About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Monday, 23 February 2015

A childhood on the prairie (Laura Ingalls-Wilder books)

I love watching how children learn and develop. My middle son (aged 5) can get a bit restless at times, and does not always know how to express himself well. But when he needs to calm down, one of the best things for him is to get a sharp knife and come into the kitchen and help me prepare vegetables. He does this with an intense focus which would be surprising to those who only see him in a more lively mood. As well as the physical capability, I think he thrives on having a job to do, having a purpose for the activity and feeling special. And as likely as not, he will then want to go and write about it in his diary, despite having resisted writing earlier in the day. I read an interesting article from the Washington Post discussing these things (just a shame the author didn't take the plunge and de-register her son!).

One of our favourite family times is when we read stories aloud together. We've been steadily working our way through the books of Laura Ingalls-Wilder (the 'Little House on the Prairie' series, and the parallel books about her future husband Almanzo's childhood). It's great! The boys are fascinated as they learn how to build different styles of house with different materials, how to produce maple sugar by boiling up the sap over an open fire, how to slaughter animals and use every single part for a specific purpose - different cuts of meat to eat, leather for shoes, fat for lard or candle making and so forth. There are so many lessons there - about where food really comes from, about how dependent we are on the climate and the harvest, and also just how many advancements there have been over the past 150 years. Life was tough (read 'The Long Winter' for quite graphic descriptions of this!) but also rich. Children did not attend school every day -for example if there were more pressing duties at home and tasks that required their help, but there was no question that the children were learning the skills they needed, and were taking mature responsibilities from a much younger age than children today. This is quite similar to childhood in many parts of the world today; not all is good - I am aware of the problems of child labour and abuse - but in many places, children take a real active role in the running of the household and family businesses.

My reflections on all of this include:

1) Children often learn best by active learning; particularly being active out of doors.

2) Children appreciate being given increasing responsibilities

3) We should not 'shield' children from the realities of life and only give them happy, fluffy stories

4) Read-aloud time as a family is wonderful and I hope it continues for many many years

5) Living books really do teach children without them even realising it

6) We should not pack every day full, but rather give children time to explore and imagine

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Priorities and worldview

I enjoyed today's sermon. It was on Psalm 73. The basic summary is that the psalmist is having a hard time, and looking around and seeing others who seem to have an easier, more comfortable life but who do not know God. At first, he is envious and a bit confused about why God should let 'bad things happen to good people', until he comes into the presence of God and sees the bigger picture. There, he is reminded that what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. Our life here, for better or for worse, for easier or for harder, is only a small part of the bigger picture.

It was a helpful reminder. Even though I know these things, there are times when it is easy to look sideways and to covet what somebody else has - whether that be peace, or a seemingly more supportive extended family, or different opportunities, or many other things. But the amazing thing is that God knows what we need, and He knows what He is doing. Sometimes hard things do happen - illnesses, disappointments, frustrations, bereavements, loneliness, persecutions, financial uncertainty, challenges in the workplace - and God knows these things will happen. But God does not change, and often through these hardships we have to trust Him more, and focus more on the greatest things of all - not material things, not health, not status or popularity, but God Himself. I enjoyed peacefully reflecting on how good and wise God is, and on His amazing provision and faithfulness to our family through the years. (And I was able to reflect peacefully as my boys are now able to sit well through the service and to listen and learn from the sermon too - something which I am thankful for, and thankful to my husband for making this a priority from when they were tiny - our reasons for this are commented on here and here).

I particularly enjoy coming home after church and asking the boys what they have learnt. We ask them to draw something which depicts an aspect of the sermon, and it can be quite interesting to see what the different children come up with. Today we did not have time to draw as we had visitors, but it was a very helpful passage to talk through.

It has also been interesting to consider sources of encouragement and discouragement. This week I was very encouraged by some text messages from a single friend who really seems to understand why we have made the choices we have with regard to the boys education and the things which we avoid exposure to (such as television). Her housegroup had been discussing the saying 'give me a child until he is seven and I'll give you the man', attributed to St Francis Xavier, and some older ex-missionaries had adopted a lifestyle similar to ours - even years ago, seen as counter cultural and a bit odd, but spiritually so profitable. Conversely, I sometimes feel discouraged regarding our choices by people within the church - when we first returned from overseas there were quite a few negative remarks about our house (it is a perfectly well situated three bedroom house with a large kitchen, which God has blessed us with and where we've had much opportunity for hospitality). Lately, because of the stage my husband and I have reached with work, there is also a subtle indication that we would be 'expected' to change lifestyle slightly. It frustrates me because things should not be that way, but frustrates me even more because I realised this morning that I had allowed myself to be subtly influenced by these lies. So this morning's sermon was perfectly timed enabling me to re-set the compass and focus again on what we believe God has called us to. (I must also learn from this too - that it can be easy to cause another to stumble, without necessarily meaning to. And similarly, to remember that we can build up and encourage others who have very different walks of life to our own - all part of the beauty of being part of a family of believers).

So this evening, I simply want to remind you that God is good. He knows what you need. Read Matthew Chapter 6, and consider how He really does know all your needs, but that your priority is to seek to live for Him first of all, and to trust Him for the rest.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Lent activity: Life of Jesus Timeline

I'm quite excited about a new project that will start this week. When we did the Jesse Tree for advent, I was really encouraged at how the boys embraced the concept and looked forward to the Bible story every morning. It was their idea to also make a large timeline showing all the events that foretold the birth of Christ. We still have the timeline on the wall, but after a week or two, they pointed out that it stopped with the birth of Christ. They wanted to do a 'life of Jesus' timeline, and I was looking for some way to lead up to Easter, and so for 40 days from Wednesday, we will do our new series.

This is how it will work:

  • As with the Jesse Tree, I have made coloured envelopes with the Bible references written on them to hang along a string, and inside each they have a small symbol or emblem to colour. These will be glued onto the timeline.
  • This time I have focussed on events in the life of Jesus. As I went through, I could also imagine a parallel activity on 'teachings of Jesus' - I decided that this might work better when the boys are a bit older, whereas the physical events that took place are easier to conceptualise
  • I've got bigger colouring sheets for each day if they wish to use them, and will try and find appropriate songs that tie in with the Bible passage. 
  • I've got a final column on the schema for additional activities - most likely I will fill this in retrospectively since often it is during the course of a day that things lead on in a logical way, and it is now always easy to plan fully in advance. 
  • I have scheduled readings on Monday - Saturday for a couple of reasons: Firstly, our days tend to be more structured with 'school' type activities which always start with Bible on these days; Sundays can be a bit more random and we try to focus on the Bible teaching from church. Secondly, it adds a sort of 'firebreak' because it can be discouraging to fall behind and then struggle to catch up. 
  • There are two activities on Good Friday - this is because we will aim to spend more time reflecting on the events on Good Friday. It might be that we end up doing more or less on one particular day at Easter itself - and I hope the timetable allows a little flexibility.

Here is the outline - please feel free to try it too! (And if you can think of a better name for it, I am very open to suggestion). If you find particular activities that go best with a particular reading, I'd also like to hear!

Bible Passage
Timeline Picture
Other Activities
(Plus songs, colouring sheets etc for most)
W 18th Feb
Birth of Jesus
Luke 2

T 19th Feb
Dedication of Jesus
Luke 2:21-38
2 pigeons

F 20th Feb
Flight to Egypt
Matt 2:13-23
Silhouttes on camels

S 21st Feb
Child Jesus in Temple
Luke 2:41-52
Studious boy

M 23rd Feb
Matt 3:13-17, Mk 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-23
Jesus being baptised

T 24th Feb
Matt 4:1-11, Mk 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13
Bread basket

W 25th Feb
Calling of first disciples
John 1:35-51
Jesus with disciples

T 26th Feb
Water into Wine
John 2:1-12
Wine jar

F 27th Feb
Jesus clears the temple
John 2:13-25

S 28th Feb
Nicodemus by night
John 3:1-21
Moon and stars

M 2nd Mar
Woman at Well
John 4:4-42

T 3rd Mar
Healing of Leper
Matt 8:2-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16
Face with lesion

W 4th Mar
Paralytic on mat
Matt 9:2-8, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:17-26
Man on stretcher

T 5th Mar
Calling of Matthew
Matt 9:9, Mark 2:13-14, Luke 5:27-28
Tax collector

F 6th Mar
Matt 5-7, Luke 6:20-49

S 7th Mar
Healing of centurion’s servant
Matt 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10
Roman soldier

M 9th Mar
Widow of Nain’s son
Luke 7:11-17
Man leaping for joy

T 10th Mar
Woman with alabaster flask
Luke 7:36-50
Woman with jar

W 11th Mar
Jesus calms the storm
Matt 8:18-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25
Boat and storm

T 12th Mar
Demon possessed man (and herd of pigs)
Matt 8:28-33, Mark 5:1-21, Luke 8:26-40

F 13th Mar
Jairus’ daughter and woman with issue of blood
Matt 9:18-26, Mark 5:22-43, Luke 8:41-56
Girl in bed

S 14th Mar
Feeding of 5000
Matt 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14
Loaves and fish

M 16th Mar
Jesus walks on water
Matt 14:22-36, Mark 6:45-56, John 6:15-21
Jesus walking on water

T 17th Mar
Matt 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36
3 radiant figures

W 18th Mar
Coin in fish mouth
Matt 17:24-27
Roman coin

T 19th Mar
House of Martha and Mary
Luke 10:38-42

F 20th Mar
Raising of Lazarus
John 11:1-46
Man in grave clothes

S 21st Mar
Blind Bartimeus
Matt 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-50, Luke 18:35-43

M 23rd Mar
Luke 19:1-10
Man up a tree

T 24th Mar
Mary anoints his feet
John 12:1-9
Woman anointing feet

W 25th Mar
Triumphal entry
Matt 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-44, John 12:12-19
Palm leaf

T 26th Mar
Drives out the vendors
Matt 21:12-13, Luke 19:45-46
Praying hands

F 27th Mar
Last supper
Matt 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:7-20
Last supper

S 28th Mar
Washing disciples feet
John 13:1-18
Jesus washing feet

M 30th Mar
Matt 26:30-46, Mark 14:26-42, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1
Man praying in garden

T 31st Mar
Betrayal and arrest
Matt 26:46-56, Mark 14:43-54, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:2-12
Man being kissed on cheek

W 1st Apr
Matt 26:57-75, Mark 14:43-72, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:13-27

T 2nd Apr
Sent to Herod
Luke 23:6-12

F 3rd Apr
Tried by Pilate
Matt 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 19:1-16
Hands being washed

F 3rd Apr
Mocked by soldiers
Matt 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20
Crown of thorns

S 4th Apr
Matt 27:35-56, Mark 15:24-41, Luke 23:33-49, John 19:18-30
Jesus on cross

S 5th Apr
He is Risen
Matt 28:2-15, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-18
Empty tomb

Friday, 6 February 2015

Living in the light of eternity

Often you hear about how the siblings of an ill or disabled child develop unique strengths of character and frequently enter caring professions. Recently I have been encouraged by how my sons approach having had an older sister who died before they were born (more on our story is found here, here and here). Tomorrow would have been her seventh birthday. Her birthday brings such mixed emotions - remembering the fresh hope of becoming parents, the hopes and dreams (many of which may have been unrealistic) that we had, but also the sadness of having watched her die. But we do have hope that we will see her again. Yesterday we spoke of how she can't come back to us, but that one day we can go to her - as David said after the death of his firstborn son, 'But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:23. And in the light of that, I'd like to share some encouragements.

1) Heaven is a real place - they love the descriptions of heaven in the book of Revelation ie chapter 21 verses 18-21: 'The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.' They ask many questions about how that could be, and I have heard them talking to one another about how amazing and beautiful it must be. I envy their free, childlike imaginations which are filled with awe as they consider these things.

2) Eternity is real. Their questions about what happens when you die are very simple and direct. They want to know! What happens? Does your body rot away? Do worms eat your eyes? Tonight we read Luke Chapter 12: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.' They understand that your soul lives on, and that there will be a time of judgement.

3) They care about their eternal destiny. Many times in recent weeks they have asked whether they will see their sister in heaven. We have explained that we very much hope so, but that they therefore need to know where they stand before God. As I've recently blogged, they are increasingly asking questions which encourage me that they are considering these truths carefully. Sometimes it seems like they want to go to heaven just to play with their sister! But on other occasions, they seem to understand that seeing her will be just one of the many amazing things that they get to enjoy.

4) Their questions about resurrection bodies are interesting! The Bible talks of how we will be given a new body - particularly see 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 verses 38-38. I don't think it is possible for us to fully understand what this means of what it will look like, but it is clear that there will be no more sickness, pain or death and that will be marvellous. (They also particularly liked how some of these verses are set to song in Handel's Messiah, and we enjoyed listening to this for a time). What I like here is that the children don't consider that there are some parts of the Bible that are 'good for children' and others that are 'more complicated' - instead they ask very real questions, and as parents we seek to provide them with the most honest answers we are able to. We also appreciate that with their childlike faith they may well understand some of these issues better than we do. This is something that I come back to time and again when I consider how we are seeking to raise our family - that we mustn't stifle their questioning, but also how as parents we need to be familiar with the Bible. As Paul instructed Timothy, 'Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.' (2 Timothy 2:15).

5) Illness and pain and suffering are a 'normal' part of life to them. As doctors (and indeed as church members, or individuals within a society) we often see adults in mid-life who really struggle to cope when they face a bereavement, redundancy, serious illness or disappointment. Quite often it is the first time in their life that they have come across a real challenge, and there are often undertones of, 'It's not fair!', 'Why me?', 'I can't live with this situation', 'How can I keep going?' I do not want to minimise pain. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote to the persecuted church, 'Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.... So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.' (1 Peter 4:12-19) Our boys understand that people do get ill and die. They know that life can bring hardships and pain. These are lessons that many Christian parents will be seeking to teach - and I would also highly recommend Christian biographies which describe how people have brought glory to God through times of trial (reviews of Christian biographies for children are here and here). It is my prayer that the boys are equipped with the tools they need to stand firm in the face of trial when it hits them.

Of course it is not always so simple! My two year old nodded wisely as I described heaven and eternity, and then asked whether he could go to heaven now in the car, and take his toy plane with him! One of the five year olds wants to spend most of his time in heaven playing with his sister because of all the time he has missed playing with her here. And because tomorrow would be her birthday (and we always do have a cake, although a simple one with plain icing and no candles), one of them asked whether she would come and join us for cake. As with any children, their questions sometimes make me laugh, sometimes make me sad, and really my prayer is that as parents we have wisdom in knowing how best to make the most of opportunities that arise every day as they ask more and more things.

How have times of trial affected your children? Can you think of times when hardship has brought spiritual development to your family?