Reveling in the glory and beauty of everyday life... all the mess and chaos of raising five little girls!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Accepting Our Children

 A year or so ago, I came across a book by Rachael Carman called How to Have a H.E.A.R.T. for your Children. I loved it. This homeschooling mom of seven had so much insight to share, and she shared it with tender humor and such clear love for her kiddos.  I kept thinking I wanted to plan a mom's tea and use her acronym as a springboard for a devotional/discussion time, but I never did it. Something about busyness and weariness and being terrified of speaking in front of groups. 

The section of her book that most pierced my heart was the 'A' chapter. Acceptance.  She talked about accepting our children as gifts - about speaking of them as treasures, about responding with joy when the Lord fills our wombs with His priceless creations.  But, beyond the general acceptance of our children as gifts from the Lord (and the never referring to an unexpected blessing as an 'oops!'), she also wrote about accepting the unique design of our individual children.  It seems obvious; we would never reject our children, would we? But it spoke profoundly to me.

If you are anything like me, you dreamed of being a mom.  And you thought your children would emerge from the womb sweet, compliant, utterly delightful, and very much like yourself in personality. Don't get me wrong. There are many aspects of my flawed personality that I hoped my husband's chromosomes would overpower. But, I did not imagine they would be so completely different than me in personality and will.  I also think I forgot that every new baby is born into sin. :)

I have one sweet daughter who is so different from her mama. She is not a quiet people-pleaser.  She is not naturally prone to give others the right-of-way.  She is strong and brash, and feisty. She is more rough-and-tumble than gentle and calm (though in some contexts she is a very tender nurturer).  There are many facets of every personality, but I have to admit, there are times when I have wondered (mid-battle, when those particular traits rear strong) how on earth this wonderful, wily child is actually flesh of my flesh. And I have begged the Lord to change her. 

Rachael's book convicted my heart.  God did not err when He knit the complex personality of my little girl. He didn't mess up. He created her with a purpose. A plan. And all of those traits that I struggle to tame and to accept are a part of His perfect plan for her little life. 

So, I had to pray. I had to acknowledge before God that I had sinned by wishing He had made His child differently.  I had to open my hands and pray for an ability to accept my little girl whole-heartedly, recognizing that her personality is a gift, and not a curse. She was not just created to teach me patience, but to bring God glory! And she will bring Him glory through the grid of her unique personality.

All of us tend towards sinfulness in certain areas - natural bents toward particular struggles. So, there are times when my daughter's personality leads her to sin in particular ways. But, I am learning that my job and my prayer is not to change her quirks and characteristics; it is to direct her to use them in God-honoring ways instead of following selfish patterns.  It's to channel her unique design and teach her to use her bright-eyed determination in His ways.

Oh, my four girls are so different from one another. And they are so different from me! And while I tell them daily that they are my delight and my treasure (and I mean it!) there are times when it is hard to delight in them.  I want to take those aspects of who they are that drive me crazy and just tweak 'em a little.  But instead I need to thank God for the unique ways He molded their hearts and minds, and pray for wisdom to disciple them in the right ways - to reach their hearts and partner with Him in shaping them for His glory. I have no idea how He will use them - but I believe He will.  And as God is teaching me to accept them - just as they are - I am trying to instill that thought in their brains.  "God has plans for you. Dream big! How do you think He wants to use you, today?" 

I love my girls! But I have much to learn about cultivating their hearts and minds for God's glory as I accept their uniqueness and love them for who they are.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Learning to Read

Teaching my girls to read is one of my greatest joys in life. I love, love, love to read. And I love, love, love reading to my children. There is nothing better than a rainy day and a basket of books to share. I wanted to share a little about the different journeys to "fluent reader" that my daughters have taken - because the path has looked different for all of them, and I didn't expect that! 

I learned to read when I was very young, and from my mom's stories, I learned without much assistance.  It just came naturally.  So, I think I was caught off guard to discover that reading is very much a process of learning - not an automatic skill. 

When I first began to ponder homeschooling options, I decided quickly that clear phonics was my preferred route, rather than sight-word teaching. Funny thing? I didn't really know phonics! :) I had to learn the sounds of the seventy basic phonograms, and I am still muddling through some of the more complicated, extra ones. I ended up trying several different programs, reading many books, and eventually learning that the process and the methods need to look a little different for every kiddo. 

With Elisa, I used primarily The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. This book by Jessie Wise has scripted, short lessons which are phonics-based but contained enough of a story and game component to keep my Ellie-girl interested.  She loved reading stories with Mom, so she was excited to learn - but it came painstakingly.  It was hard work! Decoding was a challenge, but her progress was steady. Sometime near the end of kindergarten, Ellie had a breakthrough. She realized that all those phonics drills and sentences were teaching her to read! She grabbed a chapter book off the shelf and read most of Sarah, Plain and Tall to herself when we thought she was sleeping. Ta-da! She could read.  

Sadie was my girl who just wanted to snuggle and hear Mama read. She didn't want to learn letter sounds. She didn't want to practice sounding out words.  Learning her first 26 phonograms took a long time, and it was a struggle. The Ordinary Parent's Guide was a flop for her. She needed the motivation of complete stories, and something a bit more "colorful" than those scripted lessons in black and white. Enter All About Reading.  We used the first two levels of All About Reading during late Pre-K and Kindergarten. They are fantastic, holistic, fun, and have super cute (though still black and white) story books, along with simple games to play. Sadie made slow progress - eventually learning to decode simple words.  Often, I would help her out by reading one page, then having her read the next. She needed that reward of listening to Mommy instead of struggling through a whole story on her own.  Late in kindergarten, a friend from our co-op shared that her sister (in New Mexico) had just published a series of Bible readers.  Sadie loves the Bible - so I thought they might boost her excitement a bit. We followed the recommendations to read each story several days in a row, and somehow, the combination of repetition and her love for God's Word worked a little miracle.  Her fluency dramatically improved, and she began to take pride (and joy) in reading out loud.  By the time we finished the seven book series (found at Me and Thee Studios online) Sadie was reading well. She entered first grade as an avid reader - reading well above grade level. She still prefers picture books to chapter books, though, because she has such a sensitive little heart and can't handle anything intense or scary. 

Raina just turned five. She was jumping at the bit to start a phonics program, and, because I thought she might go to kindergarten at JHCA, I was eager to teach her early reading skills at home during this pre-K year. I wanted to have the joy of seeing that little light turn on. So, I set a goal of teaching her to read this year.  It turned out that I didn't need to set that goal - because she already had her heart set on accomplishing it.  We started with All About Reading and quickly raced through Level One. By the time I started Level Two with her, she could sit down and just read the storybooks - fluently and with ease. There was very little of that halting, painstaking, slow decoding. She just started to read. Because my older kiddos' learned much more incrementally, that still amazes me. Today, she can pick up chapter books from big sisters' shelves (she loves Ramona and the new Amelia Bedelias) and read a chapter without much help.  She just loves it. Like a duck to water, that one.  She is actually going to stay at home with me for kindergarten while the older two continue at the Classical Academy, and I am so grateful.

My three girls are so different! I think I expected reading to be a bit more formulaic that it has proved in our family.  The resources we have used have been wonderful - but the journeys to reading fluency were so different.  If you are teaching little ones to read - my encouragement is to enjoy reading to them as much as you can, trusting that a love for stories will eventually grow into reading ability.  For most kiddos, learning phonics is key to being a proficient reader - but every child will learn at a different pace, and different tools might spark their interests. I did not expect repetition to be so key for my Sadie; in fact I steered away from it initially because I wanted her to be decoding phonics, not memorizing words! Do what works for your children! Make the everyday reading lesson non-negotiable (if you are at that point), but bracket it with lots of snuggles, stories, and praise. Make tea, nestle close, and pray for patience and grace - because, honestly, even though reading with our kids is a delight, it can also be a challenge.  Listening to a new reader sound out consonant-vowel-consonant words for twenty minutes can feel sort of tortuous without a dose of supernatural patience.  It takes a bit of intentionality to revel in the process and not feel frustrated by a lack of progress.  Purpose and pray to enjoy it - whether they are advanced or perhaps a bit uninterested.

Happy Reading! 

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Few Good Reads

I always have a stack of books I am working through, and I am sure you do, too.  Right now, I am making my way through a few leftovers I bought with Christmas money, a couple re-reads, and a couple I bought off when their bargain bin was on sale (making a few slightly imperfect books less that 4$ each).

I always enjoy hearing what others are reading, so I thought I'd share my stack with you.

  • Sally Clarkson, Own Your Life.  It's no secret that I feel a strong sense of kinship with Sally Clarkson. Her books have shaped so much of my philosophy of parenting, and she is such a gentle-spirited, wise lady.  While Own Your Life is not my favorite of her many books, it is still wonderful. My husband took issue with the title, because he said (and I agree), "we are not supposed to own our lives. We're supposed to surrender them to Christ." The truth is, Sally's thesis is actually that taking ownership of lives and choosing to live intentionally in every realm is done by first submitting to the Lord.  Her encouragement is choose to live with bold faith and deep intention - to not allow our lives to be wasted. It's a great book that goes beyond her messages on motherhood to encompass all stages of life.  
  • Gloria Furman, Treasuring Christ When your Hands are Full.  I love, love, love this book. Sometimes I read a book on motherhood, and, instead of encouraging me, I feel weighed down by the heavy load of all I "ought" to be doing. Have you been there? Gloria doesn't try to tell you how to be a good mama. Instead, she focuses on how the gospel message intersects with each and every motherhood challenge. She is refreshingly real and honest about the messes of daily life with little ones - and she points mothers to Christ, who is supreme over every challenge or disaster. 
  • Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, Trim Health Mama. A few friends have been raving about this book, so I decided I'd better check it out.  I am pretty cautious when it comes to nutrition books - because I know it is easy to jump on the bandwagon of a certain fad and then discover that the research was wrong and that a more balanced approach is wiser.  Also - my husband strongly discourages major changes in our family's eating.  I have tried over the years to make changes in certain areas, but I have learned that I best honor him when I balance healthy, whole-food meals with tasty treats and moderate amounts of fats and sugar.  This book is a  balanced and humorous approach to eating wisely while still incorporating every food group. I am actually thoroughly enjoying it! 
  • John MacArthur, The Silent Shepherd. I greatly appreciate MacArthur's theology and I love using his study Bible to help me through tough passages of Scripture. This book on the ministry of the Holy Spirit is helpful and sound...  but I have to admit that if I read it in bed, I fall asleep. :) 
  •  The Duggars, A Love that Multiplies. We don't have TV, so I am not a Duggar follower. But, I think Michelle Duggar is an amazing mama, and, as our family grows, I feel like I need to glean from the organizational tips and tricks of women who manage large families well. Five kiddos is a small family compared to theirs, but it seems big as I ponder the chaos that already consumes our home at times.  This book was an easy read, full of personal stories and lots of wisdom about handing life's challenges with patience and grace.  I want to read their first book, now, because I think it has more of the practical tidbits I was looking for.  
  • Francis Chan, You and Me Forever.  Erik and I have been reading through this one simultaneously.  As always, Chan approaches his topic with an eternal perspective. Marriage is not meant to be just enjoyed; it is meant to display the Gospel. We are still near the beginning, but I am excited about studying and growing together. 
What's in your book stack?