Monday, May 31, 2010

. . _

Dot, dot, dash.

Do you know what those symbols mean?!

According to this reading assessment test, "dot, dot, dash" means that my daughter Norah is reading on a 2nd Grade - Intermediate reading level! She's only five years old! So, I am shocked! I knew our phonics was "working," but I had no idea it was working so well. I expected her to be "ahead," but I thought she'd be K- Advanced or maybe 1st Grade- Intermediate. I never expected her to be 2nd Grade- Intermediate!

So, with these results fresh in my mind (and heart), I feel much more confident about passing along my advice and experience. By doing so, I hope to inspire and help other mom's like me, with limited experience teaching children to read, to feel more confident in their ability to start this journey.

First, I'd like to say that it is really, very simple. (That is, assuming your child does not have some very unique need that would totally void the advice I give you and make it completely useless. If that's the case, I would seek out other parents and professionals who have more experience with kids that require a more customized approach.)

But, in general, the advice below follows a very natural pattern, #1-#5, that most children follow when learning to read. And, I say it was "easy" because, I followed no fancy program or formal curriculum. In fact, up until this year, Norah only used one book to learn to read, Abeka's Handbook for Reading. Also note that I started this process when Norah was still a baby. But, if your kids are older than that, even if they are much older, you can just start the same process with them right now and move from steps #1 to #5 as quickly (and naturally) as they will go.

I say I only used on book, and that's true, but if I am being honest and technical and if I go back to the very beginning, I actually started "teaching" Norah to read a long, long time before I called it "teaching" or before we called it "home school" or before we even had her one phonics textbook. This journey started, like it does for every kid, when she began to (#1) identify her letters.

Norah was about a year old when we started holding up her baby blocks, as we were playing on the floor with her. We'd point to the letters on them and say things like, "This is a Q. *Q says 'Qu' in 'Queen.' There's a queen inside the block. Do you see the queen?"A few months after that, after we'd "played" like this long enough, we could ask her to "Give me the letter T, please." and she'd pick up the correct block, the one with the train inside, and pass it over to us. The blocks we used (seen in the photo above) only had capital letters on them. We still have these blocks, actually, and we are starting these same reading "lessons" all over again with our second daughter who is fourteen months right now.

*Phonics teaches that Q says 'Qu' not just 'Q' because Q is almost always found with 'u.'

Sometime after my first daughter learned all her capital letters from the blocks, I bought these alphabet flash cards that included upper and lower case letters this time, realizing, after-the-fact, that she needed to be able to identify both. I'd hold up a card and Norah would tell me what the letter was... or I'd tell her, if she didn't know. She started to recognize the "baby" letters, too, with practice. We'd go through half this deck or even less before she'd grow tired of the "game." We'd start again where we left off the next time we "played." No pressure. She was still so young. What we were doing was supposed to be fun, so anytime it got boring to her, we just moved on.

When Norah started playing simple board games like Candyland, meaning she was able to take turns and follow rules, etc... I picked up a set of Alphabet Go-Fish cards. This was a long time before Norah could even hold a hand full of cards, so I adapted "Go Fish" to her and let her lie her cards out on the floor in front of her. I'd ask, "Do you have a T?" even though I could easily see every single card she had. That wasn't the important part anyway. The important part was that when it was her turn to ask for a card, she had to first, determine which cards she already had and second, ask for what she needed to make a match. This game took the knowledge she had and really empowered her to identify letters without my constant guidance and apart from the more rigid, drill-like structure of flash cards and blocks.

About this time, my friend gave us an extra copy of The Handbook for Reading (and the rest is history). No, really, that's where it all began again, actually.

We started with the inside cover. Norah knew the letters and could name all the pictures next to them already, so she could move very naturally on to the next step, which was (#2) learning each letter's sound.

I taught her how to "sing" the chart above. We'd say, "a (while pointing to the letter a) says 'a' in 'apple... b (while pointing to b) says 'b' in bell..." When we were finished, I'd ask things like, "What does 'a' say?" And she'd tell me, "a says 'a' in apple." If she didn't remember what sound a letter made, I'd just tell her the answer. Again, no pressure.

After she had mastered that first chart (which took months), we moved on to the first page of the book (#3) short vowels. We stayed with short vowels for a long, long time. Six months, maybe? Maybe more. After we learned the actual sounds, they were blended into words that she had to read, then short sentences made with those words, etc. We'd move forward until she showed signs of weakness, then we'd go back to the material she seemed to need reviewed and then move forward from there.

Eventually, Norah was ready to move to the next step, words with (#4) long vowels. We stayed in long vowels for a long time, too, moving ahead as she was comfortable, going back and starting forward again as she showed signs of needing review.

Along the way, her handbook would introduce "sight words." I told Norah that these words "Didn't follow the rules." That was a little confusing at first, but with practice, she started identifying these words, just as their nickname suggests, by sight.

From words with long vowels, we moved on to the last step, words with (#5) "special sounds." And, since then, that's all we've been doing. For almost two years now, we've been moving through the book at Norah's pace, learning and practicing chart after chart, page after page, story after story with more and more and still more of these "special sounds."

At this point, Norah has almost worked through the entire handbook. After we complete it, I think we will go back through it at least one or even two more times.

Up until a few months ago, I felt like Norah got enough practice just reading within her handbook. She never expressed a desire to read books outside of that. Of course, she wanted me to read to her and I did, all the time. But, even when she picked up something very easy, like Dr. Suess, she insisted that I read it to her. And, I always felt like one page in her handbook was plenty of work for a kid her age. If I ever got the feeling that she was bored with the handbook or needed a change, we'd pull down a box of Bob's Books and she'd read through those, but they were always so easy compared to what we were reading in her handbook, which presented a problem. I knew we would eventually need readers that matched Norah's level exactly, but I didn't buy anything at this point because, first of all, I wasn't sure Norah was ready to add more reading to what she was already doing. And, second, and probably more important, for a long time, I didn't have a lot of extra money to devote to readers.

Recently, though, Norah started doing more reading on her own. She'd shout words off signs, magazines and televisions, pick up picture books and sound out the words, she'd also trying to sound out, spell and write words on her drawing paper, showing those real signs that she wants to do more. So, following that lead, I've added another reader to our daily routine. Norah does a new page in her handbook, like always, but now she will also read through a story or poem from one of her readers.

Here's an interesting side note: the "signs" I mentioned above are, for most parents and professional teachers, the signal to start the process of teaching a child to read. And, so that's when they (start with step #1 and) introduce the alphabet to the child and then (step #2) move on to the letter sounds, etc.

I, obviously, feel like it's just fine to go ahead and equip a child with as much information as possible while they are still happy to please and while they do not resist the "work" of learning to read. That way, when their natural curiosity takes over, just like it's taking over in my daughter, the child is already past the "work" of it and is rewarded with the ability to go ahead and read for herself.

However, I don't think it matters much if you do wait, except to say, that it might actually be harder to teach an older child to sit and discipline their minds to learn these things. I've tutored a handful of children older than my daughter in phonics (third and forth grade students back when I was a classroom teacher) and it is painful to have to force these older kids to sit and do "work" because it's "time for them to learn this!!!" when they've never been taught to sit and be still and concentrate in order to do anything like it before.

Right now, Norah's working through Abeka's The Bridge Book in addition to her handbook. This photo shows the section she will do on her next "school day." This book is right smack dab in the middle of Abeka's 1st grade reading list. I did purchase all the other first grade books, too, but a little too late... The readers that come before this one on the list are too easy for Norah, so we had just shelve those for Avril when she is ready to read them.

After Norah finishes The Bridge Book, she will progress through the rest of their more advanced first grade readers, seen in one of the photos above, until she's done with them. From there, she'll move on to even more advanced readers. I am currently looking into Sonlight's readers for second grade, second intermediate and second advanced and the list of Abeka's second grade readers.

I've always avoided spending money on home school books, as you may have been able to gather from my lack of supplies, until I knew we really needed them. I've seen far too many families go into debt over-buying books and materials they never even end up using. But, I am happy to say that I think it's time to bite the bullet and fill our shelves with books Norah that can (and definitely will) pull down and get lost in on her own.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I think I ruptured my Achilles, at least partially, during a group fitness class yesterday. The doctor at the emergency room said he isn't sure it's ruptured or if it is ruptured, doesn't think it was a complete tear, since my foot moved when he squeezed the back of my leg??? This "squeeze test" didn't seem very scientific to me, but what do I know?

When he told me I had to wait till Tuesday, I asked him hard questions like, "Why can't I see the orthopedic surgeon today?" I wasn't rude to him, knowing that rudeness would grant me no favors and win me no friends. But, I did want to see if he'd give me a reasonable answer. He admitted it was partly because everyone was on vacation, but also told me that the "waiting and seeing" would "help them with the diagnosis." That didn't sound right, since everything I've read online says this injury needs to be dealt with right away. This "waiting and seeing" would really only be helpful if one thing were true, if I were just putting on, if I manufactured this injury so I could get some "time off."

He said, "If they unwrap your foot and it's better, then we will know it was just a pulled muscle." It's not just a pulled muscle. I think the muscle was pulled about five minutes before it ruptured. I explained to the doctor that I felt it get tight suddenly, but I kept exercising on it anyway. Then, during a set of sprints with an elastic band around my waist to hold me back for resistance, something made a large and echoing "Pop!" before my leg stopped working right and was too painful to stand on or move. Everyone I've talked to, including the doctors, say the "Pop!" is a real bad sign.

But, I realized two things while I was sitting there looking at this perfectly reasonable doctor. #1. Diagnosis is difficult work. Doctor's have to do a lot of calculated guessing. And, since he didn't know me and didn't know I wasn't the type to allow my leg to be put in a splint just for kicks, he didn't know I was trustworthy enough to call in the orthopedic surgeon from vacation at his beach house to fix my leg right away before this stay- at- home mom was made incapacitated for a few more days than is absolutely necessary... I have to walk with crutches, which means I can't carry my baby girl from place to place and kiss on her as we go. Believe it or not, that's the thing that is bothering me the most. I actually already miss the physical contact we get when I have to pick her up and carry her place to place.

And #2- I realized there was nothing I could do to make the doctor change his mind and make someone see me before Tuesday. So, therefore, I just gave up, realizing that if I try to fight the system, I'll just go mad. Note: It was the same feeling I get when I have to go to the doctor to get antibiotics for an infection I've had fifty times already. I know what's wrong with me... They know what's wrong with me... but we still have to play the game. I have to pack the kids up and drive and sit and wait to be seen for medicine we both already know I need.

So, for now, they've put my foot in a splint, one that is soft enough to allow my leg to swell, but hard enough to prevent it from moving, just in case it is as serious as I think it is.

And, I am waiting... until Tuesday.

Disclaimer: If this does turn out to be only a "pulled muscle," I'll be the first in line for my slice of humble pie. But, I'll let you know what the experts say... once they're back from vacation.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Disclaimer: Up till today, I hated decorating... and I especially hated blogs about decorating. (Sorry, ladies who love to decorate and then love to blog about it.)

But, I spent a lot of time and energy (and money) on my living room this week and this is "where my treasure is" right now, so I am blogging about it!!!

I finally organized my book shelves! I've had them (and I've just been shoving stuff up on them) for about a year now. I purchased these shelves "exclusively" for home school books, but since we don't have that many books "exclusively" for homeschooling, the shelves are still somewhat empty of home school books, for now. But, at this point in our journey, we need as many baskets for toys as we do shelves for home school books, so this is really working for us!

And we got a new coffee table... with more baskets!

I'm not sure how I ever lived without this thing! The little shelves hold all my piles and both our laptops perfectly, the baskets hold my doo-dads like pens, notes pads, stamps, blank CDs, my digital camera, phone charger, hair brush, you know, all the stuff I want/need to have close at hand. We "do school" sitting on the couch half the time anyway, since Norah and I read together so often, so I need storage right where we sit.

We also created some custom artwork this week! This is my favorite part...

I chose the theme "Animals at the Zoo."

Norah chose the animals she wanted to draw: an elephant, lion, zebra and a giraffe. Did you know a giraffe's horns are called "ossicones?" Neither did I. But Norah did!

She said something like, "I am going to draw his ossicones grey..." and my head almost spun around. Ossicones?! She knows stuff I don't know all the time now. She soaks up ten times more than I do from the books and videos we use.

Anyway, back to the post about decorating... I'd look up images for Norah to base drawings off of and then she'd go to work, eagerly.

She finished four out of the five drawings in less than an hour!

When I pointed out to her that we were "almost done," she reminded me that there were two more picture frames like this one under the couch, not-so-subtly hinting that she'd be willing to fill those up with drawings, too.

Note: These frames have also been neglected for over a year, like my book shelves. Did I mention that I (usually) hate decorating?

But, I have to admit... I love how this room makes me feel now! So, there may be a change in the air...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Norah drew this picture of an open Bible. Note the red ribbon bookmark. Very cute. I discovered it in a stack of her random doodles she made during her free time. I like it so much, I think I will use it from now on when I write something "devotional" in nature, like what's below.


What "soundtrack" is playing in your head today? What truths (or untruths) are you dwelling on? We should all make a "play list" of our favorite Bible verses and keep them on "repeat." Here's my current "top five."

Notice the theme. I hadn't noticed it until I collected them here.

Isaiah 66:2-"For my hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being," declares the Lord. "But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit and who trembles at my word."

Proverbs 1:23-"If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you."

John 15:5- No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my father, I have made known to you.

Romans 8:15- For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Isaiah 57:15-The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this, "I live in a high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble."

I think God's really trying to drive the point home, don't you? I think he's saying, "Yes, I'm high and lifted up, but I want to be close to you."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I got this great recipe for Skillet Lasagna from Family Fun magazine's special Dinnertime Edition. Family Fun magazine usually has a little bit of everything like most magazines: some advice, tips, a few recipes, a few stories, some crafts, but this edition has nothing but family-friendly recipes, cover to cover, 98 of them to be exact. It was love at first sight, so I had to buy it.

We will definitely make this recipe again and again and again. I make a pretty mean lasagna the traditional way, you know, layer on layer baked in the stove for more than an hour... but this skillet version tastes so good, is so much easier and takes half the time, to be honest, I may not ever make lasagna the traditional way again!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant...

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines."

Taken from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12

It's interesting that this portion of Scripture starts with the words, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant," implying that it's very possible to be a Christian, note the use of the words "brothers," and still be ignorant of the existence of spiritual gifts.

I take comfort in this verse, because until recently I lived in complete ignorance about my spiritual gifts. I recently took a test that helped me identify them. The test was different from other "spiritual gifts" tests I had taken in the past (and I had taken many...). Instead of identifying how my natural interests or personality traits blended in with the church, the test actually identified the way in which the Spirit had imparted his supernatural power to me and how that was usually made manifest.

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good..."

I had high scores in a few areas, but the highest score was in "discerning of Spirits." When I read the explanation of this gift, a light bulb went off and I saw parts of my life and my past with new eyes.

What's interesting to me is that, as long as I can remember having the Holy Spirit in my life, I actually functioned within my gifts, even though I was ignorant of the fact that I had them or that they even existed. I did this supernaturally, I guess, because there was no other way for me to do it, really.

Take the gift of "discerning of spirits" as an example. I looked back and saw that as I was lead by the Spirit of God, I would "discern" that someone needed prayer about something in particular. How would I know this? I don't know. A look, a word... sometimes I'd just be sitting alone with God, no one else around, and I'd get an impression. Many times these people had not asked for prayer or confided in me about what was going on in their private lives. I just knew what they were going through. There was no way I should have known, but I did. And, as I was lead by the Spirit, I would pray for them, sometimes. Other times, I would just ignore the impressions as my imagination. But, it usually happened that weeks later, the news about them would be public and I would find out that my impression was right, that just as I was praying for them or thinking maybe I ought to pray for them they were in the midst of their struggle.

Other times, I would discern that a person had false motives, a wicked or a dangerous heart... How did I know this? I don't know for sure. I just did. I just knew stuff they would never tell people in a million years. And, I would respond to these impressions naturally and accordingly. I'd get angry or upset about people, especially those within the church. When Dwayne would ask me why I didn't like so and so or why I was rude to them, I usually didn't have much to go on. "I just don't trust him," I'd say or "Something's deeply wrong that person." I knew I sounded suspicious and judgmental, but I had nothing "substantial" to go on, never enough to convince Dwayne that there was anything to be concerned about, other than to be concerned about my obvious bent towards condemning seemingly guiltless people without any evidence that they'd done wrong.

My ignorance about my gifts hindered me in two ways, specifically and I share these personal examples because I wonder, if you are ignorant of your gifts, too, are you also being hindered?

First, I didn't know for sure that my "gifts" or these "bents of mine" as I called them, were from God, that they were good and something that I should submit to His guidance and be seeking to move forward using. Therefore, out of a desire to please God, I actually tried not to function within them for a very, very long time. I'd weep when I thought about someone's pain, pain they hadn't told anyone they were in. When my husband or anyone else asked what was wrong with me, I'd say, "I'm fine. I'm just praying for _." and he or they'd look at me like I was weird and think that I was just "overreacting," too caught up in what was going on in my own imagination. While those people would praise me for being so sincere and concerned, they'd also go on to warn me not to be so dangerously oversensitive. I took their advice and tried not be so lead by my "emotions," when in reality my emotions were often just a healthy expression of what I was somehow supernaturally made aware of. I do not fault my husband, my leaders or even myself for taking the counsel of godly people I respected. Their advice was well meant and I really wanted to please God. It seemed like a good thing, being more "in control of myself." But, unfortunately, Christians, even the best of us, tend to be uncomfortable with the supernatural elements of our lives in Christ. As much as we want God to be able to move in power and "be himself" with us, we are also uncomfortable when God tries to reveal His nature to us or in us and do supernatural things. Christians are often, unfortunately, just as suspicious of the Holy Spirit as our worldly peers tend to be.

Being unaware of my gift not only prevented me from using it as God intended, it also lead me straight into a life of fear. Fear is, in fact, a very natural response to being made subconsciously aware of demonic activity going on around you. And, you can beat the enemy took advantage of my ignorance. I mean, I knew that demons were real in the Biblical sense, but what did they have to do with me? As a Christian, after all, I had nothing to worry about. And, I was only an average Christian at that, so what did I have to be afraid of? But, in fact, something demonic would approach me and I'd be afraid and set on edge, for obvious reason. But, even while I was very afraid, I was also very truly ignorant of the reality of the situation, that it was more than "just my imagination" or some mental weakness of my own. Because of my fear combined with my ignorance, the demon would be able to oppress me, even after I was mature in the Lord, and they'd oppress me so that I couldn't even move or breath. I'd cry out to God for help and answers and he'd "make it stop," but all the while, I continued to remain under the delusion that I was just having "really bad dreams" or a childish, "overactive imagination." And, once again, I was no more aware of the supernatural elements in my life than my godless peers would be.

Luckily, I sought guidance from our current church leaders in private and luckily, they did not dismiss what was happening as "imagination." They had experience with this stuff, so that while they deemed it serious, they were also not intimidated. They called me "sensitive," yes, but it turns out that my sensitivity was a strength in God's economy and not a weakness. They taught me that it was actually a sin to be afraid and something that needed to be confessed and forsaken, since it was a way that I, unwittingly, gave the enemy the right to harass me.

So, now, when I sense the approach of evil, I recognize what's happening for what it is and I move forward without doubt about the supernatural, free from fear that it can harm me and in the authority that God gives every Christian to resist evil, sometimes even physically manifested evil. And, now, when someone comes to my mind and my heart is moved for them, I pray without hesitation, confident that it is very much possible that the Holy Spirit could be the one supernaturally prodding me to intercede for that person.

My natural bent is to write about everything, you know, even the stuff that's usually deemed "off limits." So, I wanted to write about this, hoping that my testimony may shed some light into other people's lives. I realize some people will just think I'm crazy. But, I figure those people will have labeled me "crazy" a long time ago, when I said things like "God spoke to me..." or "Jesus lives in my heart..." I realize that the rest of you, those who get what I am talking about, may not be entirely comfortable with everything I've said, but, I figure, at the very least, you will be able to relate to it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I don't know who your favorite Sesame Street character is, but mine has always been Cookie Monster. In the old days, when he was in the middle of one of his fits, his eyes would occasionally stick until one or both would wiggle loose again. His body had loose flaps and his "skin" would fly around in his rages. His fur was much more coarse then and I seem to remember his fingers having longer hair sticking off their tips. I liked him better that way- less groomed, a little rugged. The low-budget eyes made him look even crazier, so they made me laugh even harder.

These days, though, his fur is real shiny and smooth and his eyes never stick, ever. I suppose it's because the producers have added fruits and vegetables to his diet. Did you hear about that? Along with Ronald McDonald, Cookie was blamed for making American kids fat. Sesame Street has since changed Cookie's image, making him look more healthy and even giving him skits where he teaches kids about a balanced diet.

I used to think there was nothing to this, that kids didn't really learn that much by watching these characters. But, since having my daughter and seeing her as she came away from watching these shows got me to re-thinking. There may be something to the idea that these characters really do teach with their actions. For example, Norah thinks Oscar is just misunderstood. She really wants to like him, wants him to like her. Every time someone new approaches his trash can, I can see her hope, but, then, it never fails, her smile disappears and she is always disappointed in him. The other characters don't seem to notice that he's insulting them. They smile regardless, subtly teaching kids to put up with meanness, cause THAT is what makes them nice. I am not saying kids should shout obscenities at Oscar, or push over his can, but maybe we should be teaching our kids to smile perhaps, if his lid is open, but just keep walking by.

I used to feel the same way as Norah, looking for the good in Oscar, laughing at some of his gruff remarks, thinking I caught glimpses of who he could be. But, these days, I REALLY don't like him and I strongly encourage Norah not to like him either. I'm not kidding! I think he has a horrible attitude, something my dad would call "piss poor." I don't use those words with Norah when I warn her not to be friends with any "Oscars," though the words, obviously, cross my mind. She usually looks at me like I'm crazy and for an instant, I see her teenage self reflected in her gorgeous blue eyes, defending her choice of low- life boyfriend to her father and I. "Mom, don't you see?! He really is nice!" No he's not! Nice people are ALWAYS obvious about it... like Big Bird! ; ) Why can't you make friends with him?!

How many of us made the wrong friends back in our school days because we thought we were so much nicer than our parents or the adults who disapproved of our choice? I was once as foolish as the next, but one important skill I've gained and held tightly to in my adulthood is the ability to walk away from people who aren't nice to me. Friendship is a kind of yoke and so, kindness should be equal, or at least, reciprocated. Give Elmo a friend like Oscar and after enough time, even HE will start to doubt how much he loves his world.

I think it is interesting that the definitive verse on friendship starts, "Do not be misled." Then, it goes on to say what we've all heard a million times: "Bad company corrupts good character." I think we all wrongly assume we will be the one influencing our friends and unfortunately, Sesame Street subtly reinforces that human fallacy. But, the wisdom of God warns, "He who walks with the wise, grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." and still more: "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways and get yourself ensnared."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

We were getting ready to walk out the front door for church, but Norah was lingering in the bathroom. I went to check on her and my heart warmed at the sight of her putting in her own earrings. I've been allowing her to change her earrings herself lately without my help or supervision. She does a good job of keeping up with them, so I just let her do it and save myself the trouble now. She seems to want to change them as often as her mood changes, so this works out great for me. I grabbed the camera and filmed her putting the second earring in. You can hear Dwayne and the baby come up behind me in the background of the film. We're all watching Norah grow up so fast!

Friday, May 21, 2010

I showed this to Dwayne and he said, "That wasn't the first time she read that page was it?!" It was. Norah's reading is always improving little by little because we practice so consistently, but lately, she seems to be taking leaps forward by the day. I am very proud of my little reader and you can tell that she's proud of herself.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"I cannot afford to have a thought in my head about me that is not in His." -Bill Johnson

This is another thing that God is teaching me right now: how to control my thoughts.

But, before I go too far into that, perhaps I should take you back to the very beginning and explain that until recently, I didn't pay much attention to the ideas that were floating around in my mind. I mean, I paid a lot of attention to certain types of ideas. Certain things would always throw up red flags for me and I knew, right away, to be on my guard.

For instance, when I've gotten really, really angry at Dwayne... and that's happened a handful of times over the years, believe it or not... but, when I was mad at him, at times, I have wanted to leave for the night... or longer.

Now, Dwayne and I don't usually fight like that... you know, really, really bad... but once or twice it's been bad enough that I have wanted to take flight. And, when that idea passed through my mind, I knew right away that God didn't want me to think like that. And, you can bet that I paid attention to those thoughts! I may have threatened to go, yelled and even started looking for my keys, but all the while I was wrestling with my thoughts, trying to "take them captive," put 'em in a spiritual headlock, so to speak, and wrestle them to the ground until I had made them "obedient to Christ" and until I felt like staying and working it out. And, thank God, I always ended up staying and we always ended up working it out.

But, other thoughts, just as untrue, never made me that uncomfortable for some reason.

"You're powerless."

"You're not special."

"God isn't paying attention."

"You're going to fail as a mother."

"You will never change."

"You aren't a 'new creation' at all"

"The mind of Christ... yeah right. You don't have the mind of Christ."

"Your husband doesn't appreciate you."

"And, he, certainly, will never change."

All these thoughts I let rest in my mind for years and years and years... I didn't actually realize these thoughts weren't from God. I wondered about them. I wanted to change them. I often grew tired of how they made me feel, but I thought, "Maybe this thought is from God... He wouldn't say it like that, exactly, he's definitely more gentle than that, but maybe the impression is from Him... Maybe He feels the same way I do... Maybe He's disappointed in me, too." This is how I would think and so, I never felt confident about taking these thoughts captive and wrestling them to the ground like I did the other, more serious and offensive thoughts.

But, these thoughts were just as dangerous as the other kind. They gave the enemy of my soul power over me for so long. His voice got a place in my head. Like the old cartoons, the devil was given a cozy seat on one of my shoulders.

But, I know now, that these thoughts didn't come from God. How do I know? They aren't Biblical. Period. Not even one bit. And for every lie above, there's a Scripture that proves it wrong.

I am special.

"I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well." Psalm 139:14

God is paying attention.

"Oh Lord, you search me and know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar... You are familiar with all my ways." Psalm 139:14

I am a new creation.

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Behold! The old things have gone. The new things have come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

I can change.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus... the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:1-4

I am not powerless.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

I realize now that the enemy was putting those thoughts in my head... or if he wasn't putting them there, he was keeping them coming! "...for there is no truth in him. When he (satan) lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

I even knew some of the Scriptures above by heart, so I should never have allowed those untrue thoughts to linger in my mind! I should have believed that Scripture was true, should have believed what Scripture said about me, what Scripture said about God, and dismissed those thoughts right away.

But, I didn't. I think it was because I was unaware of just how often I had to pay attention to what was going on in my head, how often I had to "do battle" in my mind and make sure that I was hearing the voice of God.

"But, the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Look carefully at these verses. As far as I can tell, they aren't talking about lofty philosophies and mindsets that a bunch of sweater vests and bifocals at Harvard and Yale hold. When it says "arguments..." it seems to be referring to the ones going on in our own heads! "We" as in you and me, "must take captive every thought" and make it line up with what the word of God says, even in the "small" stuff.

I was told that people who are trained to identify counterfeit money, never actually study counterfeit money. They only ever look at the real thing so that they will be able to tell when they come in contact with the fake stuff. That's how it should be for us. We should only listen to the voice of truth. Like the quote at the very top says, we can't afford to do anything else.

"My sheep know my voice and I know them and they follow me." John 10:27

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My husband told me, "If people didn't know your sweet spirit, they'd mistake your confidence in God for arrogance."

Now, I am sure it will not surprise you when I tell you that what he said got me to thinking and thinking and thinking some more.

And do you know what verse kept coming to my mind?

Numbers 14:11:

The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?

I can't remember how I came upon this verse the first time. I think I was curious about this section of Scripture after reading the condensed version of the story to Norah from Family-Time Bible by Kenneth N. Taylor. The book is part of her home school curriculum.

But, I was struck by the verse above, in particular. I am struck by a lot of verses, you know. But, this one "struck" me in a way that would change my life and redefine, in one instant, how I would relate to God from then on. I made the connection between the Israelite's doubts about God and their contempt for God. This verse makes it clear that the two can be one and the same.

I realized that after all that God has for me personally; leading me to the truth about Him, sealing me with His Spirit, guiding me from the time I prayed, "God, if you are real, show me." to the time I prayed, "Do you want me to marry Dwayne?" providing everything I've needed; from a full scholarship to college, basically out of thin air because I wasn't that much of a scholar, to the jobs I have, to the Jeep I drive, to diapers for my children... He's come through so often that I believe it may actually offend Him if I don't believe He'll come through next time and the next time and the next time after that.

We'd all agree that the Israelites, who saw the Red Sea part, who walked across on dry ground, who saw God sack the entire Egyptian army as those same walls of water fell on top of them, should have believed that God would continue to provide for them as they went into the Promised Land. He told them outright that he would give them the land. There's no question they should have been confident. It was, quite literally, absurd for them not to believe God. They could actually see God's glory at this point in the story!

And, considering all that we have seen: God becoming human in Jesus, teaching like He did, dying for our sins, coming back from the dead, sending His Spirit, preserving His word... after all that He's done for His people up to this point in history, isn't it just as absurd for us, for you, for me, for any Christian on this side of the cross, not to be confident?!

For more details about the story I reference, read here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My first blog contest is officially over.

And the winner is...

Congratulations, Joanna! You will receive a free year's subscription to my all-time favorite magazine, Everyday Food! Delivered right to your door! (I am pretty sure that I already have your address, Joanna. I came to that home school meet up at your house on Valentine's Day. But, email me anyway and let me know for sure if that's the address where you want your magazine sent.) Congratulations again!

Thanks to all who participated! I am planning to try some of the recipes you all shared soon. And, keep checking in on my blog because as soon as I think of something else to give away, I'll have another contest.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Overheard #7 - I call this one, "God! Please! Prove him wrong!"

A group of old men, talking over lunch. One man says to the others,

"They're doing all this talk about 'revitalizing the city.' But, I don't care how much work they do, ain't nobody ever gonna' want to go downtown Waterbury... Ever."

It's interesting that I overheard this old man and this quote, in particular, considering what's been on my heart and what I have been praying for Waterbury lately. The city is, currently, a byword among people in Connecticut. When we tell people we live here, they usually say, "Sorry" and if they don't actually say that, they seem to want to.

But, I am beginning to really love this city. Dwayne and I don't actually live "in the city." We live outside the area I am praying for in a lovely, safe neighborhood. But, the people who reside downtown are desperate need of a spiritual awakening. Many people literally wander the streets aimlessly day to day. As I go to and from work at the gym, which is right in the center of downtown, I see people pushing carts, sitting with all their belongs at their feet on church steps, churches with huge, but very locked doors, people digging in trash cans, huddled in entrances, standing in groups in ally ways, old men sleeping on benches, young men carrying brown paper bags, moms with kids in strollers standing in line for shelters and food banks.

The Bible says "The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men." That's also what I see. Drug dealers loiter on street corners in mass and "set up shop" near certain bus stops, unashamed, without any fear of being caught, like they have a legitimate road side stand or something. But, even the legal stores aren't much better. They sell junk: sex toys, bongs or idols. Literally, they sell idols, statues of religious significance. There seems to be a big marker for them downtown. And, they also sell beer, lots of it. I once saw twenty cases being delivered to a building I knew had to be condemned. I had no idea there was even a store front on the property! But, it makes sense. Stores might not be selling necessities like food and clothes, since there's no real market for those items. But, they are doing a great business supplying people with overwhelming addictions that have them bound.

I am beginning to ask God to pour out His Spirit out on this city. I want God to do something here that people talk about, something people, even those who don't know God, have to attribute to Him, because God's the only one who could do it.

And, I also want God to do something here that makes His people envy, in a good way. Christians are known to travel across country to hear certain speakers or attend certain concerts or worship services because they know they'll meet with God there. That's the kind of thing I am asking Him to do in Waterbury.

Maybe He'll even let His glory rest over the city the way the clouds of smoke must have hovered over the old brass factories back in the day. Those same factories are abandoned and boarded up now, but the brick work on them and the craftsmanship on the architecture is simply beautiful. Maybe the work of God could go so far that it even begin to change the landscape and the economy and those old factories could come alive and be filled with people being productive again?

So, that's what I am praying: God! Please! Prove him wrong!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Overheard # 6 - I call this one, "It's not funny anymore."

A mom at lunch with her two boys on Mother's Day. One son was a teenager, the other was probably in middle school, both boys were very, very well dressed, branded from head to toe, noticeably wealthy.

The mom said to the boys, "You need to eat something before you go back to your dad. What do you want? Chicken? A burger?"

The kids mumbled something and continued staring at their smart phones, neither one of them interested in spending time with their mom.

More conversation from the mom that I couldn't make out until I heard her ask in an upbeat, but noticeably strained voice, "So, what are your cell phone numbers?!"

That's when my heart sank. I knew right away I'd write about this on my blog, but I also knew it wasn't funny anymore. I can't communicate the pain in this poor woman's voice. It told me in an instant that she was desperate for her children, for the relationship she wanted to have with them, for the time they had left together before she had to take them back to their father.

My friend and I were talking on the phone and she repeated something to me that she'd heard a pastor say. This is not verbatim, in fact, it might not resemble anything like what the pastor said originally or even what my friend quoted to me (since it's been mulling around in my head for weeks), but this is what I took away from our conversation.

God doesn't let us (followers of Christ) know something about people (who might not follow Christ) so that we can pass judgment on them. Rather, we are given the ability to tell about them so that we will be able to discern what kind of grace they need from God. And, in turn, we should use what we know about them to pray for them or, if given the opportunity, to minister to them in Christ's name.

And, since that conversation with my friend, every time I've overheard some bit of nonsense, I've been unable to scoff at the people involved. On the contrary, I've sensed the Holy Spirit gently reminding me, "You know that's foolishness because God has given you His wisdom." I'm also reminded that not everyone has the wisdom of God or the power He imparts. I am grateful for the fact that I "know better." And, thanks to God's Spirit at work within me, I also have the ability to "do better."

"...The righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit... You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you." Romans 8

What I noticed about this woman was that she had no way of obtaining that which mattered to her the most. I was struck by this because this is not how I live as a believer in Christ. If I am desperate for something, I don't ever have to strive for it. I have an ally in God and He has all the resources and power I ever need at His disposal. Not that I tell Him what to do, quite the contrary. But, if I ever want something, I usually get it, because the only reason I want it in the first place is because He, very likely, put the desire for it there to begin with. So, naturally, when I seek Him for what I want, there's no question that I will get it.

"Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him... This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him." 1 John

This lady reminded me of that. I'd forgotten that there are people who live without God's Spirit. He has no place in their reality. They live without His help in the every day things or perhaps and even more importantly, without his help in the not-so-everyday things that really can make or break lives, like being a good parent to your children. This mom wanted to be, no question about it. But, by the tone of her voice, I could tell she was just doing the best she could in her own strength, grasping in the dark for what she wanted and lucky if she took hold of anything that even remotely resembled what she was after.

But, the glory of the matter is that it doesn't have to be this way for her or for anyone. The truth is that God loves us all. He wants to rescue our lives and intervene on our behalf. Contrary to what many people believe about Him, God isn't standing nearby with his giant arms crossed, waiting for us to be vulnerable and admit our fault, just so He can smugly say, "I told you so." and then do nothing. We have to admit our fault when we come to God, but God doesn't proceed to smear our faces in our mistakes. He is eager to help us because He loves us. In fact, He is love. Everything else we call "love" is just a cheap substitute for who He is, who He could be in our lives, if we would only let Him. We need only turn our hearts toward Him, which can be painful and humiliating because we will have to be honest and deal with our junk, but that's when He can really begin changing our lives.

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." Psalm 103

And, that's my prayer for this woman, that she will turn her heart towards God, if she hasn't already, and that He will begin giving her the power she needs to do all the good things she can't do without His help, to be a better mother and have the ability to reach her children's hearts.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A man's work is from sun to sun, but a mother's work is never done. -Author Unknown