Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Addict Versus the Christian: Your Response

One of the hardest things I've ever had to do? Definitely, it's detaching from my mother's drinking and its consequences. Last night I received another angry email from a sibling--one who is deeply entrenched in enablement, and harshly judging me for my stance. Reading it sent my heart racing, and once again, I perceived that addiction is a gift that just keeps on giving--and not in a good way.

How one deals with an addicted person involves assessing what stage of denial they're in, and acting according to their readiness for recovery. If the denial is deep, and they refuse to admit they have a problem, there is little one can do, outside of detaching.

What is detachment, exactly? And why do I bother writing this post?

When I think back to my family life growing up, and how all of us behaved, I'm deeply saddened by the secrecy and denial. Addiction is shameful and ugly, but keeping it secret is even more shameful. If you deal with an addicted person in your life, I urge you to move away from secrecy and toward acknowledgement and transparency. Denial and secrecy are your enemies, and millions of families, including millions of innocent children, suffer needlessly not so much because of someone's addiction, but because of the secrecy and denial.

Reject your former response and move into the Light. Give your addicted friend or family member over to the care of our Almighty God, who is mighty to save. Any control you think you have over the situation is mere illusion.

Detachment is considered cruel by those who don't understand its value; you will be judged harshly. Lean on the Lord as you detach and gather your support where you can. Stand by your convictions, even if it means standing alone. Be gracious to those who won't understand, remembering that few of us understand what we haven't experienced.

Detachment, by definition, is removing yourself from the consequences of someone's addiction. It is crucial for recovery purposes that they take the consequences, fully. Any help from you in that regard just makes them get sicker--and you get sicker too, with your enabling and your refusal to move into the Light. Addiction is sin, and you want no role in it.

Is it also a disease? Probably, so ask God to provide what you need to forgive, to give you the compassion necessary to view your loved one as the Lord views her--as a sinner in need of Grace. Don't judge, but also, don't participate.

Think of detachment as being neither kind nor unkind. Don't bail your loved one out of jail, if it gets to that. Don't do any act, large or small, that makes the person more comfortable, outside of saving their life if you can. That said, if they commit suicide, don't take responsibility for it. Each person is accountable for their own life, and we don't "save" anyone. Addiction or not, God will judge the person by their actions, by their denial of Him, by their refusal to repent.

Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Romans 2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds

Galatians 6:5 For each will have to bear his own load.

God saves, and any part we have in it is because he allowed us to have a part, for His glory. Don't believe that you can change anything, for that is controlling--part of the enabler's sickness. Yes, it's true. Enablers have a controlling streak. And what's worse, they're capable of pity only, not love, until they understand the difference between the two. Their self-esteem comes from rescuing people over and over. It gives them a false sense of power--an illusion of grand purpose. As such, their sickness is just as serious as the addict's.

I have a friend who recently lost a grandfather--a grandfather unsaved and negative toward God. The family deeply grieves his passing, which was more painful than most losses, due to his final destination. They tried to witness, to no avail. What she explained to me in her letter was one of the hardest things any of us has to process this side of heaven. Why doesn't God save everyone? She said they have to trust that God is just, and acts accordingly.

Why doesn't God save every addict? Why doesn't he soften every heart? Why doesn't he rescue every child stuck in an addictive home? All of it is mystery. Don't try to figure it out. Trust in the Lord fully and believe in His goodness. Give thanks that He saved you, and feel guilty not for those who perish unsaved, unless you never shared the Gospel. But even then, let the guilt go because God is sovereign, and he works through our sloppy or inadequate attempts. If we live unashamed of the Gospel, that is witness in itself. Don't hide your faith, don't water it down, don't keep it quiet to avoid offending. Live boldly and let God work through you.

And hold on tight, because the world will hate you because of your unveiled love for and allegiance to the Son. They will distort it all, claiming moral relativism and tolerance is the way to go, for in their minds, absolute Truth doesn't exist.

If someone you love is never saved, know that God is Love, regardless. Cling to Him and His goodness, which will only make you stronger for the work he has for us, as Christians.

The last thing I want to say, is to believe. Imagine what it will be like when your loved one meets the Redeemer. Hope. Because hope will keep you praying. Hope will strengthen you. Hope will be your endurance. Hope will help you run and finish the race well, for His glory.

Remember how Jesus was viewed by his own town members? They were blind to the divine in Him. They were too close to it all, in essence. I don't believe that family members are always the best Gospel deliverers, for the receivers are too caught up in the emotional responses ingrained in them toward that member.

And when you've been hurt by an addicted family member, it's even harder to "deliver" the Gospel well. Trust God here to bring in a neutral party to seal the deal. And remember, too, that your responses are not always going to be good ones. Be compassionate toward yourself, as well. It's easier to shower compassion on an addicted outsider, than it is on one who has hurt you. I read a pastor's account of this, in relation to his own functioning alcoholic father. He noticed that he showers compassion easily on the addicted (compassion not pity) who have hurt others with their addiction, rather than him.

As you pray for your loved one, pray someone neutral into their lives, who will deliver the Gospel and Love without prejudice, and be a sound and enduring witness.

This is where I'm at now. Fighting for hope. It appears my mother has rejected God for good, and other loved ones are being brought down with her. It's so hard to have hope, for I've prayed so long.

But God is at work in my heart, teaching me to hope. To hope in Him, for He is our only true Hope.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What God Wants From Us In 2015, Part 2

Last time, we spoke about Loving God. Today, we learn about Seeking Him.

Oh, that we would all seek Him...earnestly, desperately seek Him.

Job 5:8-9 “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number."

Is he lost, that we must seek Him? On the contrary, he's ever-present, and we're lost.

Proverbs 8:17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."

Why must we seek Him, if he's always there?

The problem lies not with God, but with us--we are like the Israelites.

Psalm 14:2-3 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

God parts the sea and provides for us time and again, yet we forget so quickly. We are hungry for something from God, but we're not hungry for God (unless we're in trouble). We build our idols and focus on them, for they're tangible and enticing, giving us a quick high that keeps us coming back for more. No patience, that's us. We want fulfillment without commitment, so we keep chasing the empty promises the enemy whispers in our ears, never finding lasting joy in them.

Commitment requires that we be intentional. Instead, we want to be on auto-pilot. Intimacy doesn't come that way--it's a reward for our diligently seeking Him.

Moses went up to the mountain to see God, and in his absence, the very people the Lord brought out of Egypt did something shocking. They busied themselves building idols.

What?! Who does that after crossing through a parted sea to safety, after which the Lord destroyed the enemy with the falling waters? Who witnesses such a miracle and is saved, only to then build and worship some calf? Stupid, eh?

That's us. Stupid. Did you know sheep (that be us) are incredibly stupid? They aren't aware when they wander away, and they have no sense of direction to get back. Unlike most animals, they have no concept of a predator. When a wolf comes, they don't skitter away nervously. Oh, no. They just stay put, oblivious. Without the shepherd, they are dead, for they can do nothing to save themselves.

And do they warm up to him and love him? Oh, no. They're likely to bite him.

I told my children these facts one day, after hearing them in a sermon. They were indignant, not wanting to be compared to stupid sheep.

That's another thing about us. We don't want to need God, despite having His resume in hand, knowing what it promises on our behalf. Our own neediness disgusts us and terrifies us, so we run from it, instead of giving thanks for the Shepherd, who is Love.

Pride is a huge obstacle for us all. Humility leads to the Lord. Pride leads to death.

Lamentations 3:25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

Who can we emulate? Who can teach us to seek the Lord?

I believe David's our man. David couldn't stop writing Psalms--love poems to God. He loved the Lord and felt the Lord so vividly. He had to write about Him or he'd burst. As you read David's Psalms, you begin to understand what seeking God is like, and the reward waiting for those who do it.

Psalm 63:1 (A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.) O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Psalm 34:1-22 (Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away). I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Psalm 27:8 (of David) You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Psalm 40:16  (Of David) But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

Psalm 16:11 (Of David) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 34:10 (Of David) The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

There are obstacles in your life and in mine, that are in the way of our seeking God. If you get your notebook started in the first post, and write down the obstacles in your life--the idols--which prevent you from earnestly seeking the Lord, I believe, along with confession and repentance, it will be a first step to modeling our hearts after David's.

We can't just acknowledge these idols--we need to ask God's forgiveness, and plead with him to put us on the seeking path. There is something to find on this path. It's not a mirage we're after, but living water. Never-ending, never-stopping, always-available, living water.

Amos 5:4 For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live;

1 Chronicles 28:9 “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.

John 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Where do we seek God?

1. Through Creation - “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Romans 1:19-20

2. Through Prayer - Prayer is not one-sided, but a conversation with the Holy Spirit--a communing with the Holy Spirit. We are in His presence when we pray. God doesn't need our prayers to decide what to do. We need our prayers to become one with the Lord.

3. Through Praise - When you start praising God, he fills you up. He meets your soul directly and lifts it up to the heights, like you've never known. During and after a praise session, you want for nothing, spiritually or physically.

4. Through the Holy Word - John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

That's right...the Word was God. Open your Bible and meet the Lord right there on the page. 

5. Through His Son - God sent his Son, Jesus, so we would understand who God is. Jesus is the way--the way out of condemnation, the way out of separation from God. Jesus is our escort, our teacher, our Savior. He is the gateway. Go through Him--i.e. read the Gospels--and you will experience God and know Him.

Prayer Time: 

Dear Heavenly Father, we repent. We are sorry for our wayward-sheep habits, for being dumb Israelites all over again. Forgive us and restore us to intimacy with you. Our seeking and finding is a spiritual gift from you, and we thank you. We love you. May we seek your face, gaze on your loveliness, feel your sufficiency, Teach us to love you, to trust you, to obey you, to see you in your Creation, teach us to pray, to praise, to read your Holy Word, to experience your Son. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

I leave you with some quotes I encountered in my studies.

John Piper: Seeking involves calling and pleading. O Lord, open my eyes. O Lord, pull back the curtain of my own blindness. Lord, have mercy and reveal yourself. I long to see your face.

John Piper: His face — the brightness of his personal character — is hidden behind the curtain of our carnal desires. This condition is always ready to overtake us. That is why we are told to “seek his presence continually.” God calls us to enjoy continual consciousness of his supreme greatness and beauty and worth.

Charles Spurgeon: "There will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness."

Dan Jarvis: But it's not about Bible reading checklists or stopwatch prayer commitments. Seeking God's face is personal; it is an attitude of longing, willingness, and discontent with anything less than spiritual intimacy.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

What God Wants From Us in 2015, Part 1

After all the merry-making, the indulging, and the celebrating, the new year brings a new start, a new motivation to succeed. Most of us ache for routine after the holidays. We're ready to be productive again, heading into a new year, a new beginning. A milestone awaits us and before we do it all again, we naturally take stock of our lives. Is my current trajectory a good one? What can I improve?

We could focus on how organized our home is, or how many inches around our waist, how many miles we've walked, or how many food additives we will avoid this year, in a quest for perfection.

But these worldly matters? They pass away, as does the time we spend on them. They are not wrong--they're just not first.

What is a surer focus? A more foundational and eternal one? 

What does God want from us in 2015?

To Love Him
To Seek Him
To Serve Him 
To Trust Him

We'll be spending some time on each of these as we head into 2015, starting with Love Him.

How to Love the Lord

Revelation 2:1-4 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.

How do we truly love God, who knows our innermost thoughts and desires, and knows for sure whether we've forsaken him? What does love for God look like and feel like?

To love God is to make him your highest priority. 

Put nothing ahead of him in your heart and mind. Love him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We can't love him just on Sundays or just during devotions. He must be our highest priority each day as we get out of bed, go through our do-to list, and interact with others. He is our purpose, our motivation, our strength. 

“Earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25)

We can't have one foot in the world and still love God. Having two masters is prohibited. We are either for God or against him; an absolute commitment to live for God proves essential.

Matthew 12:30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1 John 2:15

To love God is to desire Him. 

To yearn for his Holy Word. To regard the Bible as that favorite novel we can't wait to resume reading. To yearn for quiet time with Him through prayer, journaling, and quiet contemplation. He should consume our thoughts with the same passion our first crush did so many years ago. It should be intense, this desire we have for God.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

The more time we spend with the Lord, the greater our passion for Him. It's a relationship nurtured by time and attention.

Psalm 19:7-11 
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

To love God is to obey Him.

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

Obeying God is not so much obligation as it is delight. We want to do it. It brings us joy.

Psalm 40:8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

How will you love God in 2015? Put him first, desire him, and obey him. Sit down and think about what that will look like for you. What will you do differently? Get a clean journal notebook and write down how you'll love God in 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Afterthoughts & Precious Books

I hope December 27 finds you relaxed and filled with warm Christmas memories. Christmas Day was wonderful, but it's busy here every year, with cooking being the main frenzied activity, as we chop, chop and chop some more for a complicated stuffing recipe, a sweet potato casserole, an apple pie, and mashed potatoes. The cranberries are boiled with orange juice and a cup of sugar, so they're easy, and the green beans are just steamed, so very easy too. But boy, it's hours before the meal is done and hubby and me can sit down and relax. 

We've thought about making a simpler holiday meal over the years, but the truth is we would miss the special foods. It would behoove me to make some things ahead of time, but what can I say? With four kids, each day has enough work of its own.

In a house with four children, it also takes the first couple hours of the day to straighten the house, wipe down the bathrooms and dust and vacuum for a guest, with the children's help. We have them open presents early, not on Christmas Day, because of the meal prep and anticipating needing their help on Christmas morn. This schedule allows us to make time to play games with them, help them with a new toy, and just enjoy a non-frenzied day before a big day of cooking. This year we chose Christmas Eve morning to open gifts, followed by a church service at 4:30 PM, and cookie social afterwards.

Christmas day I left the dinner dishes for late night, and after dinner we did our Christmas Nativity play with our friend Dean's help, followed by devotions and round robin prayer. Husband's sister sent my girls the Frozen movie, so we watched that later. Dean had never seen it, and we had only seen it once, a couple months ago, as we never noticed it in our town library, but finally put it on hold from another library. Dean was curious to see what all the hoopla was about. I warned him it's not a man's movie, but he enjoyed it nevertheless. 

It's so wonderful to have a Christian friend here on Christmas and Easter. The first eight years we lived here we were mostly alone on holidays, with a couple exceptions. The kids love having a guest, but they don't want to be away from home on holidays. Truthfully, as much as having help or trading with the cooking would be nice, I don't want to be away from home either.

Paul made these cookies, with the girls' help. 
Our family in our mismatched Christmas outfits
Our friend Dean with our boys. We knew him in California from our church singles group. Seven years ago he also moved to Ohio, but we only connected with him two years ago. 
Miss Beth loves dolls and dress-up clothes. She's an amateur actress and dancer and for every Christmas, every birthday, she asks for a doll and a princess dress. No variety, just the same thing every year and she's a happy camper.

Don't miss these Christmas books. They're worth putting on hold and finishing before New Year's, or anytime.

Shooting At The Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix
Copyright 2014

SynopsisShooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I who experiences an unforgettable Christmas Eve. In a letter home to his mother, he describes how, despite fierce fighting earlier from both sides, Allied and German soldiers ceased firing and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, and even lit Christmas trees. But as the holiday came to a close, they returned to their separate trenches to await orders for the war to begin again.

John Hendrix wonderfully brings this story to life, interweaving fact and fiction along with his detailed illustrations and hand-lettered text. His story celebrates the humanity and kindness that can persist even during the darkest periods of our history. Back matter includes a glossary, additional information about World War I and the Christmas Truce and its aftermath, and an archival photograph taken during the Truce.

About the Author: John Hendrix’s books include John Brown: His Fight for Freedom, a Publishers Weekly Best Book and New York Public Library Top 100 Book, and Nurse, Soldier, Spy, by Marissa Moss, which received a Eureka! Children’s Book Award and Booklist Editor’s Choice Award. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

My Notes: The writer is a pacifist, which I gathered from his introduction, but regardless of whether you think World War 1 was necessary or not, this book is beautifully done, humanizing both sides and illustrating what Christmas is truly about--hope and love. It's a wonderful history lesson as well as a worthy Christmas story, for children 6 and above, (some might say 2nd grade and above). The text was engaging, and not too wordy or too long for my six year old.

The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg, Copyright 1997

Synopsis: Review For those who cringe at the creeping materialism surrounding Christmas, a pious story about the origins of the candy cane is definitely a change of pace. A stranger arrives in town one dreary November and begins hammering and sawing away at his newly rented storefront. When a small girl offers her help, she's in for a childhood fantasy-come-true, as it turns out all the shelves and counters are being built for a candy shop. After offering young Lucy gumdrops and lollipops, Mr. Sonneman launches into the history of the candy cane. With his guidance, she discovers that the upturned candy is in the shape of a j--for Jesus. Right side up it looks like a shepherd's staff. And the red stripes? The blood of Christ from his terrible whipping. Lucy and Mr. Sonneman set out on a quest to share this story with everyone in town. Their message (and their gift of the pepperminty red-and-white sticks) brings the whole town together in a joyful celebration of Christmas (and candy).

James Bernardin's old-timey acrylic and colored pencil illustrations are reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, but depict both modern and biblical times. Candy canes will never taste quite the same again. (Ages 6 to 9) --Emilie Coulter

My Notes: My library only had a shorter, board-book version of this story available this year, but it's beautiful, wholesome, and powerful. A well-told story worthy of your Christmas celebrations every year.

An Amish Christmas by Richard Ammon Copyright 1996

SynopsisThere is excitement in the air on Christmas Eve day at Maple Hill School and it is hard for the young scholars to pay attention to lessons. That afternoon parents and young brothers and sisters will pull up in their horse-drawn buggies to celebrate the season with student skits, poems, and a Christmas carol sing. Christmas Eve in Amish Country also means the usual round of chores, feeding the animals, and milking the cows and cleaning the stalls. But a dusting of snow makes the evening magical.

Two days of Christmas are celebrated by the Amish in their own special ways. There are always the chores, but there is also simple gift giving, in the spirit of the wisemen. There are visits to relatives by horse and sleigh, big family dinners, and the fun of getting together with cousins and friends to sled, build snowmen, and ice skate.

All too soon, the holiday is over, and Amish youngsters return to school filled with memories of two days overflowing with family and fun.

My Notes: This book is not a story, but an accounting of how the Amish typically spend Christmas. It's a cultural lesson mostly, but the non-materialistic view of Christmas is valuable and could spark great conversation about how to keep Christmas meaningful and simple. Each member of the Amish family receives just one gift, for example. The book doesn't glorify the Amish lifestyle, but instead, just portrays it sensibly and respectfully.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, Copyright 2007 (and a newer, 2010 version with a different cover than pictured below)

Synopsis: It is just before Christmas when an organ grinder and monkey appear on the street outside Frances’s apartment. When it’s quiet she can hear their music, and when she looks out her window at midnight, she sees them sleeping outside. Finally the day of the Christmas pageant arrives, but when it’s Frances’s turn to speak, all she can think about is the organ grinder’s sad eyes — until a door opens just in time, and she finds the perfect words to share. With this luminous tale, Kate DiCamillo pairs with Bagram Ibatoulline to offer a timeless holiday gift.

About the Author & Illustrator
Kate DiCamillo is the author of The Magician’s Elephant, a New York Times bestseller; The Tale of Despereaux, which was awarded the Newbery Medal; Because of Winn-Dixie, a Newbery Honor book; and six books starring Mercy Watson, including the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride. She lives in Minneapolis.

Bagram Ibatoulline has illustrated many acclaimed books for children, including Thumbelina, retold by Brian Alderson; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Great Joy, both by Kate DiCamillo; The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinderbox and The Nightingale, both retold by Stephen Mitchell; The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M. T. Anderson; and Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes. He lives in Pennsylvania.

My Notes: A meaningful tale about the danger of forgetting the least of God's people, like the beggars on the streets or the orphans. A little girl, unlike her mother, is not willing to look away and pretend there aren't people who are cold and hungry on Christmas Eve, and everyday. Her simple child-like love, simple reaching out, are priceless and inspiring. This one is a must-have,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Really Simple Nativity Plays (Home or Church)

What better way to celebrate on Christmas Day then with a simple Nativity skit or play? Especially for those of us who didn't have one at church, this is a meaningful, fun, memorable, interactive way to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas evening, either before or after the dishes are done. :)

Your guests will be enchanted by the children's simple hearts for Jesus, and your younger children will understand the First Christmas event with greater clarity. Public speaking, even if just for the family environment, is really good for all children. And how fun, besides!

We have one guest coming this year, our single friend Dean. Last year he really enjoyed our children's makeshift Nativity play. This year we wanted to do something still simple, but with a little more structure. I have resources to share with you below, but if these don't appeal, you could simply read the Christmas story from the Jesus Storybook Bible or another children's bible, and put on a simple play as you read. We did that one Easter and it worked well.

This site features a play with two options: one for the narrator to have all the lines, and the other for the children to have simple lines. There are Christmas carols interspersed that all of you sing together. If you have only a few children in the house, your guests can have a part, or parts.

A Simple Pageantry - A simple play with no lines, just the narrator explaining the events as they happen, and Christmas carols interspersed, with the song lyrics written out.

A Possible Reader's Theatre - "The Story of Baby Jesus" - This one has mostly speaking parts, and could be done with the adults and your literate children each taking a part or two. Whoever typed it didn't use the best punctuation, but it will work fine.

Another Possible Reader's Theatre - "Just a Little Christmas" - Speaking parts mostly. Adapt for fewer people or have everyone take more than one part.

Costume and Prop Ideas

Costumes could simply be sheets secured with a waist belt, and a brown, tan,  or white shirt draped over the head, tied loosely at the neck. Use stuffed animals and dolls for props? Or do the whole thing with puppets if you have them. Kids could use old socks to make puppets, especially if you have some felt pieces and a glue gun. Or they could use markers to put on details. The sock puppets would work well for the Reader's Theatre-type scripts.

You could also use your manger-scene figurines as the characters, if costumes would be too much trouble.

Enjoy! Take a picture and share?


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Long, Long, Letter...

...also known as my crazy Christmas letter.

We hope your 2014 has been filled with joy and peace and love, and that Christmas culminates a beautiful year. Whether it was a tough year or an easy one, sometimes beauty is found in unexpected places, including through sorrow and through the mundane. Our beauty was found this year in God’s faithfulness and provision during rocky times.

Our son Peter, 13 in January, loves science and nature and wants to be a farmer. He put in a beautiful flower and vegetable mixed garden, and talked a lot about going to Africa to help the impoverished with their subsistence farming. Through Amazima, Katie Davis’s non-profit ministry in Uganda, he learned online about Farming God’s Way, which doesn't involve turning over soil, but just digging holes for the seeds, and keeping the surrounding ground untouched, except for a mulch cover made from the previous year’s foliage. Weeds are cut off at ground level so as not to disturb the rich soil, adding to the blanket mulch for the next crop. This method produces high yield, allowing those in abject poverty to feed their families, sell their produce, and buy seeds and tools. The produce is purchased at fair prices (not low, in season prices) by ministries, who then store it and use it for feed programs. Traditional farming, involving turning over the soil first, leaches minerals and causes erosion, whereas Farming God’s Way and rotating crops keeps the soil rich and productive. The practice is spreading throughout Africa and beyond as Christian non-profits continue to work to empower and restore dignity to the world’s poorest, in Jesus’s name
Peter would like to work closely with those in abject poverty, both as an evangelist and as one who would train and equip Ugandans to live self-sufficiently, with dignity and hope, changing their families and villages for Christ. (Christianity is declining in the U.S., but growing extremely well in China and Africa, with China gaining strongly on our numbers. Pretty soon, we’ll need missionaries to America, not from America.) 

Peter works on the leadership skills he will need in the field by helping me teach the four year olds at church every other week, by being a verse teacher in AWANA, and by preparing for and teaching his sisters their science curriculum, including their experiments.

My Momma heart is so proud of Peter, but I ache for him too. He’s had an extremely tough year with OCD, especially after suffering a concussion in August (fell from a tree). Still, he remains faithful and hopeful; he lives bravely and inspires me every day.

Paul is 11 and loves math, art, football and basketball. He is the world’s best brother—kind, helpful, fun, giving, and sacrificial. He vacillates between wanting to be a math teacher or a journalist, and God willing, he hopes to be writing books and possibly Christian curriculum someday (maybe with Mommy). He enjoys our Sonlight Curriculum, which emphasizes learning through literature rather than textbooks, incorporating the best from both the fiction and non-fiction worlds. Paul would like to write a similar curriculum someday, going into business for himself. He wrote a family Advent study for us and also enjoys theology, fiction writing, and sports writing. Honing his teaching and leadership skills, he teaches his sisters using their non-fiction history selections. Paul sees himself ministering here in America in some capacity. Paul also struggled with OCD this year, though to a lesser extent; both boys have been in counseling.

Mary is 8 and she enjoys toads, frogs, butterflies, and finding and giving thanks for the glory of God. She can find hidden praying mantises, cicadas, caterpillars, tree frogs--just about any tiny creature known to our yard and local nature parks. She’s observant and patient, wanting to find God’s glory before Mommy calls her back in for school. Each person has a style of worship, and hers is definitely through Creation and song.

She also has a heart for the impoverished and may follow Peter to Uganda, where they can both speak English, which is the official language there (neither wants to learn a foreign language, though Peter says he’ll suffer through it if God wants him to).

This last spring I identified dyslexia in Mary, which slowed down her reading before I researched and found appropriate curriculum from All About Reading, written for dyslexics, providing the scaffolding and repetition they need to excel. She’s been making outstanding progress this fall, and Mommy is learning all about the dyslexic advantage, working to capitalize on the inherent strengths dyslexics are known for. Peter has dysgraphia (difficulty with spelling, handwriting and organizing thoughts on paper) and dyscalculia (math disability), so I wasn't surprised to find a sibling with difficulties. Kids with ADHD often have learning disabilities as well, mainly in reading and math, but Peter, thankfully, is a wonderful reader.

Mary developed full-blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder this year, which runs strongly in my family. It’s been a long, hard road but she too has gotten some counseling, and I‘m reading a number of books so I can help her respond better to her fears, which thus far encompass weather disasters, health outbreaks, and bombing by planes. I’m definitely grieving over my children’s difficulties, but I see them responding bravely, without bitterness, and learning to trust God through the fire, which encourages me and helps me let go of the outcome, knowing God has a plan and purpose for our infirmities.

Beth is six years old and she loves graceful, energetic ballet moves, acting and singing, pink princess dresses, dolls and stuffed animals, picture books galore, learning to read, and playing with her siblings. Right now she’s having a tough time with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis pain, but you wouldn't know it by her energy and zest for life. She bears her situation admirably. She hasn't said yet for sure, but I think she wants to be an entertainer. She has the spiritual gift of encouraging others, which I think goes along with being an entertainer. When she’s around, there’s usually joy.

We have four other precious ones we think of as our children, so even though this makes for a too-long letter, their stories are fascinating and worth the time. The new year brought us a new Compassion International sponsor child, 15-year-old Sheila from Uganda (Kabale district), who writes us English letters in her own hand. English is her best subject in school, besides physics. She’s carrying a full high school load, doing well in all her subjects. She’s a Christian living with her 62-year-old grandmother, her mother having died and her father living apart from her. She wants to be a nurse or a teacher and help others. Nurses and teachers have a lot of patience and love, she writes. She loves her school teachers, telling me they teach her how to be independent in the future. 

We've written back and forth since January, 2014, and I already feel like she’s my daughter. Her faith is very strong and inspiring. She is learning “that God is with me in everything I do, and that he will never leave me.” She likes playing football (soccer) and going to Christian fellowships. Her grandmother is a peasant (subsistence farmer), planting sorghum, beans, and sweet potatoes in the wet season (2 wet seasons a year). Sheila helps by washing clothes and utensils. She wrote me about Jeremiah 29:11, one of my favorite verses, telling me that it teaches her never to lose hope. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Nelson, our sponsor child from El Salvador, to whom we've been writing for three years, is now 10 years old, in the 3rd grade. He, too, wants to be a teacher. His favorite subjects are art, language, and science, and he loves nature. His drawings are amazing. School work has become easier for him over the last two years. He told us about his country, which he says is very pretty, with volcanos, rivers, and a national bird called Torogoz, and a national flower called Izote. His favorite food is pupusas, which are tortillas with a filling of crackling and an edible flower called loroco. They are delicious, he promises, and asks us if we've ever tried them J

For his Holy Week vacation he had a great time with his mother, brother, and baby sister (no father in the picture). They ate pupusas and enchiladas with crazy corn, and swam in the river with cousins. He, too, loves football and plays it in the fields with his friends. His future plans are “to finish his studies and learn more and then teach other children.” He wants to help his family financially (Compassion children are known for giving back to their communities and families). He is going to church with his mom and siblings, and his faith is growing strong. I’m so proud of him! His letters are longer now and he sounds excited about life and the future. When a child is released from the hopelessness of poverty, and told they are loved and matter to God and to you, they begin to dream and yearn to help others.

Raphael, another child of our hearts, is 15 years old, from Burkina Faso. We've been writing back and forth with him for 3 years, as his correspondent family. He prays for us at school, he tell us, and he loves us and he’s proud of us. He makes me smile and cry. He’s very sweet, but sends us the shortest letters of the four. Also subsistence farmers, his parents planted tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, zucchini and pears, in their wet season. He likes to go hunting, play football, and work in his uncle’s store during vacations. He is a good boy. In love, I encouraged him to resist temptation, stay away from alcohol and drugs, and choose his friends wisely. He wrote back that he would, and didn't seem offended, telling me he likes my letters. I was relieved, as I hoped the advice would be taken in love, as from a loving parent. (Impoverished men, lacking hope and ability to support their families, easily fall prey to alcohol.) 

He does well in school and could qualify for Compassion’s Leadership Development Program, enabling him to attend college or vocational training. All the students at Compassion centers get vocational training in high school, but he has the potential to go beyond what they teach. Raphael also goes to church with his family.

Divya, our correspondent child of four years from India, is turning eleven soon. She lives with her parents and her brother. She was promoted to the sixth grade this year, and while at first she was an average student, over the years that has changed to above-average as her needs are being met through Compassion International. I am so thankful that Compassion looks out for these children, paying attention to their comings and goings, so as to prevent child trafficking, which is common among poor families who are lied to—enticed by being told their girls will be sent as servants to good homes. 

Divya's needs are being taken care of by Compassion, so her parents don’t share the desperation common to India’s poor. Compassion International, who administers their program through local churches, pays for her school fees, uniforms, books, shoes, school bag, notebooks, umbrellas, and at least two meals a week at the Child Center, extra food when needed, health screenings and health care, Christian teaching, hygiene and health teaching, parenting classes, and vocational classes for students and parents. Her parents are day laborers, employed part of the year. India’s poor have it worse than most in the world, outside Burkina Faso and Haiti, which are among the poorest nations on earth.

Divya wants to become a teacher and help poor children. She goes to Vacation Bible School when she is on break, and attends Bible studies and prayer group. She loves to spend time with her family, study, and play with her friends at school and at the Center. She tells me her family is very happy. Her letters are long, sweet, loving and grateful. She prays for Beth’s arthritis and tells me, along with Sheila from Uganda, that they think Beth will be healed by God, even though there’s no cure. They assure me and tell me to believe. They make me cry and smile and believe anew. I’m so grateful for each of these four precious children, along with my own four.

My husband is still very busy, away from home 65 hours a week spread over two custodial jobs (54 hours total work). We enjoy dinner with him at 7 PM, and then he reads to the boys from our curriculum read-alouds (historical fiction novels--this year ancient history through the Middle Ages). He visited his father, 91 years old and living in Florida alone, this last spring. He also talks 4 to 6 hours with him on the phone weekly. I’m busy with the children as detailed above and love it immensely, finding my daily life full of purpose.

I usually hand-write a message to each family this goes to, albeit a short one. To you, dear reader, I want to say...may the peace of God lift you and sustain you, giving you a joyous 2015, as you abide in and serve Him. Thank you for your love and support. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

10 More Christmas Books

Hopefully, all you've got left to do is a few Christmas cards and some baking. That leaves much time to cuddle the children and read Christmas books. Time to savor. Christmas need not be all over on December 26, for there is always the week after too, to linger over books.

Put some of these on hold via your library's computer system, and pick them up early next week?

Listen to the Silent Night by Dandi Daley Mackall
Copyright 2011

Synopsis: It was not such a silent night when Baby Jesus was born. From the baa, baa, baa of sheep to the flut-flut-flutter of angel wings, it was actually quite noisy! Here, from CBA bestseller Dandi Daley Mackall, is the story of the first Christmas, using the sounds of that miraculous night to really bring the story to life. With rich, gorgeous paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, this reverent retelling of the nativity is sure to become an essential part of every Christmas collection.

My notes: Beautiful paintings to linger over on each page, and it is truly is a reverent retelling of the Christmas story in engaging rhyme for all ages. A short one; five lines of rhyme per page.

How Many Miles to Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley-Holland 

Copyright 2004

SynopsisTwo modern masters illuminate the Nativity story, creating a sumptuous gift book for families to cherish. Mary, great with child. The lively donkey. The dignified wise men. The glorious angels. All the beloved figures of the nativity story are given new life by acclaimed poet and novelist Kevin Crossley-Holland, who links their tales into a chain of voices revealing the miracle and meaning of Christmas. Peter Malone's illustrations glow with the same majestic grace. This is a book for art lovers to admire, poets to praise, and families to read together and treasure.

My notes: Really beautiful book; short, with few lines per page, but meaningful words, all of them. A unique retelling of the Nativity, indeed. My favorite lines are the last page: I am the Light of Light. The baby who will cradle the world. In your heart, hold me. I will never leave you.

Christmas in the Stable by Astrid Lindgren 

Copyright 1998

SynopsisAs a young girl listens to her mother tell the story of the first Christmas, where else would she imagine the miracle taking place but in the stable and fields she knows so well? "Simple loving text and radiantly beautiful pictures in rich colors by Sweden's foremost painter of animals and nature." -- Chicago Tribune "A reverent and lovely Christmas picture book." -- The Horn Book

My notes: Love this book! So gentle, soothing, so loving. You recognize the name Astrid Lindgren, of Pippi Longstocking fame? Yes, same author. A keeper, but possibly hard to find unless your library keeps a Christmas section.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Copyright 2006

Synopsis"... Lloyd-Jones's soothing, lyrical text expresses the universal love felt by parents awaiting the arrival of a new addition to the family. Numerous intimate portraits of the Holy Family, surrounded by realistic renderings of tranquil animals make this a fine volume for sharing. The gentle rhyming verses here may invite introductory discussion of not only the Nativity, but the joyous miracle of birth anytime of year." -- Publishers Weekly

"A brief, poetic text and stunning illustrations flow together with magically successful pacing in this exquisite retelling of the Nativity story... Though this is a Nativity story, its message of awe and transcendent love will also touch new parents welcoming their own babies or expectant parents awaiting a miracle child of their own." -- Kirkus

"the words are a litany of celebration and praise for the miracle of birth-and especially the birth of the Christ Child born in the manger long ago. But... [the words] can be said to any child, at Christmas or on a birthday. This is an absolutely gorgeous book. The illustrations... the gold inlays on each page make the pictures seem like illuminated manuscripts. Sacred pages for a holy Babe, for our holy children, the ones we love. I also celebrate the meaning behind `We Knew You'd Come.' Some things our hearts know, and have always known. What a divine gift this book is for us all." -- ChinaBerry

The Christmas Cobwebs by Odds Bodkin
Copyright 2001

Synopsis: A poor shoemaker and his family move from Germany to Chicago with only a box of glittering glass ornaments. But when a tragic fire destroys their new house and shop, the family has to move into an abandoned shack, with cobwebs dangling from the rafters. Soon the shoemaker must sell his family's cherished decorations. But on Christmas morning, they all awaken to a shimmering surprise hanging from their tree.Spun by the Christmas spirit, a wonderful magic weaves throughout this holiday tale.

Booklist Review: In this poignant Christmas story set in "old Chicago," a "humble cobbler" and his family anticipate Christmas by admiring the one memento they saved from their old home in Germany--a box of beautiful glass ornaments. When a fire burns the cobbler's shop and home, the cobbler rescues only the box of ornaments, taking it with him when he resettles the family in a cobweb-strewn shack. Everyone tries to prepare for Christmas, but the cobbler must sell the ornaments to support the family, leaving the tree bare. The shack's story takes a magical turn when the spiders living in the shack weave beautiful decorations onto the tree, surprising and delighting the displaced family. The simple, well-written text is perfectly paced for quiet story hours, and the stylized, nicely composed paintings echo all the emotional drama. Children who have experienced or can imagine leaving behind the security of their own warm homes will connect with this moving offering, and parents will appreciate the message about materialism. Great for family read-alouds.

My Notes: This is one of my Mary's all-time favorite picture books; she checks it out numerous times per year. Tonight when I finished it for the umpteenth time, she leaned back dreamily and said, "Mommy, I just love that book. It inspires me." When I asked why, she said it's because they didn't have anything and yet they were really happy. She continued: "They didn't blame God or complain about what happened to them. They just started over and they were happy (content) with their love."

So there you have it. A very nice synopsis of this book.

A Cowboy Christmas: The Miracle at Lone Pine Ridge by Audrey Wood
Copyright 2001

Synopsis: From Publisher's Weekly: When Evan, a fatherless boy, senses danger one Christmas Eve, his prayers help save his favorite cowboy, Cully, from a chilly death. They also set in motion a chain of happy events for Evan and his ma. The somewhat overwrought tale is nonetheless fluidly told, and Florczak's (previously teamed with Wood for The Rainbow Bridge) realistic oil paintings, aglow with light and shadow, make ample use of the Western setting. Scenes of cowboys camped around a fire inject a dose of humor, while stunning paintings of Cully's riderless horse on a snowy cliff and Evan's mother strolling with Cully under leafy birch trees convey the dramatic events. All ages.

My Notes: This may have minor flaws, as recounted in a couple Amazon reviews, but I enjoyed it very much and cried at the end. The paintings are gorgeous. Publisher's Weekly called it "somewhat overwrought". Huh? Is a sentimental book a crime? I love me some sentiment. The world is too harsh, busy, crazy. When I sit down with my kids, I want something meaningful, appreciative, warm and wholesome. If I ever write a book for children, I'm sure it too will be tagged as "overwrought".

An author's note provides historical information about cowboys, including that they rarely survived beyond the age of thirty due to the dangerous lifestyle. Audrey Wood researched the life and times of American women pioneers of the West, by reading diaries and journals from the period. The author writes: "A Cowboy Christmas is a tribute to the courage and faith of the men, women, and children who braved the many hardships of the frontier West."

Rocking Horse Christmas by Mary Pope Osborne

Copyright 1997

SynopsisKindergarten-Grade 3. A story that's as rich in the spirit of Christmas as it is spare in its choice of words. Thrilled with his present of a rocking horse, a boy takes all sorts of wonderful imaginary trips. As he grows up he moves on to other interests. Meanwhile, the horse laments his playmate's absence. Finally, it is relegated to the attic. Years later, a small boy discovers the horse with delight. For this had been his father's horse, his "oldest friend in the world." And soon this new boy and the old horse gallop away to their own adventures. Bittinger's oil paintings on linen are rich in palette and detail. The cover and the title-page illustrations showing Santa making and delivering the horse might well go unnoticed, but they are intrinsic to this story and so much a part of its charm. The scenes where the boy's imaginative play surrounds him with cowboys, knights, race horses, and jungle animals are so alive with motion and energy that they fairly leap off the page. The unnamed youngster could be any boy and this horse could be any toy, any treasure, that enables a child to become an adult made richer by memories and imagination. The theme of toys outgrown and put aside but not forgotten is so well-done here that it will strike a chord with many children.

My Notes: Very well done. A well-paced, vivid, imaginative story. Makes a parent smile, thinking of all the ways little ones use their toys and how real and vivid the adventures are to the children. A toy ceases to be a toy and becomes "real" like in The Velveteen Rabbit. This reminded me of the magic of The Velveteen Rabbit. Okay, yes, I think I did cry at the end, but that's nothing new around here. My kids would be shocked if Mommy didn't cry during 60% of picture books.

My Prairie Christmas by Brett Harvey
Copyright 1990

SynopsisOnce again, and with great success, Harvey mines the grandmother lode as she did in My Prairie Year (Holiday , 1986). Two days before Christmas, Elenore Plaisted's father goes out to find a tree and does not return. On Christmas morning, Mother leads the children out into the deep snow to chop down a cottonwood. Just as they finish decorating it, Papa bursts in, explaining that he had been trapped in town by a blizzard. The joyous celebration is followed by a snow walk under the star-filled prairie sky. The story moves readers through an emotional spectrum from contentment, to the dread in waiting, to the relief and rejoicing. Ray's full-color watercolors with colored-pencil illustrations are warm and simple, perfectly suiting the Plaisteds' family life. Children who have read the Christmas barrel chapters from Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter (1953) or Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985, both Harper) will nod in recognition at this bit of American history. A beautiful addition to holiday shelves that will serve all year long in American history sections.

My Notes: I really enjoyed the quaint pictures of prairie and family life. Made my girls and I warm and happy to read this and take in the wholesomeness of the whole scene, with the handmade decorations for the tree, the handmade presents, and the Christmas barrel, with its flour and sugar, enabling the family to bake some Christmas goodies, which they couldn't do before Pa brought the Christmas barrel laden with presents from Maine. Like the synopsis above indicated, it reminded me of a Little House on the Prairie Christmas.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant

Copyright 1987

School Library Journal SynopsisGrade 1-4. Full-page watercolor paintings decorate this warm, sentimental story loosely based on actual events. Rylant traces the origins of an Appalachian "Christmas Train" that travels through the mountains each year on December 23 to a rich man who wished to repay a debt of kindness he had received many years before. He faithfully returns and tosses silver packages from the caboose to the coal-town children who wait by the tracks. One such child is Frankie, who longs for a doctor's kit every year; instead he gets much-needed socks or mittens along with small toys. As an adult, he moves back to the town to live and work, having fulfilled his dream of becoming a doctor. With her clear, balanced, and well-paced storyteller's voice, the author builds the anticipation and excitement that the children?and especially Frankie?feel at the train's annual arrival. Although the heroic profile of this child-turned-man makes him more of a symbol than a real person, his story is capably told. The illustrations provide panoramic views of the Appalachian countryside, with deep nighttime blues and wintry colors, strengthening the sense of place. A well-rendered reflection on the importance of giving and sharing.

My Notes: Should be a classic in every home with children. Very meaningful, about giving back to our communities. Told beautifully from two perspectives, that of giving and receiving, demonstrating the blessing of each. 

Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno

Copyright 2013

SynopsisPapa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear weren't expecting any company when they went for a walk on Christmas Eve, but that's exactly what they got! Debut author Maria Modugno teams up with award-winning artists Jane and Brooke Dyer to deliver a festive twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with Santa Claus stepping in as the cheerful intruder.

Leaving their pudding to cool on the kitchen table, the unsuspecting bears head outdoors for a crisp evening walk. But when they return, they are shocked at what they find! Their pudding . . . eaten! Their chairs . . . broken! Their cozy beds . . . slept in! And it looks like the culprit is still there! Fast asleep in Baby Bear's bed is someone awfully familiar. A fluffy white beard, a red jacket covered in soot, and two black boots sticking out from under the covers. Could it reallybe . . . ?

With sparkling prose and splendid watercolor paintings, this delicious holiday treat glows with warmth and humor that will delight readers page after page.

My Notes: Very sweet illustrations. We loved it, but then we're fans of most Three Bears renditions.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Toy Recommendations, Part 2

Puzzles are always a wonderful gift that can involve the whole family in meaningful interaction (or engage just one child), but if you've purchased many of the smaller-piece puzzles, then you've also thrown away a few due to missing pieces.

The answer? Floor puzzles!

Melissa and Doug make floor puzzles for three different levels: beginner, 24-50 pieces, and 100-pieces. They are high-quality, educational, and the pieces are too large to get lost. Children don't lose interest over time, especially when the family works the puzzles together. Puzzles aren't used everyday of course, but probably several times a month, and even more when they're detailed enough to really study.

Once the puzzles are pieced together, they offer sound learning. Your child can memorize the positions of the U.S. states (tactile, visual method, and even auditory if you say them), learn about the continents and their position, learn about the prominent animals living in different regions of the US and world, and learn the position of the planets and their relationship to one another and to the sun. That is just a sampling of what's available. Amazon has better prices by a dollar to two (usually), but you can use the Melissa and Doug website to see what they make.

My favorites:

Do you have any floor puzzles? Have you loved them?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Toy Recommendations

One thing I've learned in the past 13 years of parenting? Go classic with toys whenever possible, not trendy. Think of the imagination, the different uses over a wide range of maturities, the quality, the myriad of ways to recreate with the same materials, not commercial-driven crazes. When you give in and buy some nothing toy that was marketed to your child, you will all regret it.

You can't go wrong with Melissa and Doug Standard Unit Blocks.

Melissa & Doug 60pc Standard Unit Blocks

Melissa & Doug 60pc Standard Unit Blocks
Melissa & Doug 60pc Standard Unit Blocks
Item# MD-503
Regular price: $69.99
Sale price: $47.59
Availability: Usually ships in 2-3 business days.

In case you don't already own this gem of a toy, I searched and found the best price this year at Jacob's Room (quotes above from Jacob's Room). If you have a larger family, you will eventually want a second set.

There's no end to how children of various ages will use these large, sturdy blocks (12 year old still loves them, and all the neighbor kids). Think of the myriad of accessories your child already owns that can be utilized with this classic toy: Hot Wheels, all other vehicles, people figures, animal figures, and the incredible, joy-instilling Hex Bug. Each day will bring a new use, a new joy, a new sense of accomplishment.

Besides PlayDoh, which I love for many of the same reasons, Melissa and Doug Standard Unit Blocks are my favorite toy of all time. They don't get lost, Mom; they're too big. And they're easy to store in the accompanying delightful, well-crafted wood box. Just putting them away is a good brain exercise, as they fit perfectly and it takes practice to learn the best arrangement.


I used to think every little girl (or little boy) would like a kitchen, and I'm sure many a parent has sunk good money into one, but over time? They don't play with it much. Think longevity. How many uses per month, per year, and over time and maturity? Dishes get played with more than kitchens, for whatever reason. But a caveat: the more dishes the set comes with, the less they'll get played with. Stick with a simple, durable tea set. Kids don't like to be overwhelmed, and it takes time for us to learn that.

Large Plastic Indoor/Outdoor Toys

If you ever want a large plastic toy such as a wagon, kitchen, picnic table, sandbox, etc. check garage sales first. These items are very expensive and can often be found in good condition at garage sales for less than $10.

That said, a durable, brand new wagon is a treat for any child, and will likely provide years of joy.


Dolls, but not too many. The more dolls, the less they get played with. If you get another one, ask which of the old ones she wants to give to Goodwill.

Doll accessories, but only one or two, for the same reason.

Doll clothes will be played with more than beds, strollers, etc., over time. The stroller will likely go out of fashion in a month, though your neighbor girls might enjoy it when they visit.

Legos: Boys and Girls

These can be a good investment, but not the sets, in my opinion, because how many times will they want to put the same thing together (or the same two things)? And how many are mature enough to keep the pieces together? Better to buy larger packages of Legos and books to go with them, that feature a myriad of different ideas.

Hot Wheels are durable, invite a myriad of uses, and don't ever go out of fashion. My friend at church found her 18-year-old son perusing them in the toy section. waiting for his mom. The tracks are good, but the simpler the track, the better. Those that you just watch will go out of fashion, so choose something interactive, like a track that races the cars. Blocks and other classic toys that help your child invent his own track, with wedges and heights and slants, make Hot Wheels even more durable over time.

Dump trucks made by the best toy companies are always a good investment, inviting never-ending uses.

Remote control vehicles are rarely worth the money, and long ago I began my "no". If you can find it at a thrift store, go for it, I tell them...with your own money.

Electronics: We have never purchased any electronics other than our family PC, and the educational software our curriculum demands, but in the future we will need a tablet that allows educational, special-needs applications. I am thankful such things exist.

I know Minecraft, Wii, Xboxes, iPhones, iPods, etc. are all the craze, but they eat up time, are addictive, and really, what benefit is there that can't be realized by a good classic toy...and by real interaction with real people, like the family and friends we know are safe, and who God has placed in our lives for discipleship purposes? I've never regretted not having them. If you've got the time to monitor these things, and your time usage and content controls are working, they may be a good investment. I'm just not sold on the idea of any of them as truly beneficial for children, but every family is different.

My kids liked the Cool Math Games website for a few years, which made up their video game consumption (24 minutes a day after school), but the ads have gone too worldly, so I banned it. They don't miss it.

What are your favorite toys? Any ideas you've gathered that make electronic toys work for you and your children? What have your children's favorite toys been over time?