Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So Thankful

Psalm 28:7 –The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.

So thankful...

~ for 4 amazing children with whom I love spending my days.

~ that God provides faithfully and graciously.
~ for a faithful, hardworking husband who forgives readily and loves much.
~ for other amazing young people I've grown to love from AWANA.
~ for Christian friends.
~ for continued academic progress.
~ for 4 children who love Jesus and each other.

~ for the Lord's grace and the Holy Spirit's encouragement as I battle migraines.
~ that I am a daughter of the King and in Him I have a wise, faithful, perfect Father.
~ for the transforming power of God's Holy Word.
~ for Thanksgiving blessings.
~ for Paul, who turned 12 earlier in November. He's a terrific son and Christ-follower.

Paul at 5 years old 

Paul at 12 years old

Beautiful Mary

~ for my daughters who are best friends and so imaginative and playful.

My daughters at 18 months and 3-and-a-half

My daughters at nearly 7 and 9

Psalm 95:1-6 – O Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth; The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Homeschool Wrap-Up With Master Schedule

Homeschooling is a blessing. Nary a day goes by that I don't feel that to my core. But it's very busy now that I have four school-age students. Here's an overview of our first-semester readings, followed by a master schedule we follow. Mental illness (severe OCD) is a big part of our day too and the schedule reflects that. We stick to the basics and they extend their learning outside in their own time. They're natural explorers/nature observers and they enjoy PE games together, too.

An overview of recent and current readings:

Boys - Literature: Treasure Island, and now The Wide Wide World (Christian classic fiction, written in 1850; very long...600 pages). Next up for the boys is Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Boys - History: Continuing with Story of the World, which they weekly tell me how much they love. I do believe they will revisit these four volumes on their own through the years. They find them incredibly engaging and interesting. Some topics are explored further either online or from a comprehensive, youth and Christian-friendly history of the world volume produced in conjunction with Beautiful Feet books.
Girls - We've gone through several selections on extended history of the Pilgrims (Beautiful Feet Early American History, primary), a Jamestown reading, The Courage of Sarah Noble, The Matchlock Gun, and library picture books with various social studies and science themes (see this post for more on the girls' reading--especially the library selections)

A few things are reserved in the evenings after Daddy returns at seven, after which we eat dinner and congregate in the living room for family prayer and an elective, such as great composer study, or drawing with a read-aloud.

Master Schedule
Morning Chores:

~ Get dressed; make bed
~ Clothes in hamper
~ Fold clean clothes, put away

Morning Subjects:

1. Bible Whole Family – Audio Bible on Bible Gateway (Using a Through-the-Bible-in-2-Years Schedule, chronological, Old Testament and New Testaments together; Boys/Mom follow in their own Bibles; girls color in Bible coloring books while listening)
Girls Narrate Bible Readings - Tues./Thurs.
Boys Narrate Bible Readings -  Mon./Wed./Fri.

2. Peter – Math
Paul – Literature & Narration (Oral narration – Tues/Thurs.; Written Narration Wed/Fri)
Girls – Journal Writing
Mom - Start bread making

Mid-Morning Subjects:

1. Peter – Literature & Narration (Oral narration – Wed/Fri;  Written narration Tues./Thurs.
Paul – Math
Girls – Beautiful Feet History Readings with Mom; take turns narrating. Narration is an important part of both Beautiful Feet History and Apologia Science. 

Some notes about narration: Narration (oral retelling for primary, turning to written narration for upper graders) was a natural, expected part of education in former centuries, especially for the upper classes. It got lost as homeschool and/or tiny one-room school houses morphed into modern public education. If you read books like Elsie Dinsmore or The Wide Wide World, you see how prominently narration and recitation figured into formal education. 

Visual learners don't learn as well through oral narration, and I take that into account in my homeschool, even if Charlotte Mason would disagree. The more the child groans about narration-- especially later in the year after they've had practice--the more you can take that whining as an indicator of learning-style preference. At first narration is hard for most of us, but auditory learners catch on more quickly. 

My Mary, age 8, can narrate like nobody's business; she amazes us all. Paul finds it akin to torture, but he's getting better and I don't push. His tendency is to try to include too much.

Mid-Morning Subjects Cont.:

2. Peter – Writing/Grammar
Paul – Apologia Science & Notebook
Girls – Free time

After-Lunch Subjects:

1. Peter – Apologia Science & Notebook
Paul – Writing/Grammar
BethAll About Reading Level 2 with Mom
Mary – Saxon 2 Math Practice w/ Paul nearby (Mary will start Teaching Textbooks Math 3 in December or January)

2. Peter – History Reading
Paul – History Reading
MaryAll About Reading Level 3 with Mom
Beth – Saxon 1 Math Practice

3. Peter – Apologia Science W/Primary Notebook Reading to Girls; Girls narrate; sometimes hands-on work
Paul – Computer Programming
Mom – Prepare Hands-on Saxon Math lesson for girls (combining the girls)

4. Boys – Online Geography on Kindle (to start Northstar Geography in Feb)
Girls – Saxon Hands-on Math Lesson with Mom

AWANA - I record their individual verses on my LG flip phone, which has better sound quality than our Kindle, and during the day they take turns listening to their verses with headphones. After about three days of this, they can usually recite the verses well with the reference. Paul prefers studying on his own, as oral work isn't as beneficial for him.

How has your semester been going? What readings have you enjoyed? 

Have a blessed weekend and thank you for reading here!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Educational Picture Books 2015 (and Thanksgiving books)

Here are some great educational selections for the whole family to enjoy together. Happy Reading!

by Brenda Z. Guiberson
 published June, 2015

Synopsis: Which sea creature is the greatest? Is it the one with the most venom, the greatest diver, the one with blue blood, or the best rotating eyes? Or is it the master of disguise, the one with the best light, the most slime, or the most eggs? Fascinating facts and spectacular illustrations will inspire young readers to choose their own favorite sea creatures!

Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought)

by Kathleen Drull and Kathryn Hewitt
Published August, 2015

SynopsisYou might know that Columbus discovered America, Lewis and Clark headed west with Sacajawea, and Sally Ride blasted into space. But what do you really know about these bold explorers? What were they like as kids? What pets or bad habits did they have? And what drove their passion to explore unknown parts of the world? With juicy tidbits about everything from favorite foods to first loves, Lives of the Explorers reveals these fascinating adventurers as both world-changers and real people.
The entertaining style and solid research of the Lives of . . . series of biographies have made it a favorite with families and educators for twenty years. This new volume takes readers through the centuries and across the globe, profiling the men and women whose curiosity and courage have led them to discover our world.

by Nikki Bruno Clapper
Published October, 2015

Synopsis: What is a primary source? How does it compare to other types of sources? Even the youngest learners need to know the difference. Straightforward text and clear photographs give readers the tools they need to learn about primary sources and media literacy.

by Patricia Polacco
Published September, 2015

Synopsis: Friendship, loyalty, and kindness stand the test of time in this heartwarming World War II–era picture book based on a true story from the beloved author-illustrator of Pink and Say and The Keeping Quilt.

Tucky Jo was known as the “kid from Kentucky” when he enlisted in the army at age fifteen. Being the youngest recruit in the Pacific during World War II was tough. But he finds a friend in a little girl who helps him soothe his bug bites, and he gets to know her family and gives them some of his rations. Although the little girl doesn’t speak English, Tucky Jo and Little Heart share the language of kindness. Many years later, Tucky Jo and Little Heart meet again, and an act of kindness is returned when it’s needed the most in this touching picture book based on a true story.

My Notes: Loved this. Incredible true story and a tear-jerker, as so many of Patricia Polacco's books are. It realistically depicts the horrors of war, however it was not too much for my 6 or 9 year olds. I highly recommend it.

by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac With Plimoth Plantation
Published 2001

Synopsis: Countering the prevailing, traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, with its black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims; blanket-clad, be-feathered Indians; cranberry sauce; pumpkin pie; and turkey, this lushly illustrated photo-essay presents a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621.

My notes: As part of my girls' Beautiful Feet History this year, we read a number of more accurate accounts of the first thanksgiving and the events leading up to it. This featured book also presents an accurate account, drawing from the primary sources we have available.

by Kathleen Krull
Published June, 2015

Synopsis: Many awe-inspiring women have changed the course of history. From fighting for social justice and women's rights to discovering and shaping our amazing country, women have left an indelible mark on our past, present, and future. But it's not easy to affect change, and these women didn't always play by the rules to make a difference! Kathleen Krull blends history and humor in this accessible young biography series.

Sacajawea was only sixteen when she made one of the most remarkable journeys in American history. She traveled over four thousand miles by foot, canoe, and horse-all while carrying a baby on her back! Without her, the Lewis and Clark expedition might have failed. Two hundred years later, we still can see how her unique journey demonstrated the strength and value of women.

by Kate Waters
Published 2001 

Synopsis: Sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people shared a harvest celebration that has become known as the First Thanksgiving. This is the story of what happened during those days, as told by dancing Moccasins, a fourteen-year-old Wampanoag boy, and Resolved White, a six-year-old English boy. Photographed in full color at the Plimoth Plantation, this accurate reenactment will let you experience a time when early English colonists settled on the rich and fertile land of the Wampanoag people.

By Marcia Sewall

Synopsis:  In a text that mirrors their language and thoughts, Marcia Sewall has masterfully recreated the coming of the pilgrims to the New World, and the daily flow of their days during the first years in the colony they called Plimoth.

Aye, Governor Bradford calls us pilgrims. We are English and England was our home...But our lives were ruled by King James, and for many years it seemed as though our very hearts were in prison in England...
September, 1620, our lives changed. We were seventy menfolk and womenfolk, thirty-two good children, a handful of cocks and hens, and two dogs, gathered together on a dock in Plymouth, England, ready to set sail for America in a small ship called the Mayflower...

After an abundance of prayers and tears we made farewells at dockside and boarded our small ship. Our voyage across the Atlantic Ocean "began with a prosperous wind," but the sea soon became "sharp and violent" and storms howled about us.

When the pilgrims set out for America, they brought with them a dream for the future. Sickness, hardship, and heartache stood in the way of that dream. But the pilgrims worked hard, keeping their dream close to their hearts, until they were finally able to make it come true.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving
by Eve Bunting

Synopsis: Mr. and Mrs. Moose invite all their animal friends for Thanksgiving dinner and the only one missing is Turkey. When they set out to find him, Turkey is quaking with fear because he doesn't realize that his hosts want him at their table, not on it.

My notes: One of my all-time favorite picture books. So cute! I love Eve Bunting.

by Margaret Pumphrey

Synopsis: This 1910 publication has been newly edited and expanded to include a horizontal history of the world of the Pilgrims of the early 17th century. This replaces the formerly titled Stories of the Pilgrims used in our Early American History Primary Study Guide. Now children will learn not only the faithful saga of the Separatist's struggle for religious freedom, but also that young Rembrandt was just learning to walk when the Pilgrims arrived in Leiden, that Galileo was fighting his own battle for religious and scientific freedom, and that William Brewster served as clerk to Queen Elizabeth's secretary until the ill-fated execution of Elizabeth's half sister, Mary. Historical figures from around the world will see the Pilgrim's heroic struggle in a more meaningful context. With whimsical illustrations by Christen Blechschmid, children and parents alike will see the world as the Pilgrims saw and lived it.

My Notes: Available from Beautiful Feet books, this is the most comprehensive history of the Pilgrims I've ever encountered. An excellent choice! I'm so glad we read it.

by Clyde R. Bulla

Synopsis: This biography for young readers tells of the adventurous life of the Wampanoag Indian who befriended the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

The selflessness of Squanto is a good starting point for a discussion about this pivotal time in American history, during which the Indians had to make room for the new, white culture. The story is simply, yet engagingly told, and will inspire many questions about the customs and lifestyles of two very different societies.

Eyewitness Tree: Discover the Fascinating World of Trees--From Tiny Seed to Mighty Forest Giants
by David Burnie
Published September, 2015

Synopsis: In this updated and revised edition of Tree, readers can follow a seed grow into a sapling, the changing colors of fall leaves, and the tiny insects that live in rotting leaves on the forest floor, plus learn why deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall, how a tree breathes, how bark defends trees from attack by animals, and more.

Each revised Eyewitness book retains the stunning artwork and photography from the groundbreaking original series, but the text has been reduced and reworked to speak more clearly to younger readers. Still on every colorful page: Vibrant annotated photographs and the integrated text-and-pictures approach that makes Eyewitness a perennial favorite of parents, teachers, and school-age kids.

by Jessica Loy
Published April, 2015

Synopsis: There are lots of fascinating animals throughout the world with unusual characteristics. But you may be surprised to learn that many common animals may also have some uncommon characteristics For example, did you know that:

A giraffe can clean its own ears with its tongue?

Or that a hippo has teeth as long as a child's arm?

So come read facts about fourteen special animals who are less "normal" than we may think at first look.

by Chris Butterworth
Published August, 2015

Synopsis: Did you know that the cotton for your jeans was picked from a bush? How did the colorful wool in your sweater get from a sheep’s back to a ball of yarn? Where did your soccer uniform, your rain boots, and your fleece jacket come from? And what does recycling plastic bottles have to do with anything? Visit farms, forests, and factories all over the world to find out how everything you wear has a story behind it. Back matter includes an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, a bibliography, and an index.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Parenting: A Dance of Self-Sacrifice

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Right now I'm full of joy, but earlier today misery visited. It's not Mother's Day or anything, but my gratitude spills over as I think about my four sleeping children.

The boys’ OCD continues to be a monumental challenge. A few times a week my hands go up to my hair in frustration; a good hair tug is just what I need. You know that expression “pulling out my hair”? I don’t exactly pull it out, but screaming in frustration would be too stressful to my housemates, and I can’t get in the car without my children and just drive off the stress, so hair pulling works. Tension is released and at the same time I remember that we are on this earth as pilgrims for a nano-second, passing through. OCD is a temporary problem.

It's a testimony to God's grace that I sit here and declare my gratitude...because this is a hard road we're on.

But back to parenting joy…I just love these precious ones so much. They are such good company, so warm and delightful and funny and sweet. The greatest privilege in life besides serving the Lord, is serving one’s children. Watching them spread their wings, guiding them with love and scripture, honoring them with my time and attention and devotion…it’s all so rich.

The longer I do this, the more I realize that a great parent is a selfless parent. We make little decisions all day long about the extent to which we’ll deny ourselves. Each little decision matters and together they influence the content of a child's memories. A self-denying parent sows fond memories, while a self-involved parent sows neglect and eventual disdain.

Will I forgo a few minutes of reading to peel apples for the kids? Will I set the 600-page classic novel aside to do a hands-on lesson my girls need, rather than just giving a math worksheet? Will I set aside the messy house to read library books to my kids, even though what I’d rather do is send the children outside so I can vacuum, sweep and dust—something which makes me feel better, even though the books make them feel better? Will I keep going forward with the next important thing, using my time wisely, or will I go to the computer to check my email and then get distracted with that news story about Marco Rubio's supposedly-disastrous finances?

All these decisions matter for eternity. My parenting matters for eternity.  I can model self-sacrifice or self-indulgence, a love for God or a love for myself.  I can have lofty ideas and goals, but what really matters is my behavior, not my intentions.

Good intentions don’t rear spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually well-balanced young people. Self-sacrifice does.

Lay down your life. Fade to the background. Be the wind their wings crave. 

Fill up on God, not self. Give from the abundance God provides, for the Christian is never empty-hearted. The Living Water is ours to drink from. We need not ever thirst again.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What God Has Done in 18 Years

I do love to write still, but can't seem to get to this space for my usual fix. This week, however, I wrote out a personal testimony of submission to God for my middle schoolers in Trek class. We were finishing up an entire 7-week unit on submission.

Some of you have read a bit of my story before, but this is everything God has done in my life in the last 18 years, as written to the middle schoolers. It's long, but then, 18 years is a lot of lessons.

7 Weeks on Submission

Reviewing Concepts

1. The path to greatness is through serving.

2. We should aim not to be first, but to be last.

3. Christians need to tell factual stories of what God has done in the Bible, and about what he has done in our personal lives. Another word for these factual stories is testimonies.

4. It is not easy or always safe to be God’s servant.

5. Satan knows how to tempt us. He knows our desires, and he will tempt us all through life, especially when we are vulnerable (feeling weak). We can follow Jesus’ lead and defeat Satan just like Jesus did during his 40 days of temptation.

6. God’s servants will be rejected by the world.

A Personal Testimony about Submitting to God

I grew up in a non-Christian home and it wasn’t until age 31 that I came to know Christ as my personal Savior. I was single all that time, teaching first grade in the high desert of California, about 90 minutes from Los Angeles. After my ninth year of teaching--two years after I became a Christian--I married a Christian man, continuing classroom teaching for two more years after, during which I suffered a miscarriage in my fifth month of pregnancy. I waited a long time for a husband and family, and I wanted my baby more than anything. All my dreams were shattered when they told me during an ultrasound that my baby boy had no heartbeat—and this after I saw him doing flips on ultrasound a month earlier, seemingly healthy.

The miscarriage occurred only 17 months after my wedding day, and even though I was happily married, for several weeks I wanted Jesus to take me home. The baby seemed like everything to me and I just didn’t have hope anymore. People told me that such things occur to women all the time, and that I best just accept it and get over it—that I wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to suffer a miscarriage.

The facts are, about 10% to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, and most of them before 12 weeks gestation.

My heart was broken and the callous remarks left me feeling emptier and more alone. Like Elizabeth in the Bible, I felt shame because my body didn’t perform as it was supposed to. I began noticing dozens of largely pregnant, happy women. Yes, it didn’t make sense, but I felt unworthy of being a woman. I trusted God and loved Him just as much even through the worst of the grief, but I had lost my innocence about happiness. Previously I thought that happiness was attainable—that everyone was going to experience happiness in some way. I felt entitled to happiness before that miscarriage.

I was desperate to be pregnant again. Really desperate, but it didn’t happen for five long months. In fact, it didn’t happen until I completely submitted to God in regard to my future as a mother. He might make me a mother, or He might not, but it was his story to write.  I might be happy for a time, or not, but it was His story to write. I was finally like Mary, saying to God…”Let it be to me as you say.”

I grew as a servant of God. I grew to understand that God promises His presence, His love, and His provision. He doesn’t promise that we’ll have everything we want, or even most of the things we want—including a spouse and family.  His purposes and His plan are higher than ours, and as his servants, we have to submit to that plan, no matter what it costs us.

I did get pregnant again, and finding out was the best day of my life!  I wept, while worshipping the God who gives and takes away, but would never forsake me.

The bliss didn’t last the whole pregnancy, for at the 20-week ultrasound they told me my baby had hydrocephalus (brain swelling) and a swollen kidney. Those first few days, I forgot all about my plan to submit to God, and I lamented…”How could this be happening, God! Why would you allow tragedy twice in a row?”

While I trusted God, I began to believe even further that as Christians we cannot anticipate happiness in earthly things. Children get sick. They die. Spouses die. Nothing is for sure. Only God is unchanging, ever-present, always loving, and always working for our good. He deserves all of our allegiance, even while our hearts are breaking.

Joy in Christ is always ours for the taking. But happiness is circumstantial—it depends on what’s happening in our lives. Happiness comes and goes.

Two days after our bad ultrasound news, a specialist could only confirm that my baby had swollen kidneys; there was no sign of brain swelling. We rejoiced, once more believing we might be parents yet. I dared to hope that everything would come out okay, and even though there were some pre-term labor problems, everything did come out okay. My baby was born at 37 weeks gestation. After birth, he had no kidney or brain problems.

Twenty-two months later I had another son, Paul. We were overjoyed.

After my first son was born, I had quit teaching full-time and started working part-time as a homeschooling facilitator in California, where our home was. My husband did not make enough for me to stay home, but God in his graciousness allowed me to work mostly from home. I had prayed desperately for months for the ability to stay home; to be a mother to the miracle in my arms was all I wanted. I now saw children as a gift, not as a right for every adult woman. Babies were placed in my arms by my loving Heavenly Father, and everything I did as a mother was an act of gratitude. 

God managed to give me a position that only required a babysitter for several hours a week, which was a miracle, for quitting work entirely wasn’t possible. My income was needed to avoid bankruptcy and defaulting on our obligations.

Though the situation was ideal, it wasn’t what I wanted for my children. It was just second best. There was a great deal of stress in trying to work as a mother of a baby and a toddler.

Little did I know, that God was at work still, planning to give me the desire of my heart.

I got pregnant again (third child) and since I was already having trouble keeping up with my professional work, I knew something had to change. I couldn’t be both a good mom and a good employee. My heart was at home and leaving my children for even a couple hours left me feeling extremely anxious. Some women can do both well (balance work and home), but God didn’t create me like that.

We put our 3-bedroom, modest California home up for sale in 2005. We had only owned a home for three years, but if it sold in that high-market period, we would have enough equity to pay off $26,000 in student loans, plus paying off two cars and other bills, and leaving enough to move and get a mortgage on another modest house in a cheaper state. We decided to go without a job to the new state, on faith that one would be obtained.

The house sold in two weeks, and I began speaking with an aunt in Ohio about housing prices. We had no family left anywhere in California, and having at least one aunt around—who happened to be my only Christian relative--seemed like a dream.

Unfortunately, as soon as we sold our house, I suffered another miscarriage at 10 weeks gestation. It was devastating, but we moved anyway since we had sold the house. It seemed as though God had orchestrated the whole thing.

After the move I began staying home in Ohio with my two boys full-time.  In what still seems like a miracle, God gave me the desire of my heart. Peter was 3 and a half, and Paul only 22 months. I babysat for extra money, and my husband worked very hard for us in a modest, relatively low-paying job.

I was 39 when we moved to Ohio, and to my amazement, two surprise babies were born to us when I was 40 and 42 years old, and they are fabulous blessings—two girls, now 6 and 8. God was so faithful to the desires of my heart, but he didn’t have to be. He blessed me beyond my wildest dreams, and even though my children have some troublesome health problems, I feel incredibly grateful and blessed. Things are not perfect or easy, but God is faithful and loving, always.

Our lives took a sharp turn in 2009 when my husband lost his job, and we experienced real, first-world poverty. Although 14% of America is hungry, which is unacceptable, it is still true that no one usually starves in America. So our first-world poverty was vastly different than third-world poverty, which consists of cooking outside of a leaky-roof shack without running water, without toilets, and sometimes without electricity. We still lived like kings and queens, from a third-world perspective.

We were like outcasts in our own land, however. We felt left out of everything, and I began learning in earnest about poverty around the world. My eyes were miraculously opened to how arrogantly Americans live, in light of the way the rest of the world lives. I learned that as Christians, we had been missing something BIG about what God wanted from our lives. I felt we had been Christian in name only, along with many other American Christians.

But God is gracious to meet us where we’re at. We all start out with a lot of sin and blindness, and God moves us along with love and patience. This period of learning about world poverty began a major restructuring in my mind of what it meant to be a Christian.

We were scared and devastated about the job loss, already barely making ends meet, but we had great faith and believed God would provide, so I didn’t go to work.

In fact, I had taken on something significant at home, in the year prior to the job loss. We had read that 82% of public-schooled Christian children left their faith after high school, while only 7% of homeschooled Christian children did. Despite this statistic, I am not advocating here that homeschooling is right for every Christian. It was just right for us.

It became clear to both of us before we even finished reading the article. We pulled our first-born son out of kindergarten in the fourth week of school, welcoming homeschooling as a way of life. It allows us large amounts of time to diciple our children.

A major submission in my life came through our ongoing, relative poverty. While God provided, it was nonetheless seriously challenging to be the have-nots in a materialistic society. Not long after the job loss, my husband—who was 50 when he lost his job--began working 54 hours a week for a low wage. Even though he worked harder than most, we represented the working poor—working high hours for a low wage. My husband’s age didn’t make it easy to find a decent job, nor did his Bachelor’s degree in theology, which brought spiritual benefits but not always material ones. 

Whether you have a college degree or not, know that your daily bread comes from God. There are no magic formulas for an easy-living lifestyle.

We learned quickly that we no longer fit in anywhere—not even at church. Everyone talked about the places they went and the things they did, or the remodeling they did on their house. We listened politely, but we avoided talking about ourselves, knowing ridicule was likely regarding our choices. I avoided women’s ministry because I couldn’t join in any of the conversations. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, or ridicule me for not working, when my family obviously needed more money.

To choose to be poor for the sake of the children wasn’t something people could relate to. Our society thinks children need things and experiences, and thus my children were at a disadvantage in their eyes—they were to be pitied, in other words. They were pitied by people who knew our situation, even though they had toys (Goodwill has good toys), and clothes and food, and a warm, loving place to live. They also had a yard, which is far more than most children in the world have in terms of space.

There were no vacations, or any lengthy road trips because of the cost of gas. We never went out to dinner or to movies or to events that cost money, unless someone gifted us with tickets. All our garments come from careful, meticulous thrift-store shopping—finding the best there is so everyone looked respectable. No one guesses, most of the time, what our lifestyle is like because we don’t wear it on our sleeves, so to speak.

We also didn’t fit in with relatives, who thought we were ignorant. Because we could rarely go anywhere or do anything, we visited libraries and parks. We did a lot of living through wonderful books. We grew to love God’s earth and see Creation as a love song to us. There is much that is free, given to man as a gift from God, to amaze us and amuse us and remind us of Him.

Even with faith, a low-income lifestyle is stressful. A car repair could mean not enough food, and too much food could mean not enough gas. Everything’s a struggle, but alongside us there has always been God’s grace and the joy of raising children.

The greatest challenge to my joy, year after year, was Christmas. I dreaded it. We couldn’t buy anything for our children, unless a relative or friend sent Christmas money, though twice over the years near-strangers blessed my children with a ready-wrapped Christmas.

We couldn’t buy anything for others, either. Scraping up money for holiday baking, a holiday turkey, or Operation Christmas Child, were all faith walks. While others were spending hundreds or thousands, and going out to eat with every shopping trip, and going to productions like the Nutcracker, I was hoping Christmas would be over soon. I began to desperately look for meaning in Christmas, knowing that when we view things eternally, we always find the deepest and most satisfying meaning.

Finally, after studying and contemplating, I grew to believe that Christmas was a commercial enterprise, not a biblical enterprise. The first Christmas is not celebrated in the Bible, outside of the shepherds coming to worship Jesus after His birth, and the wise men coming to worship the toddler Christ child—who by then was no longer a baby. Even though the virgin birth of Christ was one of the most significant events in all history, there wasn’t a biblical feast or holiday declared.

Christmas and I came to an understanding, however. It could be used to annually acknowledge the miracle of the virgin birth and Emmanuel, God with us, even though, as Christians we’re supposed to be reveling in that miracle every day.  For me now, Christmas is a time to perform random acts of kindness toward our unsaved neighbors, and for the less fortunate. That’s the best use of it, my heart and mind finally decided, though we still bake cookies and cook turkey and put on living room Nativity plays. We invite the lonely to celebrate with us.

I don’t hate Christmas anymore because I have learned true gratitude. I have learned to count eternal blessings more than earthly ones. I concentrate on what God wants, and not on what I feel. What I feel is unimportant. God gives me His spirit and changes my selfish feelings to match his sacrificial ones, the more I submit to Him and practice gratitude as a way of life.

How did my children fare in all of this? My children to this day do not know what the inside of a movie theatre is like, or the inside of a restaurant besides Pizza Hut. They have lived a very different life than their peers, and right now as my boys acclimate to youth group for the first time, they feel all the feelings I have felt over the years. They don’t fit in, in terms of lifestyle, and everyone is talking about things they have never seen or done or had. “You don’t know what a Game boy is? Are you serious? You don’t play video games? Are you serious? You’re weird.”

These are real comments made to one or both of my boys, and though no harm or disrespect was intended, it still stung and made them feel marginal—on the outside of life, looking in.

They are staying strong, though. They have already learned to distinguish between wants and needs, and they understand what a distraction consumerism is. It is excruciatingly hard sometimes, but they understand they are blessed to have a unique perspective, even when Satan is there, telling them they deserve this or that like the others have.

They, too, are learning gratitude.

For a long time I thought God was trying to teach us important eternal lessons, and when we had learned those lessons, we would be less poor. But that hasn’t happened. Nothing has changed materially in these six years following the job loss. I have come to peace with, and submitted to this lifestyle, and I see the blessings inherent in having to depend on God for everything. I feel more blessed than ever before, even though I’m still a marginal character to those around me.

Wealth is only a blessing if you share it. If you don’t it will likely be your spiritual downfall. It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get to heaven. Rich people don’t need God—though their souls do, of course. Rich countries don’t need God. Thus, America is more godless than ever. China and Africa are gaining comparatively more Christians than we are. We’re losing Christians.

I want you to imagine a simple, tiny wood house without running water or commercial furniture, without closets or different rooms--just a shelter over your head and cooking done camping-style, outside. I’ve seen many videos of this and I’ve read about it. Christians who live like this feel a very real and amazing presence of God all the time. They have a deep soul joy and a faith we richer Christians don’t often experience, in all our comfort and self-reliance.

Every single thing you add to that simple existence distracts you more and more from God. The electronics, the convenience tools, all the things that make life easier and pleasurable, such as luxuries and vacations…they all change us. They take up all of our time and attention. They crowd God out and as we crowd him out, we no longer feel the abundant spiritual life he wants for us. We look for more and more things and experiences to fill the void in our lives, never understanding that we successfully crowded God out, without even realizing it. Whoever loses his life for Me will find it. We don’t find our life in things or comforts. We find it in God alone. God is what our souls are hungry for, though as you learned in this unit, Satan will always be there telling you this is a lie.

As I learned more and more about world poverty, I fell in love with an outstanding Christian organization called Compassion International (www.compassion.com), which is a child-sponsorship ministry that serves millions of children the world over, all in Jesus’ name. They help children and their families come to know Jesus, as they relieve their suffering and provide hope for their futures—all for $38 dollars a month per sponsored child. Personal letter writing by sponsors is a huge part of Compassion’s ministry. The letters are like gold to these children, some of whom have never been told they are loved by anyone. Their parents, just trying to survive daily, don’t often know how to nurture their children, though they do love them.

As part of another faith walk, knowing that all monies come from God, not from us, we sponsored a young lady from Uganda, and a young man from El Salvador, for a total of $76 a month (plus family gifts to them at our tax refund time, to ensure they have roofs that don’t leak and a mattress to sleep on, and clothes and shoes). God always provides the money to do this, even though on paper it doesn’t work out for our budget. 

When God wants something from us, he provides the means, often through weird occurrences like unexpected refund money from the dentist or insurance company. Once, 3 or 4 years ago, our 1998 van was on its last month of life and we had no idea how we would cart our four kids around, since my husband drove a 25-year-old sedan.

I got hit by a car coming back from the grocery store. It was a miracle, especially since no one was hurt and I was alone in the van. The insurance company gave us $4000 more than we expected for the value of our Toyota Sienna van. We bought a used van, a 2003, for $3000, and the rest went to other obligations and to our Compassion children.

Our Compassion family has grown over the years. We also write to four other children whose sponsors do not write to them--from Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, India, and the Dominican Republic. Besides my own children and husband, these children are the joy of my life. Their four to six letters each per year fill us with joy. Checking the mail has become a treat. I love impacting them for Jesus, and I love how they impact us with the joy of simple belief…simple, child-like faith…simple living. Our monthly letters to them remind them that God has not forgotten them. Poverty tells them they are worthless. They need to be told a different message, in Jesus’ name. I tell them I love them and that God loves them and that He has plans to prosper them and not harm them, to give them a hope and a future. Not a material prosperity necessarily, but a spiritual one.

If you want to get involved with Compassion International and don’t have the $38 a month, you can call them and ask to be a correspondent sponsor for children whose sponsors do not write to them. This experience will change your life, and the life of the child you write to. You can become a sponsor online at www.compassion.com, but to be a correspondent you need to call them directly at 800-336-7676.

A man from Kenya recently came to American for the first time, to meet with a ministry partner here in the States. His American ministry partner took him along as they stopped at a couple mega-churches to pick up promised ministry donations. The Kenyan man, having grown up in abject poverty—looking in trash cans for food as a youngster--looked at the huge, fancy churches with their cafes, and bookstores, and their huge playgrounds and he said, puzzled…”Do they worship the same Jesus?”

I have learned that worshiping Jesus means giving up a respectable life. It means giving up the notion of ever fitting in. My heart must bleed for what Jesus’ heart bled for…for the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, the poor and the lame…and about souls most of all.

I have learned that the American Church has it all wrong. This church, however, has it more right than most, since we have several ministries that serve the poor and oppressed. Be proud that your church stands out in this way--different from the usual American pact of churches. And work personally to do more as you grow up in this church.

We aren’t supposed to pursue the American dream of a house, nice yard, bigger and better things, and nice vacations. We’re supposed to be pursuing something greater than that…something greater than ourselves. We are supposed to be getting in last place, so someone else can go ahead of us in line, for the glory of God. It’s not that we have to make ourselves poor with our giving, just that we should give until it truly hurts and truly makes us depend on God. In all this we identify with Christ in his suffering, and feel the abundant life he desires for us.

Our faith then stands out as a miracle, and points to God’s glory, goodness, and provision.
I believe God put enough of everything on this earth. There is enough food, enough land, enough water, and enough trees for shelter. Yet some people can’t sleep for the rain that leaks through their makeshift tin roofs. Some people walk around hungry all the time, and walk hours to get water for cooking. Kids work in fields and never go to school, because eating is more pressing than an education.

But this doesn’t have to be. This doesn’t occur because God is heartless. It occurs because we are heartless. We have loved ourselves, instead of our fellow man. God expected us to distribute our extra and we failed. We were supposed to be his hands and his feet to all those who have not enough, or who have nothing, and we failed. The gap between rich and poor is growing even in our own country as we read this.

You young people are the future of our country. I want you—God wants you--to see through materialism. Compassion International has an excellent blog about child poverty and helping in Jesus’ name. Find it and read it often, with your parents’ permission, at www.compassion.com/blog. Read about the 80% of the world living on less than $2.50 a day. It’s an inconvenient truth nobody wants to know about, but open your eyes and really understand this reality and your Christian responsibility. 

Adjust your gaze so that it is on God, and not on yourself. Look at your life dreams and be willing to set them aside as Mary and Joseph did, when they accommodated an embarrassing and recriminating pregnancy. Think about that pregnancy and what it looked like in their culture. It placed them in a position of shame and ridicule and extreme loneliness. They became outcasts.

In your lives, aim to lead the American church to redemption…to true worship and true knowledge of what it means to follow Christ and to love Christ.

The path to greatness is through what?

Through serving others.