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The View from the Middle Back Seat

Remember the ride to school on the bus every day? Or maybe you’ve taken a public bus lately and can picture this in your head: The long, narrow aisle, the many seats on both sides, and on some buses, the special seat in the very back of the bus, right in the middle, at the end of the aisle.

I like that seat. In fact, I like it so much I’ve been sitting in it for more than 20 years.

Let me back up a bit and be very clear: I used to sit by a window. A window on the left, in fact.  Like others who had window seats, I’d stare out that window on my left, completely oblivious to those next to me and especially those way on the other side of the bus. Partly this was my youth, my need for excitement, and my self-centeredness, but partly it was because my view was ever-changing, ever-fascinating, and ever so much more interesting than the interior of that bus and the others along for the ride.

Did I notice the driver? Well, yes, I knew there was a driver, and I knew it was his job to get us where we were all going. Every four years I’d enthusiastically like or dislike this driver, and sometimes we’d get a new one. But overall, the trajectory of our bus stayed mostly straight and we did indeed stay on the road and not crash, so I didn’t complain—much. What I was paying attention to outside my window was much more interesting, anyway.

Finding a New Seat

But a couple of decades ago (it’s complicated), I got up from my left window and changed my seat. I considered moving to the window on the right side of the bus. Oh, I considered it very strongly—many of my new friends were there. I had been on the left side of the bus for so long that I could see that even though I liked many of the people there with me, and wanted them to like me back, they were far from perfect. In fact, they worried me a little and I definitely didn’t want to spend my whole life at a left-hand window. But would my ride be any different on the right side of the bus?

I sat by the right window for a short time. But as I suspected, it wasn’t any different, or any better, than the left window. Sitting far to the left and far to the right gave you the benefit of lots of stimulation, and you could easily tune out what was going on inside the bus with those nearer the aisle, but it wasn’t the right place for me. I tired quickly of the rapidly changing scenery and only having the same view as those along my own side of the bus. I felt like I wasn’t getting the full picture of what this bus ride with so many other people was all about.

So I moved. I now sit in the back, right at the end of the aisle, in the middle.

What It’s Like in the Middle of the Bus

It’s not a hotly contested seat. It can sometimes feel lonely. Many people seem to want the window seats; they say they’re the “best seats” and they eagerly grab them and sometimes won’t give them up for anything. They seem so confident, so comfortable with their seats, yet they are also always defending them, which must be exhausting.

Here in the back middle, nobody is clamoring for my seat. But it’s a good one. Let me tell you why.

I can easily turn and see directly behind me. In fact, I can see for miles where we’ve been, which gives me a better idea of where we’re going. It’s not a blur, either. It’s clear and moves at a pace that’s easier to comprehend and contemplate. I can also see ahead—right up the center aisle. I can see and hear everyone on the bus, not just those on my side or who are looking out the right- or left-hand windows. I can see the driver, keeping his eyes on the road (we hope) and getting us all safely where we need to go. Sure, we may encounter a storm or a flat tire along the way. We have to stop and change drivers every so often, but from my seat, I can see this happen over and over again and the bus just keeps on going. Sometimes I like the driver and sometimes I don’t, but my bigger concern is all of those people filling up the space behind him. So many people.

How This Ride Has Changed

Over the past few years, it’s been harder to sit where I sit in the middle of the bus. You see, the few people who hold the seats all the way on the left and the people who hold the seats all the way on the right have been arguing (this is why I ended up in the middle back seat in the first place—not for lack of caring but instead for lack of wanting to be continually angry). These arguments, while seeming to energize those with window seats, have been especially hard on the many more people who sit nearer the center of the bus. Because I’m in the back, I see this pretty clearly, and it’s painful to watch and hear.

It’s hard to believe, but here’s how bad it’s gotten: The people who sit at the left-hand window seats think that everyone on the right side of the aisle are racists, bigots, xenophobes, misogynists, science-deniers, and uneducated deplorables—not worth living. The people who sit at the right-hand window seats think that everyone on the left side of the aisle are communists, socialists, America-haters, rioters, science-deniers, and uneducated idiots—not worth living. What’s particularly scary is the recent cries from both sides of, “We’re doomed! It turns out that HALF the bus is this awful!”

From where I sit in the middle back seat, none of these things appear to be true. Oh, there are outliers, to be sure, and those with window seats can be very loud and proud about their unique but distorted perspective. But the vast, overwhelming majority of people on this bus just want to keep moving and to get where we’re going peacefully and enjoy this trip with those around them, on both sides of the aisle. Those of us in the middle, observing the whole picture, have also noticed how the driver is just one part of a much larger, complex system of checks and balances designed to keep our bus moving along in traffic smoothly and safely.

I wonder sometimes if those at the left and right window seats ever move their eyes in another direction, toward the center, even across the aisle, to truly see and hear the others on this bus. Do they mingle when we have rest stops? Do they eat lunch with someone from the other side? Do they stop with their loud right-window or left-window play-by-play long enough to listen to the conversation coming from nearer the aisle?

The window seats are coveted posts, I hear. But fighting over them can tear this bus apart.

Faith

Living at Peace in the Chaos of 2020 … and Beyond

It’s hard to admit this in 2020, but for my whole life, I’ve enjoyed politics. I find it fascinating to know about political systems and leaders, how they rise and fall, and how they affect the people who live under them. I plop my kids down in front of the TV with an electoral college map every fourth November and we watch the returns while they color in the results on their map. I read a (print!) newspaper every morning with my coffee because I like to know what’s happening in the world, my country, and my city.

Admittedly, it’s been more difficult to maintain a positive attitude toward current events over the past few years. Back in 2016, I assured my new-voter children that this particular election was not normal, that I had never seen anything like it in my entire voting life. And then along came 2020, which for many is a similarly difficult campaign and election season, only this time accompanied by a months-long pandemic, economic crisis, and ongoing social unrest and upheaval—each a challenge on its own, but taken together, an incredible strain on every individual and on society as a whole.

In the midst of “these unprecedented times,” how do we keep peace in our hearts and minds from day to day? Many of us find ourselves troubled not only by what’s happening in the world around us right now, but what may happen in the future. We fear for our children or grandchildren, our churches, our nation or city, our health, our economic stability, our neighbors, our freedoms, and so much more. The Bible is clear that we’re not to be anxious or worried about the future (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:25; John 14:27)—but that’s often easier said than done.

A Message for the Israelites, and for Us Today

The Israelites, in captivity in Babylon 2,600 years ago, were a people who were anxious and worried about their future, to say the least. The prophet Jeremiah encourages them with a verse we’re all familiar with from graduation cards: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Now, I like this verse; it gives me hope for myself and those I love as we contemplate life changes or unexpected detours. But God’s particular plan for your life or mine isn’t really what Jeremiah 29:11 is about.

The verses immediately preceding this one are key to understanding all of what Jeremiah was saying to the Israelites. First, they were going to be in this difficult situation for a long while: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (29:10). Today, we don’t know when political divisions, virus concerns, and social unrest will, if ever, be “back to normal,” or what that normal may be. God’s timetable is not ours, and his perspective is difficult for us to comprehend. We, like the Israelites, must accept that our present trouble may not disappear anytime soon.

Now let’s back up a bit in this passage to truly appreciate the wisdom and compassion of the Lord for his people. Our approach to life in this troubled world parallels the way the Israelites were to live in their troubled world of exile and captivity. Here is what God told them, through Jeremiah: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:5-7). In other words, live your lives, go about your daily work, prosper as best you can, continue to nurture your families and encourage future generations to do the same. And, importantly, pray for your city and nation and seek its welfare and that of those around you.

God’s Plans, Our Response

This was not necessarily what the Israelites wanted to hear, and we are no different. We, and they, might want to hear that God has immediate, clear plans to return us to our normal lives, heal the wounds in our society, send us wise and upstanding leaders, and give us a foreseeable future we can easily understand. But God’s direction to his people instead required more of the Israelites and more of us: patience (longsuffering), faithfulness, trust, and obedience.

Steadfastly—even joyfully—continuing with our daily lives, praying for our leaders and those around us, and seeking the welfare of our neighborhoods, cities, and nation may look a little different for each of us. Yet as we move forward, past 2020, we long for peace, rest, and a future redemption just as the Israelites did. With God’s grace, and by reminding ourselves of his promises to us, we can persevere through difficult times and be strengthened for whatever blessings and challenges he has in store.

Homeschooling

Creating Your Own Middle or High School Bible Curriculum

Looking for tips and suggestions on creating a homeschool Bible (or Bible-related) class for your high schooler or middle schooler? Read on to see many of my favorite suggestions for a wide range of students, including a great Bible you may never have heard of, other books at all reading and interest levels, and miscellaneous ideas to round out your Bible class.

After I graduated two students from homeschool with credits in Biblical Studies 1 and 2, I thought I had my Bible plan in place. But after a gap of several years, I was back to square one, needing to develop a different high school Bible curriculum for my youngest. One of the great advantages of homeschooling is that you can (and should, if needed!) adapt your plan for each individual child, according to their abilities and interests. I kept some elements of what I had used before, but I also needed a new approach this time around, taking into account my son’s naturally inquisitive nature and lower tolerance for long readings than his siblings at that age.

Remember that as a homeschooler, you, the teacher, will need to determine what constitutes a year or a semester of study or a credit on a transcript. For a Bible class, this can be as easy as choosing a complete curriculum and following the schedule, or as challenging (and fun! Really!) as developing your own curriculum based on your particular child’s needs. My homeschooling style is eclectic—given the choice to use an all-in-one curriculum or to put it together myself, I’ll usually choose the DIY option.

I’ve used most of the following resources for high school, but some could work for an advanced middle schooler. You know your child best. There are books here that are appropriate for students who need quick bursts of reading and shorter assignments on a daily basis, along with a discussion or recap with Mom or Dad. There are also books that are heavier (in both size and content) for more advanced students or excellent readers.

My absolute, #1 favorite resource for high school Bible: The Quest Study Bible

A little background: My husband and I became Christians soon after we were married, right before we had our first child. Neither of us had much experience reading the Bible. We were browsing one day in a Christian bookstore and came across the Quest Study Bible. We liked it so much we bought two copies, one for each of us.

This amazing resource is the complete NIV Bible along with 7,000 questions and answers in the margins—specific things people often wonder about, want to ask, or are confused by. There are also short articles throughout that tackle more complex questions. As new Christians, we found this incredibly helpful, especially since we hadn’t yet found a church where we could learn more about the Bible.

For our older two high schoolers, we gave them a 3-year reading plan and they took notes on interesting questions in a journal, and (theoretically) discussed the journal with Mom or Dad every couple of weeks. This plan worked fine … but only for a while. We all fell off the reading/discussion wagon many times, so for our youngest (who doesn’t love reading as much anyway), I created a much more specific plan.

First, I identified a few dozen major Bible stories (here) that had interesting accompanying questions in the Quest Bible. Then, I created a simple worksheet (here) to be filled out after reading the passage and accompanying questions and articles. The readings are short and the writing is fairly minimal. We discuss his worksheet answers and often  other interesting questions he came across but didn’t write down. Or I might say, “You know, I’ve always wondered something about that passage…” and he can tell me if it was answered in the Bible margins.  We use this sheet once or twice a week.

We use the regular edition of the Quest Study Bible (linked above), but it’s also available in a teen edition.

Other Quick Bible Resources

In addition to using the Quest Study Bible, my goal this year was to find high-quality Bible resources that were easy to read, interesting, and didn’t take too long each day. I found three that we’re really enjoying, and (very important!) that spark good discussion on most days.

  • The 10 Minute Bible Journey – A beautiful, full-color book that presents a quick synopsis of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in 52 short readings.
  • Scientific Facts in the Bible – An interesting book for inquisitive teens, with scientific, medical, archaeological, prophetic (and more) facts in the Bible.

More Books for a Great Bible Class

Here are a few more books to keep on your radar for high schoolers and/or more advanced readers. Keep in mind that my goal in this curriculum creation process isn’t to choose the most rigorous, most high-level books I can find (1,200-page tomes on systematic theology are awesome, but I won’t be assigning them to my kids). Instead, my goal is to find books that speak to teens, give them interesting and compelling reasons to learn more about Jesus, help them wrestle with the natural questioning that many teens have about their parents’ faith, and encourage them to seek out answers to their questions with reliable references. Some books we’ve used are:

  • Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis – My two favorites by Lewis, perfect for reading and discussing with teens. I’ve taught these books in high school Sunday school classes and they truly stand the test of time and engage teen readers. Be prepared to discuss “what is satire and why is it used?” before beginning Screwtape.
  • Basics of the Faith series – These short books (booklets, really) are quick, easy to read, clearly written, and high-interest. They hit on the topics that teens and adults have questions about; I’ve used them in a high school Sunday school class with great success. Other than a few titles that are specific to Reformed theology, most are basically nondenominational. It’s possible that your particular denomination also has similar booklets available.
  • 25 Basic Bible Studies, by Francis Schaeffer – This book is exactly what it says: 25 topics with accompanying Bible verses that allow you to do your own theme-based Bible study independently.
  • The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History – Like all of the books in this post, this book is useful and interesting for both students and adults. It packs two thousand years of church history into short, readable articles about major people, events, and ideas.

And Now for the Classics…

If you have a student who doesn’t shy away from heavier or historical readings, three classic titles to consider adding to their studies are:

Other Skills and Activities to Add to Bible Classes

During the course of your high schoolers’ years of Bible class, you might want to add some or all of these skills and activities:

  • Visit a church service (or several) of a different denomination.
  • Learn the difference between a translation and a paraphrase.
  • Learn to use Bible Gateway.com by looking up and comparing at least 5 different translations of a certain passage and answering questions like, Which is easiest to understand? Which was written earliest? Which might be more likely to be used by a new believer and why? Which words are the ones most likely to be different in the translations? (Try John 1:1-14 in KJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, and The Message.)
  • Learn to use a print and/or online concordance. Try words such as famine, fruit, anger, firstborn, etc. in both the Old and New Testaments. Why is it important to make sure your concordance matches the Bible translation you’re using? (Because if a word is translated differently in a different version, it won’t show up in your concordance.)
  • Download a Bible app (decide what translation ahead of time; we use the ESV) to your phone and learn to use it.
  • Understand C.S. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” trilemma and be able to answer it (even if they haven’t read Mere Christianity, which is where Lewis first mentions it).
  • Use a blank map and a Bible atlas to identify important cities and geography during key time periods such as Abraham’s journey, Jesus’s life, or Paul’s journeys.
  • Read biographies of missionaries (YWAM Publishing has dozens of middle-level bios), hymn writers (easily found online; try Fanny Crosby, Isaac Watts, John Newton, Charles Wesley, or William Cowper for starters), or leaders and heroes of the faith (such as Martin Luther, Eric Liddell, Corrie ten Boom, and others). The possibilities are almost endless here depending on interests and reading ability.

If you’re thinking about adding a Bible class to your homeschool middle or high school, or need to change what you’ve done in past years, I hope some of these ideas are helpful. One of my favorite things about homeschooling is considering each individual child and determining what they need to learn and succeed, and Bible is no exception! Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all approach, and that’s what keeps things interesting. I’d love to hear your ideas for other Bible resources that you’ve used with older kids, so feel free to comment below!

Homeschooling

Schooling Uncertainty 2020: Homeschool Edition

Going into this year (so long ago now…), we all thought that Decision 2020 was going to be about casting our vote for President of the United States on November 3. Silly us. That decision pales in comparison to the difficulty of determining what school will look like for our kids this fall.

I really feel for my friends with kids in public school who are struggling right now with near-daily emails from their districts, changing policies, unhappy teachers and parents, food insecurity or health issues, the challenge of working full-time yet having their kids at home, and (for some) being suddenly plunged into the homeschool world willingly or unwillingly, for a wide variety of reasons.

As a long-time homeschooler (beginning my 20th year), you would think that this whole stay-at-home thing would be a piece of cake by now. That COVID would be a mere blip on the radar of our usual days of homeschooling. But the chaos that this virus has unleashed has been difficult for homeschoolers as well.

Back in March and April, homeschoolers were busy on the internet and on other virtual forums, assuring public school parents that what they were being forced into with school shut-downs wasn’t homeschooling—it was crisis schooling. There’s a huge difference. Spring was not much fun for anyone. I know kids in all school situations who did well, and those who did not, and those who did nothing. I know parents who did well, and those who did not, and those who did nothing.

But now we’ve all had time to plan for fall, right? Not really, because most of us believed that this virus thing would be done by now, that maybe some precautions would need to be taken, but schools would be open and things would be mostly back to normal. Yet in my county, the opposite is happening. Cases are up, and so are restrictions. Many schools are now 100% online (at least for first quarter), and homeschoolers are feeling the effects of other mandates that are in place for the general population.

This fall, a homeschooler with young children will likely have:

  • Highly restricted library use, including library programs; perhaps no library at all
  • No access to playgrounds and playgroups
  • Lack of access to coaches and individual and team sports
  • Cancelled music lessons and other individual learning opportunities
  • No field trips, possibly no nature clubs
  • Limited access to cultural attractions such as museums, public gardens, science centers, and theatres
  • Limited access to co-op classes and Sunday school classes

This fall, a homeschooler with older children will likely have the changes above, as well as:

  • Limited access to hands-on learning in technical fields
  • Limited access to teachers and mentors for foreign language, science labs, the arts, and other in-person learning
  • More difficulty with dual enrollment, college visits, and alternative ways of earning high school credit
  • Limited opportunities for internships, job shadowing, or military preparation
  • Adjustments to finding a job, keeping a job, or staying safe on the job

To make everything even more complicated, not everyone agrees on how we all should proceed. In this polarized and politicized age, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Homeschoolers are no different from anyone else in that we are all human and have different opinions on:

  • Masks (you knew that would be first, right?)
  • The importance of staying at home vs. freedom to be out and about
  • Who is “living in fear” and who is “being realistic and sensible”
  • When and how to reopen facilities
  • Whose fault all of this is
  • The effect 2020 will have on the economy, the election, children and teens, the elderly, families, churches, schools, and every other aspect of life as we know it

It’s going to be a rough fall. Because we’ve already lived through the spring, in some ways we’re prepared (even though I did not anticipate this kind of fall back in April or May). Homeschoolers are also prepared in the sense that we have our curricula (or know what to get) and we have at least one parent who is used to teaching at home, but it’s going to be a challenge for us all.

So what can we, as homeschoolers, do to help ourselves, our children, and others during this continuing crisis in our society?

Extend grace to those who are doing their best to keep co-ops, learning centers, and homeschool groups going for homeschoolers in your area. These people have a job that no one in their right mind would have anticipated or wanted, and many are not even getting paid for it.

Be flexible with your own kids and the uncertainties that they face this school year. Remember that they miss their friends, their other teachers or coaches, and their usual routine. Some kids will adapt to this better than others, so be prepared for delays and detours, and give your children time to adjust if they are having a hard time. Consider a day every few weeks where you do school with board games, read-alouds, outdoor time, videos, cooking and life skills, etc.—no textbooks, worksheets, or “regular” lessons at all.

Reach out to help those who are homeschooling for the first time:

  • Part 1: Resist the urge to immediately tell them to buy your own favorite curricula; instead, ask questions that can help you determine what kind of teaching materials they would be comfortable with. Which may not be the ones you love, and that’s okay. If they need information on homeschool laws, direct them here. Help choosing curricula can be found here. Homeschool pages on Facebook, curriculum publishers, and support groups are receiving thousands of questions, orders, and messages right now. If you can, help these moms navigate unfamiliar waters in an unbiased but helpful way.
  • Part 2: Parents whose children have been in school settings are used to their kids being “in school” for up to 8 hours a day, and often wonder if homeschool should be equally long. One very helpful piece of information and advice to give is that kindergarten should take less than one hour and that high school will take maybe 5 or 6 hours, with other grades falling into place along that spectrum. Remind them that extra time in the day is a huge advantage of homeschooling, when children can explore personal interests, read books, play outside, learn new skills, have their screen time, and yes, be bored.

Finally, take care of yourself. Sure, you made it through the spring and you’ve had a summer to adapt and adjust. But we’re all tired. We’re all ready to go back to normal, yet there is no end in sight. We miss our routines and our friends, just like our kids do. And we’re with family 24/7, which can be stressful, even for homeschoolers who are more used to that than others may be. So don’t forget to maintain friendships, pray, get outdoors often, make friendly eye contact with people over your mask, read your Bible, and (very important) assume the best of others whenever you possibly can. All of these habits will help you stay calm, prevent anger, and reduce fear—all timely ways to take care of yourself in this bizarre year of 2020.

Faith · Parenting

Putting an End to Generational Sins

In one of the most famous first lines in literature, Leo Tolstoy boldly states, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Now, I haven’t read Anna Karenina, but I can say with confidence that, while he certainly captured our attention and still has us quoting him after nearly 150 years, he is wrong about happy families being all alike (although they may look that way from the outside). But he has a point about unhappy families.

Unhappy families can have an endless number of reasons why they are unhappy, and many of us are sadly familiar with one of them: generational sins (a.k.a. generational trauma or generational dysfunction). This is the tendency of persistent sinful behaviors to be repeated or “handed down” from one generation to the next, contributing to the unhappiness of that family and its individual members. This might be a particular problem with one member of the family, or an overall environment that permeates the day-to-day life and outlook of each person.

The causes of family dysfunction are endless. Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive list – and sadly, every one of these can be generational, or handed down:

  • Anger, explosive temper
  • Lying, undependability
  • Emotional manipulation
  • Narcissism, selfishness
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Excessive sarcasm, unkind speech
  • Bullying, threatening speech
  • Addiction (everything from alcohol or pornography to eating or shopping)
  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Laziness, sloth
  • Greed, envy
  • Bitterness, dissatisfaction, complaining
  • Adultery, unfaithfulness

So is it inevitable that sins will be passed down from generation to generation? Even if we haven’t experienced this in our own family, we’ve surely seen it in other families. But thankfully, it’s entirely possible to end generational sin with one person, in one generation. And that one person can be (or maybe has been) you.

Remember the No Man’s Land scene in the Wonder Woman movie where she has just learned from a desperate mother and child about the unseen atrocities of war? The scene where her eyes are opened to the toll that the war has taken on people who are not even fighting? (Watch it again here.)

I cried when I saw that scene back in 2017 and I still cry today when watching the four-minute clip. I know I’m not the only one who found it easy to identify with this woman who bravely faced the enemy in order to create a safe pathway for those following behind; who held up her shield and scattered bullets so that those around her and innocent people on the other side would be safe from harm.

If you are fighting against generational sin, that woman on the battlefield is you. Every time you speak or act in love, self-control, gentleness, patience, kindness, or faithfulness, you are deflecting the bullets of whatever sins you are refusing to allow a foothold in your family. This is not easy, to say the least, if you were raised in a dysfunctional environment and may have developed self-preservation tactics as a very young child. Back then, you may have withdrawn, you may have tried to escape, you may have acclimated or adapted yourself to dysfunction in order to be accepted by the only family you knew.

But now, as you commit yourself to putting an end to generational sin, remember this: It’s not only about you holding up that shield day after day, deflecting those bullets of sin that the Evil One continually fires at you; it’s also about those people who are now able to run up behind you in relative safety and those further along the path whom you don’t even know. Your spouse, your children, and those generations to come who will have a very different family life thanks to you, right here, right now.

Wonder Woman’s iconic battle scene lasted less than four minutes; yours may last decades. Thankfully, you’ll get the hang of it long before you wear out or become discouraged, and you’ll begin to reap the rewards of ending generational sin almost immediately. Here are a few things to remember along the way:

The people who most benefit from the ending of generational sin may not know much, if anything, about what you are putting an end to. Your current family didn’t grow up with you (obviously), so they don’t know exactly what you experienced, and you may not want to share all of those details with them. If you are in need of someone to talk to, a better idea might be to find a trusted friend, someone who has experienced something similar, or a counselor who can help you work through your emotions.

While you are busy putting a stop to generational sin in your family, do your best to not create your own. Make sure that while you’re saying, “I won’t succumb to addiction,” or “I refuse to emotionally manipulate my children,” that you aren’t replacing that with anger, a sharp tongue, or a myriad of other sins. None of us are perfect, of course, but the idea here is to not insert a new sin that permeates your family life and creates unhappiness or discord.

It’s an incredible privilege to be the person that gets to say, “This stops here, with me.” If you are just starting out on this path of putting an end to generational sin, I want to encourage you that every single day that you don’t perpetuate dysfunction truly matters – whether the people around you know you are doing this or not. You know that your shield is up and you are deflecting bullets left and right. And if you’ve been on this path for a while now and are reaping the rewards of a functional and happy family, congratulations on a very difficult job well done. God knows the history of your family, and in his wisdom and mercy has declared, “Here is the person who will put an end to this,” and that person was you.

No matter where you are on the path of ending family dysfunction, know that God is with you on this journey. He loves your family more than even you do and he hears your prayers. Let his words to Israel in Isaiah 43 be your comfort and encouragement: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18, 19)

God has done a new thing in you and is doing a new thing in your family. You no longer have to consider the things of old. Will your family be perfect? Of course not. But you are strong enough to keep your shield raised against the former things and God is big enough to not let the Evil One win this battle.

Homeschooling

DIY Copywork for Early Elementary

When my kids were young, we mostly followed the Charlotte Mason approach to education: literature-based schooling, short lessons, lots of nature study, and frequent copywork, among other things. For the most part, I kept this pattern for all four of my children, through their many differences in enthusiasm for school, attention spans, and abilities in each area of learning. I quickly discovered that I didn’t need a formal language arts program at all until mid-elementary years, thanks in part to the practice of Do-It-Yourself Copywork.

In its most basic form, copywork hones important skills like attention to detail, hand-eye coordination, “keeping your place” while reading, remembering, and writing, learning new things (depending on what you’re copying), and of course, handwriting/fine motor skills practice. These are all foundational skills for early elementary education and easily accomplished when the passage being copied is high-interest and personalized for the student.

The copywork method I used for first grade appealed to all of my children, no matter what their ability level or personal interests. It was effective because it was customized for each child—some sentences were used for all children, and some were tweaked or completely rewritten depending on the child. This might sound like a lot of work for the teacher, but in fact it was one of the most enjoyable lesson planning activities of my homeschooling years! The DIY aspect forced me to think carefully about each child as I wrote sentences just for them, depending on their likes and dislikes, what was going on in their life at the time, their high-interest areas, etc. I highly recommend this copywork method not only as an effective educational tool for children, but as an interesting activity for the teacher that helps you get to know your children better!

How It Works

1. In preparation, write two or three lines for the child to copy, leaving blank spaces where key words would go. These missing words can be merely factual (“My dog’s name is ________”); or the child’s opinion (“_______ is my favorite food”); or require critical thinking or further thought on the child’s part (“After Thanksgiving, the next holiday is _________”).

2. After printing the sentences in a double-spaced, large font, cut them into strips (one copywork lesson per strip) and fold them. Place them in a “hat”—something the child can choose from. On the days that you do copywork, the child will choose a slip of paper from the hat to do that day. For children who don’t like surprises, you can write a “hint” on the outside edge of the paper, so they have a general idea of the topic inside, such as “Summer” or “Pets.”

3. The child reads the paper aloud to you (or with your help). He thinks of words or phrases to put in the blanks and may or may not tell you what those are (some of my kids wanted to tell me and some wanted it to be a surprise).

4. On handwriting paper, the child copies the sentences and inserts his chosen words. He may need help spelling his own words, which you should cheerfully give! You know your child best—he may want “clues” as to spelling, or he may need to you simply spell the word for him with no guessing. Keep it fun and don’t be afraid to just spell the word. The act of “copying” is learning, and spelling words correctly from dictation helps cement them in your child’s memory.

5. When he is finished, read his sentences back to him (or let him read them to you, whichever he prefers). He might want to talk about how he chose his words, or what he almost put instead.

Examples of Sentences

If you have more than one child, you’ll find that you can use the same or similar sentences for many of your sentence strips. Some examples of easily reusable, generic sentences might be:

When we go to the zoo, I like to ________ and ________.  My favorite animals to look at are _________ and ________.  I hope we can go there again soon!

I like to play with my friends.  Some of my friends’ names are _________, _________ and _________ We like to _________ and _________ together.

Winter is a great season because I get to _________ and _________ When I want to get warm, I come inside and have _________ to eat or _________ to drink.

I have lots of favorite foods.  I really like _________, _________, and _________.  But I like _________ best of all.  Maybe we’ll have it soon!

Daddy works hard for our family.  He takes care of us by going to _________ every day.  He also fixes things when they are _________, and finds things when they are _________.

There are lots of things I could be when I grow up.  I could be a _________ or a _________.  Right now, I would really like to be a _________, but I can always change my mind!

I am _________ years old.  Last year I was only _________ years old, and next year I will be _________ years old.

Lately I have been playing with _________ and _________.  I also like to play with _________.  I like my toys!

Some sentences might need minor revision between children, such as:

Ethan is my big brother.  We sleep in bunk beds.  I like to play _________ and _________ with him.  I love my brother!

We have three pets.  Their names are _________, _________, and _________.  Trixie is _________, Tillie is _________, and Lucy is _________.  I like our pets. [Notice how on this one, the final three blanks could be their ages, the type of pet, a character trait, etc. Your child may surprise you!]

Drawing pictures is fun.  I like to draw _________ and _________.  Sometimes I use _________ or _________ to color my pictures.  I like to hang my pictures on the wall.

Last summer we went camping.  I slept in a _________ and explored outside.  One day I saw a _________ in the woods and I got to roast _________ over the campfire.

Every night before I go to bed I need to _________ and _________.  Then I usually have a story.  Some stories I have liked are _________ and _________.  Then I go to sleep!

And some sentences are child-specific. These are the ones you’ll need to create for each particular child, which is fun for both of you! Here are some examples specific to my youngest child, to give you some ideas:

I like to make books.  Some of my books are _________, _________, and _________.  I illustrate my books, too.  Sometimes I color them.

I am learning to play the piano.  I can play _________ and _________.  So far, my favorite song to play is _________.  I like the piano.

This year I am doing P.E.  I like to _________ and _________ in P.E.  I like to play with _________ in P.E.  P.E. is fun!

Grandma and I write letters to each other.  I put _________ on my letters.  Grandma sends me _________ in the mail.  I like writing letters and getting them, too!

Of course, you can also make event-specific or time-specific sentences, too, such as an event that just happened or that your child is looking forward to.

You can also tie sentences in to books you’ve been reading together. For example:

Charlotte was a beautiful _________ and a good friend to Wilbur. Wilbur was a _________ who was in danger, but Charlotte saved him by writing words in her _________. Everyone was amazed!

I like to use DIY copywork sentences for first grade, but they can be used from K through second, or anytime a child is ready to begin and until they are ready to move on to a language arts program, a spelling or grammar program, or simply when you run out of interesting topics (for them or for you). It’s an easy, inexpensive way to create high-interest and high-quality learning activities for your child.

Other Topics

A Teaching Story of Race, Reliability, and Regret

In the mid-‘90s, I taught English in an upper-class suburban high school. In my first year of teaching, I was assigned one class of “English Basics,” a class for students who were far behind their peers in their ability to read and write. Basics was a small class, usually only around 10 students, and in the class of sophomores that I was given, the kids were reading on about a second grade level. I was never told the educational or personal background of any child, and I had no special training to help these students, but like all new English teachers, was expected to teach one class of Basics for a couple of years. The positive side, I was told, was that I would only have the class for first quarter and then again for third quarter. Another teacher would take the class second quarter and fourth quarter, so we would each have a “break.”

This staggered-teaching arrangement, especially for a class of kids who were far behind academically, seemed odd to me. I wondered if it had the inadvertent effect of instability and impermanence for the students. The teachers seemed to like it, though, and who was I to say anything—me, a brand-new teacher? Still, I had nagging doubts about this set-up and how beneficial it was for the kids.

The Beginning

When I walked into that 10th grade classroom for the first time, I saw that 8 of the 10 students were black. This wasn’t a surprise to me. Even though the school was upper class and largely white, desegregation laws were still in effect at the time and many black students were bused in from the city. Some of these students were in this class.

I need to pause here to mention my appearance because it’s relevant to this story. I was teaching in an affluent high school, and I looked like I fit right in. Translation: I was very white. One of my Basics students helpfully pointed that out to me on the first day (I believe his exact words were, “You’re really white”). I had never paid even one bit of attention to my “whiteness” before, but after he said that to me, I realized just how white I appeared to these kids: fair-skinned, blondish hair, well-dressed, professional demeanor. Now, they didn’t know that my background included poverty and displacement, or that I lived in a trailer park well-known to police during my teenage years. As far as difficult childhoods go, we probably had some things in common, but they didn’t know this.

On that first day, we got off to a rocky start. I played a drawing game with them, asking them to draw their home (I did, too). In retrospect, I realize that I was pretty naïve to request this. It didn’t go well. Two or three kids participated correctly, several kids didn’t participate at all, and one kid drew a remarkably accurate Batman symbol instead (this kid went on to become one of my favorite students ever).

I struggled to find my groove those first few weeks. I tried random ideas and books to engage the students, all to no avail. Then one day, some kids’ educational magazines were delivered to the room. They were written for younger students, but were high interest, colorful, and fresh. I passed them out for part of each class period and we read from them together.

The Breakthrough

One day in our magazine we came across a short play adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a book I had never read. Still, I knew the basic plot and I thought we’d give it a try. I could feel the excitement in the air even as I assigned roles. These 15- and 16-year-old boys (nine of the ten were boys) were interested and engaged, laughing about which role they wanted and pretend-arguing over them. Then we started reading aloud. Slowly, very slowly, we progressed through the play. There was no shame in this classroom due to poor reading skills; everyone was at about the same level and I had developed a real heart for these kids, a matter-of-fact approach that said to them, “You are great to listen to. You’re doing a good job and I enjoy teaching you! I like hearing you read aloud and making this play come to life.” And I did.

We took days to get through a play that was only a few pages long. This was partly because they read slowly, but mostly it was because we stopped often for fascinating discussions along the way. We talked about the characters’ motivations, what the outcome was, and how it would have been different if different choices had been made. We talked about Captain Nemo, his ship the Nautilus, and the monster squid. We talked about what we might have done if we’d been one of these characters. We talked about how the play related to real life, how people and events can surprise us and disappoint us and inspire us. Each student identified (or didn’t) with his particular character; this sparked great discussions among the entire class.

After we finished reading the play, those kids were on board with me. Not that every day after was a picnic; it wasn’t. We had struggles and boring days and great days just like with any class. But they now trusted me and were comfortable in the room. We were at ease with one another. They were still black, I was still white, but nobody noticed or cared. I enjoyed second hour and looked forward to it every day.

The Good-Bye

At the end of the eighth week, I realized that this class was going to switch teachers, as planned, for the next quarter. This was incredibly sad to me, and I hated reminding them about it. I assured them that I’d be back third quarter (but then gone again for fourth). I told them how wonderful their next teacher was (I knew she was good with “regular” classes and I hoped she was with Basics). I didn’t say how they would have to start all over, develop trust, and do whatever the new teacher felt was appropriate for them—but they knew this. I felt a wall go up and our ease and closeness with each other was diminished.

When I look back on my time teaching, the greatest regret I have is this: that I didn’t speak up and ask to keep this class for the entire year. I’m sure I could have; no one else wanted it. But I was brand new to my job and had been told that teaching Basics for just two alternating quarters was the department’s gift to me, that I should be grateful for it, that soon I would move on to never teaching Basics classes at all. This was merely to be a stepping stone to fulfilling my academic potential in the department.

The Outcome

I taught other students second quarter and came back in January to my Basics class. Only it wasn’t “my” class anymore. The same kids I had bonded with, laughed with, and discussed topics of great importance with were distant, uninterested, and unwilling to recapture what we’d had together during first quarter. I tried, but they seemed discouraged and beaten down in a way. I felt guilt. I wanted so badly to say to them, “I’m so sorry for deserting you. I’m sorry for passing you on to someone else, as I’m sure you’ve experienced so many times in school and maybe in life. I’m sorry I didn’t ask to keep you.” Because I really wanted to. I just didn’t have the courage or the confidence in my limited teaching experience to say it. And in all honesty, I was worried about seeming “different” from my fellow teachers, who didn’t want to teach these classes and had come up with ways to make it more palatable to do so.

Why is this a story of racial regret? Surely the regret would apply no matter what color my students were, right? That’s probably true, from my perspective. But it’s a particularly racial story because on the first day I met this class, one of them pointed out how white I was. I surely was (and am). I was a little taken aback at the time, but I realized that he was simply and honestly stating the obvious, and to him, this was a significant aspect of my identity. I wonder sometimes about his experience of white people (most of these kids had been in the desegregation program for years; they went to a white-majority, suburban school and went home to their own neighborhoods at night). I knew exactly what had happened between first quarter and third: I had bonded with these kids, become a friend to them, and then betrayed them. We had done the hard work of forming a class together, a group that learned and talked and questioned and discussed, and then I left them to someone else. When I came back nine weeks later, I was like a stranger to them.

I learned so much from that class. Their faces are forever in my memory, even 25 years later. I don’t know what they learned from me that year, but I learned much about perceptions, assumptions, and trustworthiness. And that reliability is critical to relationship. Worthy, lifelong lessons from the Basics kids in second hour.

Homeschooling

The “How to Raise a Reader” Myth

I’m an avid reader. I own a couple of thousand books, I read almost every day (for fun), and I’ve been like this my whole life. When I was a little girl, I spent breakfast time reading every box and bag in the kitchen, I read during recess at school, and I was often admonished to “take my nose out of a book” to look at the scenery on car trips.

I married a man who reads almost as much as I do and owns even more books. When we had children, they were all raised in a house full of books, used literature-based learning for school, saw their parents reading often, and were read aloud to until they were teens every single school day. We read really good books, too—fun and interesting books that everybody liked. So naturally, they all grew up to be readers, right?

Wrong.

Every once in a while I see a meme or a message from a homeschool curriculum or a quote from a teacher that basically says, “If you surround a child with good books, read to him from birth, give him access to books that interest him, and give him the time to read, you will raise a reader.” But like everything else in parenting (or life, for that matter), there is not one guaranteed formula for success, or even one definition of success. But this idea is so prevalent that there is a lot of mom-guilt surrounding this topic, especially among homeschool moms who are doing “all the right things” but may have a child who simply does not like to read.

I know many moms who are avid readers and dedicated teachers and yet have at least one non-reader child or teen. I don’t mean they can’t read (reading problems and disabilities are an entirely different subject), I mean they don’t like to read. At all. When looking for something to do, they would choose anything instead of reading. I have one child who would likely choose having a root canal over reading a book.

So for any mom who has bought into this myth and is wondering what she did “wrong,” hear this: there is no fool-proof recipe for “raising a reader,” even though it’s pushed and believed by so many people. Now, there are certainly things that you can do to encourage reading—see the above list. I heartily recommend that you do those things as much as you’re able! Enjoy that time of closeness and shared interests with your children and delight in the joy that some of them will likely find in reading a good book. And it’s true that if your children love to read, they will probably have an easier time in school, including college, since a great deal of learning is reading-based. So exposure to and encouragement of reading is a good thing, for sure.

But some kids will simply never learn to like reading, and what happens to those kids when they grow up? As moms, we worry, don’t we? We worry they may not do well in college, find a good career, or be successful in life. If we are big readers ourselves, we are baffled by their tremendous dislike of reading and wonder, how is this going to work out for my child? We might even wonder how their avoidance of reading reflects on us as a mom or as their teacher.

I personally know several adults who have no interest in reading for pleasure—and they are awesome people who are good at what they do. A love of reading isn’t a requirement to be a good person, or for success in a career. And it’s certainly not a judgment on anyone’s parenting. But I know that homeschool moms (and probably all moms) can be taken in by this myth, so I compiled a highly unscientific but still accurate and interesting list of people who absolutely do not like to read and never have … and what they’re doing today. This real-life list (from an informal Facebook poll) is of occupations that are held by real people who can read just fine, but they dislike it and have been that way since childhood. Even today they wouldn’t pick up a book for “fun” or by choice. Here is what they’re doing today:

Construction worker, several accountants, dentist, stockbroker, registered nurse, truck driver, web designer, several stay-at-home moms, auto body technician, firefighter, home builder, two or three bankers, corporate sales director, drywaller, architect, cabinet builder, surveyor, math teacher, machinist, several attorneys, electrical company worker, engineer, more than one occupational therapist, gas station attendant, car salesman, contractor, owner of a car rental company, hairdresser, police dispatcher, artist, two or three network engineers, accounts receivable analyst, middle school teacher and tutor, information technology specialist, and bank examiner.

Then there were those who were still in college, with majors in interior design, sociology, pre-med, business, and veterinary medicine.

That list should be an encouragement to any mom or teacher who is concerned or wonders what she must be doing wrong because someone doesn’t like to read. Draw what conclusions you will from this list, but there’s no denying the wide variety of successful career choices at all levels of income and amount of schooling needed. And remember that even though you may find great enjoyment in a particular activity, your child might be wired differently and won’t necessarily share that joy. They will find their own.

For years as a young homeschool mom, I bought into the “raising a reader” myth. Surely our family would raise readers! And yet … I have one older teen (see the “rather have a root canal” reference above) who greatly dislikes reading—who was raised with the same thousands of books in the home, the same frequent library visits, the same read-aloud habits, the same great educational foundation, the same attention paid to his specific interests … and he still hates to read. It’s true that school wasn’t a walk in the park for him. But he is pretty awesome in his own God-given way. For example, he can take a classic truck apart and put it back together again. I sure love to read, but I can’t do that—and I still couldn’t even if I read a book about it.

Other Topics

Why “Great and Noble Tasks”?

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” —Helen Keller

One day back in the late 1990s, I typed Helen Keller’s famous sentence into my PC in my favorite font, printed and cut it out, and glued it to a piece of red construction paper (because with two children under the age of four, that’s what was available at the time). I taped this masterpiece over my kitchen sink and it remains there to this day.

And here I am now using it for the title of my blog. Why?

When I think of this quote, I’m reminded of a time back when I was career-focused and intent on making a name for myself and a difference in the world. One of my bosses said that she thought of me as the employee most likely to walk into work one day and announce that I was joining the Peace Corps. It’s true that I was focused on my own career success at the time, but she could see in me a desire to do more, be more, accomplish more … in the service of others and for the greater good. I had felt it for years (I think a lot of people feel this), and I guess it showed.

I never did join the Peace Corps. Instead, God grabbed my heart and my soul and pulled me home—to his family and to my own. When I got married, had a baby, and became a Christian all within less than two years, I found a deep sense of commitment, purpose, and calling right at home. I felt very strongly that my mission field was my own family, my own children, and other people right around me. The worldly success, prestigious titles, and piles of money were no longer important or even appealing—yet my sense of purpose was still strong.

I long to accomplish a great and noble task: This has never changed. I long to do something meaningful, beneficial, important, and lasting.

But it is my chief duty: What I do each day, even the most insignificant things (making dinner for the 7,325th time, folding the laundry, helping a child sound out words, listening to a teenager’s troubles, holding my tongue when I’m irritated, volunteering at church, thanking my husband for something he’s done, preparing lessons, grabbing 10 minutes to copy Scripture into my notebook, taking the time to see how a neighbor is doing—the list is endless and hugely varied) is what I’m supposed to be doing with my time here on earth. They are my duties because God has given me these people and he continually reminds me of all the many ways that I can bless them every single day. It is my chief duty.

To accomplish small tasks: See above list.

As if they were great and noble: We now come full circle, back to where we started, with that desire to do great and noble things. And in this one sentence, I see that I am doing great and noble tasks each and every day—and they are the small things, the things that matter, the things that change people and the world in ways that I will likely never see. I trust that the small things I do, with a positive attitude and gratitude to God for giving them to me, are making a difference in the world and in the lives of those I love.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” —Ephesians 2:8-10

Faith

Loss in the Time of COVID-19

I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus, the stay-at-home order, or the social distancing. I’ve been pondering the effects of this pandemic in my heart, talking it over with close family and friends, and reading others’ observations online. But as Month One drags into Month Two of this unique and difficult season in all our lives, I find myself returning again and again to the word that is beginning to define the spring of 2020 for me. The word is loss.

Loss is not the same as missing people or things. Missing people, places, and familiar activities is a very real (and often daily) part of this experience, for sure. We all miss these things—some people more than others, depending on our life situations and our own God-given personalities. And we know that one day, sooner rather than later, we hope, we’ll reunite with people, return to our activities, and go back to church, among other longed-for places.

But the experience of loss is different. Loss feels deep down and final, a sort of “permanent missing” of events, ceremonies, celebrations, and milestones that won’t come around again in the expected way—or maybe not at all. Loss is the feeling you get when you look at all the scratch-outs on your planner, when you open email after email of what school, church, and family events are cancelled. When you find yourself having to “break the news” over and over to family members of what highly anticipated event or activity they won’t be doing in upcoming weeks. The losses build up, from (in my family) a small pile of loss in March to a larger accumulation of loss by April to a mountainous heap of loss by May—and the summer is something I haven’t dared to think about yet.

The losses experienced by my family include plans related to graduations and education, pregnancy and newborns, work opportunities and cultural events, and more. Many people’s lists would also include weddings, sports, funerals, or vacations. And these losses, for all of us, are being lived out in somewhat of a vacuum, each of us in our own homes. Because I haven’t been directly affected by the virus itself, I sometimes have to remind myself why we stay home, why everything is cancelled, why the world has seemingly ground to a halt.

As my feeling of loss grows greater and deeper in this strange season, I’ve been asking myself what God would have me learn during this time. My feelings, for better or for worse, aren’t a secret to him; he knows that I’m struggling with everything that is slipping away in my life, entirely out of my control. I soon found myself thinking about the word itself—what was God teaching me about loss? What could I learn from this?

Two synonyms for “loss” are forfeit and sacrifice. We are indeed forfeiting many events and celebrations, and sacrificing our expectations of what we thought our lives would look like in 2020.

On the other hand, some antonyms for loss are: Control. Ownership. Possession. And here’s where I saw that God was leading me down the path of loss right to the source of the ache and sadness in my heart. Sometimes when God takes you to the source of your problem, it’s not a place you necessarily want to go. It’s painful to realize that often, the ache you’re feeling is a result of your own sinful nature and what you are prone to idolize in your heart. For some of us, myself included, control of our lives, ownership of our time, and possession of our schedules is a given—even a point of pride. But that grasping, holding-onto gesture is exactly what we have to let go of now.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, confesses his own pride (or his gain), what he calls “confidence in the flesh.” He concludes (emphasis is mine):

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . .”

Paul suffered the loss of all his gain (his control, his ownership, his possession) in order that he might gain Christ—which leads to:

“. . . not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

These promises of Christ, that our righteousness comes not by our own power or control, but by what we gain by sharing in his sufferings (however paltry our sufferings may be, they are still real)—this is God’s reminder to us in the midst of disappointment and heartache.

If you are struggling with a profound sense of loss right now, God is asking you to take that loss, mourn it, and leave it at the cross. To offer up to him your expectations, your plans, and your feeling of control. He reminds us in Luke 17:33 that “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Trust his promises. He sees your loss and reminds you of infinitely greater things to come.