Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Readings

We are huddled around the kitchen putting the last touches on our gingerbread houses, and eating little bits of candy as we go.  Pandora's "Christian Christmas" songs lift our spirits, the rain patters on the windows, the wind blows in a little cold front, and we settle into another family Advent season.

All of the world is exchanging gifts these weeks, symbolizing the greatest gift of all.  Christ Jesus was a vulnerable child willing to live a life of difficulty, discipline, and ultimately death, to give us salvation from our sins and freedom to soar.

As the cold snow or rain forces you and your family indoors, you might wonder what to do to keep your family fires burning. I thought you might like to hear some fun stories we have been and are currently enjoying.  May the spirit of Christ reign in your homes, even as these timeless stories bring a deeper understanding of the meaning of the season.  Here, my readers, is my little gift from our home to yours.

The following stories are for listening, free, online.

A Must Read for All Ages:
The Story of Christmas from the Bible
The beginning of all Christmastime, let your children enjoy a reading of the original Christmas story

Youngest Childhood Stories:
Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore
What is Christmas without a reading of this poem that solidified Santa Claus as an American icon?  Listen to one or two renderings and then, have each adult and child take a turn trying to make the story come alive, or do it it round, each child and adult getting a verse.  

Adorable story of a curious mouse and his adventures.  Fun is had by all as the mouse brings a surprise visit on Christmas Day

Christmas Everyday by William Dean Howells
Hilarity reigns as a moment of selfish indulgence in a little girl's wish turns the world askew.  Enjoy this fairy tale with your little ones.  Work is worthwhile, one learns with this cute little story.  

Do you enjoy the magical tale of Santa Claus in the North Pole who brings gifts to boys and girls?  Here, in grand detail, is a sweet story of one little girl's imaginings of what Santa Claus Land is really like.  A great read for a child who knows the truth, yet enjoys a good story or, for a child whose wonderment of Kris Kringle is still very much alive.

Fairy Tales are the stories of childhood.  They bring a sense of magic and enter a child's world of toys and imagination.  Everyone has their favorite style: my eldest boy loves the Brothers Grimm's realism and just desserts, my daughter favors Madame d'Aulnoy's princesses and gentle endings, while I have always favored Hans Christian Andersen for his loyal characters and compassion for the poor.  If you can endure the melancholic situations, these two stories reveal the less than fortunate's Christmas hopes.

A moral tale enunciating the parable of Jesus about feeding him when he was hungry.  Very well known among European children.

A Christmas Star by Catherine Pyle
A fictional rendering of how the star above Bethlehem inspired another little star.   Follow a sweet golden star, anxious to do good and be useful.  Caution, mentions the afterlife.

Middle Childhood Stories:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Turn this one on and sit by a fire to enjoy the beauty of a generous hearted Bob Cratchit and the fruit of that heart in his children's happy hearts, even as the vileness of greed epitomized in Scrooge is revealed for it's hollowness.  Surprise element: hilarity in subtle wit. A timeless classic.

A sweet short story offering insight into the true meaning of Christmas.  Notice Magi, the gift bearers, are in the title, and you will see some amazing modern day gift bearers in this story.  Be ready for a tear or two.

Children (and adults) who listen to poetry will find a depth of understanding not achieved elsewhere. Desiring more of the beauty of Christmas, my children and I daily listen to a few of these poems.  Some are well loved favorites, committed to memory, others, fanciful, others sobering, but each has its place in the Christmas season.  Read through the titles and choose ones that seem intriguing.  You will enjoy the rich rewards of a minute or two invested in these well worded pieces.

The Christmas Stocking by Frank M. Baum
A few minutes of your time and you will have some great facts about how the first stocking came to be.  Brought to you by the same author that gave us The Wizard of Oz, enjoy a moment at his feet learning more about this time honored tradition.

A short little tale giving a glimpse into early American Christmas life.  Short, but lyrically captivating and sweet in form.  Good for those whose attention spans have yet to adjust to longer readings.  Shows a simpler time and the origins of our beloved Christmas Tree tradition.

Though arguing for Santa's existence, the point of this story is that hope and joy must reign and skepticism looses in the end.  We enjoy this story, even though we don't believe in Santa, as we see the beauty of faith in the intangible. This is the actual answer given to a real letter sent into a newspaper.  Show your child these artifacts:
Ask them how they would answer this question if they were a newsperson.  

The author of Alice in Wonderland takes a moment to pen a Christmas greetings.  It rings as true today as when he first wrote it.

Later Childhood Stories:
Old Christmas by Washington Irving
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in another time and another place, a time when Christmas was a joyfilled pause in the calendar from work, to a place where hospitality was practiced by all good men.  Enjoy the pastoral views, the simple times, and the way people found Christmas at dinner tables.  I love Washington Irving's writings.  Be prepared to adjust to his 1700's language.  A true American writer.

A Country Christmas by Louisa May Alcott
If you loved Little Women, you must enjoy this four part short story of Christmas celebrated with great frivolity and fidelity.  Beautiful prose, I can not get enough of this dear author.  Scroll down this webpage until you find "08" recording, and there you will see her story.

Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket by L.M. Montgomery
Did you never get enough of Anne of Green Gables? Here, the author brings us a humble short story bringing where some moments go array, yet good is found in the end.  As always, the cheerful heart is clearly the best one for each of us and making do with what the Good Lord gives us, is the way to enjoy each moment that comes our way.

A Christmas at Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson
Who can resist Robert Louis Stevenson's love of adventure and boyhood wonder.  His rhymes established what many understand a poem to be.  Set in the hearty world of seafarers, Stevenson opens our eyes to a different version of Christmastime.

The Sweet Miracle by Eca de Queiroz
What would it have been like to have lived during the time of Jesus?  How would he change your world or what would you do to fully understand him?  Here a man struggles to believe and then does.  Very well written and set in beautiful Palestine of Jesus times.  This calls for a sophisticated listener, abounds with faith points.

Though I encourage you to read the whole book when you have the opportunity, this Christmas enjoy a sweet telling of Holland's celebration.  Listen, as this modest home finds Christmas delight.  Learn how a child's character is taught and encouraged in a time of celebration.  Spoiler alert: Santa is talked of as a "parent's doing", so not for any young child who still believes in Santa.

The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown
A story, similar to Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", here we find an angel tossed out, toys forgotten, and a cold hearted Mistress of them all being moved to change her heart as the story unfolds.  Morals prevail in this sweet children's story.

A Christmas Tree by Charles Dickens
If you enjoyed A Christmas Carol, you might enjoy, A Christmas Tree.  Though not as charming, it contains some enchanting descriptions and memories of Christmas moments.

The Romance of a Christmas Card by Kate Douglas Wiggins
A sweet story of the unexpected blessings a greeting can give.  If you have the time for a longer story, this is a good one.

For Adults only:
Poor Santa Claus by George Lewis
Sympathetic version of Santa's life.  Meant to have a tongue in cheek nod to parents.  Also, ends with the difficulty of inequalities on earth.  Sorrowful, but poignant. 

Want something a little more modern? To purchase or find at the library:

Looking for a good book to buy for a gift?  Great books for all year round. 

Merry Christmas, gentle readers.  May your days be merry and bright!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


"Your guardian has to sign in for you", the colorfully dressed man explains to my children.

Anxious to get started on their "building and testing" at Legoland, they motion impatiently for me to catch up to them.  Baby in hand (big 2 year old baby) I arrive, breathless, excited to fulfill my role as "Guardian" of my children, so they can be safely ushered into the building room.

I rest a along a wall while my children hurriedly whip about the room finding the right pieces to construct their dream car;  I find myself reflecting.

Guardian, a word I have seen on many forms, signed many times as the official guardian of my children.  And with it, all the connotations of that word began to come to me.

Stand Guard.  Protect.  Watch Over.  Stand at Alert at the Gates. Guard Constantly. Care for.  Nurture.  Provide Care for a Minor who as such, is Not Yet Capable of Managing Themselves.

That is what a mother is, a guardian.  I am: one who protects, who stands at the gates, who remains alert, who manages my under 18 year old minor children who can not yet manage themselves.  That is what every mother is, a guardian.

So, why is it, so many mothers, are not guarding their minors, not protecting their children, not sitting at the gates and monitoring who comes in?  Don't they know it will leave their child exposed, unprotected, in harms way?

And who does come in?

Well, television and computers bring incredible images that stick with a child for a long time. Advertising in magazines and educational videos that cause a child to unnaturally crave superfluous items are a terrible force on our young.  And of course, we are afraid of perfect strangers, who pose less of a threat statistically, thank the Lord.

These obvious threats aside, what are we to protect our children against?  For what should we be on guard?

A friend posted an uplifting article on bullying.  In it, a perfectly adorable 7 year old is being bullied for using the wrong cup, the socially unacceptable cup. I know!  Don't get me started.

I was so irate on the triteness of peer social trends and the enormous energy a family must invest in caring about it, plus the permanent damage on a child's soul that occurs in most schools starting as young as preschool!!  However, my just anger alerted aside, there was an amazing anecdote in the story.  And it came in the form of a mother; an attentive, live giving, guardian of a mother.

She first noticed her daughter didn't want to carry her favorite cup to school anymore. Second, took the time out of her busy day to converse with her child concerning the changed cup.  And third, blogged and advocated at the school for her child's freedom to "express herself" aka carry an "unpopular" cup to school.  And yes, I see the wasted energy here, and yes, I home school to avoid the needless pain over silly fad following children and the endless pressure they exert toward every child conforming to arbitrary standards in large institutional settings.

So, yes, the freedom to think on your own and draw creative conclusions to life's issues aside.  I was very proud of the mama in this story.  And I hoped that more mothers would be like her.

We are not only to raise obedient children with manners.  They step into the world as young ladies and men.  We guard them in preparation for success with their sweet attitudes and respectful ways.  But we are also to make sure, that along the way of growing up as good citizens and academically challenged youth, there are not impediments to their natural and God given talents, uniqueness, and ways of being.

God has called them to be who they are, and intuitively, they know this.  When they step up to new challenges, they need encouragement and every-step-of-the-way opportunities, to gain independent competencies.  They do not need: teasing, discouragement, distraction about pointless peer obsessions, or bullying.

Are you a guardian of each of your children?  Are you watching at the gates that no one enters unheeded?  Are you guarding their very souls with encouraging words and deflecting the discouragement that often comes at the hands of peers?  Are you raising a child of character, and thus guarding them for their future success in business and relationships?

You can begin to do more so today.  Take a moment, sit with your child.  Do it again tomorrow.  Find the sore spots and the unprotected areas, and then, shore them up! The arrows of the enemy are strong, and only those strongly defended, by their guardians, can protect them against penetration!

Be God's expression of a guardian to your children: Psalm 12:5
"Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise," says the LORD. "I will protect them from those who malign them." 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


We took the day off today.  Our regular schedule was put on hold, we lingered in our pjs, we rested.  I am finding it needed more and more in our school schedule, rigor is good, but rest in good too.  I love that I can declare it, any day, and we can do other things.

Other things this week meant making cookies for the neighbors, reading Christmas stories, playing board games, singing Christmas Carols, and all the while reflecting on the season of waiting, of receiving gifts, of giving love.

As I type, the children are playing a Christmas word puzzle, and murmuring to one another, giggling, and agreeing together as they map out solutions to their game.

Some days I am amazed at the fruit of following hard after Christ.

As a homemaker, I must clean and pick up daily, washing dishes until my hands dry up, my laundry pile is a constant mountain to be chipped away.  As a wife, my husband needs a listening ear, a sympathetic thought toward his hard day's work, a belief in all he is and is becoming, while taking care of his meals, clothes, children, and keeping the home a refuge.

As a mother, warmth must be found in my smile and hopeful heart, the children must be seen as gifts to be given great swaths of space in our lives, every night includes an hour of cuddles, question answering, and stories.  As the chief child trainer, every argument must be walked through, every meal must include many hands in the preparation, every bad attitude must be reoriented, sleep must be given, stable home life must be provided, kindness must be encouraged, each child's character must be molded.  As a home schooling mom, every day I wake to questions about the day's math problems and must search out a good poem to memorize, I must continue to pursue good things to add to their day, to find positive experiences, and God's goodness must be reflected in a day's lessons.

It is a lot of hard work, but it is all worth it.

On this day of quiet reflection and rest, of taking the day off, I see so much that God is doing in the mix.  The soft murmurs of my children as they peacefully play with one another, says it all.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mind Matters

When a mild slope of depression threatened to submerge me into a state of low affect, I called out to God,  even as I didn't want to.  And he heard my prayer.

His sweet voice beckoned me back, with this simple word, "expectations".  I kept hearing it as I prayed quietly in my slippery state of sadness.  Here was God inviting me to see what he saw so clearly.  So, I bravely took a look.  What expectations?

Well, this little princess discovered, my expectations.  Boy, was I sheepish as I found a lot of them.

Apparently, moving closer to family, driving for every holiday or birthday, being in a home with trees and lush greenery, and having this here on earth, was an expectation of mine.  Even though my husband and I had eight years ago decided these dreams would not be mine, I hadn't really let them go.  Here they were drowning me.

So, when bright city lights beaconed through my home, when two am tow trucks woke me from my sleep, when family had to pay a small fortune just to spend a holiday with me, I grew bitter.  When the children asked for a tree to climb, when vacations included a beautiful setting that reminded me of my longing for a pretty home, and when my "family" became friends whose life turns had kept them from their relations, I grew sad.

But it was all in my mind.  It was all in my expectations.  Why had my expectations grown so exact and when was I going to let go of them?

Now, it turns out.  Thanksgiving week, actually.  I laid it all out on the table, with God, and my husband. As I prayed and conversed, the obvious became reality: I had to let God's reign rule in my mind.  I had to give up the thoughts I was letting rustle around in there, the expectations of having a comfortable little life near family and in the great outdoors.  I had to embrace realities that did not match my expectations, and call them good.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

May your Advent season, the season of expectations, be filled, as mine has most recently, with the thoughts and mind of God.  May you find in it, rest for your weary souls and joy brightening your darkest nights.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


As my little girl fastly approached her 3rd birthday, worries began to fill my heart.  It seemed all the good friends we had made with neighbors and at local parks were disappearing, into the abyss of Preschool.

They must be prepared, prepared for college, prepared to compete.

It is enough to cause one to long for another day, another time, when children could be children for oh so much longer. But, I did not want to be left out either. I did not want my sweet daughter to be left behind. So I began to research all things childhood, preschool, and how a person grows into an educated adult.

Here are some of the resources I found:

1. 0-6 years of age are in many ways the most important years in a person's life:

The agreed upon conclusion is that the earliest years in a child's life are the most important ones.  A child's cognitive, social, emotional, health, and nutritional abilities are most deeply established.  Language, culture, and religious values are incorporated into lifelong assumptions at this age.

Psychologically, if a warm caring environment with a consistent maternal caregiver present is available, a child will successfully establish security, identity, and purpose.  I loved reading about Dr. Erikson's discovery that in the years zero to six, a child needs a mother for attachment, cultural identity, and belief that the world is a trustworthy place.

Developmentally, if freedom to explore is in place, children will find themselves noticing relationships between people, objects, and themselves in the world as they individual begin to grow through childhood.  I loved learning how Piaget focused on the skills a child acquires as he or she is free to use his or her natural curiosities to discover cause and effect, comparison, and concrete thinking skills.  A mother can offer this freedom of exploration and movement as they are not required to meet a normative classroom standard, but can be driven by an inner motivation to learn and discover.

Moms are very important for a child's early development.

2. Working moms need childcare:

As moms left the home, so children had too as well.  The growth of the families income or the desire for the mother to experience independence from traditional home life, caused a significant growth in childcare.

Childcare was virtually non-existent before the 1920's.  Early childcare developed as wealthy women created safe places for poor, mostly recently immigrant children whose mother's worked.  As the 1960's women's movement increased home abandoment into the middle class, more spaces for young children to be housed were similarly developed.

But it wasn't until studies noted that children raised in impoverished non English speaking homes or in extremely poor ghettos and public housing complexes did not enter Kindergarden ready to read as did their middle class and upper class peers, did preschool really get it's "Head Start".

Head Start, and the idea of manditory preschool was developed to deal with a specific portion of the population, the extremely poor.  It hoped to create a space where children would be read to, spoken to, given nutrional meals, and offered other brain stimulating activities.  These things they were not recieving in their small apartments and dwellings where no adult or unattentive adults resided, whose understanding of childhood development was very low.

Before head start, the church and women in particular, had always cared for poor children, opting to bring the resources to the family's home.

3.  Preschool, offering a homelike environment:

Ironically, as I began to research my local preschools, the best ones with the longest waiting lists, proudly advertised the homelike environment of their preschool.  Again and again I would read about "cottages" "living rooms" "working kitchens" and "consistent female caregivers" as the way to offer a premier preschool experience in which a child might grow and mature.  Well, I knew of a cottage, with a living room, and a working kitchen, who already had a consistent female caregiver, and there was no waiting list.  It was my home, and me!

I read Marie Montessori's book on childhood's most important years, zero to six.  In it she discussed how children need:
-simple repetitive tasks to gain independence, tasks like buttoning a coat or washing one's own hands
-an ordered environment that the child knows well where all toys and developmental items (puzzles, blocks, paint, etc.) are placed
-an ability and freedom to take out toys at will, to put toys away for independence without the aid of an adult, and the freedom to return to a toy/developmental item again and again for gaining competencies

Again, I knew of a place where the child would have an ordered, consistent space and access to repeated engagement.  I knew of a place where a child's small tasks could be given them to do, including buttoning their own coats, washing their own hands, and helping make meals and clean.  It was free, and it was easy, it was my home!

4. Social skills and preschool:

Another oft quoted concern for parents was to have social skills develop in preschool.  Social skills do develop during these years.  They are key years to be near a positive role model to imitate, especially the mother and father.  Siblings or family friends offer a ready way to engage with others and test manners, sharing, caring, listening, and waiting for turns.  Neighbors and other adults in the community (church adults, grocery store clerks, librarians, mail carriers, delivery men, repair men, restaurant servers) serve as opportunities in how to interact, make eye contact, speak clearly, express oneself modestly yet confidently.  Play mates who visit the home and those whom we meet at the park, zoo, library, and botanical gardens, create opportunities to practice being nice, sharing, using your words, and listening to others.  If the mother is close by, she can redirect poor choices, repremaind selfish or harsh actions, and offer positive alternatives  for engaging others.

Studies have shown that  preschools that are top in it's field create amazing academic results and readiness for formal schooling.  However, children who are enrolled in preschool can also become more aggressive, more concerned with peer acceptance, and more wary of new situations.  (These findings diminish if the home is a neglectful one.)   Studies also indicate that preschool really helps those who do not have education as something important in their family values, but does not improve outcomes in families where education is already valued.

Many amazing mothers who work full time use all of their resources to find the best possible childcare options.  The incredible truth is that moms matter most in a child's life.  Even as they are at preschool, their mother is carried with them in their hearts.  Her intentional connection and responses to them when she is with them are the most important factors in a child's outcomes.

However, those of us who have the option to stay with our children through the preschool years, can also find ourselves preparing our children for success in their long term educational and development skills.  We can do it at home, we can do it well, and the outcomes can be as good and in many cases better for the child's overall well being and emotional development.
student-holding-birdnest-portraitWe converted our dining room into a free to roam, play, and develop room and made it accesible to the children any time they were awake.  And we stayed home a lot so the children could invest many hours in free play and exploration.

It became such a joy and privilege to continue home life into the preschool years.  It has been work, and yet, so much fun.

Luke 2:51
   Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. His mother kept on thinking about all that had happened

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


My 4 year old is obsessed with superheroes right now.  He regular dons capes and climbs walls.  He leaps off of couches and flies to the ground.  He falls asleep with soaring sounds in his mouth and wakes up with stories of dreams where he accomplished the impossible.  He is my little hero, as he rushes to help put veggies in the pot, happily aids my washing of the floors, and by my side, cleans toilets.

Sometimes the cultural norms pervasive in our society, depress me.  A clorox adverstizement speaks emotively of relationships only to twist it into fear of germs, fear of contact, fear of relating.  A television comedy, causes chuckles, even laughter, while inundating parents with beliefs that they can never have deep connection with their teenagers, that the goals in life are to have our children dating and popular.  A reality show stacks the cast with sexually permissive but charming young adults.

Schools miss the mark on making children loved and accepted, fadish agendas sidle academic rigor, superficial trivia replaces deeply explored knowledge.

Worried they can not trust themselves, parents give their children away to those who are less invested, less connected.  Institutions instiutionalize, checking off boxes rather than co-participating in soul discovery of who the child was made to be.

The list goes on and on.  The tide of culture seems to overwhelm all efforts to do good, to be content, to live a simple life of love.  I feel the despair of how far we are from our purist call, from our primary objective, from being a culture that holds up what is true, what is good, what is beautiful in each individual and esteeming those things, from being parents who love and cherish instead of fear and conscript.

But then I remember my Superhero.

I remember, he doesn't just dream of doing the impossible, but he has already done it.  He doesn't just hope for super powers, he has them.

Jesus reminds me, "In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world." John 16:33 

Take heart, take heart...

If I stop just looking at the cultural norms as my barometer.  If I can let his power be my main source of comfort, of perspective, of hope; he can make me an agent of change in my little corner of the world.  He can give me little important tasks to do, little ways to stand against the tide of culture, simple ways of avoiding the pitfalls of this day's low slung standards.   If I make him my source, then He will save me, and he will use my little life to save others from obtrusive societal pitfalls.

Good news, good news.

My little boy's dreams mustn't be squelched.  I can smile at his antics.  When his feet touch the ground, I can look him in the eyes and say with assurance, "That's right, little man, God made you to be a superhero in this world, and this world needs you.  So, take heart.  The One with all the power, is the ultimate conquering hero, and through him, nothing will be impossible for you!"

What cultural assumptions are you invested in that are dragging you far from God's best?  What ways are you letting your beliefs and behaviors be lead by societal thinking?  How are norms in this world affecting your family lifestyle and the ways you mother?

Have you looked at the Conquering Superhero today and asked him for powers to counter them?  You can, right now, and then begin to discover again that you are a hero in this world too!

Monday, October 18, 2010


When I first noticed my little baby girl needed more than to sleep and eat, it dawned on me that her non eating and non sleeping time must be filled with something.  I had no idea what that something should be.

What does God say about this?  Is there anything in his Word that would point me toward areas I could develop and steer my little daughter?  I found amazing answers; useful for planning my moments, days, and weeks with my children.

Here is the nugget I stumbled upon:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." -Philippians 4:8

Such a beautiful statement; I saw here the content that must fill our lives.

Out went the television.  Yes, we got rid of a brand new LCD television someone had given us. Years later, my mother bought us a television so she could watch her morning news while she stayed with us, but it remains in the attic for her, and now, is outdated with no digital capacity.

Out went the newspaper with it's forboding ponderings. Out went magazines, good ones and juicy ones (by this I mean my addiction to voyeuristic interest in famous people's lives, also known as "Celebrity Gossip" magazines).  Out went using the radio in the car.  I even cut myself down to checking email once a week.  No other internet access.

It silenced the house.  We woke to the sounds of neighbors heading off to work, wind rustling in the trees, dogs barking, birds chirping, and the children's pitter pattering little feet.  My mind was not immediately swept into someone else's world or someone else's worldview.  I sat in my own home and it became so very still, and peaceful.  I could hear again sounds I had long ago chosen to overwhelm with the distractions.  I could see again the beauty around me.

I started having my daily quiet time again.  Especially since there was not a lot else to do.  I read the Bible to my children.

So far, so good.

Now what?

Three amazing books started me in the right direction.

The Last Child in the Woods showed me how much outdoor time was missing in my children's lives.  We started eating twice a day outdoors.  It was a simple space, one shared with our duplex and rear duplex neighbors, but it had a tree, and a blanket made it such a nice respite.  I threw out plastic, battery operated, and non-creative toys.  We simplified life to sticks, balls, dolls, dirt, leaves, trees, blocks, and other open ended toys.

Endangered Minds  showed me how much it mattered that my children's early years (and majority of the rest of their lives) were spent engaging substance. I was encouraged to give my children early bedtimes, with lots of naps, and regular down time to process stimulating activities.  For this reason, we still live very simply regarding play dates, museums, sports, and enrichment activities.  We try to always allow plenty of prep time before any activity and plenty of down time afterwards. This book helped me get rid of my television. Still to this day, the children do not have video games, computer games/computer clubs, or television/movies in their lives.  The limitation of these things, helped me to have more free time with them outdoors, playing creatively indoors, and reading.

The Read Aloud Handbook was a life saver.  Now that I had gotten rid of all sorts of dumbing down devices, I need to know what to fill up that space in my children I had created.  Jim Trelease was a God send.  We went straight to the library once a week, got quality books, and read and read and read.  At one point, I was reading aloud three to four hours a day.  I still read aloud to my 9 and 8 year old, as well as my 4 and 2 year old. We read high level chapter books daily.

At breakfast, it is the Child's Story Bible or our church's daily Bible reading.  At lunch, I read a chapter book for an hour (we just finished Little Men by Louisa May Alcott), at nap/rest time I read three picture books to the little ones (my 4 year old is enchanted with knights and dragons, so we read books about the Knights of the Round Table and a picture book of Pilgrim's Progress, called The Dangerous Journey) and then an hour of another chapter book to the older children (we are currently in Emmy-Lou by Mrs. George Madden Martin).  During chores, we listen to librivox, an online audio recording of books in the public domain (we are currently listening to Elizabeth Prentiss' journal Stepping Heavenward, an amazing journey of a girl growing into a woman and trying to honor God at every step).  And then, before bed (currently we are reading through Thorton Burgess stories).

We read books, to fill the time.  We play outdoors, climbing trees and picking daisies.  We listen and watch the world around us.

Are there ways you can fill your mind with truth? Are there ways you can occupy your time with moments of excellence?  Are there areas you can surround yourself with places that are lovely?

It can be such a rich life.  And you can enjoy it with your children.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's in a name...

As a mother, I have a unique space with my children, to create.  I can create meaning as I pause in our day to describe the beauty of a sunset.  When my boys grasp to be first,  I can define the moment where we seek to be servants; we can choose to be last.  As we talk about a fellow playmate's fascination with base jokes, I can give the children fodder for thought on how we can laugh around more lovely subjects.

Likewise, I can destroy.  I can take the hope out of the little voice asking to come see the cockroach he just killed with an ignoring response.  When my son pours milk in the cup, on the counter, and it begins to drip down to the floor, I can miss the opportunity to call him a helpful big brother with a testy reaction to the mess.  When my child needs me to be the authority in their lives, I can overly expose them to the whims of the world as I seek to be their peer.

I can create, and I can destroy.

(Bob Dylan song in my head here, yes I have spent many years with my children's music as my mainstay. Go ahead, listen to it as you read on :)

"Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field." -Genesis 2:19-20

I don't know about you, but I am fascinated by this incredible window into God's relationship with us.  At the very beginning of the world, even as Adam is still wiping the dust off from his emergence, low and behold, here is God bringing over a fluffy timid bunny, a mournfully squawking feathered peacock, a scaly iridescent beta fish.  

And what is God doing as he brings them to Adam,?  He is waiting.  You get a feeling He is expectantly waiting, with excitement, as he listens to Adam.  You can almost hear Him whispering, "What about this one, Adam, what do you think we should call him?"

And that was it.  The authority is apparent, it says, whatever Adam chose as a name, that would be it.  There are few moments as poignant as this one. God is sharing his gift of creation by giving his newly made man this creative privilege.

And He offers me the same.  And He offers you the same.  Somehow, in the profound mystery that is God's plan, we are co-creators in this world.  We are namers.

Look back over your day, over your week, over your children's young lives.  What are the names you have given them?  Are they: special, precious, my lovies, beautiful, handsome, amazing, beloved, good?

When they do something so very imperfect, when they get in the way of your well planned day, when they interrupt your oh so spiritual quiet time, how are you naming them?  Do you let slip: messy, annoying, clumsy, distracted, sensitive, slow, lazy, a problem?

What about the names they know you mean for them?  Is it little lamb or a kid?  Is it precious or dude?  Is it wise one or too smart for her own good?  Is it blessings or rugrats? Is it creating or is it destroying?

There are power in those words.  They carry with them authority.  They will stick.  As mothers, they are ours to give.  God lets us name.  And, I think, He is waiting, listening, excitedly.  Mary Robin, what do you think we should name this one?

Monday, October 4, 2010


Today, a sweet blanket of mist covered the mountains, softening hard edges.  It was as though God's grace had come to dwell a bit in the land.  The cool air indicated an end to the heat wave, where life felt overly prescribed and precise.

What could I do but respond to the children's pleas to go out into the rain to play.  What joy to hear the sweet pitter patter of the fresh cleansing rain broken occasionally by the hearty laughter of children splashing and running.

Few moments include the words cool, rain, and gentle in our weather.  Our four children will never again be this young, this able to see the simple happiness to be found in a rainy day.

God offers moments to each of us, every day.  They may not be for what we planned, they may not match all our expectations for the day, but they are there, free to receive.

We take it as grace, we live in this moment.  And by God's grace, this is all we need.

"The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with 
the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." - 1 Timothy 1:14

Sunday, October 3, 2010


As I entered the adult world, I had been given all the tools to be a successful career woman.  I had gone to a rigorous college, been given a honors scholarship, enrolled in an exclusive honors program with one on one access to the top professors, done internships in my chosen area, completed a master's level of education, worked for years in the field, with great success.  I was very prepared for professional work.

Yet when this tiny little child took my heart away, it became apparent that nothing in this world I could do would compare with the impact I could have on this little life.

My father had always told me, "do the thing that no one else can do but you."  And it became apparent that no one else could be the mother to my baby and create a home life for my family other than me.  I was thrilled at the prospect.

However, I had not been groomed for this new role, I had not been handed the tools to take this role up seamlessly, and I needed help.  It came from some amazing places.

A dear friend, 7 years younger than me, showed up at the hospital with diapers and an outfit.  I had not even realized I would be needing these things.  But sure enough, they were the exact thing for that exact moment that were most imperative.  My daughter left the hospital dressed and dry.

I continued to follow this sweet woman into her home, getting together with her as often as she would have me.  She already had two children of her own, and her home was everything mine wasn't and mine needed to be.

T. let me in her home two or three times a week.  She always was cooking and cleaning, though she did not require that her house be perfect to let me in.  Far from it, she allowed me to see it messy, see the children in various stages of ready for the day, and watch as she negotiated breast feeding, meal prep, decorating, sewing, gardening, and child development activities.  Her home was a bustle of activity, and so very alive. I took copious notes, and still am imitating her well loved home.

Her home was alive; with her artistic and gentle heart at the middle of it.

From her, I learned to make a chicken, make salads with every meal, draw and sit with the children, create a home that is inspiring, have a garden of herbs, to breast feed, and to nap my children.  Yes, you heard it, nap.

At the time, I was still just letting my little daughter dictate when she wanted to sleep.  One day, as I was sitting with her in my arms, my dear friend T. noted, "You know, she will be a much less grumpy child if you lay her down for regular naps, BEFORE she starts to get sleepy".

Ahh, the years of peace in my home this one timely advice has given me and my family.  I asked her to write down a sleep/wake schedule, which she penciled on the back of an envelop from my purse.  I went home, tacked that little crumpled piece of paper to my wall, and began meticulously following it.

I have been a big advocate of regular naps ever since. And my children nap regularly and are grumpy no more, and all thanks to my friend T.

As I reflect on what has made me the mother I am today, I realize solid friends are at the core of much of my successes.

For the friendship to be a gleaning one, I must have a teachable spirit in me.  I must be willing to open up and allow kind individuals into my life who are one, two or even ten years ahead of me in motherhood.

And second, for it to be a grace filled one, the friend must be an unconditionally accepting one, willing to come over to my house, and have me in their home.  A person willing to give me their time, allow me access to them even in their imperfections.  One who can observe my life, give me tidbits of input, and be a great example of motherhood to me.

Where are you needing to open up your life to  another, so you can glean from them?
Where are you needing to pursue a friend who needs a good example and a grace filled friendship?

It will make all the difference in the world.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
         So a man's counsel is sweet to his friend. -Proverbs 27:9

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Sometimes it is depressing, how poor of a cook I am.  I will plan a meal, and not get the right groceries, buy the groceries and let them go bad in the fridge, cut the veggies and then burn them, put the meat to the pan only to have it come out under cooked.  It is embarrassing, and true.  My dear family can recount  the meals through which they have suffered.

For starters, as I child, I was not given the opportunity to help prepare every dinner or shown how a meal magically makes it to the table (home or restaurant or take out).

A tragedy really, as people do need to eat: 3 times a day.  And I have lots of little people in my house who are counting on me to make that happen.

Another area where I really lacked skills, was in child rearing. I was in love with my little ones the moment they were handed to me, especially if you define love as protective; these babies were not going to get hurt or lack under my watch.

But the actual needs of the child were beyond me: the need to be changed when wet, bathed when dirty, teeth brushed twice a day, hair combed into beautiful plaits.  I soon discovered that when babies cry, they needed to be held, comforted, rocked.  As two of my four developed colic, it meant they need to be held constantly, continuously patted, always moved about.

Also imperative was the need to give boundaries. It was imperative for me to to follow up on those boundaries.  I could not let my child cross a boundary with out an immediate consequence.

If they whined, I had to tell them to cheerfully voice their request.  If they asked after being told no, I had to tell them no was not to be questioned.  If they hit, I had to hold the brandishing arm and shush the angry spirit.  If they were headed to the ground to thrash their bodies about in protest, my firm hand had to be there to guide their bodies upward and their faces to mine.  If they took without asking, I had to remind them no deed goes unnoticed.

It was enough to push a patient person to the brink, and I was not a patient person - by any stretch of the imagination.

I think if there had been any way around it, I would have gone there.  But there was no way around it.

We had no family in town to help, no cheerful mentor mom to pop over with guidance, no money to pay a babysitter, no extra income to hire help, and my husband was a full time student and a full time employee.  Yep, I was stuck with the job of feeding and raising the children; it was up to me.

So, like many a good woman of yore, I cried out to God.

"Oh, woe is me, Lord. [interject whiny voice here] I am a stranger in a strange land and these children need a mother but I am sorely poised for the task. [convincing Him this is not possible for me]  Show me the way out of this mess Lord [and here I show him the obvious solution], give me a friend, a mentor mom, or rain down the money so I can hire help.  Just have my husband come home and do it for me,[see, four easy steps] oh Lord, hear me now![notice the helpful biblical tone]"

Needless to say, God's was pretty much mute on the subject.  And it took me a few years to fully understand why.

As it turns out (and you, my dear reader, have already probably noted) I was asking God and man to do my work for me.  And though our Lord is the Lord of the Sabbath, he also made 6 days of work, and saw it as good.

There are different types of work.  I find the most important work is often not attached to a salary.

So, I had to get to work.  I had to get off my pity party to do it; and I had so enjoyed my little pity party.

Here I was, pressed with no choice but to avail.  I had to cook 3 healthy meals a day and these children had to be raised, and raised well.

It was then that God began to show me that every journey begins with a foot step, every plant starts as a seed, and that life could not be rushed into being.

So began my dailies.

I had to daily ask the Lord for help, then daily stand on my own two feet, then daily walk into the bathroom with cheer, while I daily brushed 4 sets of teeth and bathed 4 sets of bodies.  Next, I daily boiled a pot of water, while I daily added whole grain oatmeal, and then daily handed out bowls to be set at the table. I daily watched over behaviors and attitudes, as I daily read the Bible aloud, and daily help the children draw.  I  daily read a quality book aloud, then daily set the children up for puzzle time, while I daily sat and had my quiet time.

Though my rhythm varies during the week, and development changes in the children's capacities calls for adjustments, this has become the way I approach cooking and child rearing.  Surprisingly, it works.

It is a slow, disciplined way to bring about great, exciting results.

My patience has increased as I see life as a set of dailies.  My cooking has improved to the point that 3 out of 4 meals turn out edible!   My children have become quite enjoyable to one another and to me. And, I really like my work.  I wake up with something purposeful to put my hand to, that of improving my life and the lives of husband and children.

It has given me a sense of joy that my pity parties never did.

What are your dailies?  Where can you begin to work today?

"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Psalms 126:5

Monday, September 27, 2010


Walking on the beach one day, it became apparent that no matter where I went, my daughter did as well.  When I ran toward the waves, giggling with delight, so did she.

When I walked slowly and talked of the beauty before us, she slowed down to experience it with me.  She never ran ahead, only waited to see where I would go, and then she walked confidently after me.

It struck me then, I had a little disciple on my hands, and she was following me without even thinking there might be another way.

It is hard to think ill of ourselves, in the deepest sense.

If you ask us, we might mention feeling too small for a big task or insignificant in the eyes of others or ashamed of our own shortcomings and sin.  But, if you were to catch us on an average day and investigate how we are moving forward, usually we are permissive with ourselves and have excuses for our negative thoughts, emotions, and actions.

God planned it well to give us these little imitators whose daily living tell the real story.

Little ducks, learn to walk, swim, and eat by following their mother everywhere and imitating her ways; so too our children are built to bond with their mother, follow her everywhere, and imitate her ways.  And this is the rub: our ways are not always as exemplary as they could be.

So what is a mother to do? 

We must become worthy of imitation.

We must find God, as Saint Augustine spoke, by seeking him within.

Evaluate values: are we concerned with the things of the soul or with outward signs of importance?  Revisit free time: are we occupying ourselves with things that build up or things that tear down; are we balancing rest and work, over working, or just zoning out through life? Look upon manner: are we gentle and hopeful of speech, or harsh and despairing, are we jovial or cynical, merry or mocking?  Think upon method: are we seeking always to serve or seeking to be served, do we ask ourselves “how can I help” or “who is here to help me”, do we deny ourselves or force our way? Do we live intentionally after God or do we only pretend to be after Him?

The areas of my life that were all about me, or allowable without children, were no longer going to be enough.  I was raising little ones to follow in my footsteps.

It is not enough to say I am sorry for my imperfections, but repentance must be firmly resolved as well.  It is not enough to pray for my sins to be gone, I must be willing to be humbled in my view of myself to truly eradicate them.  It is not enough to note what is wrong; I must be willing to change.

Sometimes I have to ask for for help, go to a trusted counselor, and walk through the problem areas in my life and hear how growth is possible.  Sometimes I have to be really honest with myself, how I am making excuses, thinking thoughts of self-centeredness, allowing emotional indulgences that lead to a sentimental life, or wishing for a life in which I am not willing to do the hard work.  And much of the time, when I have fully dedicated myself to Him, the grace of God fills up the holes without much effort from me.  This always amazes me, and leaves me so thankful for God’s mercy.

In what ways do you need to reevaluate your life?  What parts of yourself are you seeing reflected in your children’s poor attitudes and troubling tendencies?  Where might you need to center yourself on  Jesus ways and be so in your home and to your family? 

Know that there is grace, and even as you bravely confess the truths of your life, God rushes in.  He is a gentle guide toward all things good and right and true; his beauty can be yours also.  Know that as you imitate and walk in his ways, you bless your children with a mom who is worthy of imitation.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” –Ephesians 5:1, 2

Friday, September 24, 2010

A tough day

Today started out sadly.  A good friend knocked on my door to say goodbye.  We sat in the living room while she nursed her sweet little guy, the children wowed her with their little nothings, we found a moment to reflect.  And I blessed her, and I cried, and then she was gone.

They are off to an easier place to live, with more land, lower housing prices, and greater opportunities for work; a place where family is just a few blocks away and having a mother stay home with her children is not a financial sacrifice.

This evening finished off with a bon voyage party for another good friend.  We played in the park, ate delicious food brought from various homes, talked about the weather, listened to the children laugh, and then we hugged goodbye.  And then they will be gone.

Again, they go to a place where jobs are plentiful, housing is cheaper, and family is close.  Where friends stay home in mass, and so see each other often, and children can be given space to grow.  I blessed her, and disheartened, walked away.

In between, I brought my sweet little dog with us to run errands so she wouldn't be home without us, and someone yelled at me for leaving her in the car for a moment.  They called the police, they called security, they called the SPCA.  No one came to honor their requests, but they were angry, and they felt I need to know their anger. It was a neighborhood known to be unfriendly, and it is the neighborhood I must often shop in, as it is so close.

The tough little boys who make up our soccer league mocked my son because his ball was purple, and he said it hurt his feelings to hear this greivance.  And I felt greived.

The city was a hostile place for me today.  And I wondered why we chose to live in it.

Some days, it is hard to live in the city.  Today was particularly so.

Why do we?  Why are our children raised in an urban hub, with constant noise of traffic, with throngs of people occupying every space?  Why do we live in a place that often sees friends move on to quieter lands with better economies?  It can be so very lonely, and so very pressed with people.

"The Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force." -Matthew 11:12

My husband and I don't live here by accident.

We live here on purpose.

There is a desire in our hearts to see Jesus known in this city, for people here to be ushered into his lifegiving presence, to have meaning restored to their lives, to let them walk away from rebellion and submit to the greatest King, our Lord. We have felt this call on our lives, and we have tried to live faithfully to it.

The devil seeks to destroy life, and he particularly rankles at those who are life givers.  My family, my heart, my vision for why we are here, are prime targets for his deadly arrows.

So when sad days come, when the temptation is to join the great exodus, when the hostility of the city is pressing in on me, I must redouble my commitment.  Christ's heart for those in the city must become my mantle piece.  The fervor and zeal that brought me here in the first place, must be front and center in my heart.  And from there I can resist the arrows of the enemy.

From there I can rejoice that my children are seeing parents who have a deep sense of mission and purpose to their lives.  They can see how struggles do not define us, but refine us.  And in the future, they can choose to do the same.

May the days that are hard, that are sad times, that include the difficulty of existing in this yet redeemed world be yours to grab a hold of the kingdom of God ever tighter, with all of your volition charged for the task.  And may your children be inspired by the faith they find in their home.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


"While reading Louisa May Alcott's book Little Men to the children during lunch, my daughter insightfully comments on the character Daisy.

"Mom"she says "this must have been at the time when children were allowed to be young."

"Tell me more about that sweetheart."

"Well, Daisy is 12 and she can still play with dolls and her Aunt likes to read her stories.  It is not like today, where every one is in such a hurry to grow the children up, and want them to talk about the news and worry about adult things." she quips.

My heart broke listening to her insight that the window is so short for childhood.

And it is getting shorter.

Have you noticed the pressure placed on our children in today's fast paced society?

Children are expected at a very young age to understand complex adult situations, politics, world concerns, and national crises.  They are entertained with media of disturbing images, coquettish relational dynamics, and child characters burdened by the world on their shoulders.  Children are dressed as little adults, and not exactly modestly clad. They are abandoned to peer groups while expected to negotiate those relations bereft of adult guidance and direction.

Free play is often removed because of the anxiety for children to excel at younger and younger ages.  The average 3-6 year old has scant few hours in the day to dig a hole, climb a tree, sit in a swing, sing, dance in circles, build with blocks, day dream on a couch, dress up as their favorite book character, or roll around in the grass.

The average 7-12 year old has no time for such childish pursuits.

What is the solution?  What can we do about this?  How can we reverse these trends in our own families?

It is very complicated.  And yet, we can start with something simple.  A dose of patience.

Seems simple, but as I try it myself, I find it very challenging.

If we could meditate on the fact that our children very soon will be older.  If we can just believe that there will come the day for that life stage.  Then, we can rest in that knowledge.

If we can realize, they will never again be children, that the innocence of their age will quickly pass, we will become advocates of an unhurried childhood.  We can engage this life stage with a focus vigilance against anything that would seek to destroy it.

We can slow down, and let them be children.

Then, when they are older, when they are ready, they can jump into the adult stage with joy.  Having fully realized their childhood, they can become adults unimpeded and with gusto. Having waited for the season of friendships, world pursuits and adult problems, they will find themselves anxious to get started on their maturing.

Can you try with  me to slow down and give your children the childhood they so long for?  Can we, together, find patience and trust in God's timing to guide your way?

May we all be able to see, when we look back on our children's first years, a childhood.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When became a man, I put childish ways behind me" -1 Corinthians 13:11

Monday, September 20, 2010

Little Moments

There are great moments in our lives.  The moment we begin to realize we are independent from others, free to make our own choices.  The moment we experience what desperate sinners we are, and in that same glance, how overpoweringly Jesus' gift to us is with his unconditional love.  The moment we hold our lovers' hand, walking down the aisle, into a future of companionship and mission. The moment we first hold our precious child in our arms, still warm from the womb, and cradle them near our breasts, and just cry and cry with gratitude that God would deem us worthy of raising up a little life.

And then, there is the rest of our lives.

The moments we don't count, or court, or notice are the ones that really make up our days.  They are the ones, that in the end, really matter.

And I find, it is in the later not the former, that I must live out my spiritual development.

Can I submit to God when he asks me to put down my book and watch my son build his newest block creation?  Can I sacrifice time of talking with a friend to listen to my daughter's thoughts on why her dolls should be arranged in the manner they are?  Can I patiently let the children help me stir the food on the stove, carefully rinse and cut the vegetables, and describe to them the step by step process of what we are making?  Will I spend my afternoon reading aloud or micro-cleaning the floors?  Can I find the courage to face the hard work of walking the children through yet another sibling squabble?

The submission, the patience, the courage, the diligence, the listening, are all part of the call of being a mother.  Yet, each time these moments arrive, there is a small choice.  Should I rush ahead with my busy schedule or slow down and be the mother in each of those little moments.

It matters.

Thank God for the Holy Spirit.  There is such a dependency on Him as a counselor, guide, and encourager in those moments for me.  Often my prayer is, "Sharpen my character here, Lord.  Guide me to thy way everlasting and not my way - ever exasperating.  Help me to see You in this moment.  Give me grace to let my four year old measure the 1/4 teaspoon of salt with out growing peevish about how much winds up on the floor."

When I do remember to pray, and when I do listen to His guidance and not my own, I often find those moments become easier, and well, down right fun!  I can feel my shoulders relaxing, can hear myself laughing, and the sight of my four children noticing the change is - priceless.

So, here is to more moments of spiritual depth.  And as the great moments come in life, my character with its spiritual depth intact, will be so much more able to enjoy them.

And I encourage you as well, fellow travels on the road of life.  Take the moments, the little insignificant ones.  Allow God to shape you into his form in those times, and you will add up, to someone great!

And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Romans 5:4