Sunday, January 24, 2016

I'm a Beggar

The longer I live, the more readily I is hard.

But before you click out of this and say.."Forget it, I need something encouraging, not a downer"..let me also add that as bad as things get sometimes, I can always say and really mean..."God is good. He is always good."

We were already completely overwhelmed by Peter's moderate-to-severe OCD, and now my 9-year-old daughter, Mary, is getting worse. She imagines she smells gas daily and is worried about the house blowing up. Any smell, whether good or bad, increases her anxiety. She does rituals, like breathing into her pillow or her jacket sleeve, with the hope of staying alive through the "gas" leak. These rituals point toward OCD, not just your garden-variety anxiety. She also worries about the dates on foods and doesn't eat with the same freedom as before. Both of these issues--chemical contaminants and food spoilage or food contaminants--are common OCD themes.

Just when I thought the stress couldn't get any worse, it did. And just when I thought I couldn't take another day of this life, God showed me how beautiful life is, once again.

In our humanity, we look for bright outcomes. We covet the story about the boy with severe OCD who was chained to his house by his fears, who then went on to lead a completely normal, spiritually productive life, managing the OCD like a champ.

Or we covet the story of a child with a serious physical handicap who healed in adolescence, and went on to adulthood to treat children with chronic medical conditions, with the same kindness she received as a child.

We want these bright and glorious outcomes, and we pray for them over and over. We should pray thus, and with faith. 

But there's also the submission factor involved in the Christian walk. We have to be okay with whatever outcomes God chooses. His vision is not our vision, though we become more Christ-like every time we choose to submit our lives to His will.

There are a lot of things that feel impossible about my life right now. I feel too weak and sinful for the tasks set before me. But my pride and my own agenda weaken more all the time. The impossibility of solving anything on my own necessarily makes me a beggar. A grateful beggar.

Lord, I put my children and my marriage into your hands. I let go of my own agenda. I submit my will to yours and ask that you make us not more successful, but more godly.

In your precious name I pray, Amen.

Verses for Strength:

Isaiah 40:28-31 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary,and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

1 Chronicles 16:11 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Exodus 15:2 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

1 Samuel 30:6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

1 Peter 4:11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ramblings During Insomnia

A member of my family contacted me over the holidays, bringing hurtful barbs. In fact, it pretty much ruined my Christmas Day, and I've been in a slump since then.

I was shamed for "treating my mother so badly". I had to again ask for no contact until my mother moves away from denial and into a 12-step program. Looking back, I'm sorry I even responded at all. Ignoring the contact would have been better for my family, who doesn't understand why I'm struggling.

The whole grieving process is starting again and I feel anger and other raw emotions. While I didn't suffer loss in the traditional sense, I recognize the stages of grief nevertheless. Practicing gratitude--my ingrained way of handling tough spots--isn't working as well, but it's helping some. There are no shortcuts I suppose, to any kind of grief. We can't make a list of blessings and then expect that all will be well with our emotions.

Still, gratitude helps with endurance in anyone's life. We all need endurance to run the race for the glory of God.

Daily I see the effects in my life of my mother's choices, and yet at the same time I know we must accept the past and move on, practicing hope and love and gratitude and intentional living. However, there's this heaviness I just can't brush off. Is it partly the hormones of my 49-year-old self? How can I know and what can I do?

Anxiety, I am learning through research, comes and goes in our lives and the best thing we can do is to avoid fighting the anxiety. By itself, anxiety is harmless. It's when we try to get rid of it that we run into problems. Acceptance of it is key. It will leave soon on its own anyway, like the breezes that blow in summer.

Instead, a common response is to experience anxiety about the anxiety, which only produces more anxiety. I suppose an analogy is the phenomena of bees chasing us when we react to their presence with panic. Or is that only me?

I have anxiety about how my kids will turn out. Surely it would have been better for them to be born to a mother without a dysfunctional upbringing? I'm not as light-hearted and healthy as I want to be. I don't laugh enough. Though I'm kind and gentle enough, I'm not bold and full of confidence.

And I keep causing myself more stress, as though I don't have enough already.

One of our new-in-2015 Compassion correspondent children suddenly disappeared from our Compassion account in late December. I made contact with Compassion to make sure he was okay, and they told me his sponsor of eight years cancelled the sponsorship. Brayan is 14 and still needs a great deal of encouragement, especially having lost his father to death from undisclosed causes. I knew it was likely the sponsor never wrote to him, and that is why they assigned Brayan a correspondent. He would have received only one letter from me by December, because we just got him in the fall, and it takes 2 to 3 months for a letter to arrive.

I was using the chat feature of Compassion's customer service, and as I read the clerk's responses to my questions, I was torn about what to do. I knew we would only be able to keep encouraging Brayan if we decided to sponsor him. Otherwise, he could be picked up by a totally new sponsor, or not at all, which would be devastating and confusing to him. Not all sponsors write, and the writing is just as important as the $38 sponsorship money that allows him to participate and receive the maximum benefits Compassion can offer.  How would that feel like hope at all, if he had to leave the program for good? How could he believe in hope still? Wouldn't that just confirm that he doesn't matter? That he isn't worth anyone's time or money? I felt it was best for us to step up, so there would be some consistency in the message from God's people.

So I typed back...we will sponsor him. I was elated to do it, and so were my kids, but I'm still not sure it was the right thing. The truth is, we can't really afford it and I haven't told my husband yet. My plan is to take the money from the tax refund and put it into an account that would only be used for the sponsorship, to ensure there will always be money for it.

Now, it is somewhat likely, but not guaranteed, that God will honor it, but I know my husband wouldn't approve. It was wrong to do it without talking to him first, but I know I have greater faith than him generally, about God wanting to provide for all our needs. And oftentimes, it's about redefining what is truly a need, verses a worldly want. A lower standard of living is not always a bad thing. There's evidence that it works for our good, according to His purpose.

But, it was still wrong not to consult my husband, who is the rightful spiritual leader of our family.

I know my tendency to want to help the world, sometimes to my own detriment, is one result from my upbringing. Those of us growing up in a dysfunctional home--a certain category of us--have an intense desire to "rescue" people. It's a dysfunctional drive because it doesn't always come with discernment, and we get too much of our identity from it.

Last year, my word for the year was discernment, for this very reason. I thought I was doing better but I also just recently volunteered for something else at church (just a once a month thing, on top of my teaching the Trek AWANA kids). Was it the right thing, considering that the OCD issues with my son are such a huge source of stress already?

Or does concentrating on other people make it easier to put our problems in perspective?

I hope I made the right decision with Brayan, and it did appear that time was of the essence. I guess I knew if my husband were consulted, the answer would be no. And what did I teach my children...that deception is okay for a good cause? I told them I would tell Daddy soon, and I plan to, but another thing just broke around here, so now is not the time.

Sometimes it seems like I am screaming inside, while trying to hold it together on the outside. There is no one in the flesh to confide in about such personal things. Since I don't know anyone experiencing similar issues, no one is likely to understand anyway.

That leaves just me and God. God and me. I could lose my entire family tomorrow, and then it would really be me and God. God and me.

What I need to remember now is that my peace comes from Him, not from favorable circumstances. Not from an easy, comfortable life, devoid of heartbreaking issues. My peace comes from knowing He loves me. From knowing he is waiting for me. From knowing that he chose me. From knowing that this life is like a passing breeze, compared to what He has planned for me in eternity.

Sometimes, it's only writing that brings me back to these eternal truths. Writing is like crying out to a gracious God, who hears me and leaves me with peace.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

High School History for Homeschoolers

I've had a time of it, folks. Oh, the hours I've spent reading review after review of all the viable options for high school history (specifically, 9th grade to start). Someone needs to write another option for homeschoolers who are looking for rigorous history courses that are neither boring nor terribly slanted.

An excellent history study should Wow! the student and encourage critical thinking about events past and present. Ideally, the topics should remain in a student's consciousness, as opposed to leaving the mind after the last test. The knowledge base should be broad enough for students to build on in college and beyond, as opposed to starting from scratch again as an adult, because nothing from high school really stuck.

I strongly leaned toward My Father's World High School for several weeks. It's basically a unit study program encompassing history, literature and Bible study, including a full high school credit for each, and a half-credit for composition per year.

However, as much as I tried in those several weeks of leaning toward MFW, I could never get past the disadvantages of the traditional textbooks they use as their spines: (Notgrass World History) for 9th and 10th grade, followed by a Bob Jones University  US History text for 11th and 12th grades. Both of these texts represent stand-alone Christian-inspired high school history courses on their respective sites, but MFW adds in more literature and extensive Bible study.

My Father's World (MFW) is a very strong Christian worldview program, almost to the extent that some periods of history are short-changed because they don't fit well into a worldview study.

I wanted a complete, rigorous, exciting curriculum for two boys who have been raised in a Christian home and already have a strong Christian worldview. Every family's needs are different, and there are no perfect curriculums; for high school history, I think most homeschooling families settle for the next best thing, because the best thing doesn't exist. This feeling was largely consensual across all the reviews--that while there are some good choices, there aren't any great choices.

In my online travels I also looked at the final volume of Mystery of History (Volume 4), which also has a strong Christian protestant flavor. Unlike the other MOH volumes, Vol. 4 is written at a high school level, but it's not rigorous enough for a high school credit unless you supplement quite a bit. Not written in narrative form, it isn't as engaging as Story of the World, and doesn't include enough student writing or topic analysis for the high school level. It does, however, contain some engaging parts that improve upon the traditional HS history text we all suffered through in high school.

Beautiful Feet History is a wonderful curriculum company (loving it this year with my girls), but they don't have much to offer at the High School level.

I've looked into almost everything that Cathy Duffy reviews for History. Most of the choices were too weak for serious consideration.

Finally, for 9th grade History we decided on Sonlight American History In-Depth (History 120), which is geared toward 9th or 10th grade. The grade range on their site places it between 8-12 grades, but it fits best into the 9th or 10th grades, in my opinion. The history spine they use is the Award-winning series, A History of US by Joy Hakim, which is definitely not a dry textbook approach.

The huge drawback to this Sonlight option is that for 1 history credit and 1 Bible credit, it's going to cost $478! That's an incredible amount for 2 credits, but I think the learning will be worth it (especially if we can buy used books). Obviously, we can't spend that much on each course. Science won't be more than about $120 - $150 per year, and 4 years of Literature will be relatively inexpensive due to the availability of used novels. Composition will be woven through all the courses, especially literature, and Foreign Language DVD programs are usually less than $100. Math shouldn't top more than $170 per course.

So, history will be our highest expenditure each year, except for the purchase of a good microscope for 3 lab courses (1-time purchase of about $120 - $200).

Back to 9th grade history now: Joy Hakim's series has a slightly liberal slant, but Sonlight balances that by extensive notes pointing out where Hakim gets it wrong, and/or what she leaves out, as well as providing historical insight into why she may have chosen her particular point of view. Without Sonlight's extensive commentary on this series, I wouldn't place it at the high school level. Separate tests on this series can be purchased independently of Sonlight, which will help in awarding a final grade for the course.

Publisher notes on the series: Hailed by reviewers, historians, educators, and parents for its exciting, thought-provoking narrative, the books have been recognized as a break-through tool in teaching history and critical reading skills to young people. In ten books that span from Prehistory to the 21st century, young people will never think of American history as boring again.

Whether it's standing on the podium in Seneca Falls with the Suffragettes or riding on the first subway car beneath New York City in 1907, the books in Joy Hakim's A History of US series weave together exciting stories that bring American history to life. Readers may want to start with War, Terrible War, the tragic and bloody account of the Civil War that has been hailed by critics as magnificent. Or All the People, brought fully up-to-date in this new edition with a thoughtful and engaging examination of our world after September 11th. No matter which book they read, young people will never think of American history as boring again. Joy Hakim's single, clear voice offers continuity and narrative drama as she shares with a young audience her love of and fascination with the people of the past. This series is also available in an 11-volume set containing the same revisions and updates to all ten main volumes plus the Sourcebook and Index volume.

Sonlight's History 120 class goes beyond Joy Hakim's work. Also included in the course are the supplemental texts and biographies shown below.  A few books are too easy and I've left them out because we wouldn't use them at this level.

There is a guide written to the student, detailing each day's assignments with commentary on the readings, and another guide written for the parent. For the most part this is a self-directed course, but parents should engage students in conversation and guide them through the critical writing assignments.

Additional Reading included:

Before Columbus 120-03

Before Columbus (120-03)

A beautifully illustrated, scholarly look into the civilizations before Columbus. Focuses on three main questions: Was the "New World" really new? Why were small groups of poorly equipped Europeans able to defeat large Native American societies? What impact did the thriving native civilizations leave on the land?

The Boys' War 120-04

The Boys' War (120-04)

A wrenching look at the American Civil War through the eyes of its youngest soldiers.
Thousands of Confederate and Union soldiers were merely boys of 12 to 16 when they went to war. They fought and struggled alongside men three times their age. In this work, their photographs and firsthand accounts bring to life the realities, hopes and devastation of war.

Sacajawea 120-05

Sacajawea (120-05)

Sacajawea, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark come to life in a beautifully told narrative.
Closely adhering to the explorers' journals, this historical tale recreates the adventure, intercultural nuance and triumphant hope of this legendary expedition. With chapters that alternate between Sacajawea and Clark's voices, readers walk away with a true sense of having experienced history.

Freedom Walkers 120-06

Freedom Walkers (120-06)

You've heard of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But who were the rest of the boycotters? Why did they summon incredible courage and risk their jobs and personal safety? How did they pull off a city-wide boycott that lasted over a year? How did they get across town to their jobs every day? How did they change history?
This gripping historical work brings a major Civil Rights event to life.

The Great Little Madison 120-07

The Great Little Madison (120-07)

This accessible volume tells the story of the "Father of the Constitution," James Madison.
Follow Madison through his rise in politics; his struggle to help create and defend the Constitution; his friendship with Thomas Jefferson; and a long, happy marriage. Discover his lasting influence on the United States of America.
World War II 120-09

World War II (120-09)

Clearly explains the key players, ideas, economics, ideologies and lasting effects of WWII.

The Yanks Are Coming 120-11

The Yanks Are Coming (120-11)

A gripping account of how the United States joined WWI and helped turn the tide of the entire war.
This fascinating narrative brings the war to life and reveals how the US mobilized industry, trained "doughboy" soldiers, and promoted the war at home. Portrays the deep human cost of the war as well as the heroic actions of those who fought for their country.

Cameron Townsend 120-12

Cameron Townsend (120-12)

The exciting, thought-provoking and true story of Cameron Townsend-- founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators--and his mission to translate the Bible into every language.

The Cross and the Switchblade 120-16

The Cross and the Switchblade (120-16)

Modern classic about a pastor who gives up a comfortable life in the countryside to minister to gangs in New York City. Gripping.

Dragon's Gate 120-19

Dragon's Gate (120-19)

When he accidentally kills a Manchu, a Chinese boy is sent to America to join his father, an uncle, and other Chinese working to build a tunnel for the transcontinental railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1867.

Farewell to Manzanar 120-25

Farewell to Manzanar (120-25)

The true story of one Japanese American family's attempt to survive forced detention, and of a native-born American child who discovered what it was like to grow up behind barbed wire in the United States.
Moonshiner's Son 120-47

Moonshiner's Son (120-47)

Stunning book about the clash of two cultures--the culture of whiskey makers in Prohibition-era backwoods Virginia, and the culture of an anti-whiskey Christian preacher.

The Panama Canal 120-50

The Panama Canal (120-50)

A fascinating, colorful look at the Panama Canal, the idea behind it, how it was built, the men who built it, how it operates . . . and a whole lot more.

The Slopes of War 120-62

The Slopes of War (120-62)

A young soldier from West Virginia faces the Battle of Gettysburg knowing his two cousins may be fighting him.

Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold 120-71

Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold (120-71)

A study of the life and character of the brilliant Revolutionary War general who deserted to the British for money.

The credit for Bible study, which comes from reading 4 spiritual-support books (shown below) with writing assignments included, along with a Bible reading plan, would not work for every secular college, but many homeschoolers are awarding credits for Bible Study, looking to the Lord to make it work to their student's advantage. We will read the books, but I'm not sure whether I will include it on their transcripts.

Bible Study Sampler (110-10)

Consumable. 36 weeks' worth of Bible study questions... with spaces for you to write your answers.

God's Will, God's Best for Your Life 110-11

God's Will, God's Best for Your Life (110-11)

Easy-to-read help for teens who want to live life to the extreme, find true love, commit to life-long friends, prepare for a meaningful career—to live a life that matters.

Why Pray 110-12

Why Pray (110-12)

Provoke your prayer life to impact the world. This devotional offers a 40-day journey "from words to relationship" with God.

Evidence for Jesus 110-13

Evidence for Jesus (110-13)

Was Jesus a great teacher, a good prophet, or the Son of God? Muncaster reflects on Scripture in light of scientific, historical, archaeological, and literary discoveries to justify faith in Christ.

The Bible Jesus Read 110-14

The Bible Jesus Read (110-14)

Yancey confronts key sections of the Hebrew Bible (Job, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the Prophets) in search of a deeper understanding of Jesus and the central human issues He saw answered in those ancient scrolls.

Now, this all seems like a lot of work, but I'm leaning toward having Peter take an extra semester or year to graduate (partly due to the time OCD steals from him). And Paul, who is set to graduate at 16, could easily wait until he's 17, allowing for more maturity before his college years. I'm more interested in giving them a comprehensive, exciting education, than a traditional 4-year high school experience.

There are options for writing a high school transcript. One is to list what the student took per year, and another is to write all the courses down, not divided up by years. Thus, a student can graduate either early or late, without the transcript reflecting this. We will most likely purchase transcript-writing software that best suits our un-traditional needs.

My homeschool advisor's son was accepted to a local university, and they asked her for a complete list of her son's reading for all four years. You can bet I'll be prepared for that!

Other Sonlight Social Studies/History courses at the high school level include:

History of the Christian Church (History 220) (On a transcript, the title could be changed for a secular university.)

20th Century World History (History 320)

American Government / Civics and Economics 420

World History and Worldview Studies 520


Most universities require 3 years of history (3 credits in 3 full-year courses), plus American Government and Economics (1/2 credit each in one-semester classes).

Don't you wish you remembered something from high school history? I sure do, but I'm looking forward to learning along with my children.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Hope for 2016

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer

This post is because not all of us had a great 2015. It's okay. You can say it. Some years are just bad, and sometimes it's two in a row. 

I wish I could say something to myself and to you to make it okay or better. But sometimes life is excruciatingly hard, and there's nothing we can do but cling to the life boat that is Jesus Christ. We must pray through and believe, even when prayer is the last thing we feel like entering into. 

We have to go through the motions because continuing to do so is what it looks like to live out our faith. When today looks bleak and tomorrow doesn't look any better, we don't give up and quit the race, dejected or angry. We stay in and hope. We believe that God is good and that he's working all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to His purpose.

Gratitude is hard during these periods; it takes more reach, more soul-searching to walk in true thankfulness. Some days, there might only be three things on your list: God, salvation, children. That's a start. Keep reaching for more. When there's something heavy on your heart, gratitude is what allows you to get above the water and take a breath. Keep taking breaths. 

Trust God. Lean not on your own understanding. 

Remember what this feels like, because eventually, God will have you comfort someone who's despairing. You're doing the homework now for that some-day assignment. 

Yes, there is a purpose for everything. Your sorrow has a purpose. It's not your fault. It's not a character flaw.

My word for 2016 is Hope. My hope is in Him. I choose to hope in his love for me, in his faithfulness, in his provision, in his timing, in his goodness. Hope is a word that sounds somewhat desperate, doesn't it? Hope is a word you choose when you're at the end of yourself.  It's a word you choose when you feel like life is a runaway raft headed for the waterfall.

Hope is believing a rope will come along soon, to pull you to safety. You can't hope unless you believe. You can't believe unless you encounter Christ and His Word on a regular basis. 

Read, Pray, Believe, Hope. Then repeat.

Happy New Year! Happy Believing and Hoping!

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.