The World’s Standard is a Set-Up

Soon, I will write a post about our plans for next year’s school/ curriculum plans; it’s about that time, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve already had to think about what changes will occur in our school, and what will stay the same.   For now, however, I am simply enjoying our few remaining weeks, and surviving—not thriving—in the number of interruptions that continue to attempt to overtake our day.

One of my greatest joys right now is the time spent in the Word with our younger two.   I’ve been somewhere between curious and apprehensive about the book of Leviticus.

God is so faithful.  From the first chapter, I knew where we were going: God set a standard.   Before He gave the details on what to bring, how to bring it, etc., He simply states that He wants our best.  Verse 3 of Chapter 1 states,  ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord.’   Reading this passage gave us an excellent opportunity to talk about how flawed our standards are in light of what He expects.

Often the children will gauge themselves according to how someone else is doing.   Their behavior is good relative to someone else’s actions.   Their performance was good because someone else did not do as well.   While the outside world helps us with an understanding of the norm, there are several problems with this type of comparison.

1) It sets us up for less than our best if the standard is lower.

2) We use external measures for correction rather than internal reflection; the latter often reveals uncomfortable truths that, if we surrender them to the Father, can accelerate our growth.

3) Being satisfied with earthly means and measures of success can often mean that we are out of sync with the will of God (1 Peter 2:9, John 15: 18-21)

As an adult, I find myself making similar comparisons.   And for all the same reasons, the world’s standard is a set-up.   The kids and I even talked about this from a corporate perspective.   I’ve shared in previous posts about some of the programs at our church, and many churches, who have become increasingly seeker-friendly (you can read more about the seeker-friendly church movement here or in tons of other places).    Though we still use common church vernacular (words like ‘sin,’ ‘repentance,’ ‘salvation,’ etc.), we still stand with many congregations that, in reaching out to the un-churched, are losing a generation of young adults and kids who are hungry for Truth.   In short, the world is increasingly loving the church, but is our behavior acceptable to the Lord?

So, as I ask the children when we read the Word together, what does the Lord want us to do?    Well, personally, I thought about an experience I had with the oldest and a substandard midterm.    We went 15 rounds about what I wanted but didn’t explicitly state, and how she performs for others versus her performance for me.   I see now where the Word in Leviticus 1 would have worked–if I’d worked it.   It’s really not about me; ultimately, it’s about remembering who you are and to whose standard you are subject (Colossians 3:23).    My standard should not be the standard for our school; all of our work should be our best, for this is acceptable to God.

How’s the rest of Leviticus going?    The youngest says, “All these  sacrifices sound alike.”    Our vegetarian son summarizes each chapter as “more Old Testament killing.”  This kid and his growing sensitivity to meat and meat products scares me.    I can’t even cook dinner without him saying, “Do you realize how many ______(name your land or sea creature) had to die for you to enjoy those?”   We may not get much more than a new level of expectation out of this one, but that will be enough.

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To Coastal Texas for Missions and Mayhem

 In an ideal homeschool world, I love to take in-the-moment field trips that correspond with whereever we are in our studies.   But, with medieval history coming to a close for us and that trip I want to take east (Philadelphia, New York, D.C.) becoming increasingly illusive right now, what I wanted immediately was simply a chance to get out of the house.   So, we took off for an off-the-beaten-path trip to visit missions down in coastal Texas.   When we cycled through American history previously, the kids read Junipero Serra, and we talked about the role of the Spanish in the attempt to convert Native Americans into Christians.   This time, we chose to not remember the Alamo, but to instead find a road less traveled by.   Here we are in Presidion La Bahia  in Goliad, Texas.

 This was an excellent field trip for not much money.    I wanted them to see all the components of the missions system–the presidio (home/ battle station for the soldiers), the village/ living quarters, and the church.

Amazingly enough, this church is still in operation, hosting a weekly congregation.

We were also able to learn much from the war memorial nearby, a commemoration of the fallen soldiers in the Texas- Mexican war.

I wish I could have actually gotten a shot of them kneeling in the flowers–they were gorgeous, but this is the closest I could get.

The history lesson was fun.   It was actually the end of the trip rather than the beginning.   Before we found Presidio La Bahia, we found the Corpus Christi National Shoreline, a well-kept beach area that begins the northern portion of the South Padre Island beach area.

It took the kids a while to adjust to the vast amounts of seaweed parked on the shoreline, but oh, once they did…

It was much cooler than we expected, especially as the sun went down.   So I took our younger two to the car (son had the sniffles), while Dad and the oldest fed seagulls.

It was a fast, fun trip that offered us the perfect combination of education and entertainment.   I came back excited about the headstart on next year, and happy that the family had a chance to get away.   More importantly, I had a deep sense of joy at seeing God’s crafting of a beautiful world, and I was happy to sit still for a moment and just enjoy it.

Sunday School Lament

This has been my schedule over the past weekend:

On Friday, my husband had to meet the day at 5 a.m. in order to attend an early-morning meeting.   I woke up with him (as usual), but couldn’t fall back asleep (unusual).

I had a 5:30 a.m. hair appointment (no, that’s no typo) on Saturday morning.   Saturday afternoon was a training workshop for our children’s ministry at church, followed by errand running and house cleaning.

We entertained guests on Sunday, and I needed to have dinner prepared and not cold before we left for church, so 5 a.m., I was preheating the oven to have everything in place.

On each of these nights, I went to bed at midnight or after.

It occurred to me, in hindsight, that while in college I slept 5 hours and sometimes less as a matter of course.   Fast-forwarding 20+ years, I can now maintain this schedule for about 2-3 days before I crash and burn.   Having said that, guess where I was on Monday?

Actually, I got up at my regular time and ran some errands for the business, then toyed with trying to be one of the first 100 people at a brand-new restaurant in town.   After seeing a line around the building 1 hour before the opening, I came home.   Then I realized that I was nowhere near in shape to begin our school week: I was still very drained, even after a cup of Starbucks decaf (a treat I allow myself when I’m out and about in the a.m.), and I found myself wishing that my head was screwed on such that I could untwist it and, in that way, relieve the booming pain.    In an unusual turn of events, I put my pajamas back on, climbed back in bed, and called off school—sort of.   I told the kids that yesterday was a reading day; this was a catch-up day on all reading assignments for this week.   From there, I crawled back into bed, completing all group and one-on-one reading from there, and getting up only as necessary.   I noticed that when the kids finished what they had to do, they all went back to sleep, too.   I think it’s safe to say that we all needed a rest, and I praise the Lord for growth in making the decision to do what was needed.   It wasn’t too long ago when I would have forced us all in fear of how missing a day might affect our year.   It’s silly to think about, but it’s the truth.   At any rate, we all got up today refreshed, and it shows.  School seemed to zip by, and all of the three of the kids worked quietly and quickly.   I even got a workout in on last night!

Though operating in a renewed body, my mind hasn’t left our children’s ministry workshop on Saturday.   As a bit of backdrop, we have taught an early teens class (13-and 14-year old students) for several years now.    It’s a tough age, and the dynamics under which we’ve taught, described in previous posts here and here, have not eased our burden at all.   Yet, our efforts have been fruitful, and because of nothing short of the good Lord, we have the class that we envisioned when we started: kids that are excited about learning, kids that want to be in class.  Our “alumni” class members still come back, and even sit in, with us fairly frequently to see what is going on during the time.   All of that has changed significantly in a matter of weeks.   Some of it is an annual change based upon what we call “Promotion Day,” when the kids transition from class to class based upon their birthdays.    We also had a major shift to accommodate a new program designed specifically for our 5th and 6th graders.    In a few quick conversations, we went from being teachers of the 13 and 14 year olds, to teachers of the 7th and 8th graders; in essence, we lost our 9th graders—those students who are generally 14 turning 15, who were with us for their final year.   We’re beginning again, with an almost entirely new group.

Change is always difficult, but I am actually looking forward to getting to know these kids and, prayerfully, making a difference in their lives.   My larger concern is the other differences that are taking place within children’s ministry, and not just at our church, either.

Our workshop on Saturday dealt largely with the impact of media—not just television, but also games, video, computers, and cell phones–on this generation’s children.   A number of findings were presented regarding the impact of these tools, and the potential impact to how we “do” church.   It seems that we readily accept the following as fact in the more “progressive” churches:

Adults, much less children, have little attention span for anything that is not highly visual and/or longer than one hour

Children are incapable of sitting down and concentrating on any one thing for more than 5 minutes

A book, i.e., a Bible is totally unnecessary in youth group ministry; more important supplies are games and glitz in order to keep kids entertained

For me, this is the first problem.    I don’t agree that this is normal, and I certainly don’t buy into the fact that I have to cater to this behavior within our classroom.   We’ve attended a number of children’s ministries at various churches, and what I see is disturbing—a lot of flashy light shows, loud music, and constant motion.    Somewhere in there is a brief, video clip-laden Bible study with no flipping of pages.   Worse yet, because the stage hasn’t been set for the children to sit and receive, they don’t.   (I am one generation from a church crowd where, if you got up in the midst of a sermon, you held up one finger and tip-toed quietly—I never figured out what that one finger was for).   Thankfully, there is an altar call and prayer at the end, but I can’t help but wonder what all of this means to someone who is still struggling with a decision for Christ.   In fact, I have read articles that suggest that kids are walking away from the lattes at youth services in search of the truth.   And here’s the kicker—where do you find truth if not in the church?    Here’s another statistic for you: most children leave the church between the ages of 13-18, never to return.   It’s just scary.

I can agree that media is a tool—a tool that we can either choose to use for good or for evil.   I can appreciate that the days of packaged programs with neat, tidy endings don’t always fit the bill for today’s child, who has to deal with issues that never came my way until well into college years.    And yes, teaching Biblical discipleship doesn’t have to be boring.   We can do it in ways that are memorable and that leave kids with something to think about.   However, our oldest came home afterward with a simple, yet profound observation: “There is nothing wrong with just sitting down and opening a Bible and learning from it,” she says.   And though I think my children are special, I also see them as regular kids—self-absorbed, rebellious at times, yet willing to raise their own bar, if someone would just expect more from them.   Also, I can distance myself from some of what is reality for most because of homeschooling.   Our kids get the Word every day—just a Bible, just a discussion, no ostentation.    The words that are thousands of years old still resonate with power, still pierce the heart and mind, even when I’m at my most unprepared and unable.   Praise God that His Word is what it is, sometimes in spite of us.

So, like a number of youth programs that I’ve visited, we now have a mini-skateboard park, we have a night of Christian hip-hop, and we have youth-oriented services that tout game areas and the latest sounds.    What I wish I had is the answer to this question: when do we stop trying to be like the world and get back to overcoming it?

What I did this summer

Given that we’re starting school on next week, I suppose this is an appropriate title.   During the week that I wrote my last post, there was also Vacation Bible School (VBS).   

 

This picture doesn’t fully capture the work that was put into transforming our church gymnasium into a high seas adventure—ocean-like wallpaper and all.   The backdrop to the kids’ final performance is a pirate’s ship.    This was a tremendous effort on all parts; this year, we had 60+ volunteers and approximately 200 kids!

The day after VBS ended was our littlest one’s 7th birthday.   It was a quiet, intimate celebration with our immediate family as I had work-related meetings that day, and I think the kids were happy to relax for a change.  We’ve had so many events this summer until I’ve intentionally tried to pare down the daily running around.   With that in mind, going somewhere, even to church, every day, can be draining for the kids, and especially for me.   

 

We’ve also cooked up a storm, or at least, I’ve taken more photos of my cooking.    Here’s my seafood kabobs (shrimp, scallops, peppers, red onion, and mushrooms),

 

 

my four-bean enchiladas,

 

 

and my vegetarian chili with tofu and beans.

 

 

 

I am trying to consider our growing son’s dietary needs as a forethought and not an afterthought, so I’m deliberately incorporating more vegetarian dishes into our regular diet.    He shot up 6 inches and counting in the last 10 months.   Yesterday, I cooked a 13-bean soup, and I’ll experiment for the first time with grilled tofu later this week.   Uh, oh!

What I’ve done this week is finalize the plans for the school year beginning next week, and come to the revelation that there will never be enough hours to fit in every book and make use of all the neat tools that are now available to us.    In fact, Internet Café Devotions contained a wonderful devotion entitled “MommIdentity” on yesterday, and I could readily identify with who I am.   I also recognized the tendency to always look at who others are and what they do well rather than realizing that each of us has places of brilliance amidst an otherwise perhaps hum-drum home education model.    This was the crux of my conversation with Karen on last night—the darker side of homeschooling, where comparisons between children can leave us feeling defeated, inadequate, and insecure.    I appreciated the chance to pray with her as she makes decisions about home education in the midst of a fight with breast cancer; it is amazing how the Lord can speak into you when you think you are speaking into others.

In all this activity, I have yet to do something that is totally self-indulgent, and for right or wrong, I want that time.   My plan is to blow the dust off my scrapbooking tools, and to finally put together the kids’ dance photos of more than 1 year ago.   I might have a window this weekend while our youngest spends the night with her grandparents and 5-yr old cousin.    The house should be quieter 🙂 and I’ll have a day to get pages completed.   That is, unless we have to drive to pick up a new hound dog.    I’ll pick up on that story the next time.   God bless.

Musings

So much has happened in the last 1-1/2 weeks and I’m having trouble sorting it into a coherent blog post, but I’ll give it a shot.   Maybe chronological order will help.

We ordered our steps to have a very uneventful Independence Day, turning down a couple of invitations to get together for grilling, formal fireworks displays, etc.   I use the word ‘formal’ because our neighbors put on an informal display that would rival most public facilities.   Seriously.   Though this picture is borrowed from Photobucket, our neighborhood sky looked just like this on both Saturday and Sunday night—for hours. 

The one item we did have on the agenda was to visit my in-laws.   Though my husband is often within minutes of their home while at work, we’d somehow missed several opportunities to exchange Father’s Day greetings, summer birthday presents, recital  well wishes, and just a simple hug and “hello.”   Additionally, our niece had been sick with asthma-related complications during the week, forcing them to share hospital duty with my SIL.   So our planned visit kept getting postponed until we found ourselves at their home for July 4th.     

As a necessary bit of stage setting, getting our families together can be, well, interesting, for lack of a better word.  For the last 10 or more years, the generational torch has been passed from my MIL to my SIL and to us, having purchased larger homes and wanting her to be able to rest and enjoy.   (My MIL, however, still provides the meal at my SIL’s home as the latter does not cook  🙂 ).     My MIL and SIL “roll” very differently than my husband and I, so coordinating can be a bit taxing.  As you know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, I’m a planner; my in-laws are very last minute.   I should also mention that my MIL always has even more irons in the fire than I do.   The result of this is that, whatever time we set, her dishes (as well as her presence) are always later than what we’ve planned.    By the time we sit down to eat, we are probably both rattled over the food temp and taste, and the fellowship (the next source of stress is the time as she and my FIL don’t drive as well at night, so she’s rushing to enjoy all the festivities before the sun sets).    This day was different.    Ours was a very impromptu “we’re coming over for a little bit, don’t cook anything special” type of visit at their home—no need to worry about trying to return home safely after hours.   She did cook something special—a delicious fish soup inspired by the Islands.   I enjoyed it enough to later try my own modified recipe.    We had a great time, and it was lovely to enjoy each other’s company without a lot of fuss and finery.

Dance season is now over.    Our son competed, as a soloist and with his team, and I don’t think we could have asked for better results given the circumstances.     Our son placed 3rd out of 12 soloists, which is amazing for a number of reasons.   First, I think this particular sponsor caters more to girls (and specifically, young girls who can move like adult women).    Secondly, our son has danced as a junior (ages 9-11) for the last school year as he just turned 12 a few weeks ago.    Because of a rule change, he was placed in the teens category (ages 12-14), which meant he was dancing against dancers with far more experience and talent.    I kept waiting to hear his name as they announced 12th place, 11th place, and so on—not to say that we were shooting for last place, but for the reasons I listed above, we all knew what he was up against.   Also, in the defense of the sponsors, at Nationals, each competitor is the one of the best dancers at his or her respective school.    The team also put in an amazing performance, and landed 5th out of 9th with a platinum level (excellence) recognition.    For a team that has secured last place for the last two years, this was tremendous.   Now we await the tryout results for next dance season, but between you and me, I found out that we have two kids competing next year—our son and the oldest.   (Shhh!  She doesn’t yet know!)     I’m just working on my beans and rice recipes—we’ll need that grocery money for more ’pique, pas de bourrée!’

A few shots of our oldest while away at fashion camp:

 

 

 

 

 

So where are we now?    Books are coming in, which is always exciting.    I read the Sonlight catalogs where parents talk about “box day”—the day that those books, etc. arrive, and I think there’s something to what they say; there is a sense of exhilaration as that plan begins to take shape and unfold.    I’ve already begun reading through these two before I get into them with our son.   I’m excited, probably more excited than he is, to learn more about the movement of the Gospel.

There are many books on my list, but I am also learning to buy in stages.   I have a couple of purchases to make this week in order to get started, and then we’ll add as money becomes available and need arises.   As one example, I would normally buy Sonlight’s instructor guides and then buy the books used as we go.   However, the truth is that I’ve never used the instructor’s guides as they are meant to be used.   So, cutting where I can, I’ve just bought books and I’ll wing it from there.  That’s right, kids—be afraid.  Be very afraid.

There is much more on my mind, but this week of VBS means that the hubby and I get to spend time alone while the kids enjoy the evenings at church.   One of those nights, though, will be spent at mid-week Bible study, and another will be a hand-in-hand trip to Toys R’ Us to shop for our youngest daughter’s 7th birthday on Saturday.    Being a wife, mother, and wearer of numerous hats in balancing all the many wants and needs of a household requires a special grace from the Lord.   BUT, that sounds like another post.   God bless you.

Shots from our Vacation Bible School 2009

Our kids said that this year at VBS was the best ever!    The theme was “Crocodile Dock,” but as Louisiana is a close neighbor, we had a Cajun twist (even though Louisiana is more notorious for alligators).    I thought the efforts to transform our family life center into a real, live Louisiana swamp were tremendous and I wanted to share.