According to the calendar, this is the first day of fall, the autumn equinox. September is often full of golden light, blueness of sky, gentle weather and hints of the crisp, spicy air to come. A asked me yesterday, “Why are you obsessed with trees?”
Pleasantly surprised to have stumbled across this blog recently, I wanted more people to see these practical words of wisdom. From a mom who has continued teaching her children from Central Asia to the Midwest….
Scott and I struggled with Family Devotions. I’m a trained teacher. I knew how to throw a lesson plan together in split seconds. Scott would start something and I would explain to him all the pedagogical reasons that was not good. (Blogging on wives respecting husbands will come later. ) It seems obvious to you, but this did not create harmony and a spirit of wanting to grow together. When we felt guilty enough, we started again. Never really knowing if we were doing the Devos “the right way.” Always unsure of ourselves.
Here’s the deal. If you loving God and your family, and you are reading or telling the Word of God to your family, you are doing Devos “the right way.” There is no one way. That’s the enemy’s false guilt to get you to stop.
Today is today. Choose today to open God’s Word with your family.
Inaccurate theology. Sometimes it is a conscious choice. There were times when intellectually I knew my feelings didn’t make sense nor were they based on my understanding of God through Scripture, but something in me felt I had been jinxed with a child on the autism spectrum as a direct result of my past experience with it. If someone had asked me if this were true, or even if I had asked myself, I might have laughed and said, “Of course not.” And intellectually I never really believed this, but some latent fear lay brooding, feigning a dormant state, some primordial superstition hid behind a stronger faith that perhaps it was true. Perhaps if my mother-in-law had never been a special needs preschool teacher with the Department of Defense….Perhaps if I had not known so many people with autism…Perhaps if I had not read so many articles….
My husband and I saw the signs. We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis. It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected. If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum. There. Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect – in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous. And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there? If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths? Out of desperation, helplessness? The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear. It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.
Praise be to God for his grace and understanding. I thank God that he does not always take my every random thought and fear too seriously. I am thankful that he allows me from time to time to try something on for size, even at my most ridiculous, and gently helps me disrobe and discard the illogical and theologically unsound thoughts. He provides grace to dress my thinking with something finer, something more beautiful and clearly from him. An accurate vision, a heavenly help. Grace in the providential stream of our lives.
Because, of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation. Slowly, over time I was afforded opportunities to learn about people with differences. My mother-in-law was a huge asset particularly when my son was smaller and guided me through tips on occupational therapy and sensory sensitivities. As an undergraduate, years before children, my husband and I were employed by Group Living in the tiny college town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. (Laugh if you want; the towns exists.) It is an amazing organization which allows developmentally or physically diabled people to be a vital part of their community. Group homes are offered for those needing more attentive care. Regular visits and life-skills training are provided for those who are able to live independently. Group Living also runs and operates a very popular breakfast and lunch place called The Honeycomb, serving quiches, sandwiches, salads and American fare. The Beehive also employs Group Living clients in the second-hand shop similar to the nation-wide Goodwill stores. Many of the clients we worked with had autism. I remember attending as an undergrad a training session on autism. There, in the mid-90s, I first heard of Temple Grandin and her squeeze box. I am so thankful for these moments. And for the wonderful people I worked with there.
One of these people was also my neighbor. Sammy Landers and his caretaker lived in the apartment below my husband and me. He was moody, enjoyed being alone, and spoke very little. Yet he was one of my first encounters with autism. Sammy is an artist and is featured in this wonderful blog post from last year. I have one of his pieces which was presented to us as we left Arkadelphia. It currently hangs above my four-year-old son’s bookcase in his bedroom closet. Another touch of grace- this one in purple marker.
Honestly, the issues my son struggles with are not severe, just daily. He is easily frustrated, gets caught up in rigid thinking, becomes easily obsessed with a topic, but also has phenomenal memory, is exceptionally perceptive about others’ feelings, and has a deep longing to be helpful. Grace has not only given me a greater appreciation for the preparation I have received over the years, but also for my son himself. What would I change about him if I could? What would you change about anyone whom you love? And here is another theological inaccuracy – by God’s grace, my son will be fine. Perhaps all these careful lessons are not to help shape him, but me.
Literature-based learning is the type of learning that occurs organically when curiosity and enthusiasm are joined with good literature, whether fiction or non-fiction. Instead of being tested on the sequence of events in a novel, the students engage in lively discussion, sharing their thoughts and opinions. They get their hands messy. Depending on the age and ability of the student, they may paint a picture of a scene from the book, construct a model using toothpicks or papier-mache. They could take a field trip to a local dairy farm, factory, hiking spot, or whatever is applicable. Cook a dish featured in your reading. This is a great way to assist little ones with those math and sensory skills. Write an alternate ending to the tale. Research the locale, or if possible, take a trip there.
Last weekend two supermoms* and I participated in our own literature-based fun. We were able to sneak away from our kids on a Friday evening and relax in company where we didn’t have to deal with immature social skills, or the latest crisis du jour. This was literature-based learning for moms. Or maybe it was just a really great excuse to get out of the house for one last breather before the academic year hurls us into busy schedules and a multitude of distractions. At any rate, we all read the book. We made it to the theater (all but one of us, who lovingly accompanied her out-of-state father to medical appointments). We talked over dinner.
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais was a culinary and cultural adventure from Mumbai to London, from the French countryside to Paris, featuring not only Hassan and his family, but also the sights, smells and tastes of the kitchen. Food. Memory. Relationships. Family. Culture. Art. Politics. They were all themes.
After watching Helen Mirren portray a lonely French restraunteur, we had a somewhat rushed meal at a local Indian establishment (the server was faithful in reminding us that they would be closing at 10pm).
As this is not intended as a book review, or film critique, I will leave you to decide whether or not you wish to pick up Morais’ homage to gastronomy. This might be a call, however, toward literature-based learning, even after we have completed those degrees and achieved full adulthood. Certainly, this is a recommendation for friendship. Find those commonalities. Carve out some free time. Talk. Eat some naan and clarified butter (ghee).
It all makes me think we should do it again. Maybe cook something exotic ourselves. Go on a field trip. Get our hands messy. Certainly talk. I am already looking for the next book.
*Supermoms- moms who have been given more than their share of profound responsibilities, yet perform admirably with strength and grace.
When we sit down at a table with someone to share a meal, we can pretend we are from a culture which no longer understands the ancient practices of acceptance and hospitality, but deep down we know this to be false. We do understand. Even the most modern and hurried corner of our souls appreciates the act of breaking bread with someone, particularly if it is food made at home by hands we know. Food is personal. Food honors the one to whom it is given. It not only meets a physical, daily requirement, it is spiritual. In sharing a meal, we admit to seeing God’s presence in another person.
Although the term breaking bread in the book of Acts is used interchangeably both for sharing a common meal as well as the symbolic act of the Lord’s Supper, they were likely not as separate as we view them today. Eating dinner with someone echoed the spiritual nourishment and confession that was part of the early church’s Eucharist practice.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread…So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table…After taking the cup, he gave thanks and broke it…”
Luke 22:7,13-14, 17,19
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God.
Acts 2:42, 46
…the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food….Brothers, choose seven men from among you…we will turn this responsibility over to them.
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
..[God] has shown you kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.
[Peter] became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance…Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.
‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied, ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.
The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
Acts 10:10, 13-15
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
When [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘Come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.
Just before dawn, Paul urged them all to eat. ‘For the last fourteen days…you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food. You need it to survive…’ After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.
Luke’s emphasis in these quotes is on bread and fellowship. Through this series of quotations, the first-century Christian physician and historian begins with Jesus to illustrate how a mundane, daily act signified something greater. Breaking bread is, in actuality, a healing, continuing thread, a holy rite. It is simultaneously recognizing our dependence on God and our love for one another.
Summer is fading. I know because the school bus brakes hiss in front of our house around eight-fifteen every weekday morning now. The big box stores devote an entire section to brightly colored school supplies – folders and Trapper Keepers, glue sticks and protractors. And, because I am seeing less of my children. They are wandering about the house in search of entertainment, irritably spending more time alone in their rooms. Let’s not relive the petty squabbles that have become way too prevalent the last couple of weeks.
It was time to take action. And it turns out it wasn’t that hard. I focused on G, and everyone else seemed to fall into place. My goal was to get him outside running around before he realized it was time for PBS’s Curious George.
I asked G if he wanted to paint outside like the famous artist Jackson Pollock. He was enthusiastic. A had been wandering up and down the stairs and overheard me.
“Can I paint too?”
“Sure…if you want.”
We began to gather supplies from the bottom drawer of our craft cart – paints, plastic tray for a palette, brushes, yarn, craft sticks, etc.
S came storming down the stairs.
“Can I do a Pollock painting, too?”
Here we are eight-thirty or nine in the morning. Outside, under blue skies. Taping our paper down on to the back patio. Happy, all three boys doing something together again. And it wasn’t that hard. It really didn’t take any planning.
We talked about how Pollock worked over his canvas, flicking, smearing, pouring the paint directly on. We talked about how he created as he went, letting the paint land where it willed. There were no mistakes. If he didn’t like something he continued flicking, mixing until it looked right.
“I’m NOT Jackson Pollock!” G kept insisting. “I’m Van Gogh!” And with his purposeful, short, thick strokes, he was.
I’m not sure why I was so surprised by how pleased they were with this unplanned activity, or how different each of their paintings turned out. But I was. Happily so.
After they finished painting we did watch a brief video of Jackson Pollock describing his technique. You may view it here.
If you asked them, however, I suppose, they would vote for another round of Nerf guerrilla warfare throughout the house with their dad. They are energetic boys, after all. But Jackson Pollock did save that morning.
We were outdoors. Together. We were engaged in a familiar activity in an out-of-the-ordinary location. The birds were singing. They were allowed expected to make a mess. Mistakes never factored in to the equation. There was not a single mention of whose painting was the best. Competition did not exist – for the moment. Each of them was simply busy, creating…for the moment. Quite a feat, Mr. Pollock.
A final tip: Wipe up any stray paint splatters as soon as possible. We may or may not have had rainbow-freckled siding at our house for a few days.
A dear friend wrote a blog post last year about an Indy reading challenge. Set a reading goal for yourself and strive to read at least that many books in one year. You can read about this challenge on her site at dressedherdaysvintage.com or read how it originally started at Read26Indy. I hope you all have this sort of friend who imbues your life with a sense of graciousness. I am blessed to have someone who has cultivated such a genuine appreciation for everyone in her life. She intuitively sees the blessings each person brings to her days. It is difficult to teach that, but her example is certainly rubbing off on me.
After a brief discussion with her I was encouraged to log my own reading history again. I have never really been in the habit of this with the exception of when I have been pregnant. What does pregnancy have to do with reading lists? Apparently, a great deal to me. I know some people keep pregnancy journals or choose to scrapbook during this life-changing event, but I found it more appropriate to jot down the titles of books I was reading while caring for my babies in utero. Not only has it enabled me to recall books I perhaps read for the first time, but I have a way to preserve my thoughts during a special time of bonding. Now, I have all boys, so realistically I am not sure they will place a high importance on what their mother was reading while their bones were being knit together. However, I care.
Somewhere midst Hemingway and Maugham, Tolstoy and Cather, somewhere between biographies and parenting books, I am reminded of the fact that I am a mother, but I am also an individual, continually in need of growing my own mind and spirit.
I have lately encouraged my offspring to do the same. Two years ago when we began this homeschooling business I printed out a form for them to write, author and title, every book they read in a school year (and during our unofficially schooling summer). We include books they choose to read for fun, books that are part of our language arts curriculum, and read alouds, that is books we read together as a family. My hope is that they can look back, as I have, and be impressed with the sheer volume of their efforts, as well as be reminded of the friendships forged and adventures bravely undertaken through these pages.
On a similar topic, articulate millenial Alice Ozma has written a humorous and charming memoir chronicling her relationship with her father. From about the age of eight or nine, the two embarked on “The Streak,” a promise to read together EVERY night without fail. Even to her mortification when he interrupted her high school drama practice as it dangerously approached midnight. It was a promise that lasted until the night she left for college. At the end of The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Sharedshe includes a list of the books they remember reading together. There is also a customizable reading promise you may claim as your own.
Somewhere between the insipid and obsolete Dick and Jane books and the latest preschool television-character phenom lies a wonderful collection of early or emergent reader books. These books not only emphasize age-appropriate character development, but also infuse the reading with clever facial expressions and witty lines even you as a parent or adult facilitator would appreciate. In short, they are not mind-numbingly dull. My apologies to Dick and Jane and the BOB books. Authors like Arnold Lobel have intuitive books with beloved characters who speak in repetitious ways without boring their readers, young or old. Thank you, Mo Willems, Arnold Lobel, Kate Di Camillo, and others for providing us opportunities to share a giggle together on the sofa, growing closer, growing in literacy. Here are our favorite early reader chuckles.
The Elephant and Piggie series is a brilliant blend of facial expressions, font choices and speech bubbles. The text is simple. The plot is basic. The vocabulary is repetitious. The personalities are HUGE. I dare you not to laugh at Elephant’s irritated expression, or Piggie’s elated grin. There are many choices to choose from in this series. Truly, any of them will instantly become your favorite.
This classic series is priceless for many reasons. Written in simple sentences, replete with endearing illustrations, these very early chapter books are also full of life lessons and sweet reminders of friendship. There is always a reason to giggle at Toad’s worries and Frog’s laid-back approach to trouble. Cut out a pair of toad or frog foam feet for your young reader and turn these brief stories into fun, impromptu plays. These two will always be our friends. Titles in this series include Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, Frog and Toad All Yearand Days with Frog and Toad.
Just look at that face – pure exhilaration! This is how Mercy Watson approaches most adventures. From wearing a pink tutu to an adventurous Saturday drive the “porcine wonder” of Deckawoo Drive charms her owners, readers and sometimes even her grumpy elderly neighbors. Each adventure includes giggles, mishaps and a tall stack of hot buttered toast. Honestly, I would read these stories even if I didn’t have a young one next to me. Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) deftly places humor in simple sentences. And Chris Van Dusen’s glossy, gouache illustrations only add to the merriment.
Go ahead, let your little one read to you. You will not be bored.
In my day-to-day driving, my car could almost steer itself. I tend to go to the same places on a regular basis. At times, it feels like the family car nearly travels repeatedly on the same tracks. However, there is an occasional day when I venture out with the kids further down the highway, not really sure of which lane to exit from. In this case, I look for signs. The only problem is my distance vision seems to be deteriorating. Frequently, I squint and lean forward in the driver’s seat, simultaneously shouting to those in the back, “Is this the lane for north or south?” When no one answers, I repeat, “North or South? NORTH or SOUTH?!?!” It’s not really a good way to navigate.
So I had my eyes checked last week. It turns out my vision is 20/15. Great. But my eyes do have problems focusing. It’s not only highway signs I need help with. My spiritual vision is often out of focus. The truth gets blurry.
Nature trails are easier to navigate. My boys, with their indefatigable energy and boundless curiosity, run paces ahead of me, eager to find something new around the next corner. Or maybe they are just slowly pulling away, growing up, wanting to feel what it is like to possess even this tiny bit of independence. Walking ahead.
I watch them making their way further and further down trails until sometimes they are nothing more than bobbing shapes. Their distance leaves me space to ruminate on what A’s awkwardness will one day transform itself into, how S’s excessive frustrations may one day melt with the warmth of a sigh. What future passions will carry G through his life? I think about the aggravation I feel when they display a lack of empathy, responsibility or integrity. It is so hard at times not to worry or panic when they don’t seem to be getting it right. Have I neglected their character development? Is there yet another deficit in their education? G still hasn’t learned to speak calmly when he is disappointed. Why does S seem so apathetic today? And will A ever learn to take pride in his work, or to complete a task?
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Yet if I watch them from behind making progress down a tree-lined path, involved in casual conversation with one another, I just see how precious they are, what good friends they really are, and how wonderful brotherhood actually is. I am able to focus. Seeing with the eyes of God is clearer, less blurry.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
They will not always be so impetuous, irresponsible, impatient. I am reminded that I have, indeed, been given the eyes of God. His eyes are the ones that see me as perfect, though he sees through me perfectly. The eyes of grace see not what is there, but what may be, what will be there. Grace sharpens our vision.
[Grace] calls things that are not as though they were.
Turkey Run is a state park in western Indiana. Founded in 1916, it covers over 2,300 acres and arguably boasts some of the state’s most breathtaking trails. It is allegedly named after the wild turkeys which once thickly congregated in the warmer canyon bottoms. The state park features an inn, cabins, campgrounds, historic sites, not to mention places for canoe rental and tubing.
Am I specifically advertising for the park? No, but our family just recently spent an amazing day there picnicking and hiking.
G, trying to recall his last hiking adventure inquires, “Mommy, do they have play equipment there?”