What to use, what to do?

“What to use, what to do?” That’s the deep question I’ve been asking myself and God lately in regard to homeschool curriculum this fall. I thought I’d have all this settled by now, but I don’t!

A fellow homeschooling friend recently asked me what I’d be using to teach religion/Bible to my 7-year-old second grader. That was a tough one to answer because I haven’t yet figured that out.

The previous two years we have used the materials and Bible lesson plans provided in My Father’s World since Bible study is a big chunk of their curriculum packages. I do not think I’ll be using MFW again until 3rd grade; we used their 2nd grade curriculum this past year so we’ve created a little gap. So now the problem seems to be too many options! And which combination of options is right?

Here’s a list of some the options I’m prayerfully weighing at this point:

  • Reading Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland. It’s for ages 4-8. We’ve had this book for a while, and I think it will work fine for both my 4-year-old and my 7-year-old. But it has only 86 lessons, which will get us just part-way through the year.
  • Reading the Bible in 90 days challenge using the Kids’ Devotional Bible. We may just do the reading part and not stress out about the 90-day part. The handy reading plan for 6 to 10 year olds is pretty nifty.
  • Enrolling in Awana at a nearby church (our home church doesn’t offer it yet).
  • Reading this new family Bible called the Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade. Here’s a fantastic review of it.

On another note, Ann Voskamp, one of my favorite bloggers, just posted this comprehensive list of 29 well-loved picture books for children. And “well-loved” might downplay it a bit. She literally just duct taped many of these back together for her home library! I’ll be studying this list further to see which books might make good birthday and Christmas gifts. 

Ann also happens to be the author of another book I just received in the mail a few days ago. It’s called A Child’s Geography, and I am so thrilled about working through it this fall. 

The “Reaching out to His World” segment is what sold me on the book.

“Knowledge without love is an empty, heartbreaking gong. It would be a very sad state if our young geographers knew much of His world…but had hearts that were indifferent to the people with whom we share our home. What are we without love? Each chapter includes a “Reaching Out” segment that takes the information of  the chapter and places it into a practical context, encouraging geographers to  do something to show His love to His  world.  We are called to be Christ’s hands and heart to a hurting world. Let’s not fail Him!”   -Ann Voskamp, author of A Child’s Geography

Ann’s words were fresh in my mind yesterday when I stumbled upon the site of an organization I had never before heard about: The White Cross, which provides support for missions work in the U.S. and overseas. They offer a downloadable 56-page book of Mission Service Project opportunities, which I’ll be checking into further to see how what service opportunities might be a good fit for our homeschool and perhaps even our church’s children’s ministry.

Our Flower Girls

 

“See the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.”  -Song of Solomon 2:11-12

 

 When Michael and I got married nearly 14 years ago, we had dozens of tulips but we didn’t have a single flower girl in the ceremony. We just didn’t know any young girls of the proper age to assign that role, except one whose family wasn’t able to attend the event. So I felt a little sad not having a flower girl in my wedding, but it was just as well. God’s desire was to bless us far beyond getting someone else’s a little girl all dressed up to toss out a few petals and fidget for the rest of a 45-minute ceremony.

Yes, God’s blessed us far beyond our wildest imaginations. Today we have two flower girls, and cumulatively they have blessed us with 11 years worth of all things flowery, dressy and girly — and I have a feeling there are still many more years of that to come.

Since they were wee little ones, hardly able to walk, our daughters have been our flower girls, pondering many a petal and sniffing each bloom thoughtfully. 

Linnea always has been the chief flower sniffer among us.  

Linnea at 18 months

 When she was small, Linnea demanded to sniff any real or fake flower within a 5-mile radius.  

Linnea at age 4

 She gladly helped me plant Impatiens in the backyard, and she sniffed them plenty, too. 

Linnea at age 7

Just a few weeks ago, she confirmed that this lily smelled quite lovely indeed. 

Now Laurel, on the other hand, always has been the chief caretaker of the flowers.  

Laurel at 19 months

 She’s always eager to relieve the Impatiens of their endless thirst.  

Laurel at 19 months

 And she’s always quick on the draw with a watering can. 

Laurel at 2.5

 Even the petunias wave in delight when Laurel comes share her sprinkles. 

Laurel at 3

 I’m sure my daughters’ flower sniffing and watering obsessions have nothing to do with the fact that both their names are also the names of flowers (Linnea is the national flower of Sweden, and the Mountain Laurel is the state flower of Pennsylvania and Connecticut.) 

I’m sure it has more to do with the fact that God created in them a need to behold and connect with something beautiful, a need for Him. Flowers are His creation, His handiwork. And right now God’s handiwork is blooming all over the countryside, beautifully showing us just a glimpse of our Creator’s indescribable glory.  

“See the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.”  -Song of Solomon 2:11-12

In Oregon earlier this month, the girls found flowers on a little nature walk we took in Lake Oswego.

finding flowers

Our stroll took us along part of this avenue of blooming crab apple trees. 

an avenue of blooming crab apple trees

Also, if you read this earlier post, you may recall the magnolia tree I mentioned was almost done blooming in the courtyard when we visited Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland. The blooms looked like this: 

magnolia

 And beneath the tree, the girls scrambled to collect fistfuls of fallen blooms. 

flower seekers

 Surely by now you can imagine why we just had to take our flower girls to the tulip festival in Oregon.  

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

With tulips in nearly every color of the rainbow, the festival was truly a tulip-lover’s paradise, a botanical feast for the eyes. 

red tulips
red and white tulips
hot pink tulips
glowing orange and yellow tulips
purple tulips

It wasn’t easy, but somehow our flower girls victoriously overcame the temptation to pick the tulips. We did buy a lovely bouquet of tulips for my aunt, which helped us not feel so empty-handed. I kept longing to bring some of the tulips home with us, but instead I brought home another treasure: this picture of our flower girls admiring the tulips. 

our flower girls

I love that they are equipped with rubber boots and raincoats beneath a bright blue, sunshiny sky. The path was muddy and bumpy, and they splashed through dozens of puddles along the way. But the beauty around them made it all worthwhile. 

I also love that this picture offers so much perspective on life. If I focus too much on my own two boots and the muddy trial I’m walking through, I get bogged down and discouraged. But if I look upward, I see the rain is over and gone. I see the Son shining down on me, lighting my path. 

And if I look out beyond my path, I see fields of precious people, flowers quickly fading. They are here today, but many will be gone tomorrow. Some are ripe for harvest. Some have already turned toward the Light. Others will turn to Him eventually. And still others will never turn toward the Light of the World, Jesus. That’s a godly perspective of which I need to be constantly reminded. When I see those around me as flowers quickly fading — here today and gone tomorrow — I treat them differently. I am more loving, more patient, more heart-broken, and more passionate about sharing my faith in Christ Jesus. 

So, because I love this picture and because I love our precious flower girls, and yes, because I love tulips — in case I left any doubt about that — the tulip festival leaves big shoes to fill on our next nature walk! 

Laurel at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
Linnea at The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

 Wouldn’t you agree? 

Victory over the Giants

“For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” – Deuteronomy 20:4

You’ve read about Goliath and maybe even Jack and the Beanstalk. Tucked safely inside a storybook is indeed a wonderful place to keep a giant. But did you know there are bigger giants lurking around your homeschool?

They aren’t often named, but giant pitfalls do threaten our homeschool families, says Rachael Carman, a homeschool mother and an author and speaker for Apologia Educational Ministries.

In some families, these giants take the form of unrealistic expectations, over-spending, over-scheduling, or isolation. In others, the giants are making family an idol, having a tendency to judge, being overly dependent on authority and control, or striving to convince everyone else that they should homeschool, too. Still countless other giants threaten to steal the abundant life Jesus offers us.

“There are giants in the land,” Carman says. “But God is bigger.”

So whatever giant you face, don’t minimize it. Take it on in the name of the Lord. And be sure you give that giant a name!

“Acknowledge them. Write them down. Lay them before the Lord,” Carman says. “Acknowledge the giants, and then when God slays them, celebrate what God can do.”

God doesn’t want us just to survive homeschooling, she says. He intends for us to soar beyond survival. He wants us to love Him, love each other, and learn something. What’s more, He wants us to pass it on – not because homeschooling is the answer, but because Jesus is the answer.

Carman says we are called to total satisfaction – an abundant life that is beyond what we could ask or imagine. We are also called to faithfulness.

“God is going to walk with you when you put your hope in the Lord,” Carman says.

Likewise, Isaiah 40:29-31 says: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Carman offers four sure-fire tactics for taking on these giants in our homes.

1. Set your mind on God’s word. Meditate on it and memorize it.

2. Fix your eyes on heaven. Imagine heaven and press on toward it, she says, just as Paul talks about in Philippians 3:13-14.

3. “We are in a battle and not at a tea party,” she says. “Fight! Use the shield! It is not your imagination; you are being shot at!”

The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and that sword is heavy. You must build up your muscles in order to use it well, she says.

“The only real word of encouragement comes from the word of God,” she says.

Stand firm and suit up for battle. Carman points to Ephesians 6:10-17, the passage which details the full armor of God.

4. Train your mind to think on the things listed in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

*Note: Rachael Carman spoke at the Hearts-at-Home Conference in Rochester, MN, last fall.

Words to Ponder

resurrection power now

These are words to ponder.

God has led me to the first chapter of Ephesians this week and — as He would have it — the passage I am focusing on is the same one that Pastor John Piper (Desiring God/Bethlehem Baptist) preached from on Easter. He titles his sermon The Immeasurable Greatness of His Power Toward Us.  

Ephesians 1 is also the topic of this Daily Reflection post over at The High Calling of Our Daily Work. 

May the eyes of our hearts be truly sharpened to spiritual reality so that we may know this resurrection power now

Also, homeschool moms will find more words to ponder in this post: Homeschooling with Grace.

Easter Thoughts

I’m knee-deep into a feature story I’m writing this week before Holy Week, but my brain needs a quick break from all things beef-retail-related. So I thought I’d escape by sharing some random thoughts about Easter.

I love Easter, and one tradition we added a few years ago is telling the passion story with the help of resurrection eggs from ChristianBook.com. (With a little work, you can also make your own.) Our daughters really look forward to opening each egg. I took the eggs to church last year and opened them with my Pre-K/K Sunday School class, and they also were captivated by what was inside.

A few weeks ago I purchased a new Easter book called The Sparrow’s Easter Song, which we’ve already read a few times. It’s a wonderfully written and illustrated story about a sparrow who witnesses Jesus’s death and resurrection and tells all the other animals about it.

Another favorite Easter book just for kids is The Parable of the Lily  by Liz Curtiz Higgs. It paints a beautiful picture of forgiveness and is especially fitting for little girls.

Linnea, Laurel and I are working through a book/music CD called Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart to help them learn some of my favorite Easter hymns. This week they’ve been learning “Up From the Grave He Arose,” which has such a lively tune. Hearing it brings me right back to the pews of the Methodist church where I grew up.

I also have a new favorite Easter hymn, one I just learned last year. It’s “Jesus Paid It All,” and I absolutely love this version of it by Kristian Stanfill. You will, too! (Side note: This hymn is not one of those included in the book Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart.)

Also, just for fun, check out my cute little snow bunnies in the Good Friday post I wrote two years ago: Whiter Than Snow. They’ve grown so much even since last Easter!

A Love Story

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24 NIV 

A little over a year ago, very dear friends of ours adopted two beautiful little girls from Ethiopia. Over the past several months, we have had the honor of walking beside them as they have gone through the many ups and downs, joys and struggles of the adoption process.  

Can you imagine, for a minute, the language and behavior challenges in adopting a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old into a family that already has three children under the age of 8? Whew! And can you imagine the joys of hearing orphan cries turn to shrieks of laughter and limp arms turn to passionate embraces? 

The last several months have not been easy for our friends. Not easy for one minute. Day after day, they are the hands and feet of Jesus to these girls as they feed, clothe, educate, parent and love them. God called them to this great endeavor of caring for orphans, and He never promised it would be easy. But God did promise to bless their faithful obedience to Him and His word, and God always fulfills His promises. 

Our friends’ faith in God and their love for these two precious daughters continues to amaze and inspire us. We’ve seen true compassion. We’ve seen faith in action. We’ve seen unquestionably sacrificial love. We’ve seen incredible obedience to the Lord. What a joy to see God so clearly at work in their lives! What a testimony! They have made such a profound difference in the lives of these girls, and God is writing this great love story on the hearts of their biological children as well.   

I don’t know if our friends will ever comprehend how much they have spurred our family and other on toward love and good deeds. Truly they have encouraged us and kept our hearts from being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Passion like theirs is uncommon and quite contagious.

In fact, their uncommon, contagious passion has encouraged us to sponsor a little boy in Ethiopia through a program called Children’s HopeChest. Our sponsorship provides this precious little boy direct help for emotional, educational and medical needs. He will receive age-appropriate Bible training and discipleship classes that will offer opportunities for a national believer to share Christ through word and deed. He will receive birthday and Christmas gifts and parties. And we will offer him encouragement through prayer, letter writing and relationship. Our prayer is that we will make a profound difference in this young boy’s life. Our prayer is that this little boy will know how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ, a love that stretches across the globe from Minneapolis, USA, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and beyond. 

Likewise, we pray that this endeavor will further teach us how long and wide and high and deep the love of Christ is. We pray it will make a profound difference in our hearts and the hearts of our two daughters. We pray this will soften our hearts so we are more tender toward those in need. We pray that, in however small and remote a way, we will be the hands and feet of Jesus to this dear little boy. 

Of course, dear readers, I want to spur you on toward love and good deeds as well. So I’d like to encourage you to prayerfully consider sponsoring a child through Children’s HopeChest. Find out more at http://www.hopechest.org.

May you also know how long and wide and high and deep the love of Christ is, and may you spur others on toward love and good deeds.

This post is part of Rachel Olsen’s devotion carnival, in which she asked readers to write a devotion on the topic of love.

A Heart Condition

Oh, you’ve heard it before. You probably read it on a candy heart recently. Or maybe you’ve even said it once or twice.

“Follow your heart.”

“Trust your heart.”

“Listen to your heart.”

Bad news, folks. We have heart problems. Yep. The diagnosis is pretty serious, too. Just look at Jeremiah 17:9, which says, ” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” And then there’s Hebrews 3:10, which says, “…’Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known My ways.” Hebrews 3 goes on to warn against unbelieving hearts that are hardened by sin’s deceitfulness and turn away from the living God.

God is testing our hearts. Proverbs 17:3 says, ” The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”

What’s more, the consequences of our heart condition can be eternal. Consider Luke 10:25-28:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

 He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Hebrews 3:7-8 says, “…Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…”

So how do we keep from being hard-hearted, disobedient and sinful? Love God. Listen to His voice, and trust Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

To keep the sinfulness away, it also helps to memorize Scripture and meditate on it. As Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

What’s more, we need to love each other and encourage each other. Hebrews chapter 3 goes on to say, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Today, on Valentine’s Day, let’s pray for soft hearts that love the LORD completely. Let’s pray for hearts that fully trust in the LORD. Let’s pray for hearts with God’s word written all over them.

Let’s thank God for His grace and mercy and goodness. And let’s pray the words from the third verse of one of my favorite hymns, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson:

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Spurring on Toward Love and Good Deeds

Up! Our families hiked to this peak in the Boundary Waters last summer. Pictured are my two girls and our friends kids, two who were adopted from Ethiopia 13 months ago.

 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24 NIV  

A little over a year ago, very dear friends of ours adopted two beautiful little girls from Ethiopia. Over the past several months, we have had the honor of walking beside them as they have gone through the many ups and downs, joys and struggles of the adoption process.   

Can you imagine, for a minute, the language and behavior challenges in adopting a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old into a family that already has three children under the age of 8? Whew! And can you imagine the joys of hearing orphan cries turn to shrieks of laughter and limp arms turn to passionate embraces?  

The last 13 months have not been easy for our friends. Not easy for one minute. God called them to this great endeavor of caring for orphans, and He never promised it would be easy. But God did promise to bless their faithful obedience to Him and His word, and God always fulfills His promises.  

“…Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” -Luke 11:28   

Our friends’ faith in God and their love for these two precious daughters continues to amaze and inspire us. We’ve seen true compassion. We’ve seen faith in action. We’ve seen unquestionably sacrificial love. We’ve seen incredible obedience to the Lord. What a joy to see God so clearly at work in their lives! What a testimony! They have made such a profound difference in the lives of these girls, and God is writing this great love story on the hearts of their biological children as well.    

I don’t know if our friends will ever comprehend how much they have spurred our family on toward love and good deeds. Passion like theirs is uncommon and quite contagious. And it is their uncommon, contagious passion that has encouraged us to sponsor a little boy in Ethiopia through a program called Children’s HopeChest.  

First, let me say that our commitment to sponsor this little boy really seems quite miniscule in comparison to our friends’ loving commitment to adopt two orphans. Day after day, they are the hands and feet of Jesus to these girls as they feed, clothe, educate, and parent them. Our sponsorship is a much smaller, long distance commitment, but we are doing it in the same spirit, in the same love.  

Our sponsorship provides this precious little boy direct help for emotional, educational and medical needs. He will receive age-appropriate Bible training and discipleship classes that will offer opportunities for a national believer to share Christ through word and deed. He will receive birthday and Christmas gifts and parties. And we will offer him encouragement through prayer, letter writing and relationship. Our prayer is that we will make a profound difference in this young boy’s life. Our prayer is that this little boy will know how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ, a love that stretches across the globe from Minneapolis, USA, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and beyond.  

Likewise, we pray that this endeavor will further teach us how long and wide and high and deep the love of Christ is. We pray it will make a profound difference in our hearts and the hearts of our two daughters. We pray this will soften our hearts so we are more tender toward those in need. We pray that, in however small and remote a way, we will be the hands and feet of Jesus to this dear little boy.  

Of course, dear readers, I want to spur you on toward love and good deeds as well. So I’d like to encourage you to prayerfully consider sponsoring a child through Children’s HopeChest.  

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” -James 1:27  

The boy we are sponsoring is at the Kind Hearts orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While dozens of children at Kind Hearts already have sponsors, a few are still waiting for a sponsor. Maybe the sponsor they are waiting for is you. To find out more details, hop on over to Family From Afar or contact Karen Wistrom at kjwistrom@yahoo.com. It may not be easy, but God promises to bless your faithful obedience to Him and His word, and God always fulfills His promises.

The Christmas Story

Our whole family participated in the children’s Christmas program at our church last Sunday. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun, but we are all glad it is over! Whew!

Linnea played the part of the youngest daughter in the family. She had seven lines, and she was quite a convincing little actress! I played the part of the mom. A real stretch, I know. I was glad I only had three lines!

Laurel performed several songs as part of the children’s choir.

And Michael performed three songs as a caroler and as part of a trio.

You can check out more photos of the dress rehearsal simply by hopping over to our church’s blog. Enjoy!