Christian Non-fiction Read in 2019

Part 3 of my series of posts with micro-reviews of books read in 2019. Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Run Today’s Race by Oswald Chambers. This small book, consisting of pithy sayings or “seed thoughts” (as Chambers liked to call them), was compiled by his family after his death. There is one such thought for each day of the calendar year; you could think of this as My Utmost for His HighestLite.”

August 20

There is nothing so secure as the salvation of God; it is as eternal as the mountains, and it is our trust in God that brings us the conscious realisation of this.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards. Edwards’ fiery sermon, delivered in a calm, monotone voice and resulting in many conversions and a great revival in a church that had previously been dead to God and His Word, is the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil. He didn’t mince words as he warned men to flee from the wrath to come—and fly to the arms of Christ, open in mercy. I had assigned this booklet to Brianna for reading, so I read it too. 😉

Your wickedness makes you as heavy as lead; it drives you down, with great weight and pressure, toward hell. And if God were to let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf. At that moment, you will see that your health, your own care and prudence, your best contrivance, and all your righteousness, have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web has to stop a falling rock.

Alone in Majesty: The Attributes of a Holy God by William MacDonald. Short, worshipful and thought-provoking chapters explore different attributes of God’s character—both unique, and shared. Includes study guide. I used this during my morning prayer times.

How grateful we should be that God has given us minds that are able to consider His knowledge, holiness, love, power, and wisdom. True, we see through a glass darkly. But never mind! It is still a tremendous privilege to stretch our minds to the limit in contemplating His divine attributes.

What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. In eight concise little chapters, Gilbert defines and explains the gospel. It’s a good read for the Christian, and also an excellent evangelistic tool. In a nutshell, he sums up the gospel in this way:

We are accountable to the God who created us. We have sinned against that God and will be judged. But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us, and we take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus.

God. Man. Christ. Response.

Christ Loved the Church by William MacDonald. My husband really liked this book and asked me to read it. Barely over a 100 pages, it deals with the teachings of the epistles on the body of Christ—who it is comprised of, its functions, leadership, unity, purpose, ordinances, etc. MacDonald encourages us to pursue love and unity as we seek to restore the simplicity of the church gathering.

“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,” (Eph. 5:25). We, too, should love the church…We should sacrificially and devotedly give ourselves in loving, glad service in order that the church on earth might progress, prosper and triumph.

Classics and Novels Read in 2019

Continuing the series of posts on my 2019 book list, these are the novels I read. 🙂

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I remember watching the movie (with Gregory Peck) as a child, but I had never read the book. The movie was good but the book—even better. The story is set in the south during the Great Depression and brings to light the racial tensions of that era.

Scout is a young girl whose father is a lawyer. When a young black man is accused of raping a white girl, her father agrees to take the unpopular case. Tension in the town escalates and Scout finds herself in the middle of all the drama, coming to terms with growing up and learning what it means to stand on principles without compromise.

Lee’s novel is a lesson on how to write a novel. I sat down and analyzed her writing style, picking it apart into little pieces and taking notes in order to better my own writing.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Wolves seem to figure prominently in London’s action-filled novels. In The Sea Wolf, the savage beast of prey takes a human form. Wolf Larsen is the cruel, feared, and hated captain of the Ghost, a sealing schooner. When by a freak turn of events a bookish intellectual named Humphrey Van Weyden winds up aboard the schooner, two men, two worlds, and two life philosophies collide sharply in exaggerated contrast to one another. Both fists and philosophical quips fly between them as each seeks to discover what the other is made of.

The theme of this book is philosophically existential in nature: What is the purpose or meaning of life? Is there life after death? What of God? Darwinism and natural selection?

Jack London was a self-proclaimed atheist. But what is most interesting is that he endued both his protagonist and his antagonist with pieces of his own life philosophy—then pitted them against each other in crude juxtaposition. Van Weyden (or “Hump” as he comes to be referred to) is an idealist, an altruist; one who believes in immortality, in God, in the goodness of life.

Wolf Larsen is the atheist, the materialist, prominently exalting a selfish individualism and hedonism as his virtues and seeing life in every form as a Darwinian, crawling “yeast,” agreeing with “the Preacher” (whom he loves to quote) that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” He compares himself to Lucifer and proudly defies his Maker.

London himself embodied the idealism and altruism of “Hump,” and the atheism of the Wolf. The book almost seems to read like an inner argument of the author with himself. Perhaps the most telling scene is when Wolf Larsen, while imbibing a breathtaking scene of nature, reveals his own inner struggle when he says with deep, wistful longing:

“I am filled with a strange uplift; I feel as if all time were echoing through me, as though all powers were mine. I know truth, divine good from evil, right from wrong. My vision is clear and far. I could almost believe in God.”

In his antagonist, London essentially admitted that if there was no God and no immortality, London’s own morality, altruism and idealism were schizophrenic—utterly pointless. He had no answers for this irreconcilable paradox. In the story Wolf Larsen gives expression to his secret desire to be able to see life as his opponent does, but feels there is no hope for him to do so. Did this mirror a conflict in London’s own soul? It seems to read to me as a searching, rather than a declaration; a question rather than a statement.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Wow. This was not your typical hearts-and-flowers romance novel (though what am I talking about? I’ve never read romance novels, lol). This book had some meat to it: the contrast of sense/wisdom and folly, the elevation of virtue, the condemnation of bad character and unsound judgment.

Elinor, the eldest of the three young Dashwood sisters, is a girl with a good heart and good sense. Marianne, the second, though a sweet, wonderful person, is forcefully driven by her changing feelings and emotions—and loves to have it so. She fully gives herself up to whatever emotion she is feeling without checking it or demonstrating self-restraint if appropriate.

The girls fall in love with two very different men. When all their dreams come crashing down, they have two very different responses to their heartbreak.

A thoroughly satisfying novel with lots of food for thought.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I loved this novel. The sarcasm, humor, wit, the playful banter, the unforgettable characters. I can see why this has endured as a popular classic.

Miss Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters are in want of husbands in 19th century England—or rather, ahem, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” When two high-society—and so wonderfully single!—young men move in “next door,” the whole neighborhood is in a flutter.

But when Eliza meets the daunting Mr. Darcy for the first time, she is hardly charmed. His rude, arrogant, and offputting behavior make her quickly decide he is the last man on earth she would ever be prevailed upon to marry.

And so begins this surprising, humorous romance with its many twists and turns.

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”

“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”

“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is wilfully to misunderstand them.”

Emma by Jane Austen. Jane Austen said of the book’s title character, “I am going to take a heroine who no one but myself will much like.”

She was wrong. For all her foibles and follies, many readers have come to love Emma since the book was first published in 1815.

Emma grows up in a well-to-do family as an intelligent, talented, independent, and attractive young lady with bright prospects. But she has a tendency to trust too much to her own judgment and to meddle in the affairs of others. This well-intentioned meddling soon sets Highbury in a spin as things completely unexpected and beyond her control begin to happen. What will come of it all? Can the confusing web be untangled?

Austen knew how to create living characters—and develop them well. Her characters display good or evil character, and because they are so human, even the heros and heroines are allotted their faults. But the difference between the wise and the foolish in her stories is pronounced: the wise learn from their mistakes, are teachable, and repent; the foolish don’t even recognize their own folly, much less take a course of action to turn from it.

I think her books have endured and are so loved because her characters (while sometimes caricaturized) are highly relatable, because she deftly deals satire and wit, and because the deeper theme of a man or woman’s character—how their actions and attitudes affect themselves and those around them—runs through every page of her novels.

By the Light of a Thousand Stars by Jamie Langston Turner. A friend had recommended this author to me, so I went to the library and chose one of her books at random. 🙂 This story is told in sections from the perspective of four different female characters, each one facing the rough stuff life brings with varying responses.

A theme running through it is the wonder of how God uses our everyday interactions with others to bring people to Himself—and why we should trust Him and believe He will work for good in those around us as we strive to faithfully share Jesus. Those who turn many to righteousness will “shine as the stars forever.”

The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr.

This is an allegory of the battle between good and evil. Chauntecleer the rooster and the other barnyard animals go about their daily lives with no idea that they are keepers of Wyrm, the great evil locked in the center of the earth. It is their job to keep him there.

When a rooster from another farm listens to the wily temptations of Wyrm, Cockatrice is hatched–and all hell breaks loose. Rich in symbolism, this was a great read. (Some language.)

The earth had a face, then: smiling blue and green and gold and gentle, or frowning in furious gouts of black thunder. But it was a face, and that’s where the animals lived, on the surface of it. But under that surface, in its guts, the earth was a prison. Only one creature lived inside of the earth, then, because God had damned him there. He was the evil the animals kept. His name was Wyrm.

Paradise Lost and Other Poems by John Milton. This epic poem by the 17th century Christian writer was the first English poem to be sold by subscription and to be made the subject of a detailed critical study. Milton addresses the problem of evil in the world: the fall of Satan, the sin of Adam and Eve, and the justice and mercy of God the Creator. (My edition also included various early poems, sonnets, etc.)

I enjoyed it, highlighting many of my favorite parts. I realized that in order to get the most out of his works one needs to be well-versed in Greek mythology (which I am not). His many allusions and metaphors draw heavily on this and ancient history. The breadth and scope of the man’s education is itself incredible.

I would have a difficult time choosing my very favorite from the books above, but Sense and Sensibility would definitely be among those I most enjoyed. Favorite novels read in 2019–what are yours?

I’m Playing Chess With Life

I’ll form a plan and see it through,
Make my move on timely cue,
Take stock of assets, route my path,
Prepare to challenge my rival’s craft–
For I’m playing chess with life.

Marble statues, checkered floor,
I know I’ve seen these patterns before–
Black and white like day and night;
I won’t go down without a fight
When I’m playing chess with life.

Checkmate or a draw,
It’s not my opponent’s call,
Not when answers I can find,
Diving in the labyrinth of the mind
While I’m playing chess with life.

Inside out and upside down,
I scan it all from top to ground.
The answer’s here I have no doubt,
I’ll find it quick before I’m out–
‘Cause I’m playing chess with life.

The smart and clever can pull the lever,
Outwit opponent’s sly endeavor.
Just give me data–it’s all I need;
I’ll take control with facile speed–
For I’m playing chess with life.

It all makes sense, it all connects;
Facts and gen esoterically intersect.
Life’s an equation–just work out the figures;
With numbers and logic compute, configure–
I’m playing chess with life.

Clock is ticking, time is twirling,
This blitz has got my mind a’whirling.
Queen takes bishop, pawn, then knight,
All I need is shrewd insight–
While I’m playing chess with life.

Wait! What happened? I didn’t see
The move that swiftly cornered me.
Was sure I’d think my way through this;
“Mind over matter” can never miss–
Not when I’m playing chess with life.

I move my pawn, my desperado;
I can’t fail here in victory’s shadow!
With reasoned logic I’m on the beam;
The match is close now it would seem–
As I’m playing chess with life.

But facts and logic, plans and schemes
Can fall apart like shattered dreams.
I’ve learned a lesson here today:
I’m not the master of my way–
I thought I could play chess with life.

But I’m not the sovereign One who rules it,
Planned it, made it, orders, keeps it.
I must trust the wisdom of this Lord;
So on bended knee I yield my sword…
To the Good King of my life.

*****

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2)

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

“Art of Homeschooling” Part 2

This is the second post in a two-part series “Art of Homeschooling.” These notes represent ideas I had for implementing the principles taught in Mystie Winckler’s e-course. You can read the first part here.

Connecting with my Children/Starting the Day Off Right

Our daily schedule looks something like this: We get up, we eat, we do chores, then if I am still busy with chores the kids play or do other activities till it’s time for school. After school they may play. In the afternoons they have quiet time and work on school assignments; after supper in the evening they
play, we read together, etc.

GOALS:

I think I need to stay on top of their time between eating breakfast and starting school; they could be more productive and efficient except that I am distracted and not doing as much directing.

Make sure they are staying busy with chores and not piddling.

If they have free time, channel it properly (suggest exercise outdoors, take a nature walk, or give them an assignment indoors—puzzle, coloring, art, reading, etc.). Help them to see that this time in the morning is already planned and we are just to work through it steadily together.

Teach them to come to me after they complete each assignment. Their day is not their own till after school.

The daily habit I can practice in order to affectionately connect with my children each day is to greet them warmly in the morning with a smile and a hug, and (if I have time the evening before) to write them a “love letter” in their journal.

Laughter throughout the day is another good connection. And when there is time for it, extra fun, games, crafts, and reading. School should not be the only time I spend with them intentionally and meaningfully.

In order to help us be on the same team, working toward the same goals, we can start our day by hugging, holding hands, discussing the plan, and cheerfully encouraging one another to complete it
well. Make eye contact and commend them for something. Notice when they are working together and working well and commend them.

Motivation and Responsibility

I discourage the children’s responsibility by not staying on top of what is happening. If it’s okay for them to just putter out and off and do their own thing while I am busy, I am not requiring responsibility. I’m making it too easy for them to be irresponsible.

The kids are most prone to dawdling in the morning before school, and then sometimes during school (if distracted by something else going on). I don’t detect any specific motivation other than wanting to do whatever is “fun” or “interesting” at the moment.

I am most prone to dawdling in the morning before chores, and in the evening after supper (when I should be doing chores or could be spending time with the kids).

GOALS:

For me, first steps in our home will mean I must have them give an accounting regularly. If I give a directive, I must come back and see that it is followed. I must check their progress and their work. There will have to be a lot of hand-holding at the beginning.

If there is something to do that can be done by one of them, rather than shouldering the brunt of the work myself I should mete out more to to them in age-appropriate segments. I should not clean up after them, or let responsibilities I have assigned to them “slide.”

I tell them being an adult is a lot of work and responsibility. I should also express to them that there is joy/reward attached to that responsibility when carried out well.

I “check out” too often with Facebook or something else I can use as a distraction when I’m feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed. Rather than catch me doing this, they should see me cheerfully plugging along with a song, fulfilling my responsibilities without complaint or irritation. Limit internet
time in morning to a few minutes. NO internet in evening till kids are in their room.

When Cliff asks me to do something I need to be sure I fulfill it right away, setting an example for those under my authority.

Talk about the results of dawdling versus diligence. The natural consequences that result from
dawdling include not getting to have time later to do things we enjoy doing because our tardiness put us
behind and wasted our time that could have later been spent at (guilt-free) leisure. Dawdling goes against what we know is right, and so we sin against our conscience. It steals our leisure time, makes our chores and responsibilities more difficult, and makes us less appreciative of our free time.

Dawdling/laziness does not glorify God. Diligence gives us a good conscience. It permits us to have leisure time when the work is done. And that time can be fully enjoyed, guilt-free.

Persistence and Faithfulness

The feelings most likely to drive me off course are feelings of frustration with how the day is going, and anger and irritability when the kids (or circumstances) aren’t cooperating. Bickering kids, unexpected interruptions, extra work, etc. trigger these feelings.

I am most critical of myself when I am lazy or angry. I am most critical of my children when they are lazy, angry, or rowdy.

GOALS:

How can I respond? Remind myself of what a successful day really looks like: faithfulness. Fruitfulness, rather than perfection.

Attending to the needs of my children in all areas—physical, spiritual, in admonition, discipline, love, training, laughter and good will—is more important than completing a to-do checklist like math, spelling, and laundry. Seeking to worship Christ when a curveball is thrown in my day is worth more than dusted furniture and completed math pages.

I need persistence when the day doesn’t go as planned and I get thrown a lot of extra stuff. Then I’m tempted to give up because I’ve been set back. It was like having the goal in sight and then having someone move the marker while you’re running on the track. I can choose a calm, intentional response by examining my list to see if everything really must be done or if I’m being a perfectionist, then choosing to do the things that are truly a priority with a good attitude—even if it cuts into my “free time.”

I need to learn to have greater flexibility—and that comes by relinquishing control to God rather
than trying to keep a tight fist on it myself.

The feelings most likely to disturb Brianna and Marcus: anger, boredom, frustration. Anger, when they have a conflict together, or when they have been disobedient and require correction. Boredom, when they are confronted with the daily grind of school and chores. Frustration, when they feel overwhelmed by their work or feel like they can’t do a good job with it.

I can help them calm down and learn self-discipline by:

• Learning to stay calm, be cheerful, and be self-disciplined myself

• Teaching them truths about God, themselves, and life (motivate in proper ways; teach Scripture and life truths; give admonition and correction when needed)

• Doing what I can to help them avoid/redirect them from unnecessarily tense and frustrating situations (oversee their work together instead of leaving them alone; designate responsibilities when I am busy and cannot help them; give the right amount of help and encouragement at the right time)

I can trade harshness for humor by bringing the kids to the couch for a talk, ending with tickling/joking so we may leave in good humor.

One specific area the kids and I can practice persistence in together is Bible time. We will start there. We will try to be faithful with devotions every day, not just school days.

*   *   *

What habits have helped you motivate yourself and children, Mamas?

“Art of Homeschooling” Part 1

I stumbled across some notes I had made from Mystie Winckler’s “Art of Homeschooling” course last year while searching for something else the other day. I read them again, and was again reminded of areas of personal growth that I need to persevere in.

Mystie’s course helped me pinpoint and troubleshoot “problem” areas in my life and our school/family life. Her questions were penetrating and her insights illuminating. I would definitely recommend her course! (She conducts the online 5-week course periodically.)

Presented here as abbreviated, edited, reorganized, and otherwise condensed notes, I made these for myself during my brainstorm sessions while working through Mystie’s assignments/reading material. The goals I identified are still that—worthy goals I want to work on, but am far from having consistently attained. 🙂

* * *

Fostering a Love of Learning

I love to learn. I am curious about many things. I spend hours reading, researching, and trying new skills and projects. While teaching school I will sometimes get curious and interested in something and pursue rabbit trails trying to learn more about it. After hours I work on new skills and gaining new knowledge.

My problem is not that I do not model a love of learning. My problem is that I become impatient and ignore the kids when I’m wanting to get my work done precisely so I may pursue my many interests. In such times I selfishly fail to foster their curiosity, questioning, and interest because it’s not convenient for me.

GOALS:

When I notice that they are taking a delight and interest in something, I need to encourage it. To get excited with them. To ask questions together.
When they ask me all their “why?” questions, I will try not to shut them down, but instead listen, engage, and encourage further independent research. I don’t need to have all the answers to their questions. I do need to encourage them to keep looking for answers, and not throw water on their fire of curiosity with hasty, blank dismissals.

If I am truly busy and truly cannot help, I can either suggest we talk about it at a more opportune time, or give them some materials they can use to start researching independently. If I am busy but simply not wanting to be helpful because I’m in a hurry, I need to repent, give a thoughtful reply and/or encourage them to research.

I need to take the time to teach them skills. When Marcus wants to crack an egg. When Bri wants to tie her shoe. When Marcus wants to know how to spell a word. When Bri wants to help cook dinner.

When we go places and as we go about our work for the day, I try to notice more and help them notice more and tie it into whatever we are learning. We wonder. We ask questions.

When possible/appropriate I should include them in my interests and let them help/watch me.

Modeling (and Requiring) Diligence

My biggest temptation toward laziness during the day is to “cop out” for awhile and browse social media. The kids’ biggest temptation during our mornings is to grumble and complain about their schoolwork and chores.

GOALS:

Limit my time on social media and the internet in general. Do not look at my phone when the children are up/around except for necessary uses or quick checks (responding to certain texts, phone calls, calculator/bills, library orders, other orders, etc.). Spend more of my time in the afternoon on profitable things like reading and writing rather than internet browsing.

Guide the children into paths of faithfulness:

• Scriptural admonition (obedience/diligence/doing all we do for the glory of God)

• Common sense reasoning/big picture perspective (sound mind)

• Teach them to learn to enjoy work

• Fun has its place, but cannot usurp more important things

• Helping them recognize there are rewards to work (reaping and sowing)

• Delayed gratification

• Community/Family/Household dynamics (everyone is needed; we must all work together)

• Projects to encourage them to see and believe truth. Eventually they can keep Heart Journals, do word/Bible studies, etc.

• Discipline/Correction for whining, complaining, and laziness when appropriate

• Modeling faithfulness myself by not grumbling about my own responsibilities, and seeking repentance before God and them when I do.

• Being a present and loving mom. I need to give them my full attention when they are speaking to me or we are doing something together, to communicate that I love each one, to show no favoritism or partiality, and to spend time with them beyond school and chores.

Dealing with Irritations and Bad Attitudes

I am most likely to get irritable or shut down when I feel like my responsibilities just keep piling on me and I can’t complete them in my goal time. This is even more pronounced when the kids are whiny, rowdy, or needy simultaneously. Sometimes I complain when I’m tired.

GOALS:

When tempted to be irritable or complain I need to step back and assess things:

• Am I doing what I need to be doing RIGHT now?

• Can some things wait?

• Do other things need priority?

• Is everything on my agenda for the day even necessary?

• Is it possible to multi-task on some hings, get the kids’ help, etc.? (Work smarter and not harder?)

• Am I practicing good stewardship of my body? (Getting enough sleep and eating well so I don’t become moody/emotional?)

If everything absolutely must be done and I am still overwhelmed at the moment, I can back off, go into the bedroom for a few moments, pray, realign my focus, ask for grace, and consider the big picture.

When I feel the conviction of the Spirit, I can turn my heart to obedience rather than stubborness by taking a moment away. Acknowledge the struggle. Seek repentance before the Lord if I have complained or become irritable/angry (and before my children if needed). Go outside. Take a few moments for giving thanks.

If the kids’ attitudes and behaviors need tending to, I can first readjust mine, then help them with theirs. If I am unable to do that immediately I can send them off to do something for a little bit so I can regain composure and good attitude before trying to deal with theirs. It would be better to deal with their issues “late” than to deal with them in the heat of the moment while angry. Send them to complete a responsibility or to room but do not try to address the issues while I am angry.

I can help my children when they feel stubborn and want their own way by helping them to stop and see the big picture. By reminding them of truth. By helping them see that the good is desirable and right, and evil comes with consequences. I can give them time and space to think. To freely make a choice of obedience. When they fail to I can administer discipline if it is truly required.

Remember to determine if there may be underlying causes to the complaining that may need addressed first: Are they tired? Hungry? Not feeling well? Truly overwhelmed? Deal with each of these issues first.

Continued here

No, Death is Not Beautiful

It was 4:00 in the morning. The phone call and recorded message jerked me awake. I shook Cliff.

“Your mom says your dad fell out of his chair and needs help getting back up.”

Cliff stumbled out of bed and sleepily put some clothes on. A few moments later he headed across the yard to his parents’ house with flashlight in hand.

Too awake now to fall asleep again immediately, I got up and sat on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Then I heard the sirens.

Hurrying to the window, I saw the lights flashing in my in-laws’ driveway. The first vehicle was joined by two more.

It seemed an eternity before I finally saw Cliff coming toward the house again. I met him at the back door…and knew the news was not good.

He was stooped as though having a difficult time breathing, heaving in deeply with tears pouring down his cheeks as raw, visceral emotion was released.

“I think he’s gone.”

We held one another and cried.

* * * * *

Our kids were blessed to live so near Papa they got to see him almost every day. They have some wonderful memories to treasure. Papa would bring Brianna home from work (Daddy sometimes takes her with him in the mornings) and he would always stop at Braums first to get her an ice cream cone. He taught her to play checkers. He sat with the kids this last 4th of July as they squeeled at the sight and sound of the fireworks. If they were involved in a play or presentation with the homeschool group, he was there.  Many times I would look out the window to be greeted by the sight of my son or daughter working alongside their papa in the yard or garden—hauling brush or sticks, cleaning up this or that, carrying firewood to the house.

Despite his failing health, Dad stayed active and industrious. I’ve never seen such a work ethic.  Rain or shine, good health or poor, Dad never let any excuse keep him from working hard and beiproductive. He instilled this strong work ethic and a sense of integrity in all four of his children. As his health failed he never complained about anything. But he had never been a complainer, simply
taking life as it came.

He was a man of few words, believing actions spoke louder. Accordingly, he was well-reputed for his generous support of Christian ministries and missions around the world. He usually had his Bible laid open on his desk where he had been reading it. He loved sitting in his chair, listening to great hymns of the faith, or preaching and teaching.

He had been listening to the preaching of J. Vernon McGee when he passed away.

* * * * *

At 6:30 that morning, our kids (aged 7 and 6) awoke. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would take the news. We sat down with them on the couch and broke it to them as gently as possible. I was surprised that they both took it without any show of emotion. I think they were in some shock and did not grasp the reality of it at the time. But later in the day Bri walked off by herself and cried. The next morning my sister-in-law saw Marcus sitting in a chair, staring at a picture of him and his grandpa together. When she asked him if he was okay he burst into tears, buried his face in the picture, and sobbed his heart out.

The funeral was delayed for a week because one of Cliff’s sisters and her husband were already scheduled to adopt a girl from an orphanage in Bulgaria. Just two days after they all arrived back in the States, we laid Dad’s body to rest. What made it poignantly painful and beautiful at once was to
observe the cycle of life: just as a family member left this world, another was added to the family, and yet another will soon enter (child #3 is due in just a few weeks!).

Death is not a beautiful thing. It’s wrong. Horribly wrong. In trying to come to terms with it the modern consciousness has tried to accept and embrace it as a “normal” and “beautiful” part of life.

But there is nothing inherently normal or good or beautiful about growing old and dying. In view of all life declared “good” in the Garden, it should not be. It is part of the curse that sinful man brought on himself. Death entered through the first Adam.

But the believer finds hope and reason to rejoice—even in death—because Life has come through the Second Adam.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…(…For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Romans 6:12, 17-19

As believers, we sorrow when our loved ones pass on. But we don’t sorrow in the same way as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Christ has triumphed over death—it is described
as an enemy He will destroy at the last (1 Corinthians 15:26). Those who believe in Christ and trust Him for their righteousness have everlasting life. And when believers die they are simply shedding the shell of death which is under the curse and exchanging it for life.

In our morning devotions together the kids and I had just started into The Attributes of God for Kids about a week and a half before Dad passed away. The first one we read in the book is that God is unchanging, therefore we are secure. I had sent the kids out to bring back a piece of an evergreen tree and a leaf from a deciduous tree. We compared them and talked about how God is like the evergreen tree which never fades. We, however, are like the leaves that change and fade with the seasons.

Remembering our little lesson in the week before the funeral, I realized just how timely and appropriate it was. The two pieces of greenery were still sitting in the kitchen so I retrieved them and
sat down with the kids. We compared the two again: the needles from the evergreen looked about the same, but the leaf was curling up and dying. We talked about Papa. And about Jesus. How we change, fade, grow old, and die, but He is unchanging and eternal, and we can put our hope in Him for eternal
life.

Later Cliff talked with them about putting off this old “tabernacle” to be clothed with new life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4, 2 Peter 1:13-14). What we would see in the casket would not be Papa. Papa was with Jesus. He had left the body of death behind. It was a “tent” he didn’t live in or need anymore.

Brianna understood. She excitedly exclaimed, “Just like a bug sheds its ‘skin’!”

From the adjoining room where I overheard her I had to smile to myself at her analogy.

Yet, crude though it may be, it’s not a bad one.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:53-55, 57

No, death is not beautiful.

But the Life Who conquered it is! And Papa is rejoicing in Christ our Life now…

Swim Lessons and Children’s Devotionals

Mom, look at me! I can do it!”

I sweltered in the near mid-day sun next to the pool where my kids were both excitedly calling for my attention, but repeatedly smiled, nodded, and gave them the “thumbs up.”

They were taking their first-ever swimming class.

Water has been a little initimidating for us, so some milestones were observed that first day as Bri ventured off from the reassuring steps and rails and began to actually play in and enjoy the water (even jumping off the diving board!); and Marcus, of his own free will, let himself touch bottom.

The next day it had rained and it was cool, so the instructors did not have anyone get in the pool. Instead, they had the kids watch water safety videos. It was not “swimming,” but it provided some important information.

* * * * *

A few weeks ago while searching Grace and Truth Books  for a gift for someone, I came across Lydia White’s The Attributes of God for Kids. Seeing that it was loosely based on A. W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, I was intrigued. (Yes, an extra book made it into my order. Cue cheesy grin emoji.) IMG_3913

This bright, cheerfully colorful devotional appears exceptionally kid-friendly. Simple and to the point with relatable illustrations (and a touch of reverent humor), this looks like a great doctrinal introduction of the character of God for children.

The book is divided into two parts: the first covers ten of God’s UNIQUE attributes (unchanging, infinite, creator, eternal, self-sufficient, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, and trinity); the second covers eleven of His MORAL attributes (He is good, just, righteous, merciful, gracious, loving, holy, jealous, wise, truthful, and faithful). IMG_3914

Each attribute of God is paired with a very simple symbolic picture; these serve as memory pegs as the kids wind their way through the Attributes chart (free download included; also, stickers can be printed off on Amazon that correspond with a blank spaces chart so kids can fill them in as they go; plus there are free downloadable flashcards and other extras).  IMG_3921

Each attribute is also paired with a corresponding truth about me. Because God is Unchanging, I am Secure. Because God is Gracious, I am Accepted. And so on. This brings these truths down to a personal level—what they mean for me, today. As we learn Who God is, our faith and trust in Him can grow.

Each lesson has its own two-page spread and is broken down into several short sections: a brief explanation, an application (what this truth means for me), suggested Scripture readings, verse to memorize (and even a suggested reading in The Jesus Storybook Bible), a prayer, and Scripture praise songs (from Seeds Family Worship). IMG_3920 

Because I want to extend each attribute to a week-long study, I’m making some notes as I come up with additional activities. And because it’s been by my bed while I’ve been in the process of doing this, I’ve actually been using it in my own worship time in the morning. (Yes, a children’s book!) But its truths are enduring and worship-inducing.

* * * * *

So what do swim lessons and kids’ devotionals have to do with each other?

I’ve just been thinking about the teaching of doctrinal truths to children and the place of books—such as The Attributes of God—in their lives. We read the Bible to our children. We help them memorize Scripture. We read books to them. We inculcate them with doctrinal truths—facts. Yes, plain old facts. These facts in and of themselves are not life-changing. Reading a book about the character of God will not automatically make a child understand Who He really is. Knowing God goes far beyond the academic, piercing more than the frontal lobe of our brain. It is grasped both in life relationship with Christ, and through the Spirit’s illumination of the Word to the believer.

But I believe that ingraining our children’s minds with these truths—these basic facts—about God can be used by Him to draw them to Himself through the work of His Spirit, as they learn that He is good, trustworthy, and sovereign. They have their place. They are not, of themselves, transformative; but in the hand of the Spirit they are tools. They are not Life; but they can point to Life. We pray for our children that truth will awaken their conscience and touch their heart.

Our hope is not in cramming our children’s heads with knowledge; our hope is in the Lord who can take the truth we give these precious little minds and use it to draw them to Himself.

My kids are in Level 1 swimming lessons this week (and next). They don’t actually learn to swim yet, of course. They blow bubbles. They float. They kick. They dunk their heads and bob for rings. Even outside the pool they receive rudimentary instruction on water safety. Is all this a waste of time because it’s not actual, “experiential” swimming?

Of course not. They are being carefully prepared to experience real swimming for themselves. In the final analysis it’s up to them to get in the water and swim. All the books and videos and instruction in the world can’t be a substitute for that. But all this technical instruction is leading up to that by preparing their minds and bodies for it.

In the same way, our children can only truly know God by seeking Him for themselves as He draws them to Himself. They can only experience Him by taking that plunge and casting themselves on Christ. As parents our role is to make the most of the time we have with our children, patiently instructing, line upon rudimentary line. Doctrinal truth upon doctrinal truth. Fact upon fact.

And then, to let them see us “swimming”: “doing life” in Christ. Acknowledging our own daily need of Him. Sincerely seeking to grow in grace, knowledge, and truth.

First steps. First kicks. Even a little bubble-blowing. It’s the way of life. 🙂

 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up…And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates…And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always…

See Deuteronomy 6

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

 

Jeremiah 9:24