Friday, September 13, 2019

Teaching Children Sensitivity Towards God's Creation

This is my Father's world;
The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their Maker's praise.

We were supposed to re-model our dining room late this spring and into the early summer. We live in a very old farmhouse and many of the rooms need to be refreshed and repaired. I had been waiting to tackle this particular project because of the extensive work that was involved. We needed new windows and a new back door as well as re-insulating the walls and "gutting out" all of the old horsehair plaster that had been there previously. The south side of the room needed to be completely re-insulated and vinyl-sided on the outside of the house where vines had been growing against bare wood. The room is freezing in the winter (and the winter is cold to put it mildly ;-)) here in the upper Midwest. My husband gutted the room with a local Amish boy who helped him. They removed so much debris from the room~~we carted it off to the dump, burned what we could, and vacuumed  from top to bottom. I was increasingly excited about finally finishing this room~~our home is intended to be a place of hospitality and this was the room that I needed to complete before I could really have families over on a regular basis. 

We were planning on having the Amish company that my brother in law works for part time finish the job. The room was completely gutted and ready! And I was excited~~we called them and they agreed to come for the next two days (it was just before their really busy season and they could squeeze us in and spare a few of their men)~~the Amish do things incredibly efficiently and quickly~~we had almost all of the materials and we were ready~~

And then I went outside. 

It was a warm day and I walked around the house where we have a trellis that holds the vines that previously grew against the house. The trellis sits literally almost right next to the house and we have been training the vines onto it for the hummingbirds. 

There was a nest~~right up against the house~~exactly where the old windows would need to be torn out and replaced and the vinyl siding put on. Oh no! I thought and then immediately hoped that there were no birds in it~~The Amish are willing to come tomorrow! I had just about all of the materials at that point~~my husband was going to run to the hardware store for the remainder of things that we needed before they began the job in the morning~~ but a nest! Right where they would need to work~~right there--a nest!

Oh no. My heart sank. I thought and paced; I eventually looked closer at the nest~~a little head popped out. 

A sweet little chipping sparrow . . . nesting in my trellis. I knew that she might be on eggs or babies at that point. And I knew in my heart of hearts, even through my disappointment, that I would put off the much-anticipated project. It wasn't worth it to me~~and it didn't make sense to destroy her home so that I could make mine more attractive~~it was more important to wait--to teach my children--who were with me and watching how I would react to this situation-- mercy and compassion towards God's precious creation than to improve our living space. 

It was more important. 

When we make decisions about how we treat the Lord's creation, we say something to our children. Our actions and our words and interactions will send a very clear message to them about how they should in turn treat God's creation~~either with respect and tenderness and compassion, or with ambivalence or roughness and a lack of caring and concern. 

I believe that it is important to teach a child from the time that that child is very young to be sensitive towards God's creation~~towards birds, animals, even insects. I have a clear memory of sitting on our wooden steps in Rhode Island while my mom gardened nearby. I must have been about 3 years old. A bumblebee landed next to me. My mom read my sisters and I many, many books when we were little, and a great deal of them focused on sweet little friendly creatures such as this bumblebee. Innocently, I reached out my hand to pet the bumblebee that I perceived in my childish heart as friendly. It stung me, and I learned a lesson that bumblebees were not the kind of insect one could pet :-) but I write this as an example to show that children can be taught from a very young age to be sensitive towards God's creation. I thought of that bumblebee as a friend--like Babbity Bumble in Beatrix Potter's classic stories; no thought came to me to harm it or to shoo it away. 

Growing up, my Mom's attitude towards birds, animals, and even bugs helped to shape my thinking in this area; as parents, we have this awesome responsibility and opportunity to influence and to shape our children's thinking as well. 

My Mom spoke in a caring, sensitive way towards birds when they were hurt or attacked by a cat. Sometimes we took them in and tried to restore them to life. We fed the birds in our backyard and she banged pans to keep the hawks away when they came. Our elderly dog was treated with kindness and compassion even as she aged and wasn't able to walk down our steps. We carried her up and down the steps for over a year. Toward the end of her life (she was 17 when she died) we took turns sleeping downstairs with her as she would wake up in the night and become disoriented, getting stuck under the chairs near our kitchen table. We slept downstairs with her in order to free her if she got stuck! We took in rabbits, feeding them when they were orphaned and trying to restore them to life. My mom would tell us to kill a bug in the house quickly (she hated to see anything suffer) or to put it outside if it was a cricket or a harmless beetle. We trapped mice in safe traps and then released them far from the house. I learned through all of these things that God's creation was not something to be trampled over or irritated by, but respected and loved and enjoyed and dealt with in a caring rather than a cruel way. There were times when one would need to spray bugs to keep them away from the house, but it was not something that we took pleasure in. My mom even preferred that flies died quickly! She would tell us to make sure that when we swatted them that they were dead--not, as she would put it, "half dead and half alive!" :-) I learned through my Mom's caring, sensitive example, that creation was given to us by God to protect and to cherish. 

I strongly believe that teaching children this kind of sensitivity towards creation will aid them and enable them in other facets of their lives when they relate to people. In fact, I believe that it is integral. 

This doesn't mean in any way that every person needs to be an "animal lover" or a "tree hugger." I believe that the Lord gives different people different personalities and ways that they relate and interact with creation in general, but I do believe that when we become Christians, Christ transforms our hearts to see everything (and especially in some ways) His creation with new eyes and hearts. He opens to us realms and rivers of sensitivity and caring that we never had eyes to see before we knew Christ~~the kind of sensitivity that stops and helps a turtle across a busy street~~the kind of sensitivity that urges us to pet an animal for a few moments longer than we normally would have~~the kind of sensitivity that reaches out with compassion rather than with detachment when we see a bird or an animal suffering and we try to alleviate that suffering in whatever way we can. 

Lately, and throughout my life as a believer, I've been disheartened by the attitudes shown by other believers towards creation. Often, our attitude mirrors the world~~that God's creation is merely something to be trampled over and treated in many ways, with contempt. Our children, observing our behavior towards creation, will pick up and imitate the attitudes that we hold. If we laugh or take it lightly when an animal or a bird is hurt, this says something to our children and speaks about the state of our heart. If we ignore suffering or wink it away in the world, on any level, this speaks to our children about how they should relate to suffering and treat those who are suffering. 

Teaching children to love and to respect and to care for God's creation in a sensitive way encourages thoughtfulness and understanding in other aspects of following the Lord and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. 

How does it do this

Sensitivity towards the weakest members of God's creation encourages understanding towards the weakest members of humanity--the elderly, the infirm, those going through suffering or trials, those disregarded and labeled by society as "worthless," the mentally retarded, the blind, the lame. It nurtures the kind of sensitive attitude toward suffering and pain in the world that mirrors Christ's acceptance, compassion,  and love towards the "least of these." 

Sensitivity towards God's creation teaches children that it is better to preserve and to protect rather than to tear down and to destroy. When we teach children care and protection towards God's creation, this attitude follows into other facets of their lives. We live in an age where all of the foundations and values that we cherish as a nation are crumbling, and an attitude in Christians of preservation and protection and of fighting for what is good and true is so desperately needed. When children learn from a young age that it is important to cherish and to protect~~and that it is worth it to do so, it enables the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to be poured out through them to His glory. 

Sensitivity towards God's creation teaches children early in their lives to listen to the Lord's quiet, still voice, and to become less distracted by all of the allurements of this passing world. Taking nature walks, pointing out birds and animals and insects to small children and teaching them their names and behaviors opens a child's mind and heart up to the wonders of God's created world around them. Bringing children up in a "quiet" way rather than in a busy, distracted manner will yield benefits for them in terms of their walk with the Lord later in life. A child who grows up connected to the natural world will have less barriers and distractions preventing them from connecting with the Creator of those things. Take walks with your children; point things out to them; demonstrate a sensitivity toward trees, flowers, birds, etc. and then connect all of these things back to their glorious Creator. children will reap the benefits of those actions as they grow and relate to God. 

Recently, my children and husband and I were at a nearby lake swimming. Many tiger swallowtails were flying over the sand and landing periodically on it near the water. All of a sudden, a group of children, probably around 10 years old, ran across the beach hurling handfuls of sand at the butterflies trying to knock them down and to kill them. My kids stared, wide-eyed at the children; we had been talking about how sweet the butterflies were and here these tiny destroyers--who had probably never been taught to do differently (and this is key) blazed across the beach. 

The children continued hunting the butterflies, even after my husband approached them and asked them to stop. They weren't satisfied until one lay dead in the sand. And then they lost interest. 

How sad that these children took delight and pleasure in killing things rather than protecting, appreciating, and preserving the beautiful things of God's creation. How sad that their parents either encouraged this kind of behavior or never taught them to do differently. 

As believers, we have sanctified hearts that can see things differently. We can teach our children to love, preserve, and to protect rather than to destroy. We can teach them by our example; we can teach them through our words. Jesus Christ gives us the power not to be apathetic, ambivalent, and unconcerned even about the little, seemingly insignificant things in life such as these beautiful butterflies. Their little lives point toward the majesty of a Great Creator. His creation should be appreciated, respected, enjoyed--and on a deeper level, preserved, protected, cherished in that it points back to Him. 

May we learn and may we teach our children to be sensitive towards His creation. Remember that our Savior didn't mind the sparrows and swallows nesting in his house--even in His altars. May we have the same mind--and teach it to our children . . . 

Even the sparrow has found a home,

And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.

Psalm 84:3 NKJV

Friday, August 16, 2019

Kids and the Value of Hard Work

I'll never forget it. The time the team of Amish men did work on our home. We were putting on an addition. The foundation had been laid earlier in the fall and the men returned to work on the actual construction part that winter. We live in the upper Midwest and our winters are bitter and brutal. It was around 15-20 degrees, I remember, and they came to work early each day. I marveled at their work ethic. Each and every man's. One day was particularly cold. We kept the men supplied with black coffee (the way that they usually like it) to keep them warm. To get an idea of how cold it was, the men were frequently stomping their feet to keep the circulation flowing. What was fascinating to me, and I think that I'll always remember this, is that on one particularly cold day the men started singing to keep warm. The Amish crew stomped their feet and sang old German hymns together as they worked in the bitter cold. I'll always hear their voices in my mind as I listened to them and looked out the window that separated the warm part of the house from the construction area! I didn't hear them complain; they accepted the weather as part of life and just went on working very, very hard. 

What produces such a work ethic in the Amish? Here in the Midwest, where there are many Amish families to observe and to interact with (my brother-in-law works for the Amish construction company that was mentioned, so we often get to interact with the Amish firsthand) we are able to see how this happens--

The Amish learn from a very early age that work is a part of life. They are taught to help with great and small tasks around the farm as part of their responsibility. They act together as a family, supporting one another in the tasks that are needed to be performed. The family structure exists partly as a catalyst to keep the farm effectively and neatly running. The children mow the lawn, collect eggs, work at their family farm stands. Everything that they do revolves around family life and incorporates an emphasis on working together as a family. There are few distractions. Amish children do not watch TV or play video games. Their lives and minds are undistracted and therefore free to focus on the simpler things which surround them. And I think what is integral is that the Amish learn that work, hard  work, is a part of life from a very early age. 

I admire that. Especially in a society where children have for the most part, forgotten the value of hard work. 

Many times, I observe children in the time that we live in and think of how they would have benefited from learning the value of working hard. 

Oh; the value of work!

Helping, listening, learning to persevere, learning how to complete a task without complaining, learning to focus on a job until it is completed, obeying parents; these are all helpful lessons that a child learns through working. 

Partly because of the society in which we live which focuses on self-fulfillment, constant leisure and fun, children are simply not being taught from an early age to work hard. 

Awhile ago, I felt this impressed upon my heart. It was confirmed by someone talking to me about how children should learn how to work when they are young. I looked around me and saw the entitled attitude of this society and of how we are raising our children to believe that everything comes to them on a silver platter. I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit impressing upon my mind the importance of incorporating the value of hard work and of helping upon my children from an early age (although I believe that it is never too late to begin and that the Lord can redeem years that have been wasted). 

We live on almost 4 acres of land and so you can imagine that there is plenty of upkeep to do! We have a vegetable garden as well as a perennial garden and so I use this as my place of action in pursuing what I believe the Lord is teaching me with my children. 

The home itself is also an excellent place to begin. There are so many tasks that children are able to help with, simple and more difficult. I have learned that children at almost any age can complete various tasks. They may not complete them perfectly, but perfection is not the object; loving our children and teaching them to pursue discipline and hard work in their lives is. 

Here are some ideas that I have been gleaning over the past few years of areas where children can learn to help along with teaching them the value of diligence and hard work~~

  • Start with their bedroom. Make it an expectation that it needs to be kept (relatively) neat. Help them with making their bed at an early age--don't let them grow up learning that it's "ok" not to make their bed!! :-) This is something that can be incorporated into the daily routine of your life with your kids. 
  • Children should pick up their toys. I've been working more diligently on teaching my children to put away a toy after they use it. My sister had a really neat idea in this respect because my kids would be frustrated when they had made a "magnificent" block creation and didn't want to take it apart. She told me that she had always told her kids when they were younger that they would take a picture of it, so that they could have a memory of the creation. This would make her kids feel better about taking it apart; I've found that it works with my kids, too! Of course, there are times when I allow my kids to keep up their creations for a day or so, as long as they are put neatly to the side (at least, we try! :-)).
  • Kids can help with the dishes. My kids weren't too thrilled about this at first, but now they enjoy it, and actually argue over who gets to dry each night (so we take turns :-)). I try to make helping with the dishes/after dinner cleanup fun by having a special apron that each child wears. Recently, we put up hooks in the kitchen to hang aprons on and my kids love to wear them. Obviously, clean-up tasks like drying dishes, etc. have to be adjusted according to age. My children are 5 and 6 years old, and so they are able to dry and put away dishes, sweep, put things away that are on the table, etc. Younger children could probably help an older sibling or a grown-up with these tasks. 
  • Children can vacuum, dust, clean windows, sweep, polish furniture, etc, etc.!! :-) They usually enjoy it and I usually give them a choice of what task they would like to do`~my son enjoys vacuuming (with any kind of vacuum! :-)) and my daughter is an avid duster and windexer. :-) At times, we will pick a "room of the day" and clean it. It is amazing how much little ones can help with this. Set a timer and see how much you can get done in 20 minutes or a half hour. Your house will be sparkling. :-) (at least for a day!! ;-)) 
  • Kids can help to clean the family car or van. They love Windex! I get the cheap 99 cent kind and let them clean away! (within reason ;-)) They enjoy holding the vacuum with the long nozzle and you can always go over it quickly afterward if they miss a few crumbs! They can organize the glove box (my daughter loves this job dearly :-)) and clean their carseats with Windex when needed. 
  • Children can help in the garden and with outdoor upkeep. My kids help with weeding, mulching, carrying weeds to the composter, harvesting, watering, etc. They fill our birdbaths every day (I've made this into a routine) and help to clean them out every few weeks. They also help with mowing the lawn (with an adult or older child) and my daughter and I walk in front of the ride on mower through the paths around our field that we mow with long sticks in case there are any rabbit nests, etc. (so that they won't be hit by the mower). They also pick up sticks, rake, and hoe the garden. My daughter enjoys weeding and often reminds me and her brother to make sure we "get the root" of the weed!!--something my Mom, her Grammy taught her when she was very tiny! She also enjoys "deadheading certain kinds of flowers--I've found that this is a great substitute for children who enjoy picking flowers (flowers that you don't want them to pick! ;-) Let them "deadhead" instead to their heart's content! 
  • Children can help with pets. We have 2 rabbits who live outdoors in an enclosed structure and a pheasant. My children help to clean their hutches, bring them food and water, and let them out each day. Kids can help wash a dog, brush him gently, etc--this is a great opportunity to help children learn gentleness and patience with pets. 
  • Children can help with laundry. They can bring their dirty laundry to the central place where the family's laundry is brought, put it in the washing machine, put it into the dryer (or help, depending on their age) and help to fold it afterward.  They can also learn to put their own clothing away in the correct drawers! This is something that we've been working on. 
  • Children can help with cooking. They can bread zucchini, chop strawberries with a butter knife, mix dough, add ingredients, knead bread, etc. And then they can set the table and learn how to arrange dishes, forks, knives, and spoons neatly. Something that I've discovered that both my son and my daughter enjoy doing is "setting up" the coffee pot. They like to put the pieces back in after I wash it and then add the little paper filter--ready for the next day. They can help to clean and organize the silverware drawer~~this also helps with teaching them organization and putting things away neatly! They can neaten the pantry; they can neaten cupboards, etc. There are so many things that kids enjoy helping with in the kitchen!
  • Children can help with grocery shopping. Let them pick the items off the shelf that you name and put them in the carriage. Let them take turns putting the quarter in the cart if you have an Aldi's (we do :-)). Let them return the cart to the cart stall if they are old enough. Let them help to put bags in the car or van and then take them in when the family returns home. Let them help to put food away in the refrigerator, cupboards, or pantry neatly.

There are so many ideas and ways that children can help and learn the value of hard work and diligence; the above is not an exhaustive list~~and the Lord may show you unique and different ways to incorporate work into the context of your family life and schedule. 

Begin with small tasks; don't overwhelm your kids, but don't be afraid if they complain a little either! I like to remind my kids of Phillipians 2:14-16-- Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain--when they have a grouchy attitude and bring it back to the idea that we are working to please the Lord. Sometimes, in a joking way, I remind them of the Scripture in II Thessalonians 3:10 that states that he who shall not work shall not eat! (Don't worry; this is just in jest--my children are very well fed! ;-)) 

As this has become a habit in our home, I have noticed that the complaining and/or whining has greatly diminished. There is an expectation that in general when we go outside we will do some yard work, fill birdbaths, water flowers, etc. before we play. I make sure that the work is not overwhelming to young children and I break up the work with water breaks, nature walks on our paths, a game in-between. But we work. And it is generally consistent; consistency is key. This has been extremely helpful to me in that I don't have to "worry" about my kids behaving while I do a project--they can do the project many times with me and then I can come up alongside of them while they play. Or I can continue working  after my kids have worked for awhile----in the garden when they play with a ball next to it, in the sandbox while I am weeding flower beds near to them, etc. I have found this routine extremely helpful to me with the amount of upkeep that our land requires and as someone who loves gardening and outside work! We work a little and then play a little and everyone is pleased! :-) 

And I just want to be very clear here--my kids are not perfect workers--they complain, whine, and moan and groan at times when I announce what project we'll be working on. But the more that we have pursued this habit, the more I observe them becoming diligent workers, by the grace of God. They have come to learn the expectation without balking. They know that after we weed on a hot day, I will let them jump in the kiddie pool or the sprinkler! They understand that they must keep their room neat and help after supper and put their shoes neatly by the door. Again, they don't do it perfectly or 100 % of the time, but we have established an attitude and habit of work and helpfulness in the home and outside.  In other words, it is becoming a habit and an expectation in our home. It is something that I need grace to continue and to persevere in and I see how the Lord gives me this grace as I come to Him each day for His help and strength. 

Anyone can do this! Anyone! Start where you are, regardless of kids ages--start small--and gradually increase expectations. Your children will eventually get a sense of fulfillment from it and begin to enjoy work! Pray with your kids--pray when they complain and ask the Lord to give each of you hearts that would be cheerful--sing while you work! Sing hymns; sing Bible songs. Work can be made more pleasant this way! 

Don't "give up" because it is "too late." The Lord is able to redeem things that seem lost. 

Above all, depend upon the Lord. Bring everything back to Him. Remind children that you love them and want the best for them. Remind children that they are under your authority and that you will ultimately give an account to God; they will too! Remind children that everything is done to please the One who created us~~for work and for play~~and ultimately to bring glory to the Lord and to reflect His character in our lives. 

Teach kids to work; to work hard. And then step back and praise the One who works in us and gives all grace to do His will~~in our families, in our homes, with all of our lives. 

You might find me on these link-ups:

Inspire Me MondayLiteracy Musing MondaysThe Modest MomRaising Homemakers, Classical HomemakingA Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Woman to Woman Ministries,  Testimony TuesdayTell His Story,  Imparting Grace, Thought Provoking ThursdayGood Morning Mondays,  Counting My BlessingsThe HomeAcre Hop, Mommy Moments Link UpGrace and Truth LinkupFaith Filled FridayRaRaLinkupWord of God SpeakBooknificent ThursdayCoffee For Your Heart Weekly LinkUpYou're the Star Blog HopHomesteader HopFresh Market FridayHeart Encouragement Thursday Sitting Among Friends Blog PartyFabulous Warm Heart PartyOh My Heartsie Girls Wonderful Wednesday LinkupWriter WednesdayTea and Word

Monday, July 1, 2019

Homeschooling For Structure

Let all things be done decently and in order.
I Corinthians 14:40

Summer is here, and as I look back and reflect upon the past year of homeschooling my children, one theme (most prominently ) comes to mind--structure in our homeschooling. 

Structure. It's been the word niggling on my thoughts lately, brought consistently to my mind through the daily events that occur in my life and in the lives of my children. Structure-- and its close relatives--discipline, order, and peace. 

Without structure, things fall apart. We need it in every area of life. An undisciplined pianist who never practices or does so on the whim or infrequently will never become a master of their craft. The student who never studies will accrue a mediocre education, though they may attend the best schools and be a highly intelligent person. When we play a simple game of croquet, or baseball, or soccer, we need rules--we need structure. Otherwise the game falls apart and as I was explaining to my kids the other day--is no fun! Everyone just runs around in a nonsensical sort of chaos like the famed caucus race in Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

The word "structure" has become an almost frowned on idea in the society in which we live, and yet it is the framework of any successful society! Especially in the area of raising children, I see this to be true. We have slowly drifted away from the very structured forms of education that we used to embrace, and which used to produce disciplined, work-ready adults. 

I'm not advocating that the education systems of earlier times were wholly without fault. Nothing on this side of eternity is flawless; we live in a fallen world and are fallen human beings. There is a strictness that is uglified by harshness. There is structure that is so stiff that it stifles creativity. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater--because structure, and yes, strictness in a loving fashion can produce children who are highly creative, intelligent, and useful (trained) for the Lord's work and who do not carry the burdens of laziness, disrespect for authority, and inability to listen to anyone but themselves that are traits so characteristic of this society.  We should embrace godly, biblical structure which lines up with the teaching of Scripture, and trust that the Lord will work through it to His glory. 

I want to add a note here. When I am talking about structure, I am not suggesting that there is only one way to implement structure in the home.  The Lord creates different people with individual characteristics. Kids are different. Family structures vary from each other--for example, a military home may have a father who is absent for months out of the year; other families live on the mission field or travel for months out of the year to the mission field. There are single mothers who are trying to raise their children alone, without any help from a father.  Obviously, not every family must structure their homes or their homeschooling in exactly the same way or order their day minute by minute, necessarily.  My point here is not that all structure must be uniform; my point is that the Word of God exhorts us to implement structure in our homes--whatever that may look like for individual families as they bow before the Word of God--without any structure, there is chaos and unrest--even if the outward appearance may look calm and peaceful. 

We have come away so strongly from this idea of structure in our "modern" times. We are technologically advanced, but undisciplined. We think that we "know it all," that we have arrived, have figured it all out, that those who have gone before us were ignorant of the great knowledge that we now possess.  

The Word of God consistently admonishes us to consider the ancient paths (Jeremiah 6:16), to look to those older than we are for advice (Job 12:12, I Kings 12:8) , to remember history and the lessons that were learned so that we do not repeat the mistakes of those men and women who have gone before us (Deuteronomy 8:2, I Corinthians 11:2). 

And yet, we think that we don't need any advice; we live right now in a society where many of its younger members are actually considering socialism--a fallen, broken system that has never worked. A system that has only produced chaos, poverty, and despair. And yet many, many young people are embracing it head on--running into the arms of a treacherous beast. Because they don't understand history. Because they think that they "know it all" --and have been encouraged to think that way. Because we live in a society that thinks it has "arrived," "figured it out," that we are smarter than our forefathers. We have become a foolish, unstructured society of chaos in many, many ways. 

We need to fight chaos. We need rules. We need structure. We need order; we need discipline. 

These words sound restricting and confining, but they actually (when used correctly) are the means to order and peace and grace. 

This is what I am fighting for in my home and in my homeschooling. And what every parent may fight for and strive for whether they home school their children or not. 

We have an incredible opportunity by the grace of God to teach our children in a structured, disciplined way. This mirrors the truth of God's Word and will set our children up to embrace whatever calling the Lord has for their life--and most importantly, teach them the fear of the Lord--the beginning of all true knowledge. 

In every missionary and Christian biography I have read, structure has been a huge part of those men and women's lives who were greatly used by God. Structure that we would now call strictness and *gasp!* harshness and the stifling of creativity. Read any missionary biography--Amy Carmichael, David Livingstone, James O. Fraser, Elisabeth Elliot, John Wesley, Hudson Taylor, John G. Paton--the list goes on and on and on-- all of their lives were characterized by structure and discipline from the time that they were children --in those whose lives were not, structure and discipline were embraced in their lives tremendously after they became believers.  We have come so far from the discipline of those times. And I believe that it has harmed the church as a whole rather than helped it. 

I struggle for structure; daily. As a mother of two home schooled children, I have found it challenging to embrace structure in our home schooled life. Simply because in a formal school, a child has to sit still. They have scheduled times for recess, rules on the playground, set times in which they must fulfill tasks, homework to complete, and so on. 

I was talking to my sister, who works in a Christian school and she mentioned that the games on the playground always go better when a teacher is there to direct them. There is less fighting, less disorganization, less chaos--more fun and true play for the kids! Why? Because direction and structure--leaving room for creativity-- work! Rules (not excessive, but practical ones) work! Less people get hurt; there is less whining and crying and pouting. Everyone knows what to do and that there will be consequences for the breaking of rules--we see this concept illustrated simply in operating a vehicle on the road. If one runs a stoplight, they get a ticket--less people get hurt that way!

Home schooling presents the "opportunity" for less structure--the reason that many people actually have for homeschooling their children--but this is not my objective--

I want more structure. I want my children to learn to sit still for extended periods of time (they really are capable of it!). I want them to learn to study, to memorize, to keep rules, to have a schedule. This will help them to become capable adults and productive members of society! They will also, more importantly, learn to be disciplined in their life with the Lord. 

I believe that the "structure" that school provided for me was helpful--and I would have felt very frustrated without any structure, or less of it. My personality and especially my upbringing drove me toward a very disciplined approach to studying and pursuing my education--I never felt "stifled" by discipline and structure--rather freed by it! Structure is important. It doesn't stifle a child; rather, it gives them the tools to embrace all the opportunities there are in life with open hands and with an open heart to what the Lord's will is for their individual life. 

This is what I strive for in our daily lives--structure and order and peace. Rules that help, rather than hinder and stifle creativity--teaching my children self-control. Teaching my children that they need to sit still while we do our schooling. Teaching my children that there is a proper time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:11); there is a time for schoolwork, for physical work, for play. That there should be a balance. I am trying, by the grace of God, and as I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading me, to create structure in my children's lives. 

Obviously, as I mentioned, this order in the home will manifest itself differently for different families, for individual needs of individual children, according to the particular pathway that the Lord has led a family on. There is no one "cookie cutter" rule of structure for every child and for every family. It varies based on the family's and the individual children's personality and needs. But there must be some standard by which we all can follow--and that is the Word of God. 

One of the best examples that I am surrounded by here in the Midwest of order and structure is the Amish families who live nearby us and who I have come into contact with. My brother-in-law who is a Pastor also works part-time for an Amish construction company; my sister at times, drives a group of Amish children to their one-room school in the winter.  And so through their connections and because of the proximity of many Amish to us, I have had the blessing of observing and hearing about some of the Amish habits and practices with their children. 

99%, if not 100% are well-behaved, well-adjusted children who speak respectfully to authority, who are incredibly hard working from an early age, who love their families deeply and preserve the "honor" of their family name, who are very "happy" and well rounded, who have (in their own way) a deep fear of God. I admire that. I don't think that the Amish are perfect; I can't judge whether they have a true, saving knowledge of the Gospel--but admire the way that they simply implement the godly principles laid out in Scripture to raise their (many!) children. I've often wondered; how do they maintain order and discipline in the home when the families have so many children! And yet, they do. They adhere to the basic instructions for order and discipline in the Word of God, teach their children from an early age a healthy fear of authority and a fear of God, work incredibly hard, and produce some of the most respectful, kind, hard-working children that I have ever encountered. One of them, a 13 year old boy, helped my husband with some heavy work in our home--demolishing a room and tearing out walls. He did it cheerfully, he worked steadily, he looked at you in the eye when he spoke; he removed his hat, washed his hands, and combed his hair before we ate lunch! What a joy to interact with children like that, who have been taught from an early age the basic principles of order and discipline. 

So as I witness examples like that, I fight for order and structure in our home and I prize it as something worth having. I don't want to "settle" for less than that--And as I fight for order and structure--I also find grace. I realize how many times I fail as a parent, how many times I "let things go" that I should be concerned about or on top of. I realize how many teachable moments are wasted; how I have often failed in lovingly disciplining my children. This is where the grace of God comes in. He shows us how far we fall short and then gives us the grace to pick up our mat and walk--as Elisabeth Elliot says, to do the next thing--to take the next opportunity that He gives us to clean up the mess of our lives. Because even though our lives are "messy," who wants to stay in the mess? For me, I would rather clean it up--allowing God to shape and mold and forgive and humble and teach me. He is the God of order and peace--how I desire that my life should mirror that! 

Structure, order, and discipline are not confining, as it is often thought--rather, they are liberating! They open opportunities to us that we would not have had without them. They free our spirits to be able to listen to advice, to be able to learn from other's past mistakes, to become men and women of God who can concentrate, focus, sit still during a sermon without our minds wandering off, to endure hardship for the sake of Christ because we have been disciplined (Hebrews 12:11). 

One of the best examples of structure and orderliness surrounds us on a daily basis here in the Midwest--growing corn. It is always done in basically the same way, producing (with the right conditions and by the grace of God) a beautiful crop of corn. Corn which feeds the many, many animals who live here and who we depend upon as a food and income source. Corn that grows in perfect, neat, orderly, rows. Corn that depends on sun and rain in the correct amounts. Corn that comes from God as the result of neatness and order and the discipline of the hardworking farmers who live here. They don't haphazardly throw it into the ground. They have a plan, a time-tested plan for planting and harvesting and distributing that has benefited millions of people and animals over the ages. Just in this simple illustration, the Lord gives us a picture of the importance of structure in our own daily lives--and of how we can implement structure and order in our lives with our children. 

Do children need to play; of course! But you will never convince me that bizarre, chaotic, unstructured, completely unsupervised playing is part of God's plan. 

Do children need to rest? Of course! But even rest can be orderly, balanced, and within a certain time frame. 

Do children need the opportunity to be creative? Of course! But creativity thrives in the framework of discipline. One only has to look at some of the beautiful masterpieces of art to see this and consider the hours of concentration and focus that it took to complete them. 

Children are starving for order, for directions, for an outlet to use all of the vast creativity that the Lord has given them; as parents we can channel all of their energy and creativity in the right directions. 

If there is anything that our generation is characterized by (to our shame) it is the absolute disregard for rules and disrespect for authority. Our children are growing up with no healthy fear of authority--and as a result--with no healthy fear of God. What a sad place to be! But as believers, we can fight against this norm and do things differently in the sphere of our home and wherever our influence reaches. 

Some examples are listed below of where structure and order are emphasized in the Word of God--

~In church services  (I Corinthians 12)
~During communion (I Corinthians 11:17-24)
~In the way that children relate to adults/their elders (Ephesians 6:1)
~How the church organized the deaconship and eldership (I Timothy 3:8-13, Acts 6:1-15)
~The way Noah's ark was built (Genesis 6:8-22)
~The way that the temple was built (I Chronicles 28)
~Speaking in tongues (I Corinthians 14:7-8)
~Adam naming and caring for the animals (Genesis 2:20)
~The way that the ark was to be carried (I Chronicles 15:15)
~Instructions for older and younger women and men in the church (Titus 2)

Areas (these are just a few!) where our children will benefit from learning structure and discipline: 

~In the workforce
~In their respect of law enforcement and authority figures (whether we agree completely with them or not)
~In being able to play and interact with other children
~In having respect for adults
~In being able to sit still in church services and hear the Word of God
~In being able to sit quietly for any set amount of time (it will vary according to the age of the child) and read books
~Sitting in the car for any amount of time during trips

I still remember when my children were younger and they were acting very silly in the backseat of my van. I was trying to talk to my Mom who was sitting in the passenger seat while I was driving. My kids had books that they could read; they could have been quieter, more self-controlled. My Mom looked at me and said--"Stop the car; and tell them that you are waiting for them to sit quietly before you go any further." It worked. 

With such examples in Scripture and from the evidence of daily life, we see that structure and order are important. They may look slightly different in different people's lives--but they will all--when genuine--mirror the order and grace of our Creator. 

Who cares (ultimately) if children are "smart" but they haven't learned to sit still and obey authority? Who cares (ultimately) if children are creative and yet they cannot submit to instruction or focus on a task? 

Creativity and intelligence are only useful when coupled with discipline and structure--one without the other is like a headless horse that cannot run and is therefore, not useful for anything. 

This is what I strive for in my homeschooling--this is what I pray for grace for for the coming year. I know that I'll fail--many, many times. There the grace is found. It is not perfection that God seeks, but a humble desire to be taught by the Word of God and to pursue what is good and pleasing to Him. 

May we pursue it; may I pursue it--to the glory of God and for the good of our souls and those of our children. 

Helpful Resources: 

~The Shaping of the Christian Family: Elisabeth Elliot (this is one of the best books that I've read on this subject)
~The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Edith Schaeffer

You might find me on these link-ups:

Inspire Me MondayLiteracy Musing MondaysThe Modest MomRaising Homemakers, Classical HomemakingA Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Woman to Woman Ministries,  Testimony TuesdayTell His Story,  Imparting Grace, Thought Provoking ThursdayGood Morning Mondays,  Counting My BlessingsThe HomeAcre Hop, Mommy Moments Link UpGrace and Truth LinkupFaith Filled FridayRaRaLinkupWord of God SpeakBooknificent ThursdayCoffee For Your Heart Weekly LinkUpYou're the Star Blog HopHomesteader HopFresh Market FridayHeart Encouragement Thursday Sitting Among Friends Blog PartyFabulous Warm Heart PartyOh My Heartsie Girls Wonderful Wednesday LinkupWriter WednesdayTea and Word

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

When You've Made a Mistake~ The Mercy of Redemption

This winter I made a mistake. I noticed two rabbits for sale on a community yard sale group and felt sorry for them. Feeling sorry for them wasn't the bad part. The bad part was that I decided to take them in and care for them. When we picked them up, the first thought that struck me was how large they were--they looked so small in the picture! The rabbits (intended as meat rabbits) were literally puppy-sized and very "cozy" in the regular size cage that I intended to house them in until they could be outside in a hutch. 

One of our bunnies exploring the hay bin while I cleaned her cage this past winter :-)

I brought them home and realized my mistake. I hadn't strongly prayed about taking these rabbits in and now I found myself in a peculiar situation. The rabbits didn't fit in the cage that I had for them; they were huge--and they were mine. 

It was winter when I took them in; they stayed eventually in a cage in my mudroom and were a huge hassle to take care of. I was frustrated with myself. In the middle of homeschooling and all of the other responsibilities that I have, this was not what I needed-- Two large meat rabbits whose cage needed to be cleaned every few days and who would eventually (very soon) need a larger space. And one was nippy (they had been kept in a dark shed and not handled very much at all). I separated the rabbits and acquired a second cage. This was a little better, but not very much. 

I was frustrated with myself. I hadn't really prayed about the decision; I felt like the rabbits were distracting me away from time with my children, and they obviously were not small pets who could be easily kept in a guinea pig cage. I knew in my heart that I had made the wrong decision and was now facing the bleak and "depressing" consequences for it. 

So I waffled back and forth about what to do. If I kept them, they would be a huge amount of work and time commitment. I could give them away. I could rid myself of the responsibility. My brother-in-law works for an Amish family doing construction and they were willing to take the rabbits off of my hands. I strongly considered it. And I almost took this course of action. 

But then the Lord spoke to me. I felt uncomfortable giving the rabbits away. The feeling grew and grew in my spirit. I had made the commitment, taken the step of saying that I would take care of the rabbits--I had given my word in front of my children. I had taken responsibility, as wrong and as foolish as that may have been. 

I believed that the Lord was urging me to follow through on my decision. He was speaking to me, softening my heart--it was better to show my children that even though I had made the wrong decision in taking the rabbits in, that I would be faithful in caring for them since I had said that I would--it was better to keep my word, even to my own hurt and inconvenience. 

After I made this decision, the day after--one of my sisters walked in and said (along these lines), "Bekki; I want to talk to you about the rabbits; I think that you should keep them!" I explained to her that I had decided to keep them --and her words confirmed the conviction that I felt the day before. She had sensed from the Lord what I had sensed. 

It was such a freeing feeling. Instead of getting rid of the inconvenience, I embraced it. The Lord gave me a love for the rabbits and a desire to take care of them that had not been there before. My frustration was replaced with His peace. I realized that I could involve my children in caring for the rabbits and in loving them. I could show my children that we follow through on our word; that we keep our promises, that we care for what we said that we would care for. It was an opportunity to teach them. 

My children help me to clean their cages and to feed them, change their water, and to give them snacks of carrots and lettuce. They help me to put them in at night. It has been an opportunity to teach my young children responsibility and care for the Lord's creation. 

The Lord transformed a foolish mistake based on the feeling of the moment into a redemptive situation. As soon as it was spring, we built a structure for the bunnies outside--my children and my nephew helped to dig the huge trench (the wire had to be buried 2 feet deep because of predators --we live in the country) and to build the structure. The bunnies are so happy to be in a big space; and I know such a feeling of joy in obeying the Lord in following through on my decision. Almost every day my daughter Debbie wakes up earlier than her brother and lets the bunnies out of their hutches into their run and helps me to feed and water them. My son Elisha gives them their lettuce and carrot snacks and both children help me to clean the rabbit's cages. 

I was reminded through this situation that we live in a throw-away culture. If something doesn't work out or if we think that we made a mistake, we abandon it. We give up. We start fresh without any thought for redemption of what seems lost. 

When a wrong decision is made, we evade the consequences; we run away instead of dealing with them. 

Would it have been wrong for me to give the rabbits away when I realized what a huge responsibility they were? For me, it would have been--perhaps for someone else, it would not. But for me, as I believed God was speaking to me, it would have been the easy way, but I would have faced a second regret. 

We live in a society that embraces throwing things away. The abortion issue is a devastating example of this. 

People make mistakes--they sin--and then they try to rid themselves of the consequences, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of blatant selfishness, sometimes because they don't have Christ and don't know how to handle a desperate, seemingly-confining and embarrassing situation. 

As Christians, we have the answer to this problem. 

The answer is Jesus Christ, the Author of redemption. The answer is His Word, that Word which urges us to follow through on our word, to face the consequences of our sins or foolish decisions, to offer Him the broken pieces of our lives and see what He does with them and how He redeems them for good. 

We may be stuck in a difficult situation because of our choices. But the Lord is merciful. We see this in David's life, especially in regards to his horrific sin with Bathsheba. 

David suffered agonizing consequences for that sin, but the Lord brought good--ultimately--from it. Not from David ignoring his sin or trying to push it under the rug or by justifying it, but only through heartfelt, sincere repentance and turning from the ugly choices that he had made. 

The Lord is merciful. He can redeem awful, devastating situations in our lives and bring beauty for ashes--when we submit to Him--when we repent and turn and cry out to him. He did it for the nation of Israel; He will do it for us when the repentance is real. 

In whatever situation you are facing in your life because of choices that you have made--poor choices, sinful choices--turn to God--not to the world's way of handling things--abandoning ship, justifying our actions, selfishly walking all over everyone and everything that gets in our way, but to God--the God of forgiveness and redemption. And in crying out to Him, mercy will come and the beauty of what He restores. 

It will never erase the sin, or the foolish act--but it will cover it with the mercy of redemption. 

You might find me on these link-ups:

Inspire Me MondayLiteracy Musing MondaysThe Modest MomRaising Homemakers, Classical HomemakingA Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Woman to Woman Ministries,  Testimony TuesdayTell His Story,  Imparting Grace, Thought Provoking ThursdayGood Morning Mondays,  Counting My BlessingsThe HomeAcre Hop, Mommy Moments Link UpGrace and Truth LinkupFaith Filled FridayRaRaLinkupWord of God SpeakBooknificent ThursdayCoffee For Your Heart Weekly LinkUpYou're the Star Blog HopHomesteader HopFresh Market FridayHeart Encouragement Thursday Sitting Among Friends Blog PartyFabulous Warm Heart PartyOh My Heartsie Girls Wonderful Wednesday LinkupWriter WednesdayTea and Word