Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014 in review, Part Three

In this final part of my reflection of our past year, I will focus on our ministry.  The year started with little to no defined ministry roles: not only were we were new at our church, but we also needed some time to just catch our breath, and said no to a few things we were asked to do early on.  But once we felt like we had our footing established, we started to take on a few roles.  Here is a sampling of some of the ministry we took on in the second half of 2014.

*Teaching four-year-old Sunday school.  Together, we teach the four-year-olds during the Sunday school hour, which we both love.  The kiddos are a lot of fun.  Alex enjoys being "on" for the kids and easily gets their attention with his energy and humor.  The curriculum we are using is wonderful, very God-centered.  Alex usually does the teaching while I lead singing and scripture memory, and occasionally put together a craft.  Not only is four a fun age, but an added benefit is that we are learning how to teach and interact with the age that Esther will be soon.

*Community Garden. Through a number of different factors, God gave us the desire to propose a community garden to our church.  This will be on our church's property, and will serve not only as a benefit to members of the church, but it will also be open to members of our community.  Our projection is that we will have more non-church members than members, which we are hoping will lead to stronger ties into our community. Alex has been putting together plans for a while, and formally proposed the plans in December.  The elder board approved the plans, and we are hoping to have it up and running by April 15th of this year! A lot has to happen between now and then, so please be in prayer for us.  This is the biggest step of faith we have taken in a while, and I am excited to see God answer our prayers and glorify His name through this ministry.

*BloomingMoms greeter. At the start of this school year, I began help with our church's moms group.  I like being a greeter because it helps me get to know the moms who come that aren't a part of our church.  It has helped me to stay outward focused when our group meets, rather than talking to people I already know and to remember who to pray for.  This has also been a great way to meet all of the new women who come.

In addition to what I mentioned above, Alex was in charge of the men's retreat at our church a couple months ago and I have been helping with nursery scheduling (a BIG undertaking at a church with over 100 kiddos under the age of 5).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Raising the Bar for Your Children

Recently we have started teaching Esther catechism questions and answers.  I figured it was better to start sooner than later but I have been amazed at how quickly she has picked up on them.  It has made me think that we really should have started sooner, but glad that we have at least started now (she is three).

There are two things that have really been impressed on me in the past few years regarding teaching young children.  First of all, that they are really sponges for facts.  Since young kids can't think abstractly yet, their brain is like a huge filing cabinet where all day long they are filing away facts.  The more facts that you can help them to file away now, the better their abstract thinking will become in the future.

The second thing I have been learning is that most parents have way too low of expectations for their children in many areas (including especially behavior) but in this case academically/intellectually.  Esther may not understand all of these questions and answers, but she has the capability of memorizing them, which will help her in the future when she can think more deeply of questions about God and life.

I was looking on YouTube for recordings of these question and answers for us to listen to as another way of helping her to learn it.  This video of a two year old answering the first 12 catechism questions is a good reminder that even little children can be expected to learn much more than we usually expect of them.

This video of another two year old is even more impressive, as she does the first 20 questions with great clarity and annunciation.  I can't get the video to come up for some reason so I can only link to it.

Now, if it sounds like you would need to be some kind of drill sergeant to have your 2 or 3 year old memorize all of these questions, let me assure you that its not at all like that.  All it takes is lots of repetition.  We work on these questions for about 5 minutes per day, usually at lunch time.  I read the questions over and over, and then start leaving words blank for Esther to fill in.  After just over a week of this, Esther has about ten answers memorized.  Not only does she find it fun, but she often asks to practice at other times.  "Let's do questions, Mom!" I hear several times each day, and I'll ask her a few of the ones she knows.  Not only does she enjoy it but I can tell she feels a sense of accomplishment for what she has learned.  This is a satisfying feeling that I hope will spur her on to continue to challenge herself in many areas throughout her life.

Relatedly, small children are also sponges for scripture memory.  Just as with catechism questions, repetition is key.  I try to recite verses while doing menial tasks with the kiddos, like changing diapers and brushing teeth.  Esther can recite most of Psalm 1 because of this method.

Making scripture and spiritual teachings the topic of convesation throughout the day like this is one of the ways to be obedient to this command:
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul... You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied..." Deuteronomy 11:18-21
I love the promise at the end... that "the days of your children may be multiplied".  What good parent doesn't want that for their children?

So, where is the bar set for your children?  Maybe your New Year's resolution for this year should be to set higher goals for them and take the initiative as a parent to make it happen.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 in review, Part Three

Yesterday I mentioned how our lives have been developing spiritually this past year.  This has also been a great year for our family.  Here are some of the things God has been doing in our family in 2014.

*Moving. We're gearing up to move in 2 weeks.  This will be our third move in the past 13 months (and if we buy a house this year that will be yet another move!).  It was so nice living in the same house in California for over 3 years... it was the first time since the beginning of college that I hadn't moved on a yearly basis.  Well, this year has made up for that!  All I can say is that moving a lot is helpful to continually get rid of unwanted/unused items and to stay flexible.  That being said, I hope God settles us down for at least a few years (until we move again after Alex is done with classes!).  For the first time since we've been married I've had a desire to settle, decorate the house, cultivate a garden on our own soil and establish ourselves somewhere.  Also, moving a lot is entirely unhelpful for having a ministry among your neighbors.

*Hudson's birth.  He came 3 weeks early, at the end of March and has been a blessing and a joy ever since.  Esther took a few weeks to warm up to him but now she absolutely adores him and always asks to play with him as soon as he wakes from naps.  I'm glad for her sake she has a "permanent" sibling- she's had two foster siblings come and go since she was born (both of whom she also adored).  He's by far our worst sleeper so far, but I know its just a season of life and we need to be patient.  He's a very eager and active baby, not waiting any time at all to crawl (started at 5 months 5 days old!) and will very likely be walking before he turns one.  Everywhere we go he gets tons of compliments on his eyes, which are so dark brown that you can't even see his pupil.  He is also frequently called "pretty", which is Alex's least favorite "compliment" for him.

*Fostering. 2014 was the first year since 2010 that we haven't had any foster placements, but not entirely by our choice.  We started the re-certification process a few months ago but have been more or less ignored by overburdened social workers.  So it may take a few more months until it happens (moving is also one of the steps in the process that has to happen).  We are looking forward to getting placements again, but selfishly I am hoping for Hudson to start sleeping through the night (like solid 12 hours of sleep) before that happens... so please pray that his sleep improves.  There are two other families at church who are certified or in the process, and its nice to again have local friends who we can relate to in this area (a strong support system is crucial in fostering).

*Alex's work.  Our move, combined with a few other factors, has allowed Alex to start a business based off of his computer.  He runs this website with a friend and sells stuff on ebay, among other things.  This work is something he's wanted to pursue for a while and is a blessing as it allows a lot of flexibility to pursue ministry and take classes.  It will also provide income for us to go overseas in the future (Lord willing).  Its also the most enjoyable job he's had in years, which is a blessing to our whole family to see him doing something he enjoys.

*Parenting.  One of the strengths of our church, and one reason we wanted to move here is godly parenting.  Over our first full year here we have certainly grown in that area.  Two big ways I have grown in being better about disciplining our children (its always easy to make lots of excuses as to why you don't need to discipline, all at the expense of the child) and to show more affection.  Though these things may seem opposite, they are actually hand in hand, as they reflect the severity and kindness of the Lord.  I am also learning about training children in godliness and teaching them about God and the Bible.  Seeing how much progress we've made this year, I am excited to learn more in the coming years.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Review, Part One

2014 has been a breath of fresh air for us.  Its the first year since the beginning of our marriage that has not been trial after trial after trail.  Which is not to say that its been all easy, but compared to years past, much more so than we are used to.  So here is a peak at certain areas of our lives this past year and how God has been working in us, specifically in the area of our faith.

*Repenting of sin. As Martin Luther said, "The whole of a Christian's life is one of repentance".  So its not that repentance is new or different this year but that by God's grace, he's still convicting me of sin and I'm still repenting of sin.  Among other things, I have been convicted of a lot of fears this year, fears that keep me from taking steps of faith, especially in ministry.  I have been convicted of a lot of pride, especially since we are at a new church and in a new town and making new friends... I have spent way too much energy thinking about how I want people to think of me and how I want to be respected by others.  There are many more, but these are two that come to mind that God has been working on in me.

*Boldness.  God has been using some people in my life who are very bold about sharing the gospel to encourage me to be bolder in speaking up on spiritual matters (here is one example, and here is another).  The main thing that keeps me from being bold is fearing what people will think of me.  But God continues to press on me that life is short and eternity is long, and if I keep quiet I'm not changing anyone's eternity, just making my short life here on earth a bit easier.  And even if at times I err on the side of being too bold, I would rather fail in the right direction than fail in the wrong direction of constantly fearing people and never speaking up about what I believe.

*Humility.  Along with repentance, shouldn't this be a constant theme in every Christian's life?  By God's grace it is in mine, but especially this year.  I have been learning so much being surrounded by so many older, more mature Christians at our church, which has really been humbling, especially coming from different churches and groups in the past where I was usually more mature than the average person.  But its nice to just sit back and learn from others and not have to have all the answers to questions all of the time.  I think this is part of the reason I haven't been blogging as much of late... I feel like I'm just soaking a lot in and don't have so much to pour out at the moment.
Photo credit: Ryk Neethling on Flickr
*Bible reading.  Sigh.  I hate setting goals that I don't accomplish.  Its really humbling (see above).  This is the fourth year I have attempted the M'Cheyene bible in a year plan and the fourth time I have failed.  (Although in my defense for good reasons... each time I have failed its always been because of a new birth or foster placement gets me off track until I'm so far behind that I eventually give up).  This time I have decided to finish no matter how long it takes (I have about 1/3 of the OT left, so not really that much to go.  I decided to only read the NT once, though the M'Cheyene plan has two full readings of the NT) and I don't think I'm going to attempt the Bible in a year again, at least not for a long time.  Reading that much every day feels like a burden and doesn't play on my strengths: I much more prefer to read shorter passages and study them in depth.  I read the bible most days of the week (I love being up before the kids and getting to read and pray for a bit!) but 4 chapters per day is unrealistic, especially for how slow of a reader I am.  So I'm going to finish up the OT so that I can say I have read the whole Bible, but I plan to do a different kind of study after that this year.