Friday, March 27, 2009

Literature for Library Lions

When I introduced our lion theme earlier this month, I promised to report back with our favorite lion books. Be sure to visit your local library if you want to check out some of these fun lion tales!

Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson - If you can get past the illogical biology of a lion chasing kangaroos and rabbits who eat fish, this classic Little Golden Book is a cute, though ridiculous, story. Language that describes the lion looking "fat as butter, sleek as satin, and jolly as all get out" lends an amusingly dated charm to the book.

The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio - This 50 year old classic is my favorite of the lion fiction books that we read. The Happy Lion lives in a French zoo and enjoys visits from friends who say, "Bonjour, Happy Lion!" My library system only had this book by author Louise Fatio, but there are several sequels available through Amazon.

Roar!: A Noisy Counting Book by Pamela Duncan Edwards - While I wouldn't exactly classify it as high-quality literature, Hayden frequently requested this brightly illustrated counting rhyme about a lion cub who goes in search of playmates.

Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty - Another book that has stood the test of time, this retelling of Androcles and the Lion has a simple message about the power of kindness. The boys enjoyed the fact that Andy happens to carry a pair of pliers in his overalls, which he uses to remove a thorn from a lion's paw. My personal irritation with this book: the text is in all caps, and sentences span across pages, leaving little time to contemplate the illustrations unless the reader pauses at random times in the middle of a sentence.

Usborne's Daniel and the Lions by Heather Amery - Like many Usborne books, this Bible story can be read as a condensed book with the lines at the top of the page, or a more complete story by including the lines at the bottom of the page. With the possible exception of the lion's den illustration, it stays true to the Biblical account of Daniel in the lion's den.

The Story of Daniel in the Lions' Den by Michael McCarthy - This retelling offers warm watercolor and colored pencil illustrations. Even more impressive, the thorough account of Daniel's life is told completely in verse.

The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven - Although the thoughtful, quiet lion bears little resemblance to the actual king of beasts, this unique story has a whimsical charm and captivating illustrations.

St. Jerome and the Lion by Margaret Hodges - This well-crafted retelling of a monk named Jerome and his tame lion has a subtle message about judgement and justice. Though the lion does not talk, his human-like actions and emotions are vividly portrayed through the words and illustrations. The lengthy text and darker, realistic paintings that illustrate the opposite pages make this book best suited for reading out loud to children over age 4.

The Life Cycle of a Lion by Bobbie Kalman - Of the several nonfiction books we borrowed, this one was our favorite thanks to its colorful, glossy pages and suitable amount of text. Donny really enjoyed listening to the accompanying CD and turning the pages at just the right time. Older children could participate in the "quick quiz" that asks questions to about the material that is being read.

And of course, there is the account of Daniel in the Bible, along with several verses that mention lions, including this wonderful reminder of God's provision:

The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:10

It is so true! We learned the details of how lions catch their prey (and that they succeed in only three out of every ten hunts), and I do not envy their lifestyle...even if they do spend 20 hours a day lounging! How thankful I am that our God is faithful to those who fear Him. He fills us with such good things!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lion Beneath the Lamb

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
Isaiah 11:6

Scripture Memory with Preschoolers

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

- Psalm 119:11

As Christians, we are responsible to read and know God's Word. As parents, we are responsible to teach His Word to our children. Psalm 119:11 is a great reminder that memorizing and meditating on Scripture helps us to avoid sin. But how can we teach our youngest children the beautiful benefits of hiding God's Word in our hearts? Here are a few ideas for helping toddlers and preschoolers memorize Scripture that work for me!

1. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Hearing anything over and over tends to imprint it in our memory. To memorize Scripture, simply repeating verses can be one of the most effective methods. Greeting each morning with "This is the day that the Lord has made!" or saying the same verse before bed each night (I like Psalm 4:8) will help even young toddlers to memorize the familiar words. Try saying a verse of the week (or month) before every meal or every time you drive in the car. Children also learn when we use Scripture throughout the day, demonstrating how God's Word fits each situation. One of the first verses I taught Donny was "Be joyful always," followed by "A cheerful heart is good medicine" to remind him to have a good attitude, even as a young toddler. My children have also heard me repeat, "Children obey your parents in everything," many times. If I cue them with the first word or two of one of these verses, they can easily finish it!

2. Create a book of verses. As a homeschooling project, I started verse binders with the boys last fall. I type and print out a verse relevant to our theme unit on cardstock. Each child decorates his own copy, and then I slip the finished products inside sheet protectors in a three ring binder. For example, we did leaf rubbings around the words "The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life," and cut out magazine pictures of fruit for the Fruit of the Spirit. Every day we practice saying the verses together as we look through the binder. The children love to look back at their work, and the art provides a visual clue to remind them of the words. At the end of the year, they will have their own special book of Bible verses that they have memorized, as well as a sampling of the fine motor skills they practiced throughout the year.

3. Read a devotional. Devotionals for children can be a fun way to introduce particular verses and passages. My boys and I really enjoyed working through Susan Hunt's My ABC Bible Verses. It was a great way to review letters and learn Scripture at the same time! Now we are reading God's Wisdom for Little Boys by Jim and Elizabeth George (a Little Girls is available too). While it lacks the stories of application found in the ABC verses, the illustrations depict a character trait for each highlighted verse from Proverbs, teaching young children how to apply the wisdom of Proverbs in their own lives.

4. Sing a song. Many people find this to be the easiest method of memorization...just think of how many commercial jingles and TV show theme songs you know! Whether you sing a verse-based song like "Rejoice in the Lord Always" (Philippians 4:4) or "Trust in the Lord" (Proverbs 3:5-6) or set a verse to a familiar tune, young children will quickly learn the words. You may even hear them singing Scripture throughout the day, a sound that always delights my ears! My boys and I especially love Steve Green's Hide 'Em in Your Heart CDs and accompanying DVDs (ours came together as a set). They have learned several verses just by listening to and singing along with these Scripture-based songs. Even before he turned two, Hayden was singing, "Do everything without complaining; do everything without arguing," an important lesson from Philippians 2:14.

For an excellent discussion of this subject, check out Teri Maxwell's Mom's Corners series on Scripture Memory. Part 1 and Part 2 specifically discuss memorization and young children. Besides giving our children a firm foundation in God's Word, learning Bible verses together helps parents to remember God's commands, too. Making a commitment to memorize Scripture benefits the entire family!

I would love to read your comments and ideas...How do you help your little ones hide God's Word in their hearts?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Learning Through Talk

My four year old Donny loves to talk. Several times each day, I hear myself saying, "Donny, please stop talking and take some bites of your food. Wait, Donny, you may not interrupt my conversation. Donny, please finish going potty before you talk any more. Donny, it's time to sleep now; you can tell me about it in the morning." But this morning, with no pressing errands or activities to complete, I had the leisure of a long conversation (or more accurately, monologue) with my eldest son.

He started by asking me who I voted for in the recent town election. I told him that most of the voting was about things, like whether our town should have taller buildings or pay money to fix some bridges. Of course, he wanted to know everything I could remember, including the details of a zoning law amendment that proposed changing the requirements for farms from two to five acres. This naturally lead to a discussion of the approximate size of an acre, as I tried to use familiar backyards to give him an idea. He speculated about whether we could have a farm if we cut down all the trees in our yard, but we still have less than one acre, so it looks like his dream of owning horses and pigs will have to wait.

From there, the conversation turned to construction vehicles and houses and Donny's future. He told me about how he would build a trailer on wheels and park it somewhere close to Auntie Shelly's maybe in her backyard. Later in the conversation, he planned to build a two story house with an apartment upstairs for Junior Asparagus. He would need a backhoe, crane, and a dump truck, of course - and three trailers to pull them on. As I ushered him into the bathtub, he continued to speculate about his future. We talked, as we often do, about who he could marry. Lately, he seems to have fixed his affections on Avery, a toddler friend from church, perhaps simply because she meets the requirements of being a girl who is close to his age and not part of our family. Last time he mentioned marrying Avery, he promised that he would buy her lots of dolls, "because I know she really likes dolls." Today, he pledged that he would be sweet and always have candy, lots of candy. When he ascertained earlier this morning that he would always live in this house, even when he was married, I assured him that he would want to have his own house and family someday, but it would still be a long time before he would get married. He replied, "Yeah, probably not till...January. Just remind me in January."

I love hearing his plans for his future family. His wife would be a bus driver, and if they have a lot of children, she can drive them in the school bus. He mentioned the idea of giving some of his children to other people, like Auntie Shelly, but I explained that children aren't like extra puppies that people just give away. Speaking of puppies, he wants to have a dog - specifically, a black lab named Shadow. He told me a few days ago that he would wait until his wife dies to get a dog, though, because she hates the smell of them.

After bath, we practiced writing the letter L with the help of a printout from First-School Preschool Activities and Crafts. From there I thought we could move on to writing "lion," or at least tracing it, since my novice writer is still unsure how to hold a writing instrument, much less use it to properly form letters. After that, Donny wanted to write "roar" and "walk" and finally "A lion walks and roars." Far be it from him to stop short of writing an entire sentence when I set out to teach him a simple letter.

By the time I had finished washing Hayden's hands (his version of letter practice had quickly turned to tracing his own hand with a washable Crayola marker), Donny's lion paper had transformed into a voting ballot. He proceeded to detail everything he had voted for, from "yes" to taller buildings to "no" to more cars and "yes" we should have gold streets. When I inserted a quick social studies lesson on our right to vote and the fact that people in other countries do not have that freedom, he worked it right in to his story. He was voting on behalf of Junior Asparagus, you see, because Junior lives in a country where there is a king and he isn't allowed to vote.

Last night, Grandma stopped by to visit and was quite impressed with Donny describing his latest Lego structure as "symmetrical" (it was, you know), and Hayden exclaiming to Grandpa, "Is that a B on your shirt?!" (For the record, I had no idea Hayden knew the letter B; we have never purposefully practiced it.) I'm not sure what part their natural intelligence and eagerness to learn plays in their knowledge, but it makes sense to me that my children sometimes express ideas that seem advanced for their limited years. When we spend every day together, talking, reading, asking and answering questions, and observing the world around us, learning becomes part of everyday life. We get to experience the journey together, and in trying to answer their probing questions, I discover a thirst for knowledge as well. Beyond this, I have the joy of learning about the desires, dreams, and ideas of these dear ones whom God has placed in my care.

My four year old is not a genius because he knows about acres, symmetry, the voting process, and how to make a wife happy. He is simply a curious and observant boy whose mind is open and waiting to be filled with knowledge. What an amazing privilege and responsibility it is to be the one who gives him that knowledge and shapes his developing ideas of the world! Today may not have been the most eventful or productive morning; a bit of laundry, bath, snack, and letter writing seemed to take up all of the time before lunch. Yet it was a peaceful morning, and one I cherish, because it allowed me to glimpse into the heart of this little person God has given me the privilege of knowing. It was a learning experience worth all the dolls, candy, and two story trailers in the world. And someday, perhaps, I will share these precious details with Donny's wife, when he gets married a long time from now...just remind me in January.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. - Colossians 4:6

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roaring Faces

The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.

Psalm 104:21

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Good in Bad Politics

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. - Romans 13:1

My husband is often my source of political news. After he tells me about the latest national endorsement of sinful behavior or billions of imaginary dollars being spent on frivolous items, my response is usually, "I don't want to know." In the filth of worldly immorality, I often find it easier to be ignorant of specific headlines than to be burdened with them. Fear of losing freedoms, sadness over the public acceptance of sin, anger over poor use of tax dollars, and disgust with the actions of governing authorities are more than enough to remind me that when it comes to politics, I am happier not to know. It can be difficult to remember that corrupt politicians and liberal policy makers were established by God Himself and not just put in power by left-wing lobbyists or ignorant voters.

I tend to think of politics at a national level, especially with the recent government bailouts and stimulus plans dominating the headlines. Yet important decisions are also being made at lower levels. Last week I voted in a town election for the first time (thankfully not on anything I considered critical, since the poll results of both people and items were essentially the opposite of my votes). I also received an email from a local activism organization detailing some of the bills that are presently being considered in the state capital. Once my bubble of ignorance was burst, I could not help but feel concern over the potential consequences of the proposed legislation.

The bills that are being voted on today involve such items as redefining marriage, adding "gender expression" and other undefined terms to non-discrimination laws, authorizing doctors to end the lives of their patients and teenagers to end the lives of their unborn babies without even informing their parents, adding stricter regulations for homeschooling while relaxing regulations on marijuana possession, and creating a state income tax to fund the public schools, where children are taught that these changes are good. I feel burdened to pray for the different topics, yet at the same time, I fear that the changes are inevitable; if the bill does not pass today, maybe it will next month, or next year, or in the next state. It is not enough to hope for a favorable outcome, which may only be temporary.

I am thankful for my freedoms as an American to express my opinion, not just here on my blog, but even to elected officials themselves. Email makes it easier than ever to contact representatives and governors to urge them to take a stand for morality and freedom. Perhaps if enough concerned citizens will stand up for the truth, our nation will not crumble so quickly. And yet, though I exercised my right to vote and to contact the authorities, and I encourage others to do likewise, I must not stop there. My gaze must go higher, above the reaches of the tallest monument, to the heavens, where my Lord reigns supreme. In a fallen world, humans will always fail. Sin and corruption are inevitable. We are even told to expect persecution as Christians. Why should we dare to hope for anything good in the political arena?

Our responsibility is not to shake our heads at our leaders, or even to simply vote for them, but to pray for them. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 says:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

For His own purposes, God has placed our authorities in their position. The sinful choices they make come as no surprise to the One who knows everything. And we, as Christians, must submit ourselves to these authorities no matter how much we dislike or disagree with them. Unless they require us to break God's commands, we are to live peacefully by their laws. And we are to pray, not just for certain people to win elections or laws to be passed, but for the authorities themselves. We are to make requests, prayers, intercession, and even thanksgiving for them. In doing so, we demonstrate holy lives and please our Savior. God may even use our prayers to bring the men and women in authority to a knowledge of the truth.

So I encourage you, as I am encouraging myself, not to lose heart in the face of politics. Be informed, not to arouse anger or fear, but so that you can pray effectively. Let us use our freedoms wisely, make our voices heard when it is fitting, but leave the results up to the ultimate Authority. Let us intercede for our governing authorities, that they might be saved and come to understand God's Truth. And even when politics seem hopeless, let us live peaceful and quiet lives in submission to our authorities. The Bible tells us this is good, and pleases the One who holds the whole world in His capable hands.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kale Sale Smoothies

I tend to think that my children and I follow a pretty nutritious diet - we eat lots of whole grains, avoid trans fats and refined sugars and most processed items, and I make most meals and snacks from scratch. But I will admit, when it comes to vegetables, we are far from meeting the "five a day" recommendation. In fact, I aim for one serving of vegetables a day, and I am satisfied if we reach that goal. We are especially lacking in the green leafy department. I love orange veggies, and broccoli is the family favorite, but salads and other leafy dishes are virtually unheard of in our house.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that pre-bagged kale (a leafy green vegetable, for those who may not be familiar with it) was on sale at the grocery store, so I purchased a large bag, determined to use it. In the past I have eaten kale sauteed with garlic or mixed into scrambled eggs. This time, I tried it in a sausage soup, which turned out - through no fault of the kale - to be hardly eatible. Then, I saw a post at Passionate Homemaking and was inspired to try green smoothies.

When Donny was a finicky toddler who needed to gain weight, I gave him a smoothie for lunch everyday. I usually tossed plain yogurt, frozen chopped spinach, whole milk, a banana, and anything else that seemed nutritious (peanut butter, flax seeds, etc.) into the blender and pressed "liquify" until the concoction was chunk-free. The banana sweetened the smoothie and covered up the taste of whatever I added. There was no way I would drink a sip of it myself (I'm not a fan of yogurt or bananas, nevermind a liquid version with oils and veggies added in), but Donny faithfully drank it everyday. Other than the hassle of cleaning the blender, it was a mess-free, easily portable lunch that ensured some sort of balanced nutrition got into his growing body.

In the past two years, my blender has been mostly collecting dust, but I broke it out for the purpose of turning the extra kale into smoothies. Because Hayden is allergic to dairy, I used coconut milk, orange juice, fresh kale, canned pineapple that I emptied into a container and froze in advance, and a touch of honey. The results? Surprisingly good. The boys drank their fruit and veggies without complaint (they were pretty amused by their green moustaches, too!). I did not mind the taste or texture. And even my husband, who probably eats one serving of vegetables per week, managed to drink a glass. Since my handsome Instant Breakfast fan would rather drink his meals than eat them, this may be a good way to sneak some nutrition into him, too!

Below is the evidence: when kale is on sale, go for a green smoothie!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Daddy's Job

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
and your lips with shouts of joy.

Job 8:21

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rising While It Is Yet Night

She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

Proverbs 31:15

I'm not too sold on this Daylight Savings Time thing. Really, what parent is? We all end up with children who won't go to bed, or won't wake up in the morning, or wake up at 5am and fall asleep during lunchtime and whine all afternoon because we have magically added or subtracted an hour from their life, yet expect business to continue as usual. My husband tells me that Arizona doesn't "do" daylight savings time. We considered moving there early in our marriage, and knowing that the state refuses to participate in such an inconvenient and (in my opinion) outdated ritual, I would gladly take up residency in the Grand Canyon state. As an added bonus, Arizona residents never have to bundle up children to go out in the snow!

The time change affects adults, too. I was just starting to appreciate that I no longer had to wake up while it was pitch black outside. I don't hate mornings, but I do hate feeling like I'm getting up in the middle of the night. Just as I began to anticipate those first twinklings of dawn, though, they were taken away. This morning I was sure it must be 4am when my clock said 6:27. The room, and the sky, were so dark that the idea of getting up seemed almost ridiculous. God immediately brought the verse from Proverbs 31 to my mind: "She rises while it is still dark." Other translations say, "She also rises while it is yet night." The Proverbs 31 woman is so often held up as a standard for Christian wives, and today, I can claim that I emulated at least one of her actions!

I have found that there are blessings to early rising, even while it is "yet night." Though I am more of a night person by nature, I do enjoy the peaceful quiet of starting a morning with just my thoughts and the Lord. Lately, that peaceful quiet has lasted for about five minutes before Hayden comes toddling out of his room, rubbing his eyes and saying, "Bright light!" and often requiring an immediate diaper change. If I can bring myself to get up earlier, though, I have time to get dressed and ready for the day in peace. I can make myself presentable to my husband, so that the image in his mind as he drives off to work will be one of an attractive, well-groomed wife, rather than a sleep-deprived mother still in her pajamas. Though I am yet to manage to work it into my busy schedule, I could start the day with some stretching to wake up my stiff pregnant muscles. And I can provide food for my family by starting breakfast early enough to allow our one meal as a family to be a time of peace, rather than a hurried affair as Daddy flies out the door, running late for work.

Most importantly, early mornings give me a chance to start my day with God. While this certainly is not a Biblical requirement, nor is it even possible for all mothers, I find that an early meeting with the Lord helps prepare my heart to serve Him all day long. Before my body is nourished with eggs and toast (our typical breakfast), I can nourish my soul with the living Word. Some reading from the Bible, a devotional, reflection, and prayer can all prepare my heart the same way getting dressed prepares my appearance. By exercising self-discipline to get up earlier, I can shed my spiritual pajamas and put on the armor of God by the light of His presence.

Here are a few practical tips on finding a morning quiet time that work for me:

1. Commit to waking at a certain time. Setting my alarm is the first step in waking up early. I am never going to "feel like" getting out of bed when I could be snuggled up under warm covers beside my husband. Moving the alarm out of reach so I do not have a choice to hit the snooze button helps, too.

2. Have a plan and a place. Organization can go a long way in making the morning go smoothly. If I plan to get dressed, then have quiet time, then start breakfast, I know exactly how much I time I have to do each activity. Next, I need a place to go. Some people have a special prayer closet. I tend to have a favorite chair, and keeping my Bible beside it creates an inviting place to curl up and read the Word. Gather whatever supplies you need - a Bible, notebook, pens, devotionals, list of people to pray for, etc - and keep them in a designated drawer, basket, or other special place. Then when you get up, you won't have to waste time looking for that book or writing utensil.

3. Establish a pattern. I always find that I am more likely to read the Bible when I have a set time of day to do it, so that it becomes a habit. Whether your pattern is to read as soon as you wake up, right after breakfast, or as soon as you tuck the children into bed, it becomes harder to break a habit than it is to keep it. Commit yourself to spending this time daily (or every weekday) until it becomes a regular and anticipated part of your routine.

4. Use the computer wisely. When I had a nursing baby, I found it convenient to use my laptop for nursing-at-keyboard Bible study. I could read Scripture at Bible Gateway, My Utmost for His Highest, and copy-and-paste verses for reflection into a text document. However, the computer can quickly become a distraction, especially when a browser window pops up with unread messages or the latest headlines. If you choose to use the Internet as a tool, I suggest setting up boundaries, such as a shortcut directly to devotional sites.

5. Be a slave to the Savior, not to a system. If I find myself getting angry with my children for waking up during my quiet time, something is not right. Spending time with God does not excuse me from fulfilling my responsibilities as a wife, mother, and Christian. I also need to let go of my perfectionism and refuse guilt if I cannot find quiet time every single day. As I said, early mornings may not be feasible for everyone, especially if you have a new baby, your husband works an odd shift, or you have a child who consistently wakes up while it is "yet night." While I have experienced blessings from starting my day in the Word, it is by no means a requirement. If you can not slip out of bed without waking someone, try keeping a Bible on your nightstand or praying silently (with eyes open so you don't fall back to sleep!). If waking up earlier in the morning is not practical, use naptime or the children's bedtime as an opportunity to spend time with God. If nothing else, try reading Scripture during breakfast, memorizing a verse in the shower, and singing praise songs while you work in the kitchen. God looks at the heart, not the clock. Making time for Him later in the day is far better than beating yourself up with guilt over missing a morning date.

For more practical tips on a variety of subjects, check out Works for Me Wednesdays at We are THAT Family!

Monday, March 9, 2009

In Like a Lion

They (whoever they are) say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. And weather-wise, the first half of that statement has certainly proved true in New England this year. A week ago, we ushered in the new month with a stormy snow day that left at least eight inches in its wake. Yet by Friday, the weather had warmed enough to allow me to take a walk with the boys around muddy puddles. This weekend seemed to be spring as the temperatures moved into the 50's; we dared to venture out without our winter coats, and even caught a brief glimpse of the pine needles and leafy brush that constitute our yard. Since we moved in at the end of December, the outdoor mess has been mostly covered under a clean white blanket of snow, and I had little knowledge of what lay beneath it.

And for now, covered it will remain. Today I woke up to find wet snow clinging to the tree branches, and it has been falling all day. Any other day, I probably would have enjoyed the picturesque scene. However, Monday is errands day, and a tired, pregnant woman with two small boys in tow, driving a borrowed minivan that just barely starts, and attempting to grocery shop in thickly falling snow, is hardly a beautiful thing. We survived the excursion, and I thanked God for bringing us all, along with our groceries and library books, home safely.

Perhaps inspired by March's tagline, I chose Lions as our topic of study this month. I reserved just about every lion book available at the local libraries, and now our book basket is filled with tales of tails just waiting to be read. (I'll report back later if we find any good ones!) As you might have guessed, our Bible story of focus is Daniel in the Lion's Den. And as it turned out, Donny and Hayden actually heard the same story during the class I brought them to last week while I attended a Bible study for moms. They even came home with a picture of a lion's face glued on a paper plate and waiting to be decorated. Since I had been researching lion crafts just a few days before, I was thrilled that they brought one home, already started!

In addition to books, Bible studies, and DVDs (I borrowed the Veggie Tales that includes a produce production of Daniel in the Lion's Den as well as a Discovery channel special called Into the Lion's Den), what will we do for our lion unit? We can pretend to go lion hunting, or to be a lion stalking its prey. We can act out the story of Daniel or The Lion and the Mouse. We can paint those paper plates or glue yarn around the edges to make lion's face, or cut holes in the eyes to turn them into masks. We can find Africa on a map and identify the places where lions live. We can practice writing "LION" and pronouncing the "L" sound (a challenge for both of my boys). We can talk about courage and trusting God when we are afraid.

Whether the weather brings snow or sunshine, we can do all these things if I can just get over my laziness, and my tendency to "get something done" rather than put chores aside long enough to engage in a learning activity. Some say that lions are lazy, but we certainly do not need to practice that trait. Besides, lions are also known for being bold and brave. Brave enough to venture out in the snow for bread and books? Maybe. Bold enough to wrestle bundled-up children into carseats, lift them into a shopping cart (after searching to find the only one that isn't wet), deny them lollipops and plastic produce bags and other impulse items at their eye level, and pile a week's worth of reasonably nutritious, budget-friendly food around their wiggly bodies? I doubt any lion would attempt it.

Quite frankly, I am ready for spring. I am ready to be done with puffy coats and wooly mittens (which they wear for a maximum of three minutes) and the general discomfort of being painfully cold every time I step out the door. When March finally does go out like a lamb, I think I will breathe a sigh of relief. And maybe by then, my little lambs will have learned a few things about lions. If not, then tasting snowflakes, singing made-up Daniel songs in the van with the broken CD player, and engaging in the bold sport of grocery shopping will have to be learning enough.

...The righteous are as bold as a lion. - Proverbs 28:1b

Friday, March 6, 2009

Heart Welcome Hangers

As the conclusion to our February love theme, the boys and I created this heart-shaped Welcome sign. I saw a wooden equivalent on Target's website just before Valentine's Day, and I thought it would be the perfect decoration to hang from the plant hook in our red heart-themed kitchen.

To make the hanger, we started by mixing up some simple play dough using 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt, and 1 cup of water. (I used course sea salt, since I had some on hand that we probably won't use, but I don't recommend using course salt unless you want a textured finished product.) After making heart shapes in the dough with cookie cutters, we poked a hole through each one with a straw. We then baked them at 325 degrees for an hour or two until they were thoroughly dry and hard. The cookie-like creations looked almost good enough to eat, but I would not recommend attempting it! (However, Hayden did eat as much uncooked dough as I would allow him to - apparently the extreme saltiness didn't bother him!)

I used acrylic craft paint to paint the hearts red and add letters, then covered with a clear glaze to protect against moisture and mold. (Another option is to add food coloring to the water before mixing the play dough in order to have colored dough.) After weaving some fishing line through the holes, we had a lovely hanger! If I make these again in the future, I might try inserting the string lengthwise before baking, since getting the letters to dangle nicely was a bit tricky. Overall, this is a great project for parents and children to do together, and would make a nice gift idea (how about spelling a child's name, or a word like "love"?). And of course, the play dough cut-outs make perfect Christmas ornaments, too!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why Homeschool?

I just discovered this post sitting in my draft folder, inspired by an email I wrote to a friend last December who was looking for some encouragement on homeschooling. Apparently I forgot to post it at the time! Though I haven't officially started homeschooling personally, I am pretty passionate about it, for several reasons. The first that always comes to my mind is this Scripture:

Deuteronomy 6:5-9:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

and again in Deuteronomy 11:18-21:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

The primary responsibility for teaching and training children in the ways of the Lord is given to parents. How can we do that if our children spend the majority of their time with someone else? A child who attends school typically wakes up, gets ready for school, spends eight hours being instructed by a teacher and influenced by peers, comes home to do homework, maybe rushes off to sports practice or music lessons, eats dinner, then goes to bed. Where in that day is a parent impressing God's commands on her children? Having our children with us all day gives us time to catch and correct subtle attitudes and behaviors, to talk about God in the context of every subject (like how God created math and science!), to model Christian love and Godly actions, and to develop a more intimate relationship with the ones God has entrusted to our care. No teacher, even a Christian, knows my child as well as I do or has the authority I do to instruct him and discipline when needed. By homeschooling, I can make sure that my child is receiving instruction in the Truth outlined in the Bible, rather than in what a teacher believes or a secular textbook states.

Another aspect to consider, though I consider it secondary, is academic. In a classroom, the teacher must teach to the entire group and often must follow a rigid curriculum. With homeschooling, I can tailor the curriculum to meet my child's abilities, interests, and learning style. I can give him extra help in areas he is struggling in without making him feel inferior, or provide more challenging material when he excels beyond his grade level. Sitting in a classroom all day and reviewing subjects over and over can make learning seem tedious and boring, but because homeschooling typically takes just a few hours per day and can be adapted for the individual child, learning becomes something to be enjoyed. Children have the opportunity to learn through real-life experiences, whether it is comparing prices at the grocery store, measuring ingredients in a recipe, or seeing animals at a zoo.

For me, homeschooling also makes sense because we hope to have a big family. It would not be very feasible to have to pick up my kindergartener from school during my toddler's naptime, or rush my gradeschooler off to some extracurricular when the baby needs to be nursed and the other siblings have homework to do. No, I need my helpers at home. By keeping them at home with me, I can train my children to help so that as they become older, they contribute to the family by easing the workload. The six year old can play with the two year old while I do math lessons with the eight year old. Then the eight year old can practice reading outloud to the four year old and get the two year old a snack. The ten year old can do a load of laundry or prepare lunches. Training our children to be helpers teaches them an important work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and the unselfishness that is required to give to others. It seems to me that most bigger Christian families choose to homeschool, and it makes sense. The family is a team, working together at home, accomplishing more together than they could alone.

I am so privileged to be home with my children right now. I love hearing their stories, laughing at the silly things they do, and watching them develop new skills. Maybe it is selfish, but I do not want to give up these moments by sending them out into the world. I want to be the teacher who helps them learn to count, to add, to read, and to write. I trust that I am qualified to teach them because the Lord gave these children to my husband and me, not to any school district or tutor. I know that homeschooling will be stressful and challenging at times, but I also know that the benefits will far outweigh any doubts that may creep into my mind. So long as the law and my husband allow it, I intend to continue teaching my own children, because in doing so I can spend the precious moments of each day filling them not just with knowledge, but with the knowledge of the Lord.

Note: For another compelling reason to homeschool, check out this discussion of the "socialization" issue at Pursuing Titus 2.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting to Know Some Blogs

Are you looking for a few good blogs to read (besides this one, of course)? Thanks to the "Getting to Know YOU" event at Dancing Barefoot on Weathered Ground, you can easily find links to lots of great blogs. I have just recently discovered Lynnette Kraft's blog and her inspiring story of loss, hope, and faith. In this event, Lynnette's readers are sharing about their own blogs and their five favorite blogs to read. What a great way to discover some of the many interesting and inspiring sites that are out there! Check it out by clicking below...or leave a comment to share your own favorite blogs with other Lambs in His Arms readers!

Feed My Sheep

"God does not speak simply to be heard. He speaks to be obeyed. Obedience is the Alpha and Omega of discerning God’s voice.”

Today's In "Other" Words quote comes from Discerning the Voice of God: How to Recognize When God Speaks by Priscilla Shirer. The words were familiar to me, because I actually read the book a year ago and participated in the corresponding Bible study. Yet while I was reading the book and trying to apply its principles, I did not hear any booming voices from Heaven commanding me to obey. I did not feel any great callings to sell all of my possessions and become an underground missionary in China. In fact, at the time Don and I were seeking whether God wanted us to become more involved with the youth ministry at the church we were attending. Though at first I thought the answer was yes, events in the following months revealed that God actually did not want us at that church at all. To have pushed too far forward with our attempts to obey could have been disastrous, since it obviously took several months for us to clearly discern God's voice. I realized that when we seek to obey God, we must not assume that He will always call to us do something life-changing; much more often, He tells us to obey in smaller ways.

God certainly does speak to be obeyed. He does not speak through a sermon so that I can analyze the pastor's speaking abilities or contrast the comfort level of a church pew to my favorite recliner. He does not speak through His Word so that I can check "read Bible" off my daily To Do list and move on without another thought. He does not speak through a well-timed article, note of encouragement, or devotional just to give me warm fuzzy feelings. No, He speaks to me so that I will obey. If listening to sermons, studying the Bible, or reading other Christian literature is to be of any value, I must obey what God's voice is telling me through them.

And this morning, My Utmost for His Highest reminded me of the kind of obedience God is calling me to at this point in my life. Oswald Chambers discusses John 21:17, three simple words of Jesus to Peter: "Feed my sheep."

And Jesus has some extraordinarily funny sheep, some bedraggled, dirty sheep, some awkward, butting sheep, some sheep that have gone astray! It is impossible to weary God's love, and it is impossible to weary that love in me if it springs from the one centre.

Feeding sheep is often interpreted as a pastor teaching God's word to His church. But God also commands me to love my neighbors who blast loud music, to forgive obnoxious relatives, to do good to strangers who cut me off in traffic, and to offer hospitality. Even in my own home, I may find those awkward, bedraggled, dirty sheep who need to be fed and loved. I have not recently been called to a full-time ministry or mission, but I know I am commanded to love my husband and children (see Titus 2:4). They are the sheep that I am to feed.

My obedience may not seem like a great act of devotion. God's voice may not give me instructions that change the course of my life forever. Rather, my daily obedience is found in getting out of bed early with a smile instead of a groan. I can obey by keeping a cheerful heart and a patient attitude when things go wrong. I obey by taking the time to teach my children God's word, even if it would be easier to surf the Internet while they play on their own. I obey by exerting the energy necessary to maintain a comfortable home, provide good food to eat, and meet my husband's needs. I obey by changing hundreds of diapers, cleaning up hundreds of spills, saying goodnight hundreds of times, without giving up and losing heart. I obey by loving others, even when it is difficult, even when I am tired, even when others frustrate me, because my love comes from God living within me.

On my own, I am powerless to obey, but because He is my shepherd, He gently leads me down a path of joyful obedience. Moment by moment, I can choose to ignore His voice, or choose to follow the Shepherd with small acts of self-sacrificing love.

Yes, God speaks to be obeyed. His voice is calling me today to feed His sheep - those funny, bedraggled sheep whom He has entrusted to my care - with a joyful heart. What is He asking of you? Will you obey?