Sunday, August 28, 2016

Our Charlotte Mason Kindergarten Book Choices

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Because we are right around the corner from the beginning of the school year, and some are already in full swing!, I wanted to share most of the books we'll be using this year as Isaac enters Kindergarten, which for us, because we are using Ambleside Online (which is guided by the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education), is considered Year 0. (If you are interested in why we chose to home educate, I explain it in part in this post).

What on earth does Year 0 mean, you ask? Ambleside Online explains that it "refers to all the years before formal academics begin in Year 1 (typically on or after age 6). During these early years, we focus on helping the child discover his own world through his own explorations, with lots of outdoor time and real tasks around the house. We might introduce gentle academics through play, such as playing with objects (to introduce math concepts) or playing with letters (to introduce beginning reading)."

Charlotte Mason said it this way:
"my object is to show that the chief function of the child--his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life--is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being."
Basically what it comes down to is that we will not begin formal education until our children are in 1st grade, which is age 6 and 7. Up until that point, we'll simply read aloud together, spend a lot of time in nature, memorize scripture and read our bible together, review letters and their sounds, do some handwriting practice (but only at the child's pace, not forced) and do some basic math work (mostly because my kids beg me to work on math).

My guide for this year is this list from Charlotte Mason with 18 things a child should have attained by the age of 6.

And that leads me to what we will actually be reading, how we will study nature, what scripture we'll memorize and what math curriculum we use. (This is not an exclusive list as we'll add to our book stacks as the year unfolds but it's a good foundation and start).

Literature and Read Alouds

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We'll begin the year with Mr. Popper's Penguins. Our last 2 read alouds have been Big House in the Woods and Little House on the Prairie. In fact, we just finished Little House this week. And we'll get to Farmer Boy this year too, but I'd like to take a break from Laura Ingalls Wilder and read something else. (Side note about her books: At first I wondered if my boys would have any interest in the story considering it's about 3 little girls and their family, but they absolutely love it and beg me to read "pa and ma" all the time!)

You can never go wrong with EB White. Our very first read aloud was Charlotte's Web. I'm looking forward to The Trumpet of the Swan.

Frog and Toad (we love treasuries and buy most of them at Sam's Club) is great for kiddos learning to read or brand new readers. And absolutely love Winnie the Pooh (the original. NO Disney here!)

Poetry and the like

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We have quite the collection of children's poetry books around here. But these are the ones we'll use most. My boys can't get enough of Where the Sidewalk Ends and all of Shel's silliness. One of the things Isaac will do this year is memorize a few poems and he's already done that with one about a potty plunger. Oh boys. The Children's Book of Virtues is fantastic. The stories and poems are lovely, the illustrations are excellent and the lessons learned lead to some really great discussions with my children.

Nature Study

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We won't be doing anything formal yet with nature study. Isaac will have a small journal but obviously his sketching skills are still developing so it's more so for practice at this point. The handbooks in the upper right hand corner are specific for our area of the country, which is important when looking up what things are in your area. We also enjoy reading about the garden and the farm because we can relate it to our own backyard. The kids also help with gardening- pruning, picking and planting. They collect chicken eggs and feed and water the chickens as well.

As far as bird study goes, we have this simple book just to introduce some birds. We'll definitely take a field trip to the bird preserve this year as well. I'm also planning one nature study field trip a month to places around Las Vegas. Sometimes I get a bit discouraged about what the desert has to offer, but I'm learning to be creative (like visiting the college campus which has huge old trees that you won't find in very many other places in the valley) and to also teach my children to enjoy what the desert does have to offer. And there's nothing wrong with taking a family day trip to the surrounding areas like Mt. Charleston, Red Rock, Valley of Fire or even to Utah to visit Zion, Cedar City or Duck Creek.

Misc: Hymns, Prayers, Scripture and Math

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I don't find it imperative to have selected a formal math curriculum in Year 0, but Isaac is incredibly interested in math so we went ahead and purchased Math U See, which we both love. We'll be walking through it slowly, at his pace, not rushed. Honestly at this age, math can be learned simply through daily activities like counting items, discussing money when purchasing items, categorizing items in the home, looking for patterns around you, adding goldfish and practicing written numbers.

There are a thousand wonderful things in the New England Primer and by next year I will definitely be incorporating more of it into our lessons (we'll also be adding a catechism). But for now, we use it for our morning prayer and prayers before meals and bedtime. It's an opportunity to teach my children to memorize good, solid theology in a simple prayer. (The New England Primer was used to educated children in early America. It's pretty incredible what such tiny children were expected to know and understand!)

Hymn study, like everything else, will not yet be formal. We'll select a new hymn probably for each month (or not, because we are flexible!). I will *attempt to* learn it on the piano and Ben on the banjo and we'll learn the words together as a family. We'll look up the history of the hymn, any scripture related to it and anything else related to it.

Scripture memorization and bible lessons will come from Awana (Isaac's Cubbies book is pictured above. This year he will be in Sparks and Eli will be a Cubbie). You can read here about how I incorporate Awana lessons into our morning time, which will remain the same for this year.

Beautiful Stories for Children (and History Stories for Children- not pictured) contain really great short stories that lead to narration with my children. We use them here and there, usually during morning time, but not on any kind of schedule.

Character Formation and Habits

My plan is to read Laying Down the Rails and then incorporate obedience, attention, kindness, courtesy as well as others, into our daily lives. Simply Charlotte Mason also has some wonderful resources, including a series on Habit Training on their blog that I'll refer to. Charlotte Mason taught, and I agree whole-heartedly, that character formation is the essential foundation for any child's education and ultimately their life. Therefore, the younger years should be spent developing character. So, if you were to ask what our primary focus will be for Year 0, the one thing that I'll place above anything else that we do, I would have to answer that character formation will be front and center.

Now, after reading all of this, if you are curious and want to learn more about Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, I find this to be a pretty good explanation. From there I highly recommend reading For the Children's Sake (seriously though, even if you aren't homeschooling or using CM, read it anyways!). And consider Charlotte Mason's own words:
"Our aim in education is to give a full life. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking - the strain would be too great - but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest."

What books are on your schedule for the upcoming year??

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

raising children in the aftermath of Orlando

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I realize that in this fast-paced society, I'm about 3 weeks late to this discussion. But do we really have to say everything right away and then move on? There are lasting impressions that come from an incident like the one that took place on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, FL. It would be a tragedy in itself if we just mourn for a day or a week and then move on.

Not that we should dwell on it either, because life has to go on, no matter how horrible the event. I'm a mom. I have children to care for, a house to run and a husband who needs my affections. I, like you, cannot afford to spend too much time and thought and care for one single event.

And honestly that is where I find myself almost daily: trying to balance the care and concern for what is happening everyday in this world and in our country and right here in my own city and the care and concern for what I have been called to do in my own home.

But that's not the point of this post, though it is an important thing to consider. What I really wanted to address is how, as a Christian mother, as a parent of 4 young children, I responded to the shooting in Orlando last month. 

There were about a million discussions (and heated debates) taking place on social media, on the floor of the House and the Senate, face to face, and within our churches and our homes as a direct result of the shooting. Some are still happening. Many have fizzled out.

One thing is clear: something like that elicits a myriad of emotions. Strong emotions. And opinions. I have them. You have them. There's no surprise there.

(And if you are curious where I stand in those discussions, my twitter feed will clue you in a bit.)

But the one emotion I kept seeing, from parents all over the place, was fear. I can't even count how many times I read a status update on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter about how afraid moms and dads are to have their children grow up in this kind of world; that thinking about the future for our children is downright scary; that this is not the kind of world, nation, society we want our children to be raised in.

And that is an entirely valid emotion. Fear is an obvious response to someone shooting even one person, let alone 102.

What parent doesn't think about the world our children are growing up in, especially in light of an event so egregious and down-right terrifying? I know my husband and I have conversations about that quite often. After all, the Lord has placed these precious children in our care. It's our job to see to it that they are looked after, kept safe and raised well. How can we possibly do such a thing when their lives are potentially in danger? When they are exposed to filthy images and language in school, on television, even simply walking around town? When the enemy is lying to them at every turn?

It's a valid question. 

And my response is two-fold.

First, there is nothing new under the sun. Satan is the same liar he has always been. There's nothing new there. Every single generation has had it's challenges in raising children and in battling the culture. Everyone always thinks they're living in the worst of it. 

But second, and most important, we cannot parent out of fear. We cannot allow the emotion of fear to control how we make decisions. Good decisions aren't made as a result of fear. Good decisions are made as a result of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, patience and trust. 

And I would submit that as parents, the best decisions are made as a result of the wisdom, knowledge, understanding and patience we can only gain through the Holy Spirit. The best decisons are made as a result of trusting in the Lord.

So in a sense, it's important to have fear when parenting, but fear of the Lord, not fear of the circumstances.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love Psalm 33:18

That verse came up in my Facebook feed this morning and I thought, "What a perfect verse for today and such a good reminder. We shouldn't fear the world around us, or the direction of our nation, as it seems to be burning down before our very eyes. But instead, we are to fear Him. Because in Him, there is hope and that Hope is unfailing and steadfast because our Hope is Jesus Christ. No need to fear. All the reason to hope. This is not our home, we are only passing through."

Because here's what it comes down to: I can't control a lot of what happens in our world, in our country, in my own city. I have little influence over which leaders are elected (but please, still vote!) or how they act, what the Supreme Court rules or even what someone else's child says to my child. But you know where I do have significant influence? Far more than any president or leader or politician or school teacher? In my home, with my family, over my children.

Mothers in particular, have you considered that?

Great men like Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and George Washington (among many many others) credit who they became to their mothers. Moms, we are essential to the raising and nurturing of our children, not only because they are our children, but because they are the generation coming up behind us. We are essentially raising and building up society within the walls of our very own homes.

But back to that incredible verse written by the Psalmist, because it's vital to our response when tragedies occur and it's vital to our parenting decisions. 

First and foremost, we must, must fear the Lord. That is the fear that should be ever present.

But also, right along with that fear, we must hope.

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Moms, dads, right now, I urge you to replace your fears with hope. And not just any hope. The hope that is found in Christ alone. For He is the sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope we can rely upon always. For He is unchanging, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and forevermore. We can hope in His steadfast love because, as Paul writes in Romans,

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38,9

So rather than wallowing in the depravity of our present reality, rather than mourning what seems to be the destruction of our nation and rather than fearing what might happen tomorrow or the next day (Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow didn't He?), we are to hope in Christ. And furthermore, as parents, we are to teach our children to do the same.

That influence we have over our children, pray earnestly and continuously that God would use it to bring them to Him. And point them always to the cross, to the Christ, to salvation and eternal life, because no matter what happens to you and me, no matter what happens to them, so long as we belong to Jesus, nothing, no.thing. can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Liberty's birth story

Her birth story begins with a prayer on a Friday afternoon. Well that's not exactly when it begins, but that's when the important stuff began.

I had been having contractions all through the night before. And actually I had contractions all through Wednesday night too, often enough that I would wake up for each one and hit the start button on my contraction timer. But they never got closer together or stronger. And by Thursday morning, they had completely subsided, you know, as soon as the sun came up. My body prefers to labor at night, in the dark, in the quiet, all alone.

After an entire day of zero contractions, Thursday night came along and what do ya know, as soon as the sun went down they started up again. The same as the night before, they were consistent enough and strong enough to start timing them, but they again, didn't get any closer together or any stronger. That isn't to say they weren't strong because every single one woke me up.

By Friday morning I was starting to get a bit annoyed. [Sound like a familiar story? Because Stella's birth story begins much the same way.] Ben was getting ready for work and we were trying to decide if he should just stay home with me or if he should go and come home when I called. The kids were up and running around the house and I was still having contractions but not as strong as they had been while the sun was down. I knew something would have to happen soon, I just wasn't sure how soon. So Ben stayed for about an hour to let me sleep some more and then he headed to work.

I decided to call my mom and let her know I was in labor. She offered to come and take the kids as soon as she could get things wrapped up at work, which ended up being a little bit before lunch. In the meantime, I made breakfast for the kids and continued having contractions about every 15 minutes or so.

My mom came over and we waited for Ben to get home for lunch so that she could take the car seats. We loaded up the kids and they headed out. Ben ate his lunch and then went back to work. I told him I'd call if anything really started to happen.

Spoiler alert: it didn't.

And that brings us to that Friday afternoon prayer. The house was empty. Quiet. I was all alone. It was so unusual. What would I do with an empty house? It was such a unique opportunity. I could have watched television. I could have prepped dinner for the evening. I could have taken a nap (I think I actually did do that). I could have read a book.

Instead I decided to turn on the Pandora station I would listen to during labor (and customize it while I was at it), sit on my bed with my Bible open and just pray.

Contractions were still coming every 15 minutes. I actually wrote down in my notebook, while I was praying and writing, that I had one at 1:26 pm. A simple reminder that I was, in fact, in labor and that soon this baby would come. Or at least eventually if not soon.

So on that quiet, cool, cloudy, drizzly April afternoon, I sat on my bed, alone, in labor while tears streamed down my face. All I could do in that moment was cry and thank God for His good and amazing grace, and for the abundant blessings that He has bestowed upon me, little 'ole unimportant me, time and time again. None of which I deserve or have the right to ask for: my family, my precious children, this brand new child.

And while I could have sat there and prayed for strength or endurance or peace, instead, in repentance I prayed for forgiveness. Forgiveness for not appreciating what I have, for an ungrateful heart, for getting angry and frustrated far too often with these precious blessings of mine. I asked Him to kill that anger and to replace it with compassion, gentleness, kindness and patience. And in that confession, all I could do was again, be thankful for all the things that I don't deserve.

And then Colossians 3:15,17 echoed in my mind: "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful... and whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (emphasis mine)

And so, it was with those verses, and that posture that I entered into labor.

With thanksgiving and in peace.

Ben got off work at 5 pm and headed home. Labor was still exactly how it had been all day: very uneventful. He ran to Roberto's and picked up dinner for the two of us. I had rolled tacos with guacamole and cheese. He had tacos. We sat on the couch and watched the news with the windows open, listening to the drizzling rain.

I kept hoping my contractions would get closer together when the sun went down.

They did.

Now, in the meantime you need to know that that Friday, the one I'm describing to you, was the only day my midwife was unavailable. Her son was getting married that evening. And so another midwife was on call. For the entire week leading up to this day I kept joking with Ben that I would probably have this baby on Friday because, well, what are the chances! (side note: my due date wasn't until the following Tuesday).

I began to prepare things around the house: a crockpot full of hot water, lavender essential oil and wash cloths, a bag of nuts and chocolate in the bedroom, a plastic shower curtain under my sheet, music playing, coconut water in the fridge and my labor kit in our bedroom.

Contractions were coming about 8 minutes apart now and were approaching a minute long each. With every one I bent over the side of the bed and squeezed my husband's memory foam pillow (so helpful!) while he draped hot, wet wash cloths over my back. As I could feel each contraction approaching, I'd hit start on the timer. Ben would take notice and have a rag ready and I'd breathe through each one. I remember the wash cloth trick being super helpful with Stella, but I had forgotten how helpful. The hotter the rag, the more it took my mind off of the pain of the contraction and gave me something else to focus on. During other contractions I would wrap my arms around Ben from behind him, he would lean over a bit and I would squeeze his torso as hard as I possibly could.

I also remember going to the bathroom constantly, pretty much after every contraction. That was probably partly due to the fact that I was drinking a ton of water. Ben made sure I always had a glass of coconut water (mixed with some pineapple juice) or a glass of ice cold water nearby. I could not get enough water. And I could totally tell how helpful being that hydrated was.

I have never been so coherent during labor than I was with Liberty. Ben and I spent the evening, in between contractions, talking like it was a normal night. The bedroom window was open, cool air blowing in, rain trickling down outside. I played fruit ninja and bejeweled on my kindle to pass the time. We listened to music and snacked. (At some point I'm pretty sure I took a shower but I honestly can't remember when.) The rain was pretty constant and at one point we went out front and walked around in it. I told Ben I wanted to be able to say that I went for a walk in the rain while I was in labor. And now I can. Contractions were still consistent but still not really picking up. I had to keep reminding myself to just persevere. Eventually my patience and hard work would be rewarded.

Around 9:45 pm I texted my midwife and the midwife on call to give them an update about my labor. My midwife let me know that her guests were leaving (the wedding was at her home) and she was going to lay down for a bit and get some rest. She joked that I would most likely be calling her in the wee hours of the morning but said she was glad she'd be able to attend my birth after all (and so was I! That was such a relief).

I called her an hour later (and felt bad she wasn't able to get that rest!). I was finally feeling like things were progressing fairly quickly, after hours and hours of labor. Contractions were definitely closer together and a whole lot stronger. I was feeling a bit nauseous and thinking (hoping) I may be at transition.

She got to my house around 11 pm (my contraction timer shows the last time I hit start was at 10:55 pm. Once she arrived I stopped timing them). The contractions had gotten closer together, but as with Stella, they weren't consistent. They never do get to be consistent. Some are 5 minutes apart, some are 15.

We sat and talked for a little while in my bedroom about gardens, yard work, children, just life in general and my contractions completely dropped off. She asked if I wanted her to check my progress but I said no. I prefer not to be checked during labor because, while it can be encouraging, it can also be super discouraging. I'd rather just listen to my body as things progress. Ben offered for her to lay on the couch if she wanted to get some rest and she suggested I lay down and rest too. So I did, beginning to feel a little defeated, wondering if it was all a false alarm, and praying that it wasn't.

But within just a few minutes we were up and going again. Contractions were coming again, closer together and stronger and stronger.

And within just a few more minutes I was feeling the urge to push.

A few contractions later, my water broke.

My midwife was listening and watching from the hallway, timing and tracking everything.

I stayed standing for a few more contractions, pushing with each one. Then I decided to get on all fours and try pushing that way because my legs were getting a little tired. I think I stayed there for a couple contractions, at which point I laid down on the floor to rest. With the next contraction my midwife checked for an anterior cervical lip (which has happened with all 4 of my kiddos so I was expecting it). She moved it out of the way and I was ready to push the baby out! She also mentioned that she was fairly sure she could feel a hand up by her head. But I just ignored that because, ouch!

Now, up until this point I had been in labor longer than I had ever been previously (sounds backwards right?! I know). Isaac was 15 hours. Eli was 24 hours. Stella was 8 hours. Liberty was a wonderful 28 hours (granted it wasn't continuous because there were breaks in between that sometimes lasted hours). But her's was also the shortest time pushing (like real, targeted, get-this-baby-out-right-now pushing). I pushed for probably 45 minutes, on the floor, on my back (gasp! I know, so not acceptable, right? ;) and from what I remember, I think I had maybe 5 contractions total in that time, maybe a couple more. So honestly, it wasn't really that much pushing, at least compared to what I'm used to!

After one or two pushes my midwife asked if I wanted to check and see if I could feel her descending. I checked and felt nothing.

Momentarily, I felt a bit concerned, a bit defeated, a bit discouraged.

But at the same time, I felt ready to keep going. This wasn't going to be like before. Before, when I pushed for 5 hours and couldn't get Eli out. Before, when I pushed for a far shorter time with Stella but started to get so discouraged and lose strength (she came about 5 minutes after I had looked up at Ben in total defeat and said, "I can't do this anymore!"). I had resolved long before labor began that I was going to push this baby out and I wasn't going to give up. When I reached the wall, I was just going to climb over it or push it over (see what I did there??).

Contractions kept coming, with plenty of resting time in between, and I kept pushing. And then, her head was there and it was out. Normally at this point I would have taken that moment to rest. I would usually rest until the next contraction before I pushed the rest of her out. But this time I said, "no way. She's here, she's right there and I'm just going to keep pushing, because I'm done and I want to be done." And so, I just kept pushing and out she came, face up, posterior (which pretty much explains the long labor).

And just like that, our baby was born, at 2:02 am, on a rainy, chilly, Saturday morning (my third Saturday morning birth). It was a perfect day to be born if you ask me.

There I was, laying on the floor, beside our bed, and this tiny little (a pleasant surprise!) baby was there. I took her from my midwife and placed her on my chest immediately. And in awe (and complete exhaustion), I laid there while we waited for the placenta to deliver.

This sweet, precious baby. She was so small. So perfect. And she pooped on me almost immediately. I moved up to the bed where I proceeded to shiver like crazy, as I tend to do after delivery. Ben piled blankets on me and I nursed this tiny new baby, who still had no name. She latched right away and nursed without any issues. And she pooped on me again.

We weighed her, measured her and checked for all those adorable little baby reflexes. She passed with flying colors and then it was time for sleep (and a diaper!). She weighed 7 pounds and 11 ounces and she was 21.5 inches long.

Once my midwife left (but not before cleaning up and putting a load of towels and sheets in the washing machine because, well, she's the best), Ben brought food from the kitchen to the bedroom so I could eat and then he went to sleep. I laid in bed next to a sleeping brand newborn and a sleeping husband and ate cheese and crackers and strawberries. It was all so so delicious.

And then I went to sleep.

Since my mom had the other kiddos we were able to sleep in. And if this story wasn't already so long I would take the time to describe that first day with her home. It was the perfect day. The rain, the coziness, the kids coming home and absolutely loving her, the quick return to routine, working in the garden, burgers on the grill for dinner. I'm hoping to write a part 2 just for that.

But for now we'll leave it there. The labor was long. But the reward was great. And in the midst of it all, my faithful Father provided the peace I needed, the strength I required and blessed me, yet again, with a gift I most certainly did not deserve. It was with a grateful heart I entered into her labor and it was in thanksgiving that I received her into my arms. Thanks be to the most good and gracious God.

And if there is any encouragement I can give to any mother-in-waiting who is reading this right now, it would be that despite the hours and hours of labor, despite the numerous times I thought things would never progress, despite the posterior position of my baby and the anterior cervical lip (both reasons cited for increased medical intervention often leading to c-sections), I was able to persevere. I was able to listen to my body and not lose faith. I was able to push through. I was able to be at peace with the entire process. And none of that is because of who I am or what I've experienced or how strong I am (believe me, I'm not!). All of that is because of Who I put my trust in, because of Who I relied upon for peace, and because of Who strengthened me and upheld me. So no matter what happens during your labor, do not lose heart. Instead, rely on Him and trust Him. He is faithful!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Life Cube Project, a burnt offering to a false god

Perhaps you've been invited to this event in downtown Las Vegas this weekend. Or at least you've heard about it on the news, seen it on Facebook or read about it in a local magazine. This is the second year it's taken place in Vegas (last time was in 2014) and as I think about it more and more, I can't help but want to address the worship of false gods in our culture, in our nation and in this city in particular. I know, it sounds like something coming straight out of left field, especially for this blog. But I can't help but not tackle this one. And that's because the Life Cube Project is the epitome of idol worship.

Here's why.

I get it. It sounds innocuous enough. It sounds beautiful and creative and like something the community can gather together around and agree on, especially in such a tumultuous time. Art, right? We can all agree that creativity and art and music are good things. We can all agree that they are beneficial to us and to our children. And I would say absolutely they are. After all, God, the Creator, gave us creativity. He designed us to be creative. At our core we are made to create and to work and to design because we are all made in His likeness and He is Creator. He gave us art and music and they are lovely. And along with that, He gave us the ability to dream and set goals and seek opportunities and work hard for those things.

But there is a major difference between what the Life Cube Project would have us do with those things and what God calls us to do.

So I guess before we look at what scripture would say about this seemingly innocent display of art and creativity, I should explain a little bit about what it is. I know there are many of you who probably haven't heard much, if anything about it. But as it gains popularity I feel the need to educate. Not only because it's happening at the center of our city, or because it's been so popular, but also because the creator of it and his team has been involving our schools, our children, in the project.

Here is what the creator posted about the preparation of the project 2 years ago:

"Last week we spoke to 440 students at a local elementary school and it was a magical moment.  Because of the impact it had on the kids, I have been asked to speak to another 1000 kids at various schools around town. We are also gifting cubes to schools, and meeting with as many students as possible to share the story of the project." source.

And on KNPR last week in an interview, Scott Cohen, the founder of the Life Cube Project, noted that for this year's project they have already passed 200 smaller life cubes out to 40 different schools and spoken to 15,000 children about participating.

That's concerning to me.

So what is the Life Cube Project? In a nutshell, it's a project, a piece of installation art, that this guy Scott Cohen developed, where a 3 story structure is erected in downtown Las Vegas. He has invited everyone and anyone to come and cover said structure in art of any kind over the course of a couple weeks. He also specifically encourages people to write their dreams and goals down on what he calls a "wish stick" and put it into the giant cube.

Then, on April 2 (this Saturday), they will set the entire thing on fire. All of the art, the poetry, the paintings and drawings, and all of the hopes and dreams and goals and wishes of the participants will go up in smoke, or as Cohen says, "go up into the universe" in an act that he describes as both spiritual and magical.

Sounds pretty weird, right? Or cool, I guess. Or, whatever.

But to me, it sounds like a burnt offering.

I mean, consider the language they use to describe the event. In a letter to his volunteers, Cohen writes, "Please plan to stop by and fill out a wish stick with your wishes, hopes, dreams or aspirations. They will be celebrated and sent to the universe in a fiery ceremony." Did you catch that? A fiery ceremony.

Not to mention all of the activities that have been offered and affiliated with the project since it has been open to the public, like sunrise yoga (yes, as a Christian I have issues with yoga, but that discussion is for another time and place), drum circles, Om chants, firedancing, chanting and praying (to whom I have no idea) and half naked entertainment. Sounds to me like the description of the Israelites worshiping a golden calf and engaging in orgies and drunkenness while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law from God.

Which brings me back to what I was saying initially. There is a major difference between what the Life Cube Project would have us do with our creativity, with art and music, with our goals and aspirations and what God calls us to do. And it's the reason why I submit that no single Christian should have anything to do with this project, no matter how cool it may seem.

Romans 1:21-23 says, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things." (emphasis mine).

In other words, man has a tendency to exchange the glory of God for idols, whether things we've created with our own hands or other things that we place as higher than God in our lives. It's what the Romans did then and it's exactly what we still do today. Idol worship these days isn't as blatant as offering burnt sacrifices before a carved statue, but if there is anything that remotely resembles that, I have to say, it's the Life Cube Project.

To worship anything or anyone other than God Himself, the Maker of art, the Maker of ideas and dreams and goals and passions, The Artist, The Designer, is pure idol worship. And we should never be involved in the worship of any part of creation.

And if we can take it a step further, consider that the Life Cube Project would have you lay all of those things down to be burned, as a burnt offering, to be "released into the universe" as some display of "magic" before a false god. Which one? Take your pick. It doesn't really matter. Sounds to me, though, that it's "the universe." The point is, it's a direct violation of both the first and second commandments:

"You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." Exodus 20:3-6
We are to worship God alone and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God alone. All of that talent, that art, our creativity, our hopes and dreams, our goals and our aspirations, our work, our ability to design, it's for His glory alone. Not our's. Not anyone else's. And certainly it's not to be offered up to the universe. God alone deserves all the glory and honor and praise.

And as the creator of this project says himself, the act of burning these art displays, these dreams and these aspirations, watching them go up into the universe, is a "powerful" and "spiritual" thing. The underlying meaning of this whole project, whether we want to admit it or not, is spiritual and worshipful. There's no denying that.

As my husband said in a recent conversation we were having about on this topic, "What's next? Burning babies as a sacrifice to this god, also known as the universe? Oh wait, they've basically already been doing that in Oregon."

Or what about temples being erected for Baal? Yup, that's happening too, in New York City.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

how Awana lessons shape our morning time

For the past few weeks we've been beginning our school days with morning time. It has totally transformed our days. The kids look forward to it every day and this past Saturday Isaac even asked why we didn't do morning time after breakfast. (He knows how to make his mommy's heart happy!). If you are not familiar with morning time, you can read about it on Alicia's blog. It's just a simple way to incorporate subjects that all of the kids can enjoy together and start the day off in the same place, doing the same thing.

As soon as breakfast is done, we all take our dished to the sink and then gather back around the table. Sometimes the kids are even finishing up their breakfast.

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Our typical morning time is structured like this:

Young Child's Morning Prayer from the New England Primer
Memory work (Last week we reviewed the days of the week. Next week we'll start on the months. You could do anything in this spot.)

Bible Reading
Scripture Memorization
Hymn Study and/or children's praise song
Short Story
Art Study

The way Alicia does it is to have the first few things as something that is done every single day and then the remaining subjects are on a loop. So they'll make it through, say, geography and history and stop for the day. Then pick up with hymn study the next day and so on. Because my kiddos are still quite young (the oldest is 5), our lessons are very short and we are able to get through almost the entire loop every single morning. We don't always do all the things but we try to incorporate as much as we can. Our typical morning meeting lasts a little over an hour. Sometimes less, sometimes more depending on how interested Isaac may be in a topic.

So where does Awana come in? Well, the first week that we started this new schedule I noticed immediately, since we start with scripture memorization (we always use the verse my oldest has to memorize for Awanahere) that there is basically an entire lesson plan built into each Bear Hug (the week's lesson for the verse the child is to memorize).

For example, this week his verse is "Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." The lesson that goes along with that verse (because they've been going chronologically through the bible) is about the Israelites as slaves in Egypt and when God sent Moses to Pharaoh.

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As we read through the Bear Hug I began to notice how much is packed into each lesson. And all of it fit into the subjects I had planned for morning time. For example:

Scripture Memorization: This is the obvious one. Each week contains a verse of scripture that the child is expected to memorize. Although my 3 year old is not in Awana yet, he still learns the verse with us every week.

Geography: here we discussed where the Israelites were living (in Egypt), how they got there and where they were heading (Israel) once they were set free. We looked at the globe and an atlas and colored a map of the Middle East and discussed where the Nile River was located along with the Red Sea. (This was not all done in one day. It took several days to discuss it all).

History: Along with discussing the biblical history of Joseph, his brothers, the 12 tribes, the Israelites, Moses, etc. this also gave us the opportunity to discuss ancient Egypt and learn about pharaohs and their office and position. We didn't go into extensive detail here because Isaac is still young (we'll definitely learn more in the years to come) but it was a really good introduction. I even picked up a book at the library about pharaohs and we have a couple on Egypt that the kids have been flipping though. Eli, my 3 year old, has been pretending to be Pharaoh for 3 days now and even made himself a throne.

Hymn Study or Children's Praise Song: 2 weeks ago our verse was "Great is Thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:23) so I'm sure you can guess what hymn we chose to sing and learn about that week. This week I taught the kids "Pharaoh, Pharaoh" and they absolutely loved it. They listened to it a number of times while I made lunch today and were dancing and singing along.

Short Story: Each lesson has included in it a short story about Cubbie Bear that continues on each week. Isaac gets so impatient and wants me to read on but he just has to wait and see. Because it's such a short story, we do end up reading other stories throughout the week but this is a good way to get them engaged in the initial learning of the verse for the week.

A few extras: There is always an extra credit type activity suggestion in each lesson and it's just an easy way to add more into what they're learning. It's always something really simple and fun that I enjoy doing with my kids. Also, many nights, Isaac will bring home the coloring page that he was working on at Awana unfinished. This is something for him to work on during our lessons. He never just sits and looks at me as I teach. I always want him to be doing something related to what we're learning about. That is why we always have maps and books and the globe out during our lessons so that he's interacting with what is being taught. You could easily add copy work in here too, which we do off and on (I need to be more consistent with it in this part of our schooling). Simply write the verse down and have the child copy it.

You may be wondering how many days this will take? Awana is on Wednesday so we begin a new lesson on Thursday morning. We take Friday off from school (our outing day) and then resume on Monday. One lesson I pull from Awana will last us all 4 days of school reaching until the next Wednesday. If it doesn't, that's completely fine! But like I said, I'm still working with really young ones and so our lessons are nice and short.

Now, since my child is in Cubbies, I can't say for sure that this would translate for the older kids, but my guess is that it probably could. All it takes it a little creativity on your part and a tiny bit of planning (seriously, it's all right there so there is not a whole lot of planning required other than maybe preprinting a map or checking out a book from the library!).

This has made our mornings so enjoyable and it's really engaged Isaac in memorizing his scripture each week. Last year it was like pulling teeth trying to get him to learn them. Now he really enjoys it. In fact a few weeks ago, after I tucked all the kids into bed, I overheard him reciting one of his scripture verses (Psalm 4:8) over his little brother who is afraid of the dark. There is fruit from this and it's so wonderful to get to see it!

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Oh and in case you're wondering what the littles do while we go through our morning time, after a short story I read just for them, they sit at our feet with some toys and books (or they run crazy through the house and destroy things. Just being real ;)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

when He weaves it all together

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I'm always in awe when the Lord so faithfully sews together passages of scripture that I'm studying and that I hear either during a sermon, a podcast or somewhere else. It's happened countless times and it's a beautiful reminder that He's intimately involved in my life- knowing precisely where I am and meeting me right there in the midst of it, that the Word of God is active and living and breathing, and that scripture is perfectly constructed and written under the divine inspiration of a God who does not, and cannot change.

We can take Him at His word, always and forever. And we can always count on Him to provide what we need at the right time, if we are seeking after Him.

Count it all as JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it's full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Last year, The Village Church started a new sermon series through James. (Go listen). Last week I listened to the sermon on James 1:2-18 about facing trials of various kinds. It's funny because the last time I studied James was when we lived in Texas and attended The Village. I was, at the time, also doing a women's bible study at the church on the Sermon on the Mount. And it was incredible the parallels that God was revealing to me between the words written by James and the words spoken by his brother Jesus.

Like I said, He's there, weaving it all together for us. We just have to listen.

I recently studied through Hebrews. and wow was it fruitful. I had always wanted to study Hebrews but to be honest, it's a bit difficult. I've started reading through it and given up about 5 chapters in, probably on multiple occasions. I've got to say, enduring through this book this time around was incredibly rewarding.

In chapter 12, almost to the end of the book. the author is begins to wrap things up. Now, while I want to write a dissertation about all that he's written, I'll stick to this one verse. It's an incredible summary verse:

Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

So Jesus, founded our faith. He perfected our faith. And as other versions say, He finished our faith. We also read in Hebrews about how He is the trailblazer, the pioneer, the forerunner, of our faith.

In other words, He blazed the trail. He walked the road. He paved the way.

For us.

What the author of Hebrews is so clearly conveying to us is that Jesus has already done it all. Experienced it all. And then He finished it all. He is seated at the right hand of the Father signifying that He's done, the work is finished, complete, done.

And that's why we're in exhorted in this verse to The author has already stated before: "consider Jesus" (Hebrews 3:1). In other words, look to Jesus. Gaze upon Jesus. Because He's awesome? Yes. Because He deserves all the honor and glory and all of our attention, passion and consideration? Yes. But it's even beyond that.

The path is rough. It gets hard. There are mountains to climb. Waters to wade through. Thorns to push through. It gets dry. It gets lonely. We get rained on. We become weak. We hunger. We thirst. We tire.

And yet, we are called to endure. To press on. To be steadfast. To not drift. To not waiver. To not shrink back. To persevere. To continue on.

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Hebrews 10:36

Jesus endured. Jesus endured the cross. Jesus endured the ultimate trial. And Jesus counted it as joy because He saw what was set before Him. Through the cross, through that trial, He would gain the crown as Savior. He would be consecrated and appointed as the great High Priest (Heb 5:5). He would become the source of eternal salvation for His beloved (Heb 5:9). He would secure for us eternal redemption (Heb 9:12) and an eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15).

And through His enduring the cross, through His steadfastness, Jesus was perfected. As Hebrews 5:9 says, "And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him."

Now let's go on a rabbit trail here for a second because I'll be totally honest and say that this verse made me uncomfortable. Not because I don't like what it says, but because I didn't understand it! How could the God of the universe be made perfect? Wasn't He already perfect, long before He walked the earth? Certainly before He hung on the cross?

Yes. A hundred times yes.

But the phrase "made perfect" here is not referring to His holiness in regards to sin. He was always sinless and perfect. It is referring instead to His consecration to a position, to a specific office. We can just as easily us the word "consecrated" in place of "made perfect". (The Greek word being used here is nagazio.)

In other words: through the cross, through His suffering, Jesus was consecrated to (made perfect for, became qualified for) His office as Savior, Great High Priest, Mediator. As Matthew Henry puts it, "He perfected the work of our redemption by shedding His blood and was thereby perfectly qualified to be a Mediator between God and man."

I also want to include this note from the Reformation Study Bible because it's worded so well. "This does not mean that Jesus finally became sinless, since He was always without sin, but that He finished the course of suffering that was set before Him, including the sacrificial death. Having done this, He was "made perfect" or completely qualified to serve as the uniquely effective High Priest."

The point I'm making here is this: Jesus blazed the trail. Jesus endured. Jesus completed the faith. Jesus was consecrated to His position as High Priest.

Therefore, we too can now walk the trail. We can endure. We can have great faith. We are being perfected and consecrated and already are consecrated into the priesthood of believers all because of Jesus.We can walk the path because He's already finished walking the path. We can follow the trail because He's not only blazed the trail, but He's completed the trail. We can endure because He endured to perfection.

I do need to interject here and say that we are to look to Jesus because He set the perfect example, but we are also to look to Jesus because it is only through His perfect work on the cross that we can even step foot on the path. Jesus isn't just someone who did it well that we should aspire to be like. We have something far greater! We have Jesus Himself living within us, pressing us on and giving us the strength to endure. Not only did He already do it, and already did it perfectly, but now we are to do it in Him and with Him.

Which brings me to that last piece of the passage from James. He's telling us that steadfastness (we can call it endurance since we have been reading about that in Hebrews), when it is in full affect, perfects and completes.

Well isn't that interesting?

This verse from Hebrews has recently become one of my most treasured pieces of scripture:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14

It would seem that James and the writer of Hebrews have a similar goal in common: to exhort believers to endure to the end, in which we are completed and perfected. We will receive the reward that is promised if we press on, through the trials, down that rough, difficult trail.

And yet! As we read in this verse, we have already been perfected.

We have already been perfected.

And here we meet this idea of "already, not yet." What JOY that I am being perfected, that the Lord is working to sanctify me, that trials are bringing about a holy, complete and perfect person that I will never know this side of eternity. But what JOY that I am already perfected in Christ. He suffered on the cross. He perfected our faith. He was consecrated. And by doing all of that, I too am perfected and consecrated because when God looks at me, He sees the Mediator. The One who has already completed it all.

And all the while, he's not leaving me to myself. He's pushing me on to completeness. Often that road is filled with trials. Often it's filled with heartache and trouble. But take heart! God is using those things for our good. God is doing a work in us through the pain and through the trials.

Just look to Jesus to know where the hard road leads. The reward is great. Don't lose sight of Him.

Monday, January 25, 2016

pregnant Christian momma chats

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A year ago I wrote this post about some of the big things I feel called to do. One of them was to write a book. And a year later, I'm finally in the process of actually doing that, well sorta. But as I started collecting all the thoughts and ideas I want to include in said book, I started to feel like I wanted to start something now that has the same purpose, but that would be a place of community for other Christian pregnant mothers.

As I write this I am 28 weeks pregnant. After getting through 17 weeks of gruesome morning sickness, the holidays, and of course continuing to raise my three crazy rascals, I'm finally in a place to start mentally preparing for the birth of this precious babe.

And I want to share what I'm doing in that process with other moms who are in the same place.

We focus so much on the physical preparation for labor and childbirth- see your doctor regularly, keep track of vitals, eat a good diet and also the mental preparation- read about childbirth, take a hospital tour, take a childbirth preparation class. But I feel like we often neglect the emotional and spiritual aspects of preparing for birth. And those are so very important.

And so I decided to host these pregnant Christian momma chats so we can take the time to address those very important things.

It's something I obviously care a lot about. In going through my archive I found post after post after post on the topic.

How can we view labor and childbirth in light of the gospel? And how do I need to prepare my heart and my mind so that I have the right perspective going into such an awesome, incredible, unique, but often frightening experience?

That's what I want to get to the heart of in these chats.

So, if you are a pregnant Christian momma, you are invited to join us. I'll be live on Periscope (you'll have to download the app on your phone) every Tuesday at 2:30pm PST. My handle is @jessibridges. If you miss it live (where you'll have the chance to ask questions and comment), you can watch up to 24 hours after with the Periscope app or you can always find archived talks on my YouTube page page.

The topics I want to specifically get into are pretty endless but include:

-how our current emotional state and issues we're facing will affect labor
-that pregnancy and labor is a call on our lives from the Lord
-that unconfessed sin can lead to fear and pain in labor because of a lack of peace from and trust in God
-pain with a purpose, not for nothing
-labor as a sacrifice of self for the sake of your child (not unlike motherhood itself!)
-my one piece of advice when preparing for labor (and really life in general): no expectations
-practical examples of how I prepare spiritually for labor, scripture to meditate over

And those are just a few things, but I also want to be able to chat about the things that are on your mind too. So please feel free to hop on with us and ask questions or email me with questions 

Lastly, I'm asking that if you know someone who could benefit from a community like this, please share this information with them.

Ultimately these chats are because I want to encourage you. As you prepare for your new baby, I want to encourage you to also prepare for the actual arrival of of your babe: intentionally prepare for your labor. This is not something to take lightly. It's not something that is just going to happen. Granted, it will happen. But will it happen on purpose? Will you be intentional about your labor?