Thursday, August 31, 2006

Beyond Babies

In Italy and Japan, among the 80 percent or so of women who do still have children, the one-child mini family has become the new social norm. This, too, is a modern lifestyle choice. "It's the minimal family that lets you off the hook from parents and social expectations, but exacts the least burden on your lifestyle..."

More and more Western couples are choosing not to have kids, as readers of my blog know since I harp on this all the time. If you're interested, check out this Newsweek article.

Hat tip: Mr. Crunchy Con

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

School Days, School Days...

This week has been our first full-load week of first grade. Since we are following a fairly rigorous Classical approach, it takes several hours each day. I admit, I was very apprehensive about using a Classical model when Billy asked me to go that route. I envisioned nothing but dry, difficult rote memory and no creativity. I couldn't figure out why people combined the Classical and Charlotte Mason methods, because in my mind Classical equalled rigorous, and rigorous meant intense and boring. Charlotte Mason, in my mind, equalled relaxed and unstructured. Those of you who know your stuff know that those are unfair and inaccurate characterizations of both methods. I'm delighted at the use of living books recommended for History and Science in The Well-Trained Mind. The other curricula we chose has been a delight as well. So far every item we've bought throughout kindergarten and the beginning of first grade has rendered results and been worth the investment.

Is classical education structured, orderly, and rigorous? Yes. But dull and painful, no. Of course I know that education requires hard work and certain subjects may be more difficult or less enjoyable than others. But the more I learn, the more I believe that as my little students enjoy the majority of their school work, the less burdensome the harder work will be.

Here's Elizabeth's very first history narration, from the first page of Leif the Lucky by the D'Aulaires.

There was a man called Erik the Red. He got kicked out of Norway. He sailed to Iceland. He found a wife and it wasn't long before he had to go. He went south and he found ice and behind it he found bears, walruses, and green grass. There were no houses, no people, and he thought it was a good place for Vikings to live there in silent peace. So he went back for his wife and children. He got his neighbors too.

Missed the Mark

"It is painfully obvious that we have overlooked the single most important element for fulfilling the Great Commission. It seems we have been so busy trying to reach the world that there has been no time to focus on being like Jesus. So we haven't reached the world, and we aren't very much like Jesus. Since the Great Commission is driven by depth more than strategy, the mission of the church has been greatly weakened. Depth means passion; it means connection to God. Depth gives credibility that following Jesus matters as our immaterial nature is transformed into the characteristics of Christ--more compassion than detachment, more humility than hubris, less comparison and more unity."

-Choose the Life by Bill Hull, pg. 82

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sorry For the Light Blogging

High school reunion, funerals, and beginning our school year have had us running. I have a bunch of posts in my head, just no time to type them right now. Stay tuned, more activity coming up soon I hope.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

OK, I Can't Help It

Another article about how the West is making itself extinct because we won't have kids.

"Much of western civilization does not have any future. That’s to say, we’re not just speaking philosophically, but literally. In a very short time, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries we regard as part of the western tradition will cease to exist in any meaningful sense. They don’t have a future because they’ve given up breeding."

It's Breeding Obvious, Mate

Hat Tip: Lindsey

Monday, August 21, 2006

Great New Blog

My missionary brother-in-law Stephen has a new blog called One Knight's Journey. Good stuff. Check it out. I especially appreciated this post.

Two Bad Words

There are two little words I’ve determined to eradicate from the vocabularies of my children. I’ve been working on it ever since they started talking, and those two little words still crop up now and then, but I’m determined to root them out. Those two words? I want!

I’ve heard a lot of grown-ups who still say “I want” regularly. Whether in little ones or big people, I think it sounds petulant and demanding. My babies say, “I want a drink,” or “I want to go outside.” Maybe you think I’m making too much out of nothing. But without being harsh or stuffy, I believe I can teach them to say, “Can I please have a drink?” or “Can we go outside?” or even “We’re going to play outside!” instead of using those dreadful words, “I want”. I find that “I want” usually goes hand-in-hand with whining or bossing. If they learn to express their desires with courtesy now, I trust that they won’t become adults who demand with a sense of entitlement, “I want mayonnaise on my burger,” or “I want a new couch.”

I want my kids to feel free to express their desires. But doesn’t “I’d like to go fishing today” or “I’d love some hot chocolate” leave a bit of openness to changes of plans, a bit of humility, a bit of grace?

I’m not holding my children to a different standard than the one to which I hold myself. It’s not that I don’t slip up now and then and use those two bad words. I do. But I’ve discovered a couple of things that happen when I say, “I want”. The main thing is that my “wants” tend to come from a heart of demanding self-will. It leaves out the feelings of others and blocks the Spirit of God, Who, after all, might want something totally different from what I want. When I say, “I want” I leave myself open to disappointment, because wants aren’t very flexible. And when I say “I want,” I usually end up in a mess.

One particularly vivid lesson on this came a couple years ago when God had just blessed us with a wonderful new car. One of the first days I was out running errands in the new ride, I was on my way home and thought, Should I stop by the grocery store before I go home? I was running short on time, and I had a niggling doubt about whether or not it was a good idea. I specifically remember saying out loud as I drove down the road, “But I just want...” I don’t remember what it was that I wanted to do, but I remember my want pushing aside my better judgment, maybe even the voice of God. It was Christmas time and the parking lot was jammed. A new building project made it even more congested. To make a long story short, I backed my new vehicle into a huge construction trailer and tore up the whole back end.

That was a hard lesson.

It’s one I haven’t learned perfectly, but I’m growing. I realize that God cares about the little things as well as the big things, and that there are no neutral choices. The small choices I make throughout the day either carry us more toward light or more toward darkness. The little demands we make—for our favorite dessert, the movie we want to watch, the way we think a church program should be run, plans for the evening—are building blocks to a life of character, or the lack thereof. Surrender to God (even in the little stuff) and to others facilitates humility and grace.

I do hope that I can help my kids lay aside self-will and entitlement and teach them to be gracious, flexible, content, and undemanding. I pray that they will understand preferences without turning those preferences into rights. I pray that they will have strong opinions without letting those opinions override relationships. I pray that they’ll lay aside their wants for the leading of God and the good of others. And I pray this for myself as well. May I be able to say, “Your will be done,” not only when it fits my desires.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Jesus Saves?

Last night in the church nursery, my 3-year-old, Silas, climbed high on a piece of furniture.

"Get down from there, Silas," the nursery worker said, "You're going to fall."

"It's OK," he replied. "I have Jesus in my life."

Baby Blessings

"I am often asked by women dating men how to tell whether they are marriage material. I tell them, ‘See if he enjoys children.’ A man who loves children is playful. He will spend his life joking with his wife because he loves to see her laugh, and will flirt with her because he loves to see her smile.

There was a time when husbands and wives worked hard to ensure they could afford the blessings of a large family. Today, the higher your earning bracket the fewer children you have, but then we always knew that many turn money from a blessing into a curse."

Babies are No Longer a Blessing by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

I've heard Protestants and Catholics defend large families, and religions like Islam encourage large families (much mores so than Christians, unfortunately). Here's a Jewish perspective.

Hat tip: Love and Blunder

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

God Uses Fools

I’m disgusted, frustrated, saddened sometimes by the abrasiveness, the tackiness, the lack of creativity and grace I see among too many Christians, including myself. Yet I take comfort in the fact that God uses us in spite of ourselves sometimes. I’ve seen a sappy spiritual exercise resonate with, touch, revolutionize the life of someone else. I’ve seen families be transformed because their child attended a tacky, cutesy vacation Bible school. I’ve seen abrasive, confrontational preachers reach people with the gospel of Christ, and I’ve seen those reached by those preachers in turn go on to do great things for God. I’ve seen the social struggler invite one person to church and seen whole extended families turned upside down—in a good way—because of it. I’ve seen the eccentric reach out and bless others. It's sweet encouragement to me that God can use me even though I'm sometimes foolish or inept.

That’s why I appreciated this article by Daniel Silliman. I knew Daniel (now a crime reporter) when we were kids, and his mom and sister Valerie are two dear friends of mine. In this case, God used a crazy street preacher named Lindsey to change the course of a life and family forever.

The Poor

The poor, Jesus said, will be with us always. And it’s true. Sometimes they are stereotypes of poverty, the starving African, the North Vietnamese who suffers under communism, the Mexican family who lives in a one-room cardboard house, the grandmother who ekes out a living from her social security check . Other times the poor show up in the most unlikely places.

Last fall when our family went to get a burger at the restaurant up the street, a young waitress served us. As we chatted with her, we discovered that she has six children, ages seven and under. (You could have knocked me over with a feather when she said this; she’s about as big around as my little finger.) Their house had burned down. Her husband was disabled in a work-related accident. They now lived in a low-income apartment complex in a neighborhood so bad that the police won’t come around after dark. They couldn’t afford anything better.

A few weeks later, our church decided to adopt their family for Christmas. When we told our waitress friend about it, she was overwhelmed. Someone had just broken into their apartment and stolen their gifts, their meager savings, and even their Christmas tree. We got the kids toys, a set of warm clothes, and pajamas. Billy and I delivered their gifts and met her husband and six precious babies, sweet, beautiful, affectionate children. As hard as times had been, you could feel the love in their family, their commitment to each other, and the strength they drew from being together. “It’s all about my kids,” the young father told us as he held the two-year-old in his arms.

Shortly after Christmas their situation went from bad to worse and they ended up living in a hotel. Now it’s August and they’re still in a hotel. We saw the young waitress the other day and she’s working twelve hours a day, six days a week, just to keep them afloat. She hardly gets to see her six babies. She was so tired she could barely think.

What amazes me about this girl is her strength. No matter how tired she is or how bad things get, she always keeps a good attitude. Things are always just about to get better, she’s sure. When something else breaks or goes wrong she says, “That’s OK. That’s fixable. I’m alive. I have my family. We’re going to make it.”

I’m sure there are times when she goes back to their cheap, crowded hotel room late at night and cries because she’s so tired and wonders if it really ever will get better. But when morning comes, she heads out again to work her fingers to the bone so her family will have something to eat and a roof overhead.

She doesn’t solicit charity and she’s not looking for a handout. We didn’t know that her kids needed socks and underwear until we asked. Without a vehicle, she rides the bus to work, but she doesn’t mention it unless we bring it up. I’ll be honest, in her place I think it would be far easier to just quit my job and go on welfare. But she’s determined to do what’s right and work hard until things get better.

We try to help her as much as we can. We share the nice hand-me-downs people give us, and eat at her restaurant when she’s working so we can tip generously, we listen carefully for opportunities to give her a hand (because she’s certainly not going to ask for help).

Yet there’s only so much we can do. We want to tread carefully, not insult her by being too generous, not to be perceived as patronizing, but rather to be the people of God who reach out to others because God has provided so extravagantly for us.

If you think about it, please say a prayer for our waitress friend, her husband, and their six sweet little children. They need a home. They need a car. She needs a job that will allow her to make a decent living without working so hard and so many hours. Her husband needs improved health so that he can work as he wants to. And right now they need a whole lot of grace.

The poor will be with us always. They show up in the most unlikely places, they are people you might never guess. So keep your eyes and ears open, and tip well.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

More Variety Coming up Soon

OK, OK, I promise that pretty soon I'll post about something besides a certain segment of the homeschool subculture's pet issues--homeschooling, breastfeeding, modesty and submission. That stuff is all fun to write about, but it's not all I'm about, really. If those topics aren't your style, keep checking back. More variety coming up soon.

Sweet Submission

I guess I’m pretty old-fashioned. I’ve always believed that a Christian wife should voluntarily submit to her husband in all things (blatant immorality or lawbreaking aside) without nagging or a lousy attitude. Practically that’s a little more difficult. Since I started my marriage with a firm belief in submission, I think I can say that I’ve usually done what Billy has wanted me to do (at least I hope so), but with a good attitude…Well, not always.

Every now and then God shows me that submission really does work. Today was one of those times. I’ve had my tentative curriculum plan for Elizabeth’s first grade year ready since the beginning of June, but Billy said, “Wait.” I waited. At first I waited patiently. As the summer has worn on, my waiting has not been so patient. I’d ask if I should order, and he’d say, “Just wait a little longer. I want to check on this or that.” Finally I quit asking simply because I didn’t want to be a nag.

But I felt unsettled inside. I’m a planner. I don’t think I have a spontaneous bone in my body. It makes me nervous to not have a plan with times and dates, and it makes me really agitated to cut things close to a deadline (even though I’ve cut deadlines close plenty of times in recent years). I was at a point where I was on the verge of fuming because I “knew” that we should have ordered our curriculum by now. You know, the kind of fuming where you are having imaginary conversations with the person you are mad at? Yeah, I was almost there. That kind of fuming, by the way, is always destructive, because eventually the imaginary conversation becomes a real one, but it never sounds as good when you say it out loud as it sounded in your head, and you usually have things to apologize for when it’s all over with. This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but if I don’t tell this part of the story it makes me sound a whole lot more righteous than I really am.

Finally Billy gave me the go-ahead to order. This afternoon I sat down and was in the middle of ordering when he asked if I wanted to run an errand with him. At first I said no. Then I remembered something else I’ve learned, which is to try to never pass up an opportunity to spend time with my guy when he asks me to. I figure if I turn him down too many times, he’ll stop asking, and I don’t want us to get to that point. So I shut the order down to finish tonight and we took off.

When I got into the truck I saw today’s mail on the seat, which included our new homeschool group newsletter. On the back cover was listed curriculum for sale. One of the items was the most expensive book set I had planned to order for our school year, priced at 2/3 less than I had planned to pay. I called immediately, and of course it hadn’t sold yet.

It would have been easy to make a stink, thrown out all my good arguments about why I “knew” we should order right now, and gotten him to agree. Or I could have just gone ahead and placed the order and feigned innocence when it came. You know, “Well I thought you said,” or “But we couldn’t wait any longer.” (OK, so this would have gone over like a lead balloon at our house, but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted.)

If I had acted on what I “knew” based on my plans and “common sense”, I would have made us miss out on a huge money-saving blessing. Furthermore, we would miss out on meeting a new local homeschool family and possibly developing a relationship that I think could be really great for my kids (another story for another day on that). This was a sweet and gentle reminder that God has given me the husband He has, and that I need to trust him even when it doesn’t make sense to me. It reminded me to lay aside my own expectations and desire to control and believe that He has ordained Billy to lead our family even when I don’t understand, even in the smaller things. It’s not that it would have been the end of the world if I had paid full price for the books. But I would have missed a blessing, maybe more than one, and it would have put another brick in my life’s wall of self-will. It would have undermined Billy’s authority rather than building him up as the leader of our household. And as it turns out, our books will probably arrive in plenty of time for me to plan lessons and get ready for our projected start date.

So tomorrow morning I’ll be ordering our books—minus the most expensive purchase. And tomorrow maybe I’ll meet a new friend. Next time my commitment to submission is challenged, I hope I can set an example before my kids of the right way to do it. Next time I hope I can submit with rest, trust, peace, and grace, because what God has planned is way better than what I could plan on my own.

Monday, August 07, 2006

World Breastfeeding Week: Final Day

I didn't have time to post over the weekend, but I thought I'd finish the week with a few thoughts. One of the most positive little extras about breastfeeding responsively is that it usually spaces babies very nicely, actually in over 90% of women. We often hear from the vocal exception, but statistics show that responsive breastfeeding is effective at staving off ovulation for at least the first 6 months (or whenever baby starts solids). It worked for 11 months with my first and 15 months with my second, and actually seems to stop working around the time baby starts sleeping through the night. This is one reason I'm not a fan of scheduling (besides the fact that I don't belive it's good for the baby). God has made us, as a rule, with a built-in baby spacing mechanism...One that won't work if we schedule baby's feedings or introduce solids too early.

For more complete information on this, check out Sheila Kippley's classic, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing .

After the birth of my second, my OB told me as though he were revealing a great secret, "Breastfeeding will probably be a pretty effective method of birth control for the first few months anyway. Years ago when most women breastfed, their fertility typically didn't return for a year or longer. That spaced their babies and that's how they ended up with 8 or so kids." While I was encouraged that he recognized this biological truth (unlike some other doctors I've had), I was sad that such knowledge has been lost in our generation. I realize that not every family will choose to have many children, but no matter how many children we have, experiencing this breather before we have to be concerned with another pregnancy can reduce stress and give us time to focus on a sweet new baby.

Again, I guess God knew what he was doing when he created our bodies to function as they do. Surprise!

Monday Lifestyle Update

I didn't do too well on my exercise this week. Billy had to leave very early for hospital visits and the like several mornings, so I wasn't able to get out and walk, but that's OK. That's just life, and some weeks will be like that. I did miss my exercise. I haven't been sleeping soundly and I think that's part of it.

I drank lots of water, watched my eating, but didn't eat enough raw and nibbled too much. I'm not gaining (lb or inches) just holding steady. I think I'll have to declare war to get over this hump. Not discouraged (too busy to think about it) but just trying to analyze how I need to change things in order for them to be effective. My body is working totally differently now that I've had kids, and while I don't feel like it will be *hard* to lose weight, it is just a matter of figuring out what works for me now. I think it will have something to do with burning more calories than I consume, or something complicated like that. ;)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Billy's Nerd Score

I am nerdier than 65% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

"Definitely a nerd but low on the totem pole of nerds."

He says that in college he would have topped it out. You know, the questions like, "Should you have biohazard or warning signs posted in your room?"

I say he's just well-rounded. *L*

Don't Click Away

When you see that I'm about to recommend an aricle by Reb Bradley. That's almost what I did when I saw his name mentioned on Molly's blog. Only the fact that I've seen Molly be open-hearted and anything but legalistic made me finish the paragraph, and boy am I glad I did. Reb Bradley discusses why he and other homeschool families have seen their kids not turn out exactly as they'd hoped, and in some cases overtly rebel. Excellent, excellent article, made all the more palatable because Mr. Bradley has had the humility to admit that he was wrong about some of the parenting decisions he made for his family and then taught to hundreds or thousands of others. (For those who don't know, the Bradleys are big names in the "conservative" homeschool community.) A teachable spirit brings joy to my heart, and makes me want to be sure that I'm teachable as well. Check out the article here.

I Am Cool (According to These Results)

I am nerdier than 6% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I laughed out loud when I read my results, and I was not at all surprised. I really don't despise nerds. I think (oh, wait, with such a low nerd score can I even use that word?) they are cool, which is a good thing since I'm married to a cool nerd. I'll have him take the test to prove it, but I know (can I use that word either?) I'm right. He's a smart guy. Since 94% of people had a higher nerd score than I do, maybe my result should just have read "ignorant".

Random question: I wonder how many non-nerds are married to nerds. Do opposites attract, or are we an anomaly?

Breastfeeding is Good for Moms

I ran across this article from BBC News a couple years ago.

Extra Breastfeeding Prevents Cancer

When you do the math, you see that if a woman has 8 children, she has a more than 90% chance of *not* getting breast cancer. Hmmmmm...Maybe God knew what He was doing when He created our bodies to function as they do.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It's World Breastfeeding Week!

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I started blogging 9 months ago, yet I was so busy yesterday that I missed posting on the first day. Oops. I’m not sure I’ll have anything that profound to contribute anyway, but I’ll share a bit of what I’ve learned as I’ve nurtured three babies, and some of the helpful resources I’ve found.

I was blessed to be raised in an environment that fully supported breastfeeding. My mom breastfed all five of us, and I honestly don’t remember any mother I knew growing up giving her baby a bottle. There might have been one or two, but not enough that I remember them. I have far more memories of mothers discreetly nursing their babies at Bible studies and homeschool groups. Because I had been raised around families who were so supportive of breastfeeding, when I had Elizabeth, it honestly never crossed my mind that formula was an option. In my mind it wasn’t a choice. Breastfeeding was the norm, formula was an unnatural and undesirable alternative.

Billy, on the other hand, came from an opposite background. Breastfeeding was completely foreign to him. He supported me completely, but he became a convert over time. When he saw how healthy and content our babies were, how chubby they were, and most of all, how they immediately began to be sick more often once they weaned (proof that breastfeeding really does boost baby’s immunity even into the toddler years), he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Although I had been raised in an environment that was positive toward breastfeeding and I believed it was best, I was still pretty clueless when I began. A dear friend told me before Elizabeth was born how important it was for babies to get breastmilk, the perfect brain food, for at least the first two years while baby’s brain was growing rapidly. I don’t believe I had given any thought to how long I’d nurse my babies, but that encouragement gave me a goal to shoot for. Elizabeth nursed till her second birthday and Silas self-weaned at about 21 months. Sarah is 15 months and counting.

This same friend encouraged me to breastfeed (and mother) my tiny one responsively, feeding her on cue, because it would be best for both her and me. She encouraged me to not let a little baby “cry it out”, but rather to listen to the only voice Baby had to let me know what she needed. What wonderful advice! I never felt resentment toward my baby for waking at night or wanting to nurse, because it was settled in my heart that God has designed babies to let Mom know when they need her—whether for nourishment or comfort.

With Elizabeth, my first, this was a special blessing. She was and is my busy, busy girl. She never stops moving. She never stopped long enough to sit on anyone’s lap or snuggle. Those long nursing sessions, especially at bedtime, gave us times of physical closeness we never would have otherwise had. I attribute much of our close relationship today to the nurturing I was able to give her as a small baby. It was a sweet time of bonding, unhindered by bedtime battles that would have occurred had I forced scheduling and self-soothing and taken a confrontational, adversarial approach. As it is, this firstborn who was such a challenge in other ways is my very best sleeper now.

So breastfeeding has been a gift to our family. I’ve seen how God’s perfect design for nurturing babies truly is beneficial for them, and in so many ways for us as parents too. While I still have much to learn, I’m grateful for friends, family, and resources that have made the journey easier.

On her blog, Tulipgirl is keeping a running list of who all is blogging for World Breastfeeding Week. Go check it out! Thanks Tulipgirl!