If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge- then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. - Psalm 91:9-12
If you asked me what my greatest fear is, I would not know how to answer - and it's not because I am fearless. In fact, it is not difficult to make me uneasy. As a young child, I lost sleep over movies like Honey I Shrunk The Kids that others found harmless. To this day, I cannot watch TV shows or movies that contain suspenseful music or screaming characters. I admit that I do not understand the Lost phenomenon; just hearing that show from another room bothers me. And even a few minutes of watching shows that flash through crime scenes and cruel acts haunt me with disturbing images.
For some, it's easy to brush off the horrors of Hollywood with the thought that, "It's not real." Maybe I identify too much with the characters, so their trials seem as real as if they were my own. Or maybe I remember that even if the murder or rape or terrorist act on the movie is scripted, such violent crimes are committed in real life everyday, and they are not the good and lovely things that my Lord would have me dwell on. People really do contract deadly illnesses, lose loved ones, and suffer at the hands of others, but the frequency of such events does not make them any less painful for those who are afflicted. It seems that slowly and subtly, "entertainment" has built up a tolerance in most Americans for the sin and suffering that plagues this fallen world. But 1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us to avoid every kind of evil, and I believe that applies to our choices in entertainment. I do not like to think about evil things, and I certainly do not want to be plagued with images of wickedness when I am alone in the dark.
As Don and I pursue purchasing a single family home - and one that is surrounded by woods - we are considering my safety in being home with the children while he is at work. Should we get a big dog, an alarm system, or a shotgun for my protection? Or is locking the door enough to keep harm at bay? In our worries and actions, we have to find the balance between guarding our family from potential evil and acting out of fear. It think it's easier for my husband - he fears nothing except the wrath of God. For a petite young woman like me, the world can be a scarier place. And while I know that God is watching over me, I also know that I am not immune to the effects of sin. There is no guarantee that I will never find myself in a frightening or dangerous situation. My guarantee, it seems, is simply that I will never be there alone.
I was thinking over this subject as I contemplated this week's "In Other Words" hosted at Writing Canvas. The passage from Psalms above is a timely reminder for me that God is a protector whom I can trust. Beyond a secure home with fences and deadbolts, I need to make the Most High my constant dwelling place. When I am dwelling with Him, His Word says that no harm will befall me. He even commands His angels to guard me and hold me in their hands. How many times, when my mind has wandered to the thoughts of all that could go wrong - car accidents, robbery, injury, and so on - has the Lord been sending angels to protect me? These guardians are more than the gold Cupid-shaped birthstone pin I wore when I was ten. Real angels, powerful heavenly beings, are at the disposal of the Most High. If He sends them to protect me, they go. I need not fear disaster, for the Lord says it will not come near my tent. And if a cloth tent can be secure, surely the Lord will protect me inside walls of wood and Sheetrock.
At bedtime tonight, I turned to the comforting words of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" in our treasured hymnal. The lyrics of the third verse, especially, stood out to reassure me that so long as the Lord is my refuge, I need fear no evil. His everlasting arms will hold me in this dark, distressing world, and lead me safely into eternal life, where there will be nothing left to fear.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms; I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, Leaning on the everlasting arms. Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms; Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
Today I am continuing to share what I have learned in the past month of teaching my children at home. If you missed the last post, you can catch up on the first three things, then read on as I delve into the deeper lessons that God is teaching me this autumn.
5. We cannot learn it all...yet. With each topic we discuss, I realize how much more in depth we could go, and how much more there is to learn. I have wondered if I should spend several weeks studying apples instead of trying to cover all kinds of growing things in just two months. Sometimes my inner perfectionist finds my laid-back approach to preschool education frustrating because of its lack of definition and completeness. At the same time, I am content that this is just what we should be doing. Our informal activities give me an opportunity to connect with my boys while fostering their love of learning. They will have many years to discover the intricate details of phonics and photosynthesis and physics. For now, there is a joyful freedom in taking our time as we learn through reading, play, and everyday life.
6. The adventures will only increase next June, when we welcome a new baby into the world. I have been wondering for a while when God would bless our family with another child, so I am excited to have this glimpse into our future. The Lord continually reminds me that even when it is not what I would have expected, His timing is always the best. And I know that throughout this pregnancy - and when I have three young children to care for - He will be faithfully teaching me to rely on Him for guidance, wisdom, and strength. The lessons in God's faithfulness and grace in spite of my own inadequacy are, of course, ones I will be learning for life.
7. The most important teachings are found in God's Word. If my children can identify letters and count to 20 and explain how an oak tree grows, but they do not know God, then I have taught them nothing worthwhile. So in addition to reading theme-related Bible stories, I have printed out relevant memory verses for us to study. Our art activities include decorating the verses, which I preserve by slipping them into sheet protectors inside a binder. The children love to look at their handiwork in the book of verses, and even little Hayden has memorized the keys words of Scripture. Our first verse, the one that we decorated with apple prints, was Proverbs 7:2:
Keep my commands and you will live; Guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
If they learn nothing else, I want my children to learn to keep God's commands. In fact, it is the most important lesson I can learn, too. As I guard the Bible's teachings in my heart, I am learning all I need to know.
So what have you been learning? If you would like to play along, just share six things that you have learned this month, and leave me a comment so I can come check it it out!
Our September apple picking excursion was the unofficial kickoff to our first season of informal homeschooling. Considering myself a dedicated (though inexperienced) homeschooling mom, yet uninterested in rigid curricula, I have been putting my college education to use in creating my own simple lesson plans. I wanted to base my curriculum on seasonally appropriate units that would be of interest to my two preschoolers, so for September and October, I decided to study Things That Grow with a fall-themed focus. Since there were so many subcategories to address, I broke the unit down into weekly themes of How Plants Grow, Apples, Fruits, Vegetables, Pumpkins, Harvest, Flowers, Trees, and Leaves.
When I saw this "Six Things I've Learned" game on a friend's blog, I thought it would be a perfect way to summarize our adventures so far. So, in the name of home education, here are six things I have learned in the past month:
1. Apples are the best fruit. You can pick them, eat them, and bake pies and crisps with them. They are available year-round, and stay fresh in the refrigerator for weeks. The children and I are fascinated by the star in the center of the core, and we had fun decorating Bible verses with prints made from halved apples.
Papayas, on the other hand, are not so wonderful. We learned how big a papaya is (Donny wondered if it was some sort of misshapen watermelon) and that slightly under-ripe ones do not taste good at all. We discovered that they are filled with slimy, edible black seeds, reminiscent of a pomegranate. I concluded that if we are going to experience foreign fruits as a sensory activity in the future, it might be prudent to buy a smaller fruit (like a mango?) to avoid excessive waste.
2. I am not a big fan of Brussels sprouts, either. I had little experience with the mini-cabbages until I requested some while they were on sale during our Vegetable Week. My dear husband came home with a giant Styrofoam tray, neatly covered in plastic wrap, and overflowing with supplies for our "Try a New Vegetable" activity. While a few Brussels sprouts would have been a fine learning experience, an entire tray full was far too much for the taste buds of my family. I once again wished that we had a rabbit, dog, pig, or compost pile, because after choking down as many as possible, the leftovers ended up in the trash. Leafy green things may be full of useful vitamins, but give me an orange vegetable any day.
3. Speaking of which, I also learned that pumpkins are quite useful, especially for someone who should buy stock in canned pumpkin because she uses it so often. I originally purchased a pumpkin for the sensory experience of scooping out the seeds, but my Donny missed out on the fun because - not at all unlike his mother - he did not want to get his hands sticky. Hayden and I managed to fish out all of the seeds, though, and after a generous sprinkling of salt and 10 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees, we had a tasty snack to enjoy. We cooked the pumpkin according to The Nourishing Gourmet's recommendations, which was really no different than cooking a butternut squash, and I saved the puree to use in baking. Because Hayden is allergic to eggs, I often substitute mashed bananas, or more frequently, canned pumpkin, in baked goods (about 1/4 cup pumpkin or mashed banana equals one egg). I had always been under the impression that cooking a fresh pumpkin was a lot of work for a stringy, watery mess, so I'm glad we tried this experiment. Certainly, the effort required was more than opening a can, but it was worthwhile for the bonus seed snack and the hands-on learning experience.
Since this is getting long, I will save the other three things for next time...and don't worry, not everything I am learning is about produce!
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Lambs In His Arms has existed online for only four months, but it has been growing in my head and heart for much longer than that. About a year ago, I actually typed out a few posts for my imaginary blog. This entry was originally written October 2, 2007.
This is what God the LORD says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. ...” Isaiah 43:5-6a
I did two things today that I have not done for a long time. Not wanting to waste a beautiful fall day, I took the boys out in the double stroller, and afterwards we went to the playground near our apartment. While Donny busies himself burying his toy dump truck in the wood chips and Hayden naps in the stroller, I sometimes hang off the monkey bars, but never for too long. Ever self-conscious, I am always afraid that some neighbor is going to get upset that an adult is using the playground equipment that is tatooed with "Ages 5-12" stickers. While this fear is probably completely unfounded, since few of the local parents even watch their own five to twelve year olds, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my head that all eyes are upon me whenever I dare to do anything out of the ordinary.
But today, instead of just holding onto a bar and swinging, I folded my legs over the top of a ladder, leaned back, and let go: I was upside-down. Children do this daily, my husband has made a hobby and career out of gymnastics, but for me, being upside-down is usually quite unsettling. For a brief moment, though, it was fun. My head was just inches off the ground; I knew I wasn’t going to get hurt, and I could just enjoy the unusual perspective.
As I type this out, I realize how ridiculous it sounds. Letting go of fear takes many forms, and for me, I had to take this small step of hanging upside down to get over my fear of being uncomfortable, undignified, and unsettled. The moment was over quickly, I managed to dismount without injuring myself, and no nosy neighbors walked by laughing and pointing. In fact, Donny was so busy with his truck that even he did not seem to notice his mother's playground antics. It’s funny how those of us who are prone to introspection can have these deep and significant moments that go completely undetected by others around us.
As I reflect today's event (insignificant though it may seem), I wonder, are there areas of my life that I am gripping too tightly, afraid to let go and let God give me a new perspective? Is fear of possible pain preventing me from experiencing the adventure He has planned for me? Don has told me several times that he wants me to experience gymnastics or amusement parks rides so that I get used to the feeling, and then it will no longer be a big deal. As with anything, practice makes perfect. If I spend more time being physically upside-down, maybe I can avoid the uncomfortable rush of blood to my head and crazy sense of exhilaration when I let go. And spiritually, I could use some practice at letting go of whatever I am leaning on, surrendering myself to the loving hand of an Almighty God. Who knows what sights I will see when I let Him show me the world from His perspective?
And speaking of sights, the other highlight of the playground trip happened when I glanced up at the sunny sky and was surprised to see a distinct white semicircle. I pointed it out to Donny, asking, “What’s that?!” Of course, he excitedly replied, “The moon!” I studied the clear outline framed against the cobalt blue sky, wisps of white cloud blowing past, and realized: It has been a long time since I really looked at the sky.
I spend most of my time indoors, and when I am out, I am often too busy getting exercise or getting to an appointment or chasing children to notice what is above me. The loss is my own, because for me, the sky has always been such a powerful reminder of the amazing splendor of God. I do not understand how anyone could gaze up into the heavens, with the countless stars and ever-changing clouds and a sun that is so bright we cannot even look at it directly, and say that there is no God. The vastness of the sky tells me in no uncertain terms that I am tiny, insignificant, a mere speck in an unfathomable universe. And yet, the Creator of all this beauty loves ME. He made all this just so that you and I would know that He is God.
So I am going to think about how I can let go of my fears as I cling to my Lord. I must trust that He is holding my hand through every silly worry and every exaggerated experience. And next time I step out the door - whether it is a sunny day or a starry night - I am going to take a few minutes to look up to the sky. If one element of the Creation is this breath-taking, how much more awesome is the Creator Himself!
It was a ducky sort of day. Considering his recent behavior, I realized that Donny would benefit from some focused attention from me. I was tired (as I often am lately) and there were things to do (as there always are), but I forced myself to slow down a bit and keep him by my side. Like a mother bird, I gathered him close under my wings.
And after a bath with his favorite rubber duckies, my imaginative little boy transformed into a duck. He requested that we build a nest, so I obliged by constructing a cocoon of blankets and quilts on our couch. He gathered an armful of toys (despite my protests that ducks do not have plastic cars and trucks in their homes) and settled himself to spend a large portion of the morning in his cozy nest. Naturally, I was appointed the Mumma Duck, while Hayden was the Baby Duckling, and Donny himself was the Brother Duck. I was amused by the game, especially since "Duck" is the nickname I have affectionately bestowed on my husband - you know, being named Donald and all. But although Daddy Duck was at work during our play, the duck family continued to grow, as Donny petitioned the Mumma to lay some eggs in order to supply more ducklings.
Did you ever notice that the requirements of parenting include becoming an instant expert in every subject? In between asking a myriad of questions about fire trucks - inspired by the battery-operated toy in his hand - Donny taxed the limits of my knowledge on the ways of waterfowl. He demanded to know "what else" they eat after I had named all the duck treats I could think of. He also said something about the Mumma Duck taking the baby for a ride, so I explained that the babies don't ride on the mother duck's back; they have to fly on their own. "What if the mumma duck doesn't teach them how to fly?" Donny wanted to know.
"She does," I said. "It's part of her job to teach the baby ducks how to fly."
It seemed like there might be a metaphor behind my simple statement. As the mother duck of this family, I see to it that our ducklings are warm, fed, and safe in the nest. But eventually, the ducklings must learn to fly. My thoughts were fitting for such a day, as I pondered what it is that Donny needs from me. Besides meeting his physical and emotional needs and providing a nurturing home, Daddy Duck and I must teach him how to maneuver through this dizzying world. And though I make no claims to be a duck expert, I am confident that Mumma Duck does not use lectures to teach her young to fly. She shows them. And they fly together.
My thoughts reminded me of another duck-themed post that touched my heart, and another source of my limited knowledge of duckish ways. "What a Mother Must Sacrifice" taught me that mother ducks line their nests with feathers plucked from their own breasts. They sacrifice bits of themselves to support their young. They give, not of ragged old feathers from the ground, but of their own soft, warm down. Is this not what my little ones need from me? Not my leftover scraps of time for training and teaching and play, but my sacrifices. They need my attention so that instead of just telling them how to live, I can show them. I can strengthen our relationship with times of imaginative play and incidental learning and demonstrating the sacrifices that are inherent in real Christian love.
As I tucked my own ducklings into bed that night, wrapping them up in pieces of our morning nest, Hayden requested two songs. "Jesus Loves Me" came first, and then one of his favorites, "Six Little Ducks." Normally the merry tune of ducks wibble-wabbling to and fro seems unsuited for a lullaby, but this time, I agreed to sing about the little duck with the feather on his back. My sweet little ducklings, what a privilege it is to tuck you into our nest and watch you drift off to sleep in peaceful contentment. And Lord, help me to give willingly of myself, my time, my attention, my example. Help me to mold these precious ducklings into men who fly on eagle's wings.
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. - Isaiah 40:31
The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. - Luke 2:40 NASB
It was a difficult morning with Donny. By difficult, I mean two ear-piercing tantrums that left me wondering what sort of out-of-control maniac had possessed my three year old. It was during the second of these outbursts, when I had exhausted all coping and discipline methods that seemed Biblical and reasonable, that I cried out to the Lord for wisdom. What, oh what, could I do to help my struggling son?
In His mercy and grace, God reminded me of a blog post I stumbled across yesterday about bringing our children to the Gospel. So when Donny had finally calmed down and joined us at the table for snack, I began to retell the old, old story of the Saviour who died for our sins. I reminded him that God is perfect, but we all sin sometimes and need God to forgive us. I hoped that someday he would ask God to forgive his sins and let Jesus be his Saviour so that he could have the Holy Spirit in his heart. And the Holy Spirit, I explained, would help him to have all those fruits in the verse we memorized, like love, joy, peace...and self-control, the fruit I fervently pray for him to develop. I told how because of Jesus' death on the cross, we don't have to go to hell; we can be forgiven and live with God forever in heaven. It was probably, in my limited experience as an evangelist, the most comprehensive explanation of the Gospel I have ever given at one time.
Of course, Donny replied to my heartfelt synopsis in true preschooler fashion. In a voice that bordered on the edge of tears, he whispered, "I hope they have Legos in Heaven."
Ah, the mysteries of God. Not only do I have to explain the Being we cannot see or hear who lives in the mystical place that we cannot drive to, but now I have to convince him that the unseen place will be even better than an eternity of colorful connecting blocks.
Later he said, "Did you not know that one time, I prayed to God and asked him to be my Saviour?"
"I did not know that," I replied honestly.
"I prayed in my head one time," he told me. After some more discussion, he realized that we forgot to pray before snack. So we held hands, and this child, who has whined and complained about every meal I have served to him this week, prayed, "Dear God, thank you for forgiving my sins. And thank you for all the yummy food so we don't have to eat manna and quail like the Israelites. In Jesus' name, Amen."
Apparently not all of my words of instruction have fallen on deaf ears. It was several weeks ago that we learned about the Israelites eating manna and quail in the desert, and how we ought to be thankful for the great variety of food we have to eat. Is it possible that little lesson, instead of getting washed away in the daily rains, actually took root in his childish heart?
I would love to tell you that everything was wonderful after that discussion at the table, but it would not be true. The remainder of the morning was still challenging, as I am certain many future mornings will be. Still, I thanked God for that little glimmer of heaven-bound hope that I caught during morning snack. He may not understand it all yet, but maybe his heart is beginning to grasp what his head cannot. And maybe, with plenty of time and loving discipline and continual heapings of grace, the Gospel will sink in to my firstborn's fragile soul, and the Holy Spirit will bear some precious, long-awaited fruit.
I love Fridays. Some people look forward to Friday as the last day of the work or school week, or as pay day, or date night. For me, Friday is more than just the precursor to the weekend. Friday is my cleaning day, the day I restore our home to its proper state of orderly cleanliness.
I used to divide up my weekly chores between days - I would vacuum on Wednesday, clean the bathrooms on Friday, and wash the floors on Saturday mornings. Over a year ago, I found a much more gratifying system that allows me one evening to relax in the luxury of a clean home. Besides accomplishing the week's major tasks in a half day's work, Friday cleaning also ensures that our home is ready for weekend guests (a quick tidy of toys and dishes is much easier than attempting to polish every room in a last minute scramble). And on the weekends we spend visiting family, I know that I will return to a peaceful place of reasonably sanitary rest.
My routine begins during Friday morning chore time, when Donny helps me pick up toys, baskets, and small furniture off the floor. Then I roll out my Kenmore Progressive, plug in to the kitchen outlet, and commence vacuuming. One advantage to living in 850 square feet is the ability to vacuum every corner of our home without changing power outlets! The boys like to help me use the floor tool in the bathrooms and kitchen. (They also like to operate the powerhead on the rug, but safety concerns and my own impatience with the inefficiency of toddler vacuuming usually prevent this from happening.)
I tend to save the dining room, with its abundance of crumbs, for last. I am convinced that the genius who invented carpeted dining rooms never had children. Any parent would surely realize that even shabby schoolhouse linoleum - that wipes clean with a damp rag - would be preferable to scrubbing spilled milk, spaghetti sauce, and pureed sweet potatoes out of chocolate mousse colored carpet. And on that note, I must say that I am very thankful, especially since I have no choice in the matter, to have brown - or "chocolate mousse" - carpets rather than white, beige, or any other easily stained color. Should I happen to spill tea or, say, apple pie filling, on this rug, no one will be the wiser.
Later, during naptime, I listen to Grace to You online while I wipe down our two bathrooms with vinegar and rags. I then move on to scrubbing the floors (again with vinegar, water, and rags), though if I dawdle too much I may end up with two helpers who think my bucket of water is their sensory table. Then I hang fresh towels (the dirty ones having been washed in that morning's laundry) and step back for a few minutes to enjoy the atmosphere. Within minutes, of course, the boys will splash soapy water all over the bathroom counter or dump their Cheerios on the aforementioned chocolatey rug, but the cleanliness is nice while it lasts.
Please understand, despite this and a previous post on a similar subject, I am not your typical clean freak. You won't find me washing windows, dusting bookshelves, or scrubbing cupboard doors unless - about once a year or so - I notice that something looks dirty. However, I do have an appreciation for order and the peace that comes from knowing that I am not going to step in something sticky. In some ways, cleaning is something I do for myself, because I can reap the rewards directly - short lived though they may be. At the same time, I see it a job that I do for the Lord.
Even if my messy boys do not see the charm in a shiny faucet or crumb-free carpet, I know that my work at home is blessing them. I am doing what I can to promote their health and hygiene, and at the same, I can teach them a valuable work ethic as they work alongside me. Can I honestly say that scrubbing toilets is fun? No way. But do I look forward to scrubbing the toilets so that they can be a little cleaner for the coming week? Absolutely. The outcome makes the task worthwhile.
The other tidbit you should know is that I was not born a clean fanatic. I grew up with the idea that vacuuming and bed making were the things one does right before company arrives. And while I was in charge of cleaning my own bathroom since the age of nine, I certainly never relished the task the way I do now. Loving cleanliness is a trait I have developed, and along with it, I have found a joy in the work that brings about such rewards.
This is one of the many (many!) reasons that I thank God and my hardworking husband for allowing me to be a homemaker. I am privileged to do a job that I love. It's not that I love cleaning per se; if I were forced to go out into the working world, I would not be applying with the Merry Maids. But I love doing exactly what my job title says: making home. I love making home a clean, comfortable place for my family to live and laugh and dream together. I love creating an environment where we can welcome guests or have a pretend picnic on the freshly vacuumed rug. I delight in doing this job that my Lord has called me to, because it is my privilege to take the house, apartment, or basement bedroom that we live in, and turn it into a home.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Isaiah 32:18
Well, it's not exactly wordless, because this picture needs an introduction. Last night I ventured out -something that, quite frankly, I never do - to meet a friend for some caffeine-free tea and interruption-free conversation. My dear husband was entrusted with the task of putting our children to bed. I hoped to find Donny asleep in his bed upon my return, though I fully anticipated that Hayden would still be wide awake even at 10:30pm, waiting to conduct our familiar bedtime routine. As you can imagine, I was surprised to walk in and find that both children were already sleeping...and even more surprised when I opened my bedroom door.
Well, Daddy DID put them to bed. I guess I never specified whose bed they should occupy.
And occupy is exactly what these brothers did to our bed, until their loving Daddy gently tucked them into their own sleeping spaces. As I drifted off to sleep, I thanked God for an evening blessed by a dear friend, a capable husband, and a precious set of twins in my bed.
But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. - 1 Kings 5:4