Thursday, July 1, 2010

The World’s Best Husband

Men, do you want to know how to earn your wife’s “World’s Best Husband Award”? Okay, okay, some of you are saying, “It’s automatically me because I’m my wife’s only husband.” You’re right…at least I hope so! But I mean do you want to be that husband about whom all the other wives in the homeschool support group go, “Ooooohhhh, I wish my husband would think of something like that for me!”? Well, here’s the secret: take all the kids with you for a day and give your wife some time alone, in her own house, uninterrupted for several hours of relaxation and refreshment. It may cost you some sanity and some time, but you can create wonderful memories with your children while your wife relishes a bubble bath without some little fist knocking at the door the entire time, or she enjoys reading a book without having to set it down every three minutes to get someone else a juice cup or wipe someone’s nose, or whatever else your loving wife may dream of doing in her own space during a day of uninterrupted freedom.

I’m speaking from recent personal experience, mind you. My loving husband has been on the road almost non-stop for the past four months, doing sixteen conventions and book shows to provide for our family. But he realizes that I have not been home in my own sanctuary alone (for longer than ninety minutes, that is) since early February. He knows that I am nearing the breaking point emotionally and mentally, struggling to provide for my children with a cheerful and willing attitude. So what did he do this week? He packed up six kids, five bikes, sleeping bags, some clothes and bug repellent, and s’mores fixings in order to take the gang camping overnight so I could have a complete day to myself. Those are the makings of a “World’s Best Husband” nominee. Thank you, Hon. I think you’re the Best Husband winner of 2010 (and 2009, and 2008, and….all the way back to 1990)!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ta-dah’s, Olive Plants, and Other Musings

Our sixth child, Benjamin, has been the most active and mischievous of all our children. He’s the kind of child who climbs the shelves in the pantry so he can stack soup cans six and seven high; he runs any place he wishes…not walks, but runs; and he goes to sleep kicking his foot against the mattress (but he’ll sleep no more than eight hours at a time, regardless of how active the previous day has been). Sigh. This forty-four-year-old mom is feeling the effects of such an energetic little guy.
Last night, as I was attempting to put Ben down for bed, he kept calling out, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…” Finally, I said, “What is it, Ben?” He promptly pointed to a stuffed animal he had suspended high between the rungs of his crib and sing-songed, “Ta-dah!” Goofball. (He gets it from his daddy, I’m certain.) Of course, I had to chuckle and give him a kiss, thanking him for reminding me why it’s so wonderful to have little ones in the family. And then I thanked God for giving me another olive plant to grow.
My heart is frequently reminded of Psalms 127 and 128 as I look around my quiver-full of arrows or table-full of olive plants. In this case, the idea that comes to mind is it takes fifteen years of cultivating an olive plant to become a tree that produces fruit. Ben has another thirteen years or so under our training and tutelage to prepare him for the fruitful service we pray he will choose to give our Savior. Have I used the two years already behind us as wisely in that training as I should have? What will the next thirteen years hold? I don’t know the answers for certain to those questions, but I know the best place to be is to be a woman “who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways” (Ps. 128:1) because that is where the blessing is assured (Ps. 128:4).
One more thought about our olive plants, while it takes fifteen years of grooming and cultivating to produce a plant that is fruitful, it’s encouraging to know that an olive tree will produce fruit for over a hundred years. That means we’re heading into another generation of godliness and productivity, by the God’s grace and will. Wouldn’t it be great to have an olive grove of numerous ages or generations of trees producing fruit for our Lord and Master? May it be so for all of us. “Ta-dah!”

Friday, June 11, 2010

One Down, Five to Go….

Fifteen or so years ago, I distinctly remember thinking, “Okay, Lord, I’ll be willing to teach my children at home, at least up to high school.” And then as junior high and high school approached, I prayed, “Yes, Lord, I’ll consider teaching the children through high school. Please, just don’t make me teach them chemistry or government.” Now, over a decade into our actual teaching adventure, I’m standing on the other side of the bank and saying, “I have a high school graduate who survived me as his teacher for twelve years – even through chemistry! How did we get to this point?” Well, it suddenly occurred to me as I was watching my oldest son hugging people and shaking hands with those who were congratulating him on his achievement: We got to this point the same way we got through learning to read, memorizing multiplication tables, and practicing how to write a logical paper; we got here by God’s grace. Did I think that His grace was not sufficient enough to get us through chemistry, for heaven’s sake? By God’s grace, Derek (our eldest) will continue to develop academically, to grow in his understanding of God’s will for his future, and will desire to do God’s will. And by God’s grace, we’ll get through the five students who are remaining in our little “academy” in the woods of Elyria, Ohio. To God be the glory, because it is only by His grace!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

He was a native of Germany, but he lived in England for nearly fifty years, even becoming an English citizen. The Queen of England gave him a yearly stipend to keep him in the court as the royal composer. When he died, nearly 3,000 mourners attended his funeral, showing the love and appreciation the people of England had for this man. He was buried with honor in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. Who was he? George Frederic Handel was a man of musical genius, generosity, and faith.

Handel was exceptionally generous. He sent frequent monetary gifts to the widow of one of his first music teachers, for example. This music teacher, Friedrich Zachau, only worked with young Handel for three years, but Handel never forgot the musical training and appreciation for lifelong learning that Zachau gave him.

Handel demonstrated generosity by frequently directing presentations of Messiah for charitable fundraisers for such causes as a foundling hospital and debtors’ prisons. He cared for widows and orphans, perhaps because he never married and had a family of his own. He once bought a home for his chief musical secretary. And he generously shared his music with the people of England and Europe, frequently attending performances to direct the works himself.

But it is Handel’s faith that is most impressive. He desired that his music would make people better, and songs such as the “Hallelujah Chorus,” “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and “Rejoice, the Lord is King” (in which he supplied the music for Charles Wesley’s words) indicate what Handel believed would make people better: a knowledge of Christ as personal Savior and Lord.

Handel was given the title of “Father of the Oratorio.” His most well-known oratorio is Messiah, which uses several different Biblical texts to relate the birth, passion, and resurrection of Christ. (An oratorio, by the way, is a composition, usually of a religious nature, for choruses and soloists, sung without costuming, scenery, or staging.) The musical masterpiece Messiah was written in less than a month. 260 pages of text and music in twenty-four days! That is true musical genius.

His musical talents are evident in over forty operas, numerous oratorios, church music, choral music, orchestra and chamber pieces, keyboard music, and some secular vocal works. One of his most unique works is the Water Music Suite, which was composed to ease King George I’s anger at Handel for leaving Germany to work in England. When King George was crowned King of England, barges with the royal court floated through London on the Thames to introduce the citizens to their new monarch. Handel composed the Water Music Suite especially for an outdoor performance, particularly for the echoing effects of wide open spaces on the river. Furthermore, Handel conducted the orchestra from a barge as if floated along with the royal court’s procession through London.

You can learn more about the “Father of the Oratorio,” this talented man of generosity and faith, by reading Handel at the Court of Kings, by Opal Wheeler. And you can hear his genius by listening to any of his works – including Water Music Suite, Music for the Royal Fireworks, Messiah, or his Harpsichord Suites.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at unique moments in the lives of several key composers in musicology. These moments in time are to make the composers a bit more approachable and real to students (and some teachers) who may be a little leery of getting involved with classical music because they feel intimidated by it. We need to recognize that these composers were real people who faced hardships, worked diligently, and had very personal reasons for composing the music they did. Understanding a bit more about their lives makes their music even richer and more enjoyable.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

J.S. Bach was from a large family of musicians, and passed along that love for music and composing to his own children. He had twenty children, so he definitely did his part to continue the musical legacy. Typically, he is referred to as J.S. Bach or as Sebastian because within the Bach family there were fifty-three individuals with the name Johann. In his own family of twenty children, five of his sons had that same first name, and two of his daughters were named Johanna! His early career was devoted to working as an organist, and he later served in the courts of the Grand Duke of Weimar and young Prince Leopold in Germany. In his final years of work, he was employed as the cantor at the St. Thomas Choir School, in Leipzig. This responsibility also included supplying music for the five principal churches in the area.

While he wrote music for nearly every genre of his time, because of his involvement in so many churches, his choral music production is unrivaled. He had to compose new music for the churches each week. J.S. Bach’s Lutheran background influenced much of his writing, and he often used specific selections of Scripture to carry his musical theme. He wrote nearly three hundred cantatas (choral works of some length that usually include solo voices and instrumental accompaniments), plus numerous masses, oratorios, and passions (musical settings of biblical texts revealing the life of Christ up to the crucifixion).

J.S. Bach had large hands, which could stretch across twelve notes on a clavier or keyboard. He was also revolutionary in performing running passages or scales with his three middle fingers, something that had never been tried before. Actually, his abilities as an organist were better known than his work as a composer during his lifetime. It is said that Bach would even use a stick in his mouth to reach certain notes on the organ’s keyboard that he couldn’t otherwise reach with his hands.
While he wrote more than one thousand works, 75% of which were for church worship services, only ten of J.S. Bach’s compositions were ever published in his lifetime! Now, however, he is considered the “Father of Modern Music” because of his influence on other composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms. Furthermore, Bach’s works are available throughout the solar system – literally. In 1977, the Voyager spacecraft was launched deep into our solar system. Included in that spacecraft was a gold-plated record on which three of Bach’s pieces are recorded, and the very first communication on the record is Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.

Want to learn more about Johann Sebastian Bach? Try the wonderful family read-aloud Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia, by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher.

Monday, February 8, 2010

World Geography

How do we develop an appreciation for other cultures, establish a solid understanding of where countries are in our world, and encourage our children to distinguish worldviews from other regions of the globe? We teach world geography, of course! Around the World in 180 Days is the resource we have been using this year for social studies. It’s a combination of geography, history, culture, and religion for each of the continents (yes, even including Antarctica).

The course is designed for all ages of student, providing daily questions to answer in each of the four subject areas listed above. In addition, Mrs. Payne has listed extra research project ideas, supplemental reading suggestions, biography lists, and mapping activities for each continent. Separate student manuals may be purchased, or you are allowed to copy the manual for family use. There is a teacher’s answer key supplied for all the daily questions, as well.

We have used Uncle Josh’s Outline Maps for the mapping exercises, various biography suggestions for read-alouds while we’re in a particular region of the world, and the 10 Days in Africa (or other continents) Board Game to fill out our study of an area. The children have been learning better Internet research methods, the countries and their capitals (or at least have been introduced to them), and current event topics related to particular countries.

The course is intended as a full-year study of the seven continents. Some regions require more time than others because of their sheer size or the number of countries being studied. But the program is very user-friendly, can be self-directed, and is a family-friendly approach to learning world geography. We’ve been blessed by the study this year! I can’t promise that I’ll remember where Muscat, the capital of Oman, is located on a map. But thanks to Around the World in 180 Days, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll remember what portion of the world contained Oman (and, I hope, be able to identify the country correctly on a map), and what its cultural and religious characteristics are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It was one of those days...

It was one of those days that I had been thinking, “Anytime You want to take me Home, Lord, I’m ready.” It wasn’t anything major, mind you. Rather, it was all the little irritations and frustrations of life that were exhausting me and making me yearn even more for Glory. It was the fussy infant who wouldn’t be quiet unless he was being held; it was the husband leaving me home with all of the children so he could serve as a deacon at church; it was the tears during spelling for my sixth grader; it was my oldest son asking for last-minute help on a college composition; it was my four-year-old yelling for help from the potty; it was the pile of dishes in the sink, and the pile of laundry in the dryer, and the pile of toys scattered all over the house; it was the ungraded schoolwork sitting on the table…. Well, you get the idea. It was a typical day of home schooling (at least at my house). What a day! It was not one of those days I wanted to number as Psalm 90:12 exhorts us to do: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

It was that very verse, nonetheless, that prompted me to do a bit more research into its author and its surrounding verses. Psalm 90 is actually a psalm of Moses, who my Bible notes was “the man of God,” in the subheading of that psalm. Moses was more than Israel’s leader in the exodus from Egypt. Deuteronomy 34:5 defines him as “the servant of the LORD.” He was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, but “[h]is eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished” (Deut. 34:7). Don’t skip over that concept too quickly. This is a man who had led thousands of Jews from Egypt to Israel, a man who had every right to be weary in every sense of the word, but he is a man of vigor and dynamic action even at 120! In fact, Moses has a place in history that is unrivaled. There is not another prophet like Moses who has ever arisen in Israel, “whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10).

So when the prophet, this leader, this servant of the LORD, this psalmist of Psalm 90 instructs us to take note of our days and weigh them out, we need to heed his counsel. It’s interesting to note that in that same psalm, just a few verses before we’re told to number our days, Moses points out that “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow…” (Ps. 90:10). He warns us our lives will be full of toil and sorrow, but then he reminds us why we need to count our days – so that “we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

God doesn’t put me through difficult home school days just for His own pleasure (which would be rather warped) or so I can do a better job of teaching my children than some other teacher at any other school. No, He wants me to gain a heart of wisdom. It is ridiculous how many times I have failed to learn that lesson or believe its truth.

I’m more than halfway through my expected lifespan now. Generally, I do not feel undiminished natural vigor on my own. And therein rests my problem: I’m not relying on God’s grace and mercy. Moses was a man of God, a servant of the LORD. It was because of that deep personal relationship with God that Moses could be a man of usefulness and energy. And it was because of Moses’ reliance on God’s mercy that he could exclaim, “Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our day!” (Ps. 90:14)

Moreover, at the end of this psalm, Moses reminds us that a wise heart is one that strives to glorify God and serve Him.

Let Your work appear to your servants,
And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands.
(Ps. 90:16, 17)

We need to be people that weigh out each day, enumerate our days... not just in anticipation of Christ’s return or of life in Heaven (though we are to hope with earnest expectation for those things), but also in light of the truth that we can gain hearts of wisdom that will glorify God and establish the work of our hands to His honor and praise.

We serve a God who is changeless (Ps. 90:1), ageless (v. 2), timeless (v. 4), righteous (vv. 7-9), and matchless (v. 17). May we finish our lives strong, like Moses. And may we be women and men of God and dedicated servants of the Lord. Our days are numbered. May we pursue lives that are clear testimonies of our Savior and His love.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Taking time to notice

I almost walked by…. I still had the ironing to do, and I had hoped to work on the next day’s lesson plans, so I almost ignored the light in the library when I came downstairs from putting the four younger kids to bed. The Holy Spirit kept tugging me towards the library, however, and blessed me with one of the most meaningful and mature conversations I’ve ever had with my oldest son. We sat and talked about a relationship in his youth group that has been puzzling and troubling him for several months now, and we ended the nearly hour-long conversation with prayer and a hug. Could life get any better? But I almost missed this moment because I was more focused on my own agenda than on the people God has given me to impact (and learn from) on a daily basis. Thank You, God, for being so patient and long-suffering towards me. Help me focus on my family more than my to-do list. The benefits are always so much greater!