just for fun {and enlightenment}, compare them.

Convert's First Prayer
MY FATHER, I could never have sought my happiness in thy love, unless thou had'st first loved me. Thy Spirit has encouraged me by grace to seek thee, has made known to me the reconciliation in Jesus, has taught me to believe it, has helped me to take experience of thy love, and walk in it all the way to glory. Blessed for ever be thy fatherly affection, which chose me to be one of thy children by faith in Jesus: I thank thee for giving me the desire to live as such. In Jesus, my brother, I have my new birth, every restraining power, every renewing grace. It is by the Spirit I call thee Father, believe in thee, love thee; Strengthen me inwardly for every purpose of my Christian life; Let the Spirit continually reveal to me my interest in Christ, and open to me the riches of thy love in him; May he abide in me that I may know my union with Jesus, and enter into constant fellowship with him; By the Spirit may I daily live to thee, rejoice in thy love, find it the same to me as to thy Son, and become rooted and grounded in it as a house on rock; I know but little--increase my knowledge of thy love in Jesus, keep me pressing foward for clearer discoveries of it, so that I may find its essential fullness; Magnify thy love to me according to its greatness, and not according to my deserts or prayers, and whatever increase thou givest, let it draw out great love to thee.

Sinner's Prayer {from Four Spiritual Laws}
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.