Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holes in the holidays

For the last three Christmases as we unpack ornaments to dangle them from our tree, the decorating has carried a ribbon of melancholy. So many of our decorations come from my mother-in-law, a year-long Christmas lover. Three years ago just before her favorite season, she passed away unexpectedly. Her memorial reception was actually decked out for Christmas in her honor. My husband, then 28, was deeply stricken. And my younger two children weren’t old enough to have any memories of her.

But by far, we’re not the only ones who feel holes that the wind blows through at Christmastime. I have at least three friends who will grapple with their first shared-custody Christmas this season, a heartbreaking reminder of the past year’s trauma and loss in their families. Another friend will endure only her second Christmas without her mom, a wound that still feels painfully fresh. And though it seems slight and small in comparison, I wince at yet another Christmas without one of my sisters who lives overseas, now coupled with another sister’s last Christmas before she heads to Thailand for two years. Despite the glimmer in my kids’ eyes; their storybooks with magical, picture-perfect tales of Christmas redemption; and a Christmas tree that nearly always makes my heart lift, reality tears at me.

Grief seems to swell at Christmas, when, more than any other time, hopes are high for above-average beauty, happiness, and perfection. But frankly, on this earth, my hopes will nearly always fall flat as an under baked soufflĂ©. Not to be a pessimist, but after people brought sin to God’s flawless, “very good” magnificence in the Garden of Eden, we were each destined for lives full of gaping, searing holes. And even those of us who’ve found the ultimate Missing Piece—my overseas sister’s Hebraic tattoo probably says it best: we’re finally satisfied—we’re still in the land where vicious kings wipe out entire populations of baby boys; where people kill the Son of God in God’s Name as his mother looks on and a sword pierces her own soul, too.

We’ve still been created for another place. One Advent has been fully realized, and another still finds us “in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.” Still waiting for Heaven.
As I sit and type, I’m praying for you moms who are nearly bent over inside with pain past, present, or future. I’m praying you’re swept up by the Prince of true Peace who’s even greater than your grief—and by his hope that lifts both your head and your heart.

May you be truly satisfied this Christmas.

The biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a
consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always
wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be
undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even
greater. (Tim Keller, The Reason for God)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A blogger's prayer

This prayer was very moving to me as a blogger--and a great Kingdom perspective on why, and how, we blog. It was a great reminder to bring our writing back to Jesus and the Gospel whenever possible.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Single-issue voting?

This week, my Revolutionary War-intrigued son was completing a place-value project for math that involved the number of American casualties incurred since our country's birth. At the risk of sounding callous, I'd actually assumed it would be more; as my husband roughly tallied the numbers we viewed, it was very roughly around one million lives lost in war from the Revolutionary War to the present. Considering our present-day-only population of around 307 million, this seemed like a precious and graciously limited price, though still tragic and horrific, to pay for the generous freedoms in which we bask. Proportionately, I assume that many countries have paid much more dearly. But my husband was amazed: For comparison, in the last thirty years, over 45 million babies have been lost to abortion. Forty-five million. If I'm right, that's about five times the city of New York.

This grieves me deeply. I was impacted recently by an intriguing interview between author Randy Alcorn and Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll, covering some interesting topics, including abortion. Alcorn pointed out Planned Parenthood's slogan: "Every child a wanted child." He wisely noted that he agrees with this premise, but (in my paraphrase) that Planned Parenthood's conclusion from this premise—taking the lives of the unwanted children—and ours as Christians, which involves changing our culture's value of children and life, among other things—are dramatically different.

He then pointed out something that I won't quickly forget. He noted that some Christians don't have a problem voting for pro-choice candidates because other issues are so important; and there are, indeed, a lot of crucial issues that should not be minimized. But, he asked, would you vote for any candidate who thought that it should be legal for parents to take the life of their three-year-old? Never. Any other issues would clearly be secondary. In this way, how we vote does reveal our true value of the unborn.

I firmly believe that God loves deeply the women who are faced with these agonizing, life-changing decisions and are often utterly alone. I have known and truly loved some of them, and my mom's gently counseled many of them. At a Teen MOPS group the other night, I was reminded of the great courage required of women who choose to keep their babies, and by those who choose to give them up for adoption. I believe God offers forgiveness to women who choose abortion, and I am convicted that as followers of Jesus, we need to be known far more by what we support: healthy, whole women who have options and support; children and families; life-uplifting morality; help and preservation.

But, particularly after watching that interview, I will be a single-issue voter. Because I believe that even those other key issues that are life-preserving--the environment, the poor, the war, the healthcare system, among many—are affected by a person's view of life and the goodness and sacredness of the One who gives it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

World Fest 2010: Don't miss!

This Friday, September 24th, from 9-3 is World Fest at the Clinton Presidential Center and Park downtown. It's a student-focused cultural festival that seems to get bigger every year! Check out this link, particularly the FAQ's and the photo gallery to get a good feel for this FREE event.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Whine, whine, whine.

It started last Monday, when we were headed on a nine-hour trip to the grandparents' in our slammin' minivan.

Problem: 16-month-old does not sleep in the car—at least without utter exhaustion—and is not entertained by DVD's.

Problem: We are in a wonderful stage of him testing his/our limits—if I'd really like to throw a fit for half an hour or longer, what will you do?

I am not particularly fond of the role of court jester, particularly in this situation, when few objects entertain him more than 30 seconds (there are a lot of 30-second intervals in nine hours), he's seated behind me, and he's pretty much just mad for nine hours.

One of my more well-hidden sins (yeah, I know, I think it's well-hidden…) is my ability to be a martyr. On the outside, I'm giving, but on the inside, I can be complaining or blaming. Basically, I choose in my heart to complain rather than truly give cheerfully and freely, wholeheartedlypure-heartedly. Basically, I'm giving, but I'm not. And that's a problem. A sin problem. What I wanted to do in the van: COMPLAIN.

Yet God has been reminding me in less-than-subtle ways recently how He feels about complaining—you know, the whole "made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years" thing. Inward or outward complaining, I have come to regretfully realize, is the opposite of peace. Faith. Submission. Contentment. Joy.

So I asked my husband to hold me accountable not to complain the whole trip (sigh). But you know what? To my small-faithed amazement, God gave me what I needed. The kids and I all thanked God together as we pulled into Slice of Paradise, aka Grandma and Grandpa's.

Then I got to thinking: If godly men can seek to go a year with monogamous eyes, should I seek to go a year without complaining?

I think I need to go for it.

Trust me, God continues to give me plennnnty of test runs, opportunities to make a choice. Will I give in? (And what will I do when I inevitably mess up?)

And as someone recently pointed out me, early Christians went to their deaths in the Coliseum by singing. Paul and Silas, too, sang in prison—not our sanitized version, but the ancient-Roman, flogging, rat-infested, who-knows-when-you'll-be-released, there's-a-good-chance-you'll-die-a-painful, unjust-death prison. So practically, when I'm facing a disgusting or mundane or exasperating task, I've started to sing. I am intrigued: It has been nothing short of flabbergasting how it changes my mood and my focus.

So friends, keep me accountable: Here's to a year of joy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Watch out, world.

B.'s worksheet, on what he likes to do with his friend: "Chase girls."

I show my husband this, and he gives a fond, reminiscing laugh, telling my son: "You know you're good when you get *them* to chase you."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Working away (from God)

I'm thinking it's time you know something I am really very bad at.


Just sitting down, doing little but savoring something God created me to enjoy seems to necessitate a sturdy roll of duct tape (with a strip for my mouth—and one for my brain, if they make those). At first that could sound like I must be quite the woman of character—a hard worker; persevering; a servant. But my (occasionally irritated) family or close friends know better. The same God who created me to work and take care of my family also repeatedly associates Himself with rest, commands me to rest, made me to rest not only every seven days but one-third of every day. And I have a reputation for not listening.

While many of the reasons that I can't. Seem. To stop. Working are very good ones (waaaay more demands than I have resources, longing to serve God with every bit of the resources He's given, helping people, wanting to be the Proverbs 31 woman to my family, etc.), I also have some very bad ones.

  • Working late into the night, eating lunch standing up, etc. can feed my martyr complex: It's that strange sensation that if I'm uncomfortable or suffering to some degree, I am a better person. (This is quite wrong. I am working through Gary Thomas' Pure Pleasure right now, and believe me, I need that book. The subtitle: Why do Christians feel so bad about feeling good?)

  • Working to serve others can make me look good, or can put me in the "giver" position, rather than the humility of receiving (Martha and Peter are my biblical colaborers/co-OCDers in this). It feeds my insatiable pride, self-righteousness, and idol of others' respect.

  • Working
    can attempt to replace my validation from God alone
    as I feel more important and worthy and in control. In that way, it subverts the power of the Gospel in my life—I depend on something else to save me, to make me "saveable" in His eyes other than Jesus' work. I try to bring something else to the table. Working can cement the idea that I am earning God's favor (wrong again; Christ's work gained my favor with God).

  • Working can replace my faith in God's ability to provide for me and give me time to accomplish what He's asked me to do—and nothing more, which really is that: when I'm doing "more" than He asked, it's stepping out of His will, doing less than His best for me. My labor can become an active worry (though in my mind, it's more of an active concern, or concerted effort), laboring and spinning rather than trusting, like the lilies, that God will supply my needs; after all, each day has enough trouble of its own. It can proceed from fear rather than faith.

  • Working can turn me into a profound "elder brother" like the one in the parable of the Prodigal Son, one lacking compassion, full of arrogance and contempt as I labor beneath a burden of my own making. If you have an inkling you could identify, by the way, the last message in this incredible series is a don't-miss message from Tim Keller.

  • Working can keep me from sitting at Jesus' feet, so to speak, taking the time to listen and enjoy God like Mary did. It can take the place of some truly great gifts and knowledge of God's goodness—the sheer joy of Him. I've missed moments of prayer, of laughing, of enjoying my kids that I will never redeem in this life. I've foregone opportunities for relationships and for adoring God rather than chafing under a burden I've created in His Name.

Now in my case, this may be a little bit of a "generational sin" too—my forbears have, in my very limited perspective, lashed their hands to the plow, so to speak. This is not an excuse; it is an explanation. But realizing this, will I choose courage and humility to break its bondage?

More to come on a more "solution-oriented" post as I think through this. I hope.

Meanwhile, please pass the duct tape. It's getting late.

Author's note: This post will also appear in a new blog for moms, Breathe.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meals from books: Devouring a great story

Last night we made pancakes fried in butter for dinner--totally unhealthy (well, the pancakes were whole wheat, I guess), but YUM and completely fun, because it was a meal out of a wonderfully illustrated children's book we'd just read, The Story of Little Babaji (and coincidentally, a book I loved as a child). This is a small tradition that my kids and I have started: occasionally making meals out of books we read.

I still remember making Stone Soup after reading the book in elementary school, and it's just a great way to engage kids in reading and create memories. A school teacher once told my mom that reading facilitates learning simply by helping kids understand their reality: when they see an object or a place, they think, oh, I've read about one of these! Cooking these recipes does this immediately: I just read about this, and now I'm experiencing it!

Most of these books didn't come with their own recipes, so just get creative and type in the recipe to a Google browser (hint: sometimes adding the word "best" before your search terms will have better chances of yielding a recipe your kids will eat).

If you need some suggestions to get you started:
The Story of Little Babaji (pancakes in melted butter)

Stone Soup (stew with a couple of rocks on the bottom)

Surprise Soup (vegetable soup with a pinch of sugar thrown in; you'll want to talk with your kids about whether or not a brother should say some of the things this older brother says to the younger one)

An Apple Pie for Dinner (uh, apple pie)

The Boxcar Children (recipes from The Boxcar Children Cookbook)

Little House on the Prairie (recipes from The Little House Cookbook)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Breakfast, reduced-sugar style

My daughter was thrilled that we had snow cones for breakfast. Should I break the news that they're really called scones?!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


My oldest: "But I didn't hit her on the head! I missed!"

Yeah, I'm sure it isn't sin if you have bad aim, buddy.

Kids Cook: Homemade Granola

Until a friend suggested it to me, I didn't know how easy it would be to make our own granola, and the kids love it. Sometimes we mix in raisins or Craisins afterward, and it's great with milk or plain. Bet it would make a great trail mix, come to think of it.

This recipe is adapted slightly (for less sugar, less fat, and slightly less cost--we omit the coconut, too) from the classic cookbook More with Less, a Mennonite cookbook designed to help families eat healthier using less of the world's resources. That's when I got the idea to make my own Bisquick (though I use an even simpler recipe now, and substitute 1/2 whole wheat flour). Come to think of it, we're making our own taco seasoning, too. These have been easy ways to cut down on sodium and additives while slimming the ol' budget.

Simple Granola

2 c. whole wheat flour
6 c. rolled oats
1 c. coconut (I omit this)
1 c. wheat germ

Let the kids mix together (with appropriate construction site sound effects).

Combine separately:
3/4 c. oil (they suggest 1 c.)
3/4 c. water (they suggest 1/2 c.)
3/4 c. honey or corn syrup (they suggest 1 c.)
2 t. vanilla
2 t. salt (they suggest 1 T.)

Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix it up well. Spread on 2 cookie sheets and bake at 250 F for 1 hr., or until dry and golden. Store in sealed containers or a gallon ziploc. Makes about 8 cups.

And it was great in these homemade granola bars (see the notes on the side; we added chocolate chips...YUMMO).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Of Grace and Grit"

Had to share this moving piece from Betsy Childs of Ravi Zacharias ministries, published back in 2007--and still in my mind. --Janel

I started taking ballet lessons when I was four years old. I loved it. Not only did I get to wear a leotard, I got to dance around the room with a pastel-colored scarf. Then I turned five and moved up to the next class. In that class, they made us stretch. I hated it. My visions of being a ballerina did not include hard work and pain, so I quit.

I was reminded of my brief stint in the world of dance when I recently attended a performance of the Atlanta ballet. Watching the members of this professional dance company brought home to me just how wrong my childhood conception of ballet was. Those dancers had strong muscles, and although they made it look easy, it was clear that those leaps and turns were intensely athletic and were the result of years of hard work.

The thing that appealed to me about ballet was its gracefulness. I made the common mistake of believing that because gracefulness looks easy, that it is easy. In fact, it takes pain and perseverance to get to the point where exertion appears effortless.

I suspect that what is true of gracefulness may also be true of grace. Because we know that grace is free, we expect it to be easy. But "free" and "easy" are not synonyms. We do nothing to earn God's grace; grace, by definition, cannot be deserved. But that does not mean that the experience of grace is easy or without pain. The apostle Paul writes, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

There is an important difference in the idea of working for grace (a contradiction in terms) and the working out of grace in our lives. As the grace of God worked in the life of Paul, it felt like very hard work to him. The hard work was not the grounds of the grace; it was the effect.

Have you ever met someone who was so mature in the faith that they made it look easy? Trusting God appears to be second nature to them, and their instinctual response to temptation is to walk the other way. I expect that if you were to question them, however, you would find that in the beginning it was not any easier for them than it would be for any one of us. Stretching muscles you aren't accustomed to using hurts.

If you have prayed for God's grace in your life, do not expect obedience to become effortless. That is not usually the way God answers this prayer. Rather, He provides the strength so that you can make the effort and bear up under the trials that sanctify us. James writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).

The testing of our faith is like the exercise of our muscles. Though it is painful, the end result is faith that is strong enough to persevere. The ballerina's graceful dance is the end result of grueling practices that the audience never sees. But she considers it worth it. May we likewise set our sights on the gracefulness that will be ours as God works his grace in us.

Long, slow lessons

I was realizing the other night how different I am from the woman I was in high school, or college, or even the childless version of myself, or the kind of employee I was when I started working. It's strange--and comforting, though there are people to whom I wish I could say, "Look! I'm different now!" or even, "I'm sorry I hurt you."

From what I've experienced, some of God's greatest tools of change in my life have been suffering and waiting. But I'm now seeing that another powerful tool is long, slow obedience. Motherhood, for example, has been slowly changing my selfishness and impatience to perseverance and long-suffering. Ministry partner financial development brought courage from one of my biggest character deficits: fear of man. There are a lot of these tools that I'm now understanding, even in the midst of their pain and frustration.

It reminded me of an old story of a man who God asks to push a massive rock. The man pushes for hours, then days, then years...and to make a long story short, the rock doesn't move a millimeter. The man is anguished by his lack of progress, feeling foolish and angry. But then, God gestures to the man's new self in the mirror: After his daily labors, he is lean, muscular, perseverant, patient--strong. After all, the plan was less about the rock, and more about what God was doing in the man.

If you're in a long, slow obedience, may God lift your head today.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Faith for thought

Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Fast internet shopping

I'm slowly becoming my family's assigned "internet go-fer"; I guess I find internet shopping fairly painless, and I love the satisfaction of a great deal. At the risk of patronizing those of you already net-savvy shoppers, I wanted to pass on one of the most efficient processes I've picked up on in hopes that it will help some of you save a little moola this summer!

1. On, enter the item you're looking for--for example, "wooden toy box". But to get more results, you don't just want wooden--you'd want "wood", too. To gather words with any ending, type "wood* toy box".

2. Up in the left-hand corner, select "shopping".

3. You'll see a lot of results for what you were looking for, along with their prices. On the right hand side's drop-down menu, organize the results by "Price: low to high". In some cases, this will bring up a lot of irrelevant results to your search, so you'll want to go back to sorting by "Relevance". But the former will put your search results immediately showing the lowest price. As a hint--once you know the manufacturer's name for the precise item you're searching for, you'll be able to search for that specifically ("Kidkraft Austin Toybox"), and sort them by price quickly without irrelevant results.

4. When you click on an individual result, if more than one store offers that item, often you can sort by Price + tax and shipping.

5. Google offers related search terms at the bottom of the page (when I looked up 12" bicycle, it suggested "12 inch bicycle" as well). Don't forget to search with synonyms of what you're looking for. In this example, you'd want to look for "wood* toy chest", too. If you're looking for "bike", do another search using "bicycle".

If this is hard to follow, please submit your questions in the comments section! And I'd love your tips for easily locating the best deals online.

Summer "bridge" activities for kids

Wanted to pass on to you a few tips that other moms have been giving me on summer "bridge" activities that keep my kids' brains engaged! Hope it helps.

1. For the summer and the school year, I've found the reading lists in Sonlight's homeschooling curriculum to be great guidelines for books to check out from the library--usually with the help of interlibrary loan, which in our library system, is available online.

When possible, I get the books for reading to your children on audio books, and they'll start listening to them in the car (a captive audience) or when they're falling theory...and I soon find them listening to them throughout the day, which they love to do while playing with building toys, like Legos.

2. I also get interlibrary loan ideas by looking in the kids' section at Barnes & Noble. I look for topics my oldest (our only independent reader right now) will love--the recent find was Hungry, Hungry Sharks. I also look for drawing books (great to increase small motor skills for boys' handwriting) and kids' cookbooks, to talk about math and science. A shout out to Barnes & Noble for their new educational toys section, which gives me all sorts of fun ideas for interactive learning. They have some cool at-home science kits, particularly.

3. As a loose schedule, in the morning--our best time for concentration--I have my son read out loud or independently for a certain number of pages or length of time. During the little kids' naptime, he draws a picture of something from the story and writes a summary sentence about what he's read. The idea is to verify comprehension, teach summarization skills, and work on basic grammar, spelling, and writing--in simple, relatively painless fashion.

Then he and his Pre-K little bro complete a few worksheets on their own. I like Hooked on Phonics' Super Workbooks, Brain Quest workbooks, FlashKids complete curriculum workbooks, and Get Ready for [grade level]! binder workbooks, because they're full color with interesting illustrations and not too many brain-numbing exercises per page.

We check out educational videos for use during naptime too: The Magic School Bus (great for science principles), Between the Lions, and Popular Mechanics for Kids are some of their favorites.

I've started to invest in about one new interesting educational computer game per semester/summer that fill up that hot, quiet afternoon. Scholastic's Math Missions is next on my list, but we've enjoyed Zoombinis' Logical Journey (there are other Zoombinis logic games that look great, and check out these Crazy Machines games), Reader Rabbit, and some of Scholastic's Clifford programs. My son is interested in the Typer Island Typing Instructor software I purchased and repeatedly comes back to it to try, but at this point, typing is still a little above his concentration levels! I also keep a "favorites" folder of educational websites.

We build storytimes into our day--each one picks a book for us all to read before naptime, and we've been reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and a Bible story before bed.

4. Summer's a great time for impromptu field trips: zoo passes, museum trips on discount days, children's theater trips, and all of those things families normally don't have time for! (Budget-wise, we're sticking to the zoo pass this year...)

5. Swimming lessons have been a fun way to ramp up into a little more discipline of character: trying new things, learning to trust and persevere...all sorts of character lessons, while learning a new skill.

6. My Pre-K'ers are lovin' a new post-nap activity: Popcorn Preschool. We make popcorn and then practice basic counting and addition. I'll write a super-simple addition problem on a white board, then they count out the popcorn, add 'em up, and write the number on the white board. Usually we'll follow with some basic reading skills until they lose interest.

7. For Scripture memory, my kids adore a series of CD's that I actually enjoy playing in the back and the front of our rockin' minivan: Seeds Family Worship. Sample our favorite one here, which also comes with a free CD to share with a friend (since it's the Power of Encouragement). I shared ours with my sister, who's now gone out and bought the rest!

I love that they're straight from Scripture--and that I don't want to bang my head against the wall when their tunes get stuck in there. I love that it makes me meditate on the verses, that my kids sing them around the house and play their imaginary instruments when they listen (my middle son plays the tuba, which isn't really in the band), and that it prompts great discussion.

Your turn to pass on more ideas! What bridge activities keep your kids engaged?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A little soul food

Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who's your mommy?

In typical Southern fashion, we have been learning about "Yes, Sir" and "Yes, Ma'am." My daughter, at breakfast: “Mommy, is Daddy da ‘sir’, and you da man?”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Heaven is like...

My little girl spent the night at Grandma's this week, which very well may be her favorite place in the entire world. She ate waffles for breakfast and got to watch Clifford and Curious George. Tonight, she asked, "Mom, can I wake up at Grandma's?"

A couple of friends of mine are struggling in battles with cancer. Heaven provides me such hope as my heart twists for their anguish and pain. I think about Heaven a lot anyway, and tonight I found myself comforted: Heaven has got to be a little like waking up in your favorite place in the whole world--with someone you love waiting to hug you, and your favorite breakfast sitting at your place at the table.

Better late than never: A unique Lenten fast

A couple of people have recently reminded me that fasting for Lent isn't just about what you're giving up--it's fasting toward something; and in the broadest sense, it's fasting toward God. I've been intrigued by the concept of fasting lately--how it trims the fat from our souls, makes us hunger for God.

As a side note, someone else remarked that when we're struggling with specific sins, as we seek to move toward God in prayer and other disciplines--aside from just focusing on that sin--we experience more victory as we simply commune with Him. Great thought. It's got to be a little like the woman who touched Jesus' garment, or those who laid in Peter's shadow: Just being near God changes us.

All this to say, my sister sent me this link from the UK, and I found it to be a unique spin on a Lenten fast: restraining carbon emissions (scroll down for a Word or PDF document detailing each day's fast for the 40-day period). The Anglican bishop from this church remarks,

All of us need to think more deeply about the energy we use and the effects on other people. I commend the Diocese of Sheffield's Carbon Fast for Lent 2010 as a really helpful and imaginative way to focus on the effects of climate change on the world's poorest people.

In short, they're fasting toward awareness of our own actions on the poor--toward compassion, in my understanding. Seemed an interesting insight to God's heart, who links fasting to compassion and justice in Isaiah 58.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A spiritual mismatch in marriage

I was amazed by what God taught me in a conversation with a friend. If you'd like, check out this article: A Spiritual Mismatch--and the God Who Sees.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Parenting and anger

Anger is an issue I struggle with significantly as a mom. I read this quote on, and I'm directing this one toward myself as a mother.

" overcome your own anger and replace it with tenderhearted joy. Joy that spills over onto your children. When the mouth of dad [or mom!] is angry, the tender emotions of a child are consumed."

The author cited Ephesians 4:31-5:2, and basically explained in this article that God went to great lengths and self-sacrifice to lay down His own anger--by sending Jesus. So I, too, should imitate God this way.

A great reminder to me...I'd appreciate your prayers in this!

Recent kid pics

C. dressed up like Jeff Gordon. The "girl with brothers" thing runs deep. A lot of times she has a tutu on...with a plastic helmet and a sword.

He's an easy smiler!

Making medals for our Family Olympic Night!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ten educational products worth your $$

1. Cariboo. My kids love this game, and it's a good review of colors, shapes, counting, and letters--with beginning and advanced levels. I like the family time and teamwork. They also enjoy The Hungry Caterpillar Game, Chutes & Ladders, and Candy Land.

2. World Almanac for Kids Puzzler Decks. In age ranges from 3-13 on topics from Early Reading, math, U.S. history...these are made by one of the creators of Cariboo, and get my kids thinking.

3. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. At first glance, I didn't believe my friend when she said she'd used it to teach all four of her kids to read; it looked dry and hard-to-use--of which it is neither. When you complete the lessons, your child will purportedly read at a 2nd grade reading level. It's methodical, and it's great to spend time together with a plan already laid out. Check it out before you buy; it may not be for you, but it's worked for a lot of people, and has been around for nearly 25 years--still getting 4 1/2 stars on Amazon.

4. Math Gear Fast Facts. My son loves to practice his math facts with these, and it helps me change things up a little.

5. Pattern blocks. Great for creating patterns and designs on their own, or mimicking designs that are easily found on the internet.

6. Marbulous--and more. This is a classic but affordable marble-run set. Along with Legos, build/rebuild Caterpillar construction sets from Mega Bloks, the Matchbox Mega Rig Space Shuttle/Rover, and our wooden train set that's been added to over the years, I am amazed at the opportunities for learning basic physics and engineering, creativity, and strategy skills that toys like these provide. When my kids are bored, I've got nearly airtight chances that one of these will interest them, and I like that they use their reasoning skills, dexterity, ingenuity, and both brain hemispheres.

7. Reader Rabbit/Jumpstart software. Though I'm sure opinions vary on this, I like teaching my kids basic computer skills (moving a mouse, pressing a key) through controlled programs--and I love when something makes learning exciting for them, to the point that they initiate. We have Reader Rabbit in pretty much every applicable age and subject, and my younger kids rarely tire of watching the oldest play--so they're picking up a lot, too. Jumpstart even has basic Spanish, as well.

8. Base Ten set. If you're helping with math homework a lot or are just beginning to homeschool, this comes in handy--though it's an investment of at least $20. It's a very visual, hands-on method of teaching place value, addition, etc.

9. Melissa & Doug floor puzzles. We have a lot of these: The human body, a world map, a U.S. map, the solar system... Running from about $13, they're hands-on and fun to do together. I have a couple of avid puzzle kids, and we also like these continent puzzles.

10. Audio books. My kids turn these CD's on in their room all the time. Their favorites include The Boxcar Children series, Anne of Green Gables, and The Magic Treehouse (...well, the only one they've heard). I also have friends who love The Chronicles of Narnia and Adventures in Oddysey (technically an audio drama, but great for faith education). Older kids might enjoy The Indian in the Cupboard. I've noticed an improvement in my kids' vocabulary just from listening--even our two-year-old loves these!--and I think it improves their imagination, too (my oldest flips it on while he's playing with Legos). Hint: It's been a great way to settle everyone down at lights out.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quote: Humility/teachability

Learning is synonymous with being taught...I am ready to learn from any source, any person, at any time. -Mark Driscoll, Facebook feed via

Great to meditate:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6

Super-easy peanut butter chocolate chip cookies!

I made these with C. today, and we whipped them up in about five minutes. They're from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food--a recipe Emeril Lagasse makes with his son. YUMMO.

Note: If you do not want to eat cookies, do not make these.

Emeril's Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1 egg, beaten
1 t. vanilla (that's right--no flour in these)

Mix it all together with a wooden spoon. Bake 'em at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cute Valentine's Day projects for kids

Martha Stewart has 26 V-Day ideas for kids!

Link: Protecting Your Child from a Sexual Predator

Please pray for the effectiveness of this article--that God would use it to protect the Church from such harm and its consequences that impact generations. It's changed the way I parent!
Thank you.

Fun math: Balloons!

Read this in my son's AWANA newsletter, and we tried it out this morning with leftover balloons from W.'s big fourth birthday (see photo of the cake out of the dump truck--that's crushed Oreos. YUM).

But I digress. The activity:
Blow up ten balloons, and on each, write a number from 1-10. Throw the balloons up in the air, and your child tries to catch two!

Level 1 difficulty: Identify the number.

Level 2: Add the two numbers.

Level 3: Identify the larger number, and subtract the smaller number.
This actually maintained attention spans considerably well!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is it a midlife crisis if you're 29?

I was Facebooking an old friend from college a couple of days ago. His life, as he described it, couldn't be better. He has three wonderful kids, a law firm in his hometown. I struggled for words to encapsulate the last seven years. What had I done since college?

What came to mind? The unexpected.

I hadn't expected to be working with the same organization as my parents, raising financial support for our current ministry jobs like they do. I certainly didn't anticipate having four kids this close together, or the realities of being a stay-at-home mom for the most part. I definitely did not anticipate the minivan. There are times when I look at my daily tasks and marvel at the fact that I have a college degree.

I thought back to college: I imagined that by this point, I'd be saving the world in some wonderful-sounding way or another. Personally, I have a passion for the forgotten and the poor, and I thought I'd use some of my cross-cultural experiences. So I basically pictured myself far from this continent helping refugees or something.

Now, as my husband and I approach 30, I realize that as we choose certain paths, we are not choosing others. Windows that were once wide open are now not-so-wide. Did I compromise? Sell out? Maybe you're wondering, like me, How did I get here? Or maybe the question deep inside of that: Is my life special? Am I just another run-of-the-mill mom?

Please don't get me wrong. I don't regret my children or my marriage. And God has provided opportunities to serve Him in my part-time job that are amazingly tailored to the skills and gifts He's given me. But if good is the enemy of the best, which is this?

I still think it's a good question to ask at any point in life, if not simply to realign myself with what God wants. But I had to go back and look at how God brought me here. Yes, I could have signed on with a missionary organization after college, for instance, and gone off into the sticks in Africa. But my husband wasn't gifted or passionate in areas of overseas ministry—and quite frankly, I don't know how much of my desire to minister overseas was actually my own naive ideal that makes some occupations seem more sacrificing or more beautiful in God's sight (or at least other Christians').

As my husband and I walked down each path ... that led to the next path ... that led to the next, we asked God for wisdom. And as I was reminded this week in James,

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (1:5-8, emphasis mine)
And I have to remind myself that even in the times where I haven't asked for wisdom Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." I have a hunch that for now, God has me right where He wants me. And He will look at my life to see if I've been faithful to what He's asked me to do—not at whether or not it was spectacular (or holy-sounding).

Guess my life since college has only been unexpected for one of us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What to do with all that grapefruit

My kids even like this recipe for Broiled Grapefruit Crisp (I eat it for breakfast; trust me, they weren't interested before!), and it takes less than five minutes to put together.

Measurement games

Right now we're learning about some different forms of measurement and estimation--estimating and measuring towers the oldest has made, different body parts etc. Made a great discovery of, which is filled with activities and worksheets (today we're making their Olympic torch).

Here's one measurement game and an estimation game of theirs that I liked; it's also got some great Valentine's Day ideas!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Books: A beginning list for character development

“You guys do leave some books for the other kids at the library, right?” my mom asked once as I hefted our book bag over my shoulder.

We do a whole lotta reading at my house—partially because I’m a big reader, and because I love the ease of having quality time with my kids when we’re reading. I love the discussion and education opportunities. And there are some lessons that just stick better with a good story—in fact, that’s mostly how Jesus taught.

So I started thinking about some books that were our favorites that also impart some great character qualities. Maybe these will be good fillers for your bag! I'm sure I'll be adding to this, if you feel like checking back--and I'd love your contributions!

Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming
Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts
Aesop’s Fables
The Giving Tree
, by Shel Silverstein
Finding Joy, by Marion Coste
My ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God's Word in Little Hearts, by Susan Hunt
The Orange Shoes, by Trinka Hakes Noble
Say Something! by Peggy Moss and Lea Lyon
Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting
Ruthie and the (Not So Teeny-Tiny) Lie, by Laura Rankin
You Are Special, by Max Lucado
The Great Stone Face, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (older elementary children)
An Apple Pie for Dinner, by Susan VanHecke and Carol Baicker-McKee

For older kids:
The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, by William Bennett (a great anthology of character-laden stories and poetry)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
Good Night, Mr. Tom, by Michelle Magorian
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas (it’s a lot different than the movie!)

As a side note, for bedtime Bible stories, we’ve enjoyed
The Beginner’s Bible for Toddlers (ages 18 months-3 years for our kids)
The Beginner’s Bible (2 1/2 -6 years)
The Children’s Everyday Bible (5-8 [?] years)

Can you help me add to my list?!

Science starters

I created a box for my kids: Let's Find Out Science! Inside, I've got slips of paper on cardstock with crazy kid science questions so that we can go look them up together. I've determined that a lot of a kid's success in education depends on knowing where to find answers!

I print most "school" documents in the Print Clearly font so that my son regularly sees how to make letters.

letsfindoutsciencequestions1 -

DIY Tangrams

Tangrams are a great way to build a kid's spatial skills. Found out I can make my own!

Try printing this out on heavy cardstock, then cutting on the red lines (if you don't want the black lines on there, cut on the red lines, then use them as a pattern on a new sheet of cardstock).

tangramtemplate -

Click here for some images your child can attempt to replicate!

Poop (reader discretion advised)

Tonight John found major poop in the toilet (ew, and on the seat) in the downstairs bathroom.

John: [Child's name], did you poop in here today?!
Child: No, tomorrow. I pooped in there tomorrow.
John: Do you mean yesterday? (laughing)
Janel (laughing): Or is that future poop?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Love Jesus through Haiti

You've likely heard of the 7.0 earthquake that rocked one of the world's poorest nations yesterday. This link was posted by a friend.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Picture-word Journal

Went into a Lakeshore Learning Store in Houston, where I drooled all over their educational stuff. But since I'm on a limited budget, John and I noodled on some of the ways we could do the ideas ourselves. I'll try to post them so that no one else out there has to recreate the wheel!

Their explanation of their Picture-Word Journal: "Our journal lets kids create their own picture-word dictionaries! It has lots of room for writing and illustrating words".

I'm making one for our firstborn so that when he finds new vocabulary or spelling words, he gets the dexterity practice of drawing while writing the word down, and also creates ownership of the word.

Feel free to use this one if you'd like. You can download this font, Print Clearly, if you'd like to use it in your own picture-word journal. Basically, just print two of these for each letter of the alphabet; we store them in a three-ring binder, and he writes down unfamiliar words as he reads. (As a side note, I want to honor entrepeneurship, but have to be somewhat resourceful since I can't buy everything I lay eyes on!)

picturewordjournal -