Friday, March 29, 2013

Not an Easter Basket

With Easter coming I am sure every mom and dad are busily storing up treats to put on top of pink or blue grass filled baskets for the little kiddies in their life. (I am including myself in that list). And Easter wouldn't be Easter if I didn't mention the Grandma's and Granddaddies who run around buying the perfect Easter basket and filling it with all sorts of wonderful goodies for the sweet little ones in their lives. I even grew up receiving an Easter basket that had a chocolate bunny sitting happily in the center. But this year is a little different for me. This year I've been challenged to fill a basket and give it away to someone who might not know Jesus at all.

For years I've been told, 'reach out to your neighbors,' but have never been taught how to nor have I been given any 'tools' to do so. I have had no idea how to strike up a conversation with my neighbors. I am too shy of a person to boldly go over to their house and knock on their door...and say.. what exactly? My heart has wanted to get to know my neighbors, but I just haven't known how.

Well, once a month my church offers to give us a half-filled basket, (you fill the other half) and find someone in your life that you can bless with it. The church provides a book, a card telling about our church and a gift card to a local restaurant. The first time I heard the announcement of these give-a-way baskets my heart swelled with excitement. I knew just who I wanted to give it to. I had recently gotten my haircut at one of the local salons. The girl who cut my hair was open to listening to me talk about Jesus. We talked for so long that she flat-ironed my hair just so we could keep talking! It was a good conversation. As I left I realized that I only get my haircut every few months. What excuse would I have for going back in and see how she was doing? After hearing the announcement I knew. After church I asked for a basket and began thinking of what I could put inside it. I bought coffee, creamer, tea, hot cocoa, specialty cookies, fruit and the like. I was tooooo excited. The day came. I walked in filled with so much love for her. I told her how after our last conversation that I couldn't stop praying for her and that I put together a little basket just for her. I handed it to her. She really had no words except for a soft thank you. I began to walk away when she called to me and said, "Wait." I turned around and saw that she was standing there with both arms raised to the sky. She said, "Hug?" I went back and hugged and told her that Jesus loves her.

I have since gotten two more baskets to give away. I've been working on filling them for days now. I find the wonderful part of having the baskets in my home, (aside from being given the opportunity to show and tell someone how much  Jesus loves them), is every time I see the baskets I think of the people I want to give them too and pray for them. I am almost done filling the baskets and I'm hoping to give it to them before Easter.

It's not a colorful 'Easter' basket with the loop handle and it doesn't have the green plastic grass, but it will be given with the love of Jesus. And isn't that what Easter is all about? To know the greatest love we have ever known. (For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16) A love so great, a love that would lay down His life for a friend. (Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13) I have been given this great gift, the gift of sharing the most amazing love of the Father with the lost or hurting.

I am so excited to be a part of this evangelistic ministry not just at Easter time, but all year long.

"But the angel said to them, 
"Do not be afraid.
 I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vocab Words-To Teach or Not to Teach?

I recently read an article written by a homeschooling mom, of whom I respect, that approaches teaching vocabulary words to her children differently than myself. In her article she explained that she doesn't agree in giving children a vocabulary list each week. She states that from her own childhood experience they were useless. She claims she didn't retain any of the words she learned as a child and from that experience she will not teach her children the same way in which she was taught. I do not agree with that. I am not teaching my children out of my good or bad experiences. I am teaching them what is good and right and best for them by following the leading of the Holy Spirit. If I taught in a way that was different from my own childhood's bad experiences I would just be putting my bad experiences on my children. They are different from me and learn differently than I do. I cannot assume that what did not work for me will not work for them. We must rely on the Holy Spirit not only in our spiritual walk, but in every area of our lives. I believe we have a grand responsibility in educating our children, too weighty for me to bear alone. I lean on the Holy Spirit to guide me as I lead my children.

She states, "Finally, I came to the conclusion that vocabulary lessons done in the traditional way are unnecessary and do not accomplish the desired result of broadening a child’s vocabulary." She came up with her own 'curriculum' for teaching Vocabulary- it is below:

How to Build Your Child's Vocabulary:

-Read great books.
-use big words throughout your day.
-Define the words you use as you speak.
-Reward them for using big words.
-Teach your children how to use a dictionary.
-Teach your children how to use a Thesaurus.

Number 1: "Read great books"
Okay, I have two points to make here: 1) Shouldn't be be doing that anyway? and 2) Provide us a list of great books for all the ages of my children that have 'big words.'  I love to read and my children love to read, but does that mean that I cannot challenge them more with a separate vocabulary list to go along with that? I remember as a child when reading a book and coming across a word I didn't know I would simply skip over it. I didn't stop and look up it's meaning. I didn't ask an adult for help. I just kept reading. I kind of think that's what many children do. Some times they may pick up the words meaning through it's usage in the sentence, but if not, well then, they are not learning 'big words.'

Number 2:
Use big words throughout your day.
Seriously? Is this advice practical for all moms? What if you are a mom that doesn't use 'big words?" What if you are pregnant or sick for a long period of time and feel brain dead? Are my children's education to really go no further than what comes out of my mouth? I'm being completely serious. There have been more days than I can count where I have been tired, sick, or simply brain dead and if my children's vocabulary rested on my shoulders they would be in a very sad state. In those sick times I have been so ecstatic that I could open a book and work with my children on new words. We go over the words, talk about the words, put them in sentences, and test them on those words. Will they remember it all? No, probably not all of the words, but if I teach with the philosophy, "Well, they are not going to remember this anyway." Why teach history or science? Why take the time to explain anything? They are not going to remember it anyway. I certainly don't remember everything I learned as a child, but somewhere in my brain it's stored away and as I re-read an old history lesson it builds on what I have already known.

Number 3:
Define the words you use.
Okay, that's great advice, but again shouldn't we be doing that anyway? Don't we want our children to understand the words we are articulating? Can't we add to their education? Can't we challenge them to learn 'big words?' I think we can.

Number 4:
Reward them for using big words.
I think when a child studies hard and achieves a good grade on a test there is a reward in accomplishing what they set out to do- to learn something new and do it well. There is a reward in working hard and doing well, a sense of satisfaction for a job well done- I would not want to rob them of that. I remember in my second year of high school we were given ten or so vocabulary words a week. At the end of the year we were given a cumulative test! I studied and studied for weeks! When the final grades were given out the teacher announced that she had never had a student receive a 99% on her vocabulary test, but that year she had. She then called MY name to come up and receive my test back. That was an extremely proud moment for me.

Number 5 & 6:
Yes, we need to teach our children to use a dictionary and thesaurus, but left to themselves children won't. Again, it comes back to relying on me to provide a vocabulary list for my children when the work has already been done for us. There are list made for the different ages and stages of learning.

I'm sorry, but I really think this idea of not teaching vocabulary is just not right. (Now, if you have a child that cannot do the work or you believe God has steered your family from having a vocabulary list than ignore all I have said). Otherwise, we should be doing all that we can to expose our children to learn new things. Who's to say, "They won't remember it?" Maybe one child won't, but another will. I love hearing my kids using their new words or even perk up when they hear me use a word they know and explain it to me. Listen, I am not trying to be overly critical or mean I just feel that as homeschooling moms we have an opportunity to offer so much more to our children. Why deprive them of that?  Why not use half a vocabulary list if you feel learning twenty words a week is too much? Why not try and work it in some other way. For example: We have the children write down their spelling and vocabulary list on index cards (along with their Spanish words and memory verses) and after dinner my husband uses the cards in a game. He'll say the word and look to see who can spell it or define it. This game allows my husband to be involved in a enjoyable way in his children's education. The children love even love to be paired up girls vs. boys. There are many ways to introduce words to our children, but to not actively try is more of a deficit to our children than a help.

So, I say 'teach' them vocabulary words and enjoy seeing them get excited about feeling grown up!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My First Recipe Swap: Part 2!

If you are wondering what a 'recipe swap' is let me tell you, I made it up! You see I had just finished planning my dinner menu for the month of March and was beginning the daunting task of making up the menu for April. (Yes, I plan a meal for each day for the month-a month in advance. "Menu planning for the Month"). I took out my recipe books and started paging through them when I pondered, "I wish there was an easier way." With that, I began thinking about inviting friends over for an exchange of our favorite dinner recipes. I'd been to many a 'cookie swap' at Christmas time so why not a recipe swap? I announced the idea through this blog and Facebook and friends responded!

I can not even express how very excited I was the morning I was going to host my very first recipe swap! I cleaned, baked and made copies of my top five favorite dinner recipes. (They were almost all Italian ones!-I hope they didn't mind).  One o'clock was our scheduled time to get together-I could hardly wait. As friends and their children came into my home my heart was completely thrilled. We were a group of seven ladies and thirteen children. The children played outside in the backyard, in the house and in the playroom, while the moms sat around my dining room table and shared recipes. We talked about which ones were easy and which ones were delicious! We shared and swapped many dinner ideas. We were all teaching each other one thing or another.  It was just great. It was so wonderful in fact that they all asked if I would consider ever doing it again. I had already thought of a plan: a recipe swap four times a year-winter, spring, summer and fall. With each new season we'll have new recipes to bless our families with.

At the end of the day my whole calendar was filled with new recipes and my food shopping list made long. I cannot wait to try my new recipes and think about the person who gave it to me. My friends are all precious to me in their own unique way and I will be praying for them and their families each night that I cook their recipe. I am so looking forward to this new tradition in my life. I can't wait to see who shows up next time and how many children we will have!!! It's gonna be great =D

Monday, March 4, 2013

I'm a Cookie

I love, love, LOVE, cookies. And as the old adage goes, "You are what you eat." If that's true, well then, I am a cookie.  But I'm not just any cookie. You see, I grew up in New York City and bakeries there are a dime a baker's dozen. So, I have had my fair share of cookies. I can still remember going with my father on Sunday mornings before breakfast to the local bakery. As we opened the door to the bakery shop the warm, sweet aroma of cookies and cakes came wafting over to greet me and welcomed me in. As my father stood in line with his numbered ticket, I would press my nose against the glass and spy all the treats. I would dream of hearing my father say, "Pick anything you want" and I would be ready to give him my order: "One dozen almond crescents, 1 dozen Italian chocolate chip, 1 dozen butter cookies with rainbow sprinkles, 5 dozen Italian rainbow cookies, et cetera. But out of all of them my favorite, favorite one was the black and white cookie.

That's simply what it is called-'the black and white cookie.'  You can see why. Now, I am totally serious that this is by far my favorite cookie, but what I have also discovered, and I am sure you have too, is that my personality is, well, pretty much black and white also. Funny huh? Many times I hadn't even realized that I was being unyielding about something. I just know what I know and I stand by it to the bitter end. I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings or press a situation harder than I ought to - it just happens. I have very definite opinions and beliefs, and there is little that can change the way I see something. I will tell you that I have been called many things because of this character attribute and I'm really okay with all of it, except for one thing - being called judgmental. That has always hurt me deeply. In my heart of hearts I would never want to hurt anyone. 

Would you like an example of how black and white I can be? How I can hear or see nothing else but what is in my head? There have been times where I'll get an idea... like... rearranging the furniture in my house. I think, "Things will be more organized," or "It'll give the house a more cozy and welcoming look," or "It'll bring a better traffic flow to the house." Then I get it in my head where everything should go, how it will look, how things will change, and I start getting excited. I'll even draw out the new floor plan. Well, all is wonderful until I have to convince hubby. He'll give me reason after reason why we shouldn't or why it's not the best idea, or how in a month or so I will be tired of it and want something different. He knows that for whatever reason I now must turn the furniture around. So, he not only allows it, he even helps me do it! What can I say? I married a gem. (Every time we move a couch up or down the stairs he'll look at me, from behind his end of the couch, and say, "So, how long will this be in our bedroom now?" and then smile). I'm not trying to be stubborn, really I'm not.

Now, more recently I was actually told, "You are very black and white on the things you believe in." (Golly, I was scared of what was coming next because words like that are usually said as an insult, but my friend said it with so much love and grace that my heart stopped racing). For the first time I felt blessed to have a black and white personality. She said that many people, herself included, find it hard to be confrontational and speak out for what they believe in. She also said, "We need people like you to spur us forward towards God." I really didn't know that by standing by what I believe I was convicting or encouraging anyone. From my past experience I thought that most people found me plain annoying. 

I've not always been black and white on every issue or even had an opinion on many things, but as time has marched on with Jesus, my eyes have been opened to the way He sees things and what touches His heart. I remember when I was a teenager and not a Christian, my older sister not only became a Christian, but became an advocate for the pro-life movement. She was a part of peaceful protests, handing out pamphlets, and was even arrested.  She started talking to our family about teenage pregnancies and how she was helping the young girls to have their babies and give them up for adoption rather than having an abortion. I sat at the table and thought, "I believe in abortion. I believe that a woman or girl has the right to choose. The baby will ruin her life - she won't finish high school, go to college and her life will never be the same." I thought my sister was ridiculous. A few years later Jesus touched my hard heart. I saw these women or teens with a heart of compassion and the baby that grew within them. I began seeing the unborn as Christ's creation and how very wrong abortion is. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." (Psalm 139:13) I've heard many people say, "I don't believe in abortion, but it's okay for you to believe in it." No, abortion is wrong. It's murder. It's not okay for you or me, but with Christ if you have had an abortion there is forgiveness - not punishment, hatred, or abandonment.

Clearly my convictions have grown through the years as I have grown in Christ. I have been more convicted by so many things going on in this world and in raising my children that I have had to think seriously about exactly what I believe and what I want to pass down to them. Many years ago, I never thought twice about using the name of 'Jesus' or phrases like 'Oh my G--'. Seriously, everyone does it, I had grown up hearing it, and TV and film characters say it all the time. But I have been convicted by the Ten Commandments: "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Deuteronomy 5:11)

I truly love that God is convicting me more and more by His Word and changing me. I am by no means perfect and there is no judgment on anyone else to be perfect. We never will be. The wonderful thing about Jesus is we are asked to uphold the law and the truth written in His Word and yet know that there is the grace of forgiveness when it is broken. Jesus took the punishment for our sin on the cross for us and left us with grace and mercy. Through His grace and forgiveness I believe we are all called to be black and white in our beliefs. "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:16) In other words we are to be steadfast and faithful in what is true to the Word of God.

I am black and white in what I believe and I'm not ashamed of it. Are you?