Monday, August 31, 2009

Images of God by John and Katherine Paterson, Illus. by Alexander Koshkin

God describes Himself by comparing His character to things that are already known to us in His creation, such as light, wind, bread, potter and architect (to name a few from this book). The Paterson's relate the symbols throughout the Bible, sharing a quote that contains this image (from the RSV) and a paraphrased story that illustrates this attribute of God.

For example, in "Water," the chapter opens with Psalm 42:1-2 (As the deer pants for the water...) and tells the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well and then again quotes Jeremiah 2:12-13 ("My people...have forsaken Me...and dug out cisterns for themselves...that can hold no water.") [Note: I've shortened these quotes here, but the verses are fully written out in the book.]

The authors limit their explanations of these passages and how or why the image describes God (usually no more than a paragraph or two). Instead, they allow the Scriptures to explain themselves to the reader through the Holy Spirit.

Divided into accessibly short chapters, illustrated with beautiful full color paintings, captivates the attention and imagination of both children and adults while teaching truth about God.

Originally having purchased this book to use with Trixie in early elementary, I found that as she had little experience with the world (being only five years old at the time), her understanding of potters and architects or the attributes of light and water would sail over her head. So, I saved this book for a later date. We pulled it out over the summer and read a chapter or two after our daily Bible reading for school, whenever we had the time and interest. She enjoyed the art and grasped the truths and plans to return to this book repeatedly. (So might I, actually.)

She asked me specifically not to sell it or put it with our (Mom and Dad) collection of books, but, rather, to place the book on her personal bookshelves in her bedroom. Space on those shelves is quite limited, and she truly reads and re-reads each of the books on them. High praise indeed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making Room For Life: Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships by Randy Frazee

Okay, so I might need to pray about why I'm so hard on Christian authors...*Anyway,

a friend heard me discussing my interest in learning more about Jewish Holidays (or rather, Ancient Christian Traditions, because as my dear Messianic Jewish pastor said, "You're all Jews now, so welcome to the family!") and recommended that I read this book. Rather than illuminate our Christian heritage, this book actually suggests an alternate way of life than the one currently being lived out by most of us in the States.

Frazee, hired to grow, ahem, I mean, pastor, Pantego Bible Church in Ft. Worth, TX did all those things that American pastors think make an attractive church: quickly started lots of programs and small groups and required each member of the staff to lead a "church sponsored" small group. Upon establishing this directive, Pastor Frazee planned to build "the Mother of all Small Groups," inviting a gifted "dream team" to attend.

Around this time, he became so busy with church activities, family life, neighbors, work and chores, that he began to suffer from the mother of all cases of insomnia, spending over 30 days with almost no sleep; and he began to re-think his days. Going back to Genesis 1, he remembered that God ordered a man's life with light, dark and a six-day work week.

His book suggests living contrary to this balance invites disaster in our health, marriages, children, churches, neighborhoods and our careers. From this re-think, he re-engineered his church, and (I'm supposing) his book The Connecting Church (probably) gives much more information about his revised church model than does this book.

In Making Room he intends to show families (1) that the way we live--being incredibly busy each evening with activities that diminish the quality of all our relationships--is neither natural nor Biblical, and (2) that we can get everything done while "making room" for relationships.

I began reading this book in June (at the end of Trixie's homeschool year) and thought, "Yes, my family of origin lived like this when I was a child. Yes, I'd like to return to this lifestyle." But a couple of weeks later, we "cut the cable" and stopped watching TV, and I found myself busier than ever! About this time in my life, I came to the place in the book where Frazee suggests that it's entirely possible to get everything done that needs doing in one day by 6pm. Six Pee Em?! Uh, yeah. Right. Then, it became my deepest desire to throw the book against the wall, breaking its binding, and shred all the pages whilst screaming wildly, but I couldn't because it was the library's book. (I'd've totally done it though, if the book were mine.) And the library was asking for the book back. Masochist that I am, I decided to finish the book.

Meanwhile, I did a version of "screaming wildly," which sounded something like, "Of course, he can finish his day by 6pm. He only has to go to work and come home where, like, everything is magically done for him! His kids are in school--they're not homeschooling, so his wife stays home and does all the chores (which never get undone, because she's the only one living in the house from the hours of 7-4) runs all the errands and then has dinner on at 6pm, just like he wants. Like magic. Then, she's stuck doing all the after-dinner clean-up while he and the kids do just as they please!" (I know. Pitiful.)

And actually, as I continued to read, I realized that this isn't exactly how it works in their family, and I finally came to chapter 11 (of 13) and to the appendix (entitled "A Word to Church Leaders). This really made it much better. For me, anyway. Looking back, I'm not even sure what made chapter 11 and the appendix so redemptive, but somewhere between chapters 5 and 11, as I mulled over the premise laid out in Chapter 1, I realized that some of what Frazee proposed might be possible, even for me.

The ideal he envisions is a good one, even if (I feel) he takes awhile to get to the point. So if this sounds interesting to you, and you don't have time to read the whole book (filled with very fat white margins, good-sized print and plenty of space between rows), just read chapter 11, the appendix and maybe one of the chapters on how to eliminate the unique obstacles in your life that prevent you from experiencing this lifestyle.

* Uh, no need to pray about why I'm hard on Christian authors. I don't like how some of them use an entire book (trees were killed for this, people!) to explain, defend, belabor an elementary principle, when the material can easily be summed down to something about the size of an internet article. Or a blog entry.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Last year, I read every book on Trixie's required reading list for school, and this was one of them. I think most people growing up in the States over the last half-century or so have more than a passing familiarity with Helen Keller’s life, how an illness around the age of 19 months resulted in blindness and deafness, how Anne Sullivan came into her life and provided “light” and “sound” by teaching Helen from her fingertips.

It’s a great story the first couple of times you hear it, but due to over-exposure, I dreaded having to read it. So I planned to plod through the book the best I could and, like a good homeschool mom, encourage my daughter, who hadn't yet heard of this paragon of the human spirit, to enjoy the book herself. I never actually planned to glean something for myself from it, but I did.

The Story of My Life shares vignettes of Helen Keller's growing up (she’s born in ‘Bama, y’all!), the people she met (among whom are Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt), her dreams (to graduate from Harvard) and her unique writing voice. Her accomplishments are shared in a humble way that gives a lot of credit to her faithful teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Here are some things I didn't know: (1) Helen Keller enjoyed languages of all kinds and excelled in learning them; (2) Math was her worst subject; (3) There apparently was a controversy about the closeness of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, and Helen's parents felt that Sullivan and Keller should take a break from one another. (Apparently, the break didn't last very long, and the controversy amounted to nothing.) A lot that can be said about Keller and her many accomplishments, and I can’t mention them all here. But DO read the book for yourself; it’s definitely worth it! (And it’s pretty short, to boot.)

Experiencing her story once again, I'm harshly confronted by my own slothfulness. Keller accomplished so many things against overwhelming odds. For example, my edition includes some of Keller’s letters. Handwritten!! Her handwriting would make you weep! Did I mention that she’s blind? Oh, agony! Cover me in sackcloth and make me a bed of ashes!

And her talent for linguistics! I suppose that without sight and sound she spent her entire life decoding her surroundings. (Hey--just a thought--too bad no one thought about employing her as a code-breaker during World War I or something.)

One thing I found interesting, though, was her inability to recall dates and timelines accurately regarding the events of her life. She could recall words and stories with unbelievable accuracy, but not events as they happened in her life. (Do you suppose that without light and sound one has greater difficulty in cataloguing the passage of dates and times?)

According to Keller, after meeting poet John Greenleaf Whittier, he agreed to give her his autograph; however, the inscription is actually addressed to Anne Sullivan. It states, “With great admiration of thy noble work in releasing from bondage the mind of thy dear pupil, I am truly thy friend, John G. Whittier.”

Anecdote after anecdote from her account indicates that people were kind and wanted to meet Helen. To be honest, reading between the lines a bit, it almost seemed that Helen Keller was regarded by those who met her as part celebrity, part marvel. So, I’m sure the people who met her were kind, but I think some viewed her as a bit of a curiosity. So, was she told that people wanted to meet her? Or is this what she genuinely thought because her loss of senses limited her perspective? [Keep in mind, that Keller wrote this book while in college, so she hadn’t yet become famous as an activist; she was only well-known as a deaf-blind girl with a great mind.]

Personally, in my experience with the deaf, I found that a loss of hearing, combined with selfishness in the fallen world, supplies handicapped people with a unique (sometimes false) point of view. For example, Alexander Graham Bell is regarded by the deaf community as someone who deliberately hurt all deaf people by cutting them off from the hearing world with the invention of the telephone. To the contrary, however, most historians within the hearing community agree that Alexander Graham Bell actually hoped to find a way for the deaf to “hear” when he accidentally invented the telephone. He truly hoped that one of his inventions would allow the deaf to interact more freely in the hearing world. (In a round-about way, he did accomplish just that. Today, generations after inventing the telephone, texting rivals “speaking” on cell phones. Perhaps the deaf will now be more kind in how they remember the one of the fathers of modern communication.)

Which leads me to my final thought. Handicaps come in different forms. In many ways, Helen Keller’s life points to the fact that anyone with guts and spirit can accomplish big things, against the odds. But sometimes, we neglect to remember in these days of equal opportunity, that a handicap does, well, leave us crippled. Even though God gave our bodies and minds the ability to adapt and compensate for its missing parts, we don’t experience the world fully in the way our Creator intended.

Living on this earth provides each of us an “opportunity” to become handicapped in some way. I’m glaringly aware of my own handicaps, but this book made me ask the question, “How is my perspective altered by my own crippling handicaps?”

So, are you aware of your own handicaps? Do you think they’ve shaded your point-of-view? How do you think your other “senses” have compensated for this loss in your life?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Charlotte Mason Education (and) More Charlotte Mason Education--by Catherine Levison

Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series, published in the early 1900's and rediscovered in this country by the Andreola family during the homeschool boom defines her educational methods in her own words; however, they're written by a woman who loved Shakespeare, and the six volumes contained in it read like Latin to most 21st century people. Her language is beautiful, but some find it inscrutible.
Mrs. Levison, a member of the 21st century, follows Charlotte Mason's educational ideals, having read her books, and shares how she uses these methods in her own home in A Charlotte Mason Education. Written topically, the book contains 20 chapters (each of which are 2-3 pages in length), introduces parents to this style of homeschooling and covers the following topics: Charlotte Mason, The Method in Brief, Narration, Literature, Poetry, Composition, Handwriting, Spelling, Foreign Language, Grammar, Science, Math, Art Appreciation, Music Appreciation, Free-Time Handicrafts, Bible, History, Geography, Citizenship and Morals and (finally) The Formation of Habit. If a parent becomes perplexed by narration, for example, she can turn to the chapter with this title and read a brief synopsis on how it can be practiced.
The second book, More Charlotte Mason Education, introduces tools and practical information not included in the previous book, such as "Coping Strategies" (during times of illness or burnout), "High School" (yes, you can!) "Keeping a Century Book," "How Short Lessons are Applied" and other helpful topics. Again, a parent can turn to an area of interest and read a helpful chapter.
By the 2nd book, Mrs. Levison taught her 5 children using Charlotte Mason's ideas, and graduated at least one of those from high school. In spite of writing her books in order to make these ideas accessible, she (and all other Mason devotees) strongly recommends that parents read Miss Mason's Original Homeschooling Series, for themselves.
I fully agree.
Let me know if you have any questions about how I apply these ideas to my homeschooling, and I'd love to hear from any of you using this method who would like to share something from your own experience.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas

When my sweet daughter advanced to the developmental period known as the terrible two's, I began experiencing a lot of difficulty in parenting her. Surprise! I repeatedly asked the Lord (with some anger in my tone), "How do I make her stop this?!" Each time, the Lord lovingly responded that her behavior would change whenever I corrected my own. After this scenario played itself out several times in one day, I threw my hands into the air, turned my face to the sky and cried, "Whyyyy, God? Why is it always me?" And at that moment, the Lord showed me that He intended to use my daughter to make me more like Himself.

Yes, it's just like Proverbs says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)" Or, in this case, a child will sharpen his/her parent. And, just like Romans 8:28 says, "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose." All things, including parenting.

God is so good to us. He works it out that while we (hopefully) make disciples of our children, He simultaneously makes us into better disciples.

So, the sum of this book? "The Lord inends to use your children as a sanctifying force in your life." Thomas breaks this idea down into 13 chapters and an epilogue. While I agree with the author's point, I'm surprised that he can spend a whopping 13 chapters on it. I suppose that's why he's a writer, and I'm not. His gift for verbosity.

However, if you struggle with your child's behavior and you've never heard this message before, I highly recommend this gentle book.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Guest Post From Sweet Daughter, Trixie

How To Be A Star

Everybody wants to be a star. They want to be famous. Some people want others to envy their lives. They want to be in the movies. They want to be popular. Even I want some of these things.

But to be a real star, we have to be obedient without whining or complaining. Philippians 2:14-16a says, "Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..."
Even I complain when my mom gives me chores. But to keep from complaining when I do my chores, I try to find ways to make it fun. I turn on my radio or listen to stories. Or I turn my chores into a game. Try to make a challenge for yourself on a daily basis to stop yourself from arguing, complaining or grumbling and instead, make everything fun!

Here's my question: How do you make things that you don't like to do fun?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team--Chris Whitcomb

While going through a hard time, I stumbled across this author. Although promoting his novel Black, I decided to read his memoir Cold Zero also. Whitcomb actually began civil service during the Reagan years, writing speeches for a Republican senator. He recalls that while watching a State of the Union address in Nancy Reagan's box, he wished that instead of writing speeches for these guys, he could do something to protect them so that they could keep doing what they did. The next day, he began a training regimen to prepare him for entry into the FBI. After serving as a special agent in the middle of the nation, he tried for--and won a-- spot on the elite Hostage Rescue Team at the FBI. In this books, he shares his recollections as a sniper at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

To me, the best story is the kind in which a character is altered by the main conflict, and Whitcomb seems truly changed by his experiences during and after Waco. He swaggers through the beginning of the book, but after Waco, his stride bears an obvious limp. I empathized with his feelings of betrayal and his sense of impotence in certain aspects of his ability to serve and protect. Because, although endowed with extraordinary capabilities, in the end his is only one man, simply following the orders of his government.

What left the greatest impression on me was the difficulty of the application--or should I say "elimination"--process. Over and over, the men were given seemingly impossible physical tests in order to gather the most capable and strong for this team, the ones who perform best under duress. (In fact, one exercise resulted in a man falling out of a helicopter into a forest below!)

Here's my question: How does one push beyond normal human limits and achieve super-human feats?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life--Alan Deutschman

Is it possible to create life-lasting change in greater numbers than the statistics state? According to Deutschman, before beginning this book, expert upon expert pessimistically declared that only 1 in 10 people successfully change--even when life is on the line.

Since the author shed enough weight to make any Biggest Loser contestant proud and managed to keep it off for years and felt that he wasn't outside of the norm, he wanted to explore components of change by looking at groups that achieved a higher rate of transformation than the usual 10%.

He cited three groups who managed a 66% (or higher) success rate: (1) cardiac patients with acute heart disease agreeing to enter a pilot program with Dr. Dean Ornish who placed them all on a strict vegetarian diet, (2) hardened third-strike convicts who became model citizens and employees of the Delancey Street Foundation, and (3) auto workers facing job loss after a Japanese company bought their factory.

The author provides three fundamentals in producing change.

(1) Relate: surround oneself with a community of people who already emulate the
behavior one wishes to imitate.
(2) Repeat: minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year
behavior defines change that lasts. Each small step, coupled with success, walked out over
a period of time that begins with one minute and continues for years characterizes change.
(3) Reframe: create a new set of values to work from, enabling the mind and heart to
cooperate and direct new behavior).

For me, the 2nd example was the most compelling. The Delancey Street Foundation takes prisoners condemned to life in jail, with no hope for parole and changes the lives and behaviors of about 2/3 of those selected for the program. Many of these participants entered Delancey Foundation as third generation gang members, addicted to 2 or more substances and having committed some of the worst of society's crimes. And yet, they became model employees of the Foundation's many businesses.

At a lunch recently, a friend wisely pointed out that as a disciple of Jesus, I gain a new identity, too. I am no longer unclean, condemned, a white-washed tomb; instead, I am clean, righteous, a temple of God. Furthermore, I am fearfully and wonderfully made, fully pleasing to God, completely accepted. My question is this: If people with so many circumstances working against them can step out of an old frame and create behavior based on a new definition, why can't I? And why can't I seem to swallow those last three statements that the Bible makes about me?