I am not a Tiger Mom

I don’t know if there is anyone left in North America who’s not had quite enough of Amy Chua and her methods of producing brilliance in her children.    But in case any of you are late to join the party,

here again is that famous  bit of text from the  back cover  from the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:

“A  lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

CAU cover

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.”

Amy Chua with her daughters, Louisa and Sophia, at their home in New Haven, Conn.

CAU cover

These  standards by which Amy Chua claims that she and most Chinese parents raise their children sound like harsh torture to most North Americans.  Yet Chua’s children appear to  have grown up to be well adjusted and happy young women, and are remarkably accomplished and devoted to their family.
It leaves us scratching our heads.
We would have expected that those girls would be in weekly psychotherapy and to show all the signs of unchecked eating disorders.     You can see in the above photo that they look just fine.

The Wall Street Journal’s article discussing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was written under the very unfortunate title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”
It’s unfortunate they used such an inflammatory title   because all us American women are already insecure enough about our parenting skills and we are already second-guessing ourselves at nearly every turn.

Parents of home-schooled kids, privately educated kids, and the parents of public school kids are already looking askance at one another,  apparently feeling judged simply because someone else had openly chosen a path that another family intentionally rejected.
And the soccer/ hockey moms and the violin and harp crowd are looking down upon one another in derision, nevermind the “working mom” vs. “stay at home mom” rivalry which is still such a presence in the US.

We don’t much need another class distinction from which one pack of mothers can look condescendingly upon another.  But I think we have it.
Now the distinction   (not actually  new…. only newly defined)    is the one between the mothers who will stop at nothing to produce excellence in their children as opposed to the mothers who are content with mediocrity as long as home is a place of rest and peace.
And yes, I know this is a gross over generalization….but I’ve been raising kids for long enough to know that that is essentially where the boundaries lie.

The book has generated such a kerfuffle of controversy, which is great for sales.
And, being a consumer of the “herd” variety, I went to the bookstore to get a look at it on Saturday.

In the “Parenting Skills” section,  I found four copies of the book, and as I reached for one, a very attractive, fit, thirty-ish looking Chinese woman reached over my own hand and grabbed the other three copies.
She immediately started talking to me, and she was talking so fast I could hardly keep up.
She asked me if I had read it, and  told me she had read it a couple of times.
She also told me she has given copies of the book to all her friends, Chinese and otherwise.   And she was going to share the three in her hand  with three more co-workers.
She said that this book gives a perfectly accurate picture of life under the hand of a Chinese mother.
She told me she had given a copy of the book to her own mom, who read it and then called to say    “I was not that bad!”  But the daughter replied, laughing, “Mom, you were worse!”

She said all her Chinese friends were commonly called “garbage”  by their parents, and thought nothing of it.  And she was laughing at the idea that Westerers find the book so appalling.

This woman was such a wealth of insight to me, and she was so enthusiastic about my need to read the book that I bought the only copy she left behind.
And as I turned to leave she mentioned that she is a corporate lawyer and she has two young children who are violin prodigies.   She was still laughing.  And I believe every word she said.
Another Chinese lady I met in line told me that this book is not called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” in its Chinese translation.  Back in China it is simply called “Parenting in America”.   This can only mean that  to the Chinese mind,  there is no  kind of parenting other than the Tiger variety, so back in the motherland,  the thing that makes this book newsworthy is the fact that this uber-mothering is  happening in the  very  breadbasket of  unremarkable performers which is America.
(I should mention that I live in an area that is so thickly populated with Chinese immigrants that you can go to Costco on a Saturday and never once overhear a conversation in any language other than a Chinese dialect, even though the store is packed and everyone is talking at once.  I tried it once.   And the bookstore I went to on Saturday is right behind that Costco.)

My daughter Audrey and I have both read the book this week.  We were both amazed, amused and horrified by turns.   We have enjoyed it tremendously, and have recommended it so much that people are beginning  to avoid us.
But, much as I loved reading the book,  I am not at all a Tiger Mom.
I am more like a “house-cat mom.”   I like to play, I like to keep them close to me, cuddled up and warm by a fire.  I love having all my kids around me for book discussions and history talks and anything where we are all in a bit of a pile together.
But, I do also have claws, and I am not afraid to use them when people need to move faster, produce better or just generally knock of the foolishness.
I could not ever live in the atmosphere of fighting and anger that Amy Chua describes in her book.   I am convinced that that kind of  destructive sharpness can do damage that’s hard to repair,  and I don’t want that.   But I like to get good results, and I want my kids to respond the first time I ask them.   And I require that of them, and that’s a standard that seems high, to some.

My husband  has  high standards for our kids  which have helped me to raise the bar.   He might actually be a bit of a Tiger Dad.    He exhibits many of the rigorous demands that Chua describes as being the norm for first generation immigrants who have had to fight for a better life, and who know the odds their children face, and so make strong demands of them.
Jon came to the US with $100 in his pocket at age 18, then put himself through college and medical school.  He understands how hard they will have to  fight if they want to compete and  succeed.   Jon’s expectations from our kids have been greater than mine from the moment our first son was born.  I’m really thankful for him and for his standard.

And it turns out that I don’t want mediocrity either.  Mediocrity from my kids makes me kind of crazy.

I insist that I be able to speak to my kids  “straight”   and I expect them to be able to handle clear honest criticism which is given in love and without insult.   This is  what instruction is all about.  And if they can’t  receive instruction, they won’t get very far in life.    I really believe that it is poor parenting to continually coddle your kids and allow them to be hurt by constructive advice.   Don’t we all know adults who are handicapped by this, who cannot understand that their failure to advance is due directly to their inability to stand up straight and learn from those who could instruct them?

In many ways I admire Amy Chua’s attitude when she states that she requires that her children attain high standards because she respects them and knows that they are capable of achieving high standard.   She is right when she says that requiring little of our children is a way of telling them that we do not think very much of them.   Her assessment of Western parents who allow their children to attain to only the most mediocre standard  is that they are producing children who will have poor self esteem because they understand, at some level, that nobody expected much of them,  and that  must certainly indicate that they are incapable of very great achievements.
I also agree with her very much when she says that there is nothing that will produce a strong sense of confidence in anyone more than having achieved great things.     If pride follows that achievement, there is sin to be dealt with.   But the achievement itself is not sin.   Achievement is honor.

And even though I understand that the achievement of great things is not the goal of our existence, but serving God in humility and obedience is.  That service is to be of a very high quality.  If we do everything as unto the Lord, that’s a high standard.   If your boss is the Creator of the Universe, and you are keenly aware of who that actually is, you might not cut so many corners.  If our children see us, as Christian parents, as willing as Amy Chua and the mothers like her to make enormous sacrifices of our time and our lives in order to get them launched on the path that is right for them, they will be blessed by that.   I don’t believe that it’s enough for us to tell them “we did our best”……we have to do what is required in order to help them find a good footing.  And unlike Chua, we must do it without arguing and complaining.   That is hard work.  We need supernatural help for that.  And people will laugh at us and criticize us, and then we have to ignore that and keep marching forward.

She’s right that most American (and Canadian) parents coddle their kids and fail them when they don’t ask them to reach for a higher and more difficult standard.  And she’s also right when she implies  that it makes the North American peers of these children of Chinese immigrants easy prey, always second best, and eventually subordinate to an entire class of people.  She’s right about these things, and they are hard to swallow.

I do not think she’s right about the way of going about it.  Even though she has won a success of a certain kind, and a success that’s really rich and satisfying for her, it’s not the success I want for my kids.  I want successful kids, and I also want kids who know that arguing and fighting are destructive.   I don’t believe at all  that anger and screaming, insulting and depriving children is the only way to get great results from them.
In many ways, Amy Chua’s method is a much harder path than the one most parents take.
But I think that in comparison to what is best, anger and shouting is the easy path.

We all want our kids to go rampaging wildly down the path of excellence and accomplishment.
Every parent who has the future success of the kids in mind is puzzling out what will set them on that road.
Should  they do sports or music, lots of social stuff or very little, more parental supervision or less, Youth Group or not, organic or freedom of choice.  And we make a choice and then preach on it for awhile, mostly to convince ourselves through the sound of our own strident voice that we have made the best and only intelligent choice.

But I think that when we stop and make those decisions THE BIG ONES, maybe we are stopping short.   Maybe the really big decisions have to do with helping them to learn to understand what the best good standards are and why they matter.   Karate or Not Karate, Organic or Not Organic, Violin or Hockey are really the  minor choices.
The big choices for our kids, and the choices that should be dealt with in a thousand different discussions every week are the discussions about who they will serve as adults, and why will they serve that god or God, and how should they serve.  If they understand that they are serving something, and if they understand that every choice they make reveals who they are serving, they can then learn to be honest with themselves, because honest service will require honest self evaluation.   They can learn to ask questions which are harder than “which sport?”,  “which musical instrument?” or even “which university?”     And if they can learn to ask themselves really big and honest questions, they can then learn to see what the high standard is there for.  That the high standard is not there to torment them.   It’s there to help them by giving them a good path  they can follow.

I can see that I have given no good practical steps for parenting which will produce outrageous success in children.

But isn’t it true that if our kids grow up  loving  a high standard, and if they see that it is for their good, they will excel?
I can already hear somebody saying that it’s not reasonable to expect a seven year old to love a high standard…….but I say that’s not true.
I think that if we really do love them well, and we really train them well with patience and we are willing to sacrifice our time for our kids in training them , only training them in godliness rather than training them to be competitive and selfish, and if we pray for grace as each day unfolds, God is faithful and will help us to show them the way they should go.  And when they are old they will not depart from it.

the third week in review

Here are a few photos of life around here, mixed in with some things I found encouraging.  I put a photo of our dam up here last week , but I think it’s even more spectacular now.  It is a frozen waterfall.   It’s completely silent…….so different from itself  in just a few months!

We have been hard at work around here this week.    Everybody is almost caught up after our week of illness and the lack of leadership which occurred when I got sick.    I think that by next Friday we will certainly be back on schedule, barring unforeseen circs.

We have so much to be thankful for as we have very nearly gotten ourselves caught up to where we had hoped to be in history.   It always feels like the most preposterously undeserved gift when we are actually doing what my schedule says we should be doing.  I think this is because  I always find that  the making of the homeschool schedule is such a joyous delight, but the keeping of the schedule very nearly defeats me.   Reading in Proverbs 16 earlier this week ,  I got that same good reminder I have found before

“The plans of the heart belong to a man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.  Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

I think that that bit in the middle there about the ways of my heart being pure in my own eyes, but the Lord weighs my spirit could possibly be an indicator that my plans are not all righteous.  It brings it to mind that, unless I keep reminding myself to be careful, I tend to stack up the expectations I have for myself and my kids based upon what other people are doing and on pride.    It’s a common pit for us home-educating moms.  And once I have identified that pit which must be avoided, I have to also take care not to fall into the pit on the other side of the road.   That would be the pit of laziness and carelessness.

And that reminds me of a  really insightful post at Becky Pliego’s site which I found while rummaging around in the abundance of  wisdom on her blog.   This is a very helpful article for all of us with kids learning at home regarding the tendency we sometimes have to require less than the best from our kids.   And about the aroma in our homes we create through how we live and love and train and speak to our children.

I think that for me, the answer is still that I must get up and start my day with a good quiet time of more than an hour, get the chores started before the kids are awake, and pray over the plans of the day, asking God to help me to do those things that must be done and not be sidetracked by extraneous stuff.   I am a highly distractible woman, and it is essential that I pray for help in this area all through the day.

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Another really encouraging read is here, a free PDF of Leigh Bortins’ book Echo in Celebration:  A Call to Home-Centered Education. This link arrived in my mailbox from The Homeschooler’s Notebook , which sends out a neat and succinct little newsletter once a week, full of helpful links…something for just about everyone.

The PDF of Leigh Bortin’s book  is  relatively short   (OK, it’s short for a book, long for a download),
but it’s full of compelling arguments for Classical Home Education. She discussed the lifestyle of a home-educating family, and gives a clear picture of how vastly it differs from what we may have expected, or the life of our more traditionally educated friends and family.   It is such a radically different and beautiful life!   Our approach to all aspects of family life are unique and really precious to us as families. It’s comforting and inspiring to read her experiences of how her family arrived at their educational decisions, and what the results were for her own sons.

She gets right at the heart of the Classical model, and how to train your whole child and prepare them for a full life honouring God……not just to socialize them and get them ready for a job.

I have heard Leigh Bortins speak, and remember her as being warm and genuine, but also as a woman who commands respect, and would tend to lead people into good rigorous study.   This is an excellent read, and its FREE!

And here is a little taste of Leigh Bortins’ wisdom, this is a list which breaks down into quick points what our kids should be taught and when….I got this as a handout at her lecture, and then found that it is also included in the PDF on page 54-55.  For a family just starting out, this is a great little tool to help get your head organized around what should happen when.

Infant to 4 years of age 4 to 8 years of age

should be trained to obey their parents

 should memorize songs and stories

 should learn to be kind

Should be taught to clean a house

 should be taught to read phonetically

 should develop the  daily habit of studying math

9 to 12 years of age

should be trained to manage a household

should be trained to memorize lots of facts

 should be taught spelling and grammar rules of languages

 should be taught to write well-constructed sentences

 should be taught to write well-constructed paragraphs

13 to 14 years of age

should be trained in vocational skills

should be taught to write well-constructed paragraphs

 should be taught to write well-constructed essays

 should be taught to defend ideas

 should be taught public speaking

 should be taught  formal logic

 should be taught  research skills

15 to 18 years of age

 should be taught leadership

 should be taught to write comparative analysis of ideas

 should be taught to challenge ideas

Notice that there is no mention of history or science or subjects. Classical education is different from modern education. The classical model is skill-based, not merely subject-focused. Through the acquisition of grammar, the mental gymnastics of logical processes, and the art of communication, science students learn how to:

1. memorize, sort, and retrieve scientific facts

2. read science books (there is a specific way)

3. write about science (there are expected forms)

4. enter the Great Classical Conversations about the philosophies of science

5. manage technologies while studying creation

6. think about science, any science.

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We are also plugging away at memorizing the book of Philippians.  I got a bit bogged down again, having briefly been all caught up and feeling a bit smug maybe.  But as the volume of memorized material accumulates, so do the rich blessings, and I do find that memorizing and repeating these first 18 verses again and again does really refresh my mind, it helps me to reconsider how I am thinking about my brothers and sisters, how I view trials which seem to get in my way……I am to understand that all are given to me by the hand of God, all is for His glory, and my agenda is not the primary goal.  The goal is to bring glory to Christ, to abound in fruitfulness that points to its source in Him.

I’m memorizing using the schedule at This Link , and there is a very helpful method to help memorize using a moleskin notebook here.

I find that I memorize best by writing the passage over and over again, and by repeating it aloud to my kids as often as they will stop and allow me to.  They are remarkably patient with me, and will often try to out-do me, so it helps us all to commit it to memory better.

And here, from A Holy Experience, is a summary of Dr Andrew Davis’s Seven rules for Bible Memorization.   These are very good, and when it’s a whole book being memorized, I need all the help I can get!

Seven Ways of Highly Effective Bible Memorization*

1. Old before New

Always take the old paths. Begin each day by reviewing the memorized verses first before learning the next verse. The goal is retention not accumulation.

2. Rinse and Repeat

And again. The only way to retain learned verses is to review them again and again over an extended period of time. Everyday’s memorization rhythm: Rinse and repeat.

3. Location, Location, Location

Like the mantra in real estate is location, location, location, so it is for really remembering: memorize the location of each verse. Memorize each verse number and don’t skip it. This is paramount and makes it much easier to memorize long passages and not inadvertently skip verses when reciting whole chapters. Location!

4. Take a Mental Screen Shot

Use your mental point and shoot and take a brain “photograph” of the verse. Read each new verse several times, hiding one word at a time, burning each word into your mind like light onto film.

5. Preach it

To yourself. Speak your memory verses to yourself aloud. Preach it aloud to the soul that needs it the most — our own — and say each verse with emotion and feeling. Whispering it while driving, walking, working not only is an easy way of reviewing and memorizing, it’s fulfilling God’s call to meditate on His Word day and night. And saying each verse aloud is a way to work the words deep into our memory: His Words never return void.

6. Repeat it for 100

For 100 consecutive days repeat aloud your memory work — all the verses, or the chapter, or the whole book. This is painless and demands no extra time: do it first thing every morning while getting ready for the day — in the shower, getting dressed, making the bed etc. Repeat it for 100!

7. Sabbath Sanctuary to see the weeds

After your Repeat it for 100, take the last Sunday of every month and make a sabbath sanctuary to read through your memory work. This will help you to “see the weeds” — any mistakes that have crept into your recitation of longer projects/chapters/books. Soak in His Word on a Sabbath — pluck out some weeds. Commit your heart — and mind —- to Him again.

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Otherwise, we are enjoying the snow, and looking forward to spring. As the photos seem to indicate……And as for  the thermometer here below which reads -23C……this photo was taken because Helen-The-Ever-Cheerful walked past it and called out to us at breakfast “Oh, great, guys!  Look, it’s warming up!  We could all probably go down for a skate in a couple of hours.”

the second week in review

Here, again, is this wonderful passage from John Bunyan’s book  All Loves Excelling.

“The High God is yours;  the God that fills heaven and earth is yours;  the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is yours, yea, the God whose works are wonderful, and whose ways are past finding out, is yours!  Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that contend with you.     It is my support, it is my relief, it is my comfort in all my tribulations,  and I would have it be yours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof.”

This is an amazing concept.    It’s the most perfect antidote to discouragement.   It is so uplifting to consider that this great God is ours, and is our comfort.   Especially since our week here was not very inspirational or inspired.  But we were carried through and cared for through it all.  That is really marvellous!

This is how the outside world looked last time any of us were in it.     I love the look of the dam on our river  when it freezes.   I went for two very chilly three mile runs on Monday and Tuesday,  in temperatures which were something like -11C, and then, along with  my children, I fell ill.

It’s not surprising that our very satisfying start back to school last week…..complete with ball spike and victory dance by me…..was followed by a really mediocre week in which it has felt that we are marching through molasses.   This, thanks to a funky virus that is claiming us one by one and leaving us curled up under blankets and quilts on every sofa, chair, bed and even on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Not all of us have fallen, and the ones still on their feet have loved us and fed us, and kept things tidy and have kept morale up in something like a symphony of cheerful non-complaint.

Maggie has hardly shown any signs of illness, and has flitted from patient to patient wearing her Queen Elizabeth I dress.

Here she is , wearing her uniform, with a bit of war-paint fading from her cheeks, having just donated her mug of milk to good old Cinder.    Gross, but also sweet.    And it’s OK, she knows not to drink after the dog…..

She ministers to us by snuggling up close to her patient of choice, with the rustling crinolines and stiff collar standing tall.   Once she’s nestled in under the covers,  she  tells the most preposterous stories which include dragons, trips to Costco, a creature who creep into houses to steal ginger-ale, hairy spiders taking up residence in people’s noses, and squirrels in bathing suits.   And it’s really encouraging.   It reminds me that health is still close-by……so close I can almost touch it.   And then, later I find her sleeping, curled up like a pinto bean in front of the fireplace, exhausted by her efforts.

As I have said, we are neither inspired nor inspirational.   But we’re really thankful.   I am so very thankful for those blankets, chairs, beds and fireplace.  For Helen singing while she made breakfast for us all this morning.   For my sweet neighbour who just stopped by with a casserole.  For the good words of Philippians swirling around in my head, reminding me to remember my brothers with thankfulness and to look for how the grace of God is evident in their lives.    And for the blessing that comes to us as we remember to pray for one another.

We were all scheduled for the high entertainment of a debate session tonight, in which the three older kids had each taken a different stand on the topic of who should get the vote (as if it were the 1920’s).   One is arguing for an all white vote, another argues for black and white men voting, and another is taking the side of the women’s votes.    But two of my debaters are too dizzy to fight.

We had hoped to rocket  through the early 1920’s in history, and go straight for The Great Depression starting Monday.   Wonder if we can double up and cover all we missed next week and get back on schedule?    I’ll know in a week.

My older kids are doing two courses of Biology this year.  One is Apologia Biology, which seems to be a big favourite among home-schoolers.  The other course is a far more rigorous Biology with Microbiology which is being taught by their dad.   He usually brings them together for science class on Friday afternoon, and science class is always preceded by a day of jittery nervous energy, and three kids who have their heads buried in textbooks and computer screens in preparation.    I wonder if they will have class today……they don’t like to let Jon down, and it’s really beautiful to me to see them trying to rise to his expectations.

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I made a bit of progress on David’s sweater.   Here it is last week:

And here it is this week:

Here’s the original drawing, the plan for this sweater.   It’s silly, but I’m filling the drawing in with color as I get it knitted up.

Encouragement as we Re-enter the Atmosphere

Home education re-commences here at our house today, after a three week break.   It was a refreshing break, but executing a graceful return to routine is sometimes a challenge.

We all have to work together the first week to get the ship back in the water, so to speak.  And sometimes there’s a fair bit of lurching and scrambling before we have smooth sailing again.

By good providence this morning, Jon and I woke up at 4am without the alarm.   So I got an extra hour of quiet this morning to read and prepare.   That was such a sweet gift!

And after I finished my regular readings, I had a little time to follow a few rabbit trails in search of some good ideas to share with my kids. (I am in 2 Kings now, also reading through Psalm where I am at Psalm 141, and reading a Proverb a day, and trying to memorize Philippians with a few others.)

My reading in Philippians made me think I wanted to find a good bit of scripture to pray for the kids, and the widow with the oil in 2 Kings 4  had caused me to stop and wonder  how well I am teaching my kids to expect really big things from God.   So with these two ideas in mind, I went to the back of my Thompson Chain Reference.

After some meandering around,    I ended up in Ephesians 3:14 – 19, where Paul is praying for the Ephesians, saying:

“…I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through this Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge   – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

And that is a great thing to be praying for the kids today!    So I’m praying for that for us all.  Think of what it will be like to see that prayer being answered in our lives.   For us to be strengthened through the Spirit in our inner being, I understand that kind of strength and I want it more.  That is strength to stand firm for what’s right, and to lean on the Spirit for confidence in the truth of what we’ve been taught.  That would lead to all kinds of outrageous obedience.   Being rooted and established in love would mean, for one thing, that we would not be rooted and established in always having to be the one who is right, always having to have our own way.   We would be extending ourselves for one another all over the place.

And this business of grasping how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ is huge.  It sounds huge.  He’s saying that it’s more enormous than our ability to naturally grasp and understand it.  It means that God has to stretch our minds and hearts so we can  understand.  I want that.  And I want that for my family.

And then, in my little journal where I keep notes on whatever I am reading, I was looking around, and stumbled upon a quote from John Bunyan.   This is a little passage from his book All Loves Excelling , and is speaking about exactly those verses in Ephesians.   How cool is that!   And it’s such a wonderful and encouraging paragraph, I have to share it:

“The High God is yours;  the God that fills heaven and earth is yours;  the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is yours, yea, the God whose works are wonderful, and whose ways are past finding out, is yours!  Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that contend with you.     It is my support, it is my relief, it is my comfort in all my tribulations,  and I would have it be yours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof.”

And what could be more encouraging than that?   I hope everybody who’s reading this can share in this prayer, as this great God is yours and He wants you to understand who He is.

Resolved

For 2011, I am resolving to do one thing in a very new way.
This year,I’m not making a long impressive list of resolutions.
I think anyone who has read any blog of mine for any amount of time at all would agree that
I am some kind of “Resolution Queen”  I make a lovely list every year,
always with a mix of old resolutions and new.
And I have kept those lists, and when I look over them
I can only agree with the woman I was when  I wrote them that they are really excellent goals.
Some are more enticing,  some are more attainable , and some are more practical than others.
All have value.
All my resolutions over the years have, to a greater or lesser degree, been helpful to me .
Whether or not they have been achieved fully, they have all raised my sights and my standards in some way.
A new year is a new beginning, and a great time to start fresh.
It marks a launching pad from which it is almost natural to sort of re-pack your bags,
check the map and plot a better course.
And to do those things is wise.
So, I don’t ever want to become cynical at the prospect of New Year’s resolutions.
In fact, I’ll have a nice list of resolutions for 2012.
But this year, I’m resolving to not leap out and grab more projects, bigger and more beautiful.
This year, I’m just going to take the projects I have and slow down with them all, giving them better attention.   I’m going to focus on schooling my kids in a quieter way,  focussing on the details and fine-tuning the daily disciplines better.
Focusing on listening to what I have been taught, so I can apply it better.
This idea seems so obvious!
To give it my keener attention, though,  is  really necessary.
This simple plan grows out of my resolution for last year, which was to use the stuff I had better.
I think that the theme of 2010 was for me to look around at the abundance of what I have……the curricula,  the cookbooks,  the clothing,  the closet space,  the home-schooling room, the art supplies, the skills, the raw materials in my home…..and try and get better use from it all.    That was not a very glamorous resolution.   But it was HUGE!
For me to “smaller” myself, focusing of being thankful for what we have and using it better was much needed and really illuminating.
I have come to see more clearly (a bit more clearly)  my character flaws of laziness and wastefulness.   These are  flaws which have been plain and obvious to many others, and it is quite humbling to begin to understand how much they have gotten in the way of good productivity and a smooth running house.
So, to continue in this way is essential.
To look at my day and our schooling plans with an eye to get the most use of what’s been provided for us will continue to be Goal Number One.
And since last year the focus was on using the physical resources more wisely and well, the next step in the progression would seem to be that I use the teachings I have received better.  So my thought for 2011 is that this will be the year when I learn better how to apply the things I know.
I have a better understanding now, compared to a year ago, of how easily I waste
the “stuff” in my life.
Having some clearer insights about my failure over the years to use curricula, supplies, groceries, space….etc, and to get the most from what was provided by God for me,
I am sure that I am also failing to get the full value of all that I am reading, hearing, and seeing.
So, if there is a resolution for this year, it is to pay closer attention to what I am reading,
to what God has already instructed me to do,
to what my husband has asked me to do,
to the spoken requests of my children,
to the great possibilities set before me in the books and resources we have right here under our roof for the purpose of educating our children.
We have so much to be thankful for, and God has been really outrageously gracious to our family.
So I just want to faithfully use it all better, and to do so with a heart of thanksgiving.

I made this book for Jon……

I have found that  in my marriage,  as the years have rolled on and Jon and I  have become a better unit with a clearer sense of purpose together and a keener sensation of having become “one” organism, I am very nearly overwhelmed at the prospect of how to express what he means to me in a wrapped  gift.

I cannot  any longer simply walk  into Best Buy and find “just the thing” for him.
And as I was knitting everybody else’s gifts, one might expect I would knit up something for him.
The trouble with that is that his dear mother, Elza, is among the most outrageously talented knitters on the planet.
She knits fabulous Norwegian sweaters in four or five colors, while watching television and chatting with guests, and jumping up from time to time to check on dinner.

Her work is always beautiful, and I cannot compete.

All this is meant to explain why  my gift to Jon was not a sweater, but this little book.

It’s a book of quotes and thoughts and ideas from books I have read over the past year and also from really great blogs and websites where Puritan passages are still alive and well, and sermons are recorded, and hymns are written up like poetry, and it’s all available for our great edification.
The idea for this project began last year as the kids and I were redoubling our efforts to keep our copy books more diligently.  I found that there were so many little passages and quotes and verses that Jon would have loved.

Then my good friend Jeanine mentioned that her pastor’s wife had made something similar, and she gave me some good ideas and encouragement.

So I started a book for him, with a date at the top of each page, going through the year, so that he has a page of something encouraging to read, to kick off his day at work, or maybe for a little moment with coffee later on.

Jon is faithful about always having an hour in scripture every morning at 5:30, and with that in mind, I used scripture for only about half the days in the book.

When I used scripture, I used Psalms, written in their entirety, long passages from Ephesians and Philippians, some pages are headed with topics like “Wisdom”  “Forgiveness”  “Grace” or “Speech”  and have verses which apply to these subjects.
The rest are full of the thoughts of people like Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, J.C Ryle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones,  John Flavel, Octavius Wnslow, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards…….and many more good theological thinkers.    I used ten or more of the poems from The Valley of Vision .

There are also days filled with quotes by Aristotle, Plato, EB White, Confucius, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Julia Child, Bill Cosby, Calvin and Hobbes, Andy Rooney, PG Wodehouse, and there is even a day (April Fools Day I think) which is dedicated to ridiculous statements made by Jennifer Lopez.

So, I believe that all bases are covered.

It’s not a beautiful book, not in a really artistic sense.  It’s full of quotations and wise words from other people, and there are only a handful of pages which I wrote entirely on my own.

I want to just say that the one who got the greatest gift here was not my sweet husband.  It was me.  During the year of writing this book, as we made some really hard decisions for our family, the daily work of putting this book together sometimes compelled me to look for wisdom and comfort for myself in the places that were hard for me and for us, and I found such great comfort in the scripture studied topically, in the wise words of puritans who had already thought through many of my questions, and in the words of the Valley of Vision and Spurgeon and Edwards especially.

Wives out there, here is a great project that will bless you richly, and hopefully it will bless your men as well.

But you better start it soon……a year is almost what it takes to do a nice job on a book like this.

Still thinking about those hats…….

Just a few more thoughts that grew out of the post about big hats,  below.

It’s a fine thing to offend the unsaved with the gospel of Christ.
But, knowing that Christ loves this church that He bought with his blood…and that it is precious to Him,  sometimes I feel fearful of saying what is on my heart to believers, as I don’t want to offend those who have slightly different understandings  than I do.  I  understand that there are other ideas than mine, held by sincere believers who love Christ as I do.
Not one of us grasps the entirety of scripture perfectly, as far as I can tell.  And sometimes it seems like too many people in the Reformed church think that in  order to be really Reformed, we all have to act like Martin Luther on steroids.   Reform is certainly needed in the church today, but it’s reform of our hearts first.   And so, humility and caution are most appropriate….  before we begin hacking at one another.

Speaking about faith and then doctrinal  belief on the internet, whether on Facebook or on a blog, brings more opportunity for mischief and misunderstanding than speaking face to face.  I find that there are so many ways to hide the elements of my faith that might REALLY rub someone wrong, or to just blab out what I’m thinking without considering how it may cause harm.    And I am not the only one struggling with this.  Sometimes I read “Christian Blogs” and am amazed at the lack of love, at the arrogance and at the failure to remember that we are to correct one another in love.
And I believe that where Hebrews 12:13 says “Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed”  speaks to our tendency to trip up the one we believe is in error, rather  than gently help him along to a better understanding .
We are told not to be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, and we are also told to keep on loving each other as brothers.  (Hebrews 13)

So when I encounter people who claim Christ, but who hold to doctrines that I do not find in the Bible,  or who teach one doctrine while practicing something different.   Or who elevate one teaching above another,learning how to respond rightly  requires prayer, and scripture and patience and a fair bit of disciplined silence.  It is essential to know where my authority lies, and to be in the habit of obedience.  And I must love them first.  Whether I’m in the room with them, or reading their ideas on a screen.

It is really the  lovely sandpaper of the Holy Spirit on my soul for me to bow to scripture and receive instruction on how to step forward.   Because my own proud heart always wants to do the wrong thing.

So, first, I must examine myself. (2 Cor. 13)  I must look at my own motivations.  If I can say what’s on my mind with love, and if what I really am after is to help, not to criticize or to elevate myself.  Then perhaps I can speak.

On Saturday, Jon and I were invited for lunch with friends Kevin and Litza in Toronto.  As we arrived and were saying “hello” to  Kevin in his driveway, a gentleman passed on the street with his wife and baby.
This man was a hasidic Jew, wearing a very large fur hat called a shtreimel.    Here below is a photo of two man wearing shtreimel hats:

Now I ask you, is there anything you could put upon your head that would scream “Look at me!”  any louder?

As this family passed by, Kevin commented something to the effect that he admires these men who are so bold to proclaim in no uncertain terms and to all the world, who they are and where their faith lies.   (Isn’t it so wonderful when somebody can point out something beautiful that you had failed to notice?)

He said   “You cannot look at a Christian and tell who he is. Well, except that some people have a fish on the back of their car.”   His idea was that we should all be as bold to make ourselves known as really belonging to Christ as the Jewish people in his neighbourhood are bold to proclaim their own belief.
But we don’t have hats or T-shirts or hairstyles to identify us.   We have to proclaim our faith in words first,  and then by our behaviour.
We have to decide to make it known that our identity is in Christ.  We need to be free and eager to to do what’s required to say “Look at Christ!”

But lots of time we are afraid of confrontation.  Or we don’t feel confident of our ability to articulate our faith.  It’s fear.
And actually, if we are speaking for Christ, if we are standing firmly in opposition to evil, we can be sure that we will meet opposition.  But we must learn to meet it, to march toward it knowing that we are defending the only one worth defending.

Because I belong to the one who is truth,  I can rest in Him.  It’s His universe, so I can humbly and gently and with kindness step out in obedient faith, speech and action.  Because I belong to the one who owns it all.   I am not an uninvited guest, and I need never behave as if  I were, by hiding the one to whom I belong.

Are cellphones the new cigarettes? And is my shallowness showing?

By loving providence, we live in a time when information and communication are available to us in such  abundance, it is nearly impossible to stand apart ….without our  lives,  our time and relationships, and our quiet moments being effected by new technologies and the temptations they offer.  Part of the reason we can’t stand apart from it all is because it’s everywhere, and the other part is  because these technologies are so fabulously fun and interesting and cool and amazing and informative.

Maureen Dowd wrote an article at the NY Times on the topic of cell phone use and the health risks it brings, and attempts at legislating controls to keep cell phones safer.  She mentions the incessant use of  cellphones by  teens,  followed by  the disturbing data you have perhaps already read elsewhere about the increased likelihood for tumors in these kids.  A 400 fold increase.  That should get our attention!

And then, putting it into historical perspective:

“The great cosmic joke would be to find out definitively that the advances we thought were blessings — from the hormones women pump into their bodies all their lives to the fancy phones people wait in line for all night — are really time bombs.”

Every generation seems to have it’s beloved new fad which turns out to be a carcinogen once the studies are done.
My own grandmother was given X-rays, while pregnant in 1944, and was thankful for that new technology.    The thought of it makes you shudder, right?
My grandfather was given cases of free cigarettes to help him pass the hours in the trenches in France during WWI.  Not a new technology, but certainly a beloved new fad.
And back in the early ’80s, most of my friends and  I went to the tanning bed about every other week.  Who does that now?

As far as cell phone use goes, it’s not a problem at my house.  I don’t really deserve to have a phone.  I only use it when I’m travelling without Jon.  Otherwise I never think about it.  I have left my phone behind while travelling, left it behind in a diaper bag, left it in the car, and never once missed it.   My cell actually went through the wash last week in the pocket of a tote bag or something.  I had not wondered where it was.   It’s dead now.

For my household, the piece of modern technology that we just can’t get enough of is lap-top computers.
My real addictive concern  is that I can hardly walk past my computer without checking e-mail or news blogs.  On days when we are all home all day long getting everyone educated, I have been known to  hand my lap-top over to one of the kids and ask them not to return it to me until late in the day.   This in lieu of self control.

I don’t worry that this e-mail, information  addiction of mine is going to cause cancer.   But I know for sure that it’s taken a toll on my ability to read printed material for a sustained amount of time and to keep my attention at a deep enough level that I have to sort of “resurface” from a good long spell in a book.  I find it much more difficult to “get lost” in a good book now.  I fear for my kids that they might not have  the same rich experiences that I treasure of being carried away by a fine piece of fiction.

I find that I have to be careful about the amount of time I am on the internet, and that I have to be sure that I spend more time with printed material than with computer images.

And just on this  topic of how internet use might have a degenerative effect upon the brain, here is a tantalizing paragraph from a USA Today review of  Nicholas Carr’s book What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows .

“The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just like it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.”

Carr cites numerous studies to delineate not only the impact on the brain, but also the alterations in brain biology that lead to the impact. It turns out the human brain is a shape shifter, the technical term being “neuroplasticity.” The phenomenon is not easy to explain, but Carr is adept at explaining with as little jargon as possible. “As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”

Here’s a link for some opinions on Carr’s book

I know also that computer and internet “busyness” has a not-so-lovely impact upon our time management skills.   While I am almost deliciously thankful for all that the internet has contributed to the education of my children, and to their ability to stay connected with friends and with the culture of which they are a part, there’s that dark side.   Every parent in North America knows what I’m talking about.   It’s the moment when you say “Where’s Johnny?” and some smaller sibling says “Oh, he’s still on his computer…..'”  And the grass is still not mowed….or whatever.

My point here is not that cell phones and lap-tops are bad.  (In fact, at this point I must confess that yesterday I finally bought myself an iPhone, which will be used less as a telephone…more as a GPS and e-mail checking device.)   But I do think that these cool tools and toys require a tremendous degree of self control and wisdom.  And even more so since there appears to be a slope down which many of us can easily slide into an unhealthy absorption with the images and the instantaneousness of internet and cell technology.

Here, again,  what Maureen Dowd had to say:

“We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.”

Which reminds me of a verse about another kind of obsessive behavior:

35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?”   Proverbs 23:35

So the key is that we must be wise in this area of our lives, just like we must be wise in all others.  Not that it’s simple, but there is hope and there is a promise.

“5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”    James 1:5

And we who are redeemed by the blood of Christ can stand up straight with a heart of thankfulness and remember this:

“1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”   Galatians 5:1

And we can read the warnings which are offered by those who see the danger.   If we are wise we will learn from them.

But the key is to throw out the sin.   Then we can hang on to the gift and use it wisely.
We need to  rightly identify  sinful habits in our own hearts, and  repent of those rather than blaming a technology for the damage we may be doing to ourselves.

Well Used

I have an old Thompson Chain Reference Bible that my dad bought for me in 1982.  It has been replaced with a fresh new Bible, and its replacement has also been replaced.    I was a brand new,  rapidly growing Christian when that Bible was new, and it has all sorts of notes in the margins from places like Urbana and K.C. ’83 and one particularly excellent missions conference where  I heard J.I. Packer teach for several days.

This Bible is completely ragged  now.  The leather cover has  chunks missing, and my embossed name on the front has just about worn off, so I don’t use it for daily reading any more.  The pages are about to all fall out.  But I was looking through it the other day, and it brought back so many rich memories.   And while  I was meandering around in the notes scrawled all over the blank pages at the back of this Bible, I found a little prayer there.  I don’t know where it came from, but I know that it was a prayer I prayed almost daily for many years, and here it is:

Lord, You are the Sovereign and Gracious creator of everything I am and everything I see.
Your Son  died to save me when I was your enemy, and I thank you for this gift of salvation which is so entirely undeserved.
Please use me today, because if You use me, I will have been very well used.

It’s pretty simple, but it’s a good reminder to me of who I am and who God is, and how I should get myself organized with the Lord each day,  before I get myself tangled up in my own foolishness… as I am prone to do.