Monday, September 30, 2013

How God Measures Us

This is an object lesson I used with a middle school class at church a couple of years ago.

Need: tape measure, 10 commandments, scale

Measure 3 girls...give height in inches, feet, yards.

I can use this tape measure to measure how tall you are, or I can measure cloth or the room or anything else I want. I can measure you in other ways too – I can use a scale to get your weight in grams, pounds or use a big scale to weigh an elephant even in the tons!

It is important to have standards of weights and measures. You’ve probably heard the story of long ago when a foot was really a foot. So, if you wanted a foot of lumber, you'd measure with your foot. What is the problem with that system? [Everybody’s foot is a different size!] So, our country set up standard measurements. A foot equals 12 inches – all the time! (Perfect for my dad!  He wears size 12.) The butcher who sells you a pound of meat, always means 16 oz. The government has people who go around and make sure that the scales are accurate and conform to the standards so that no one gets cheated.

But, our standards don’t work everywhere in the world. In Europe, they use the metric system. There, you wouldn’t ask for a yard of cloth, you would ask for a meter. But the meter is always a meter.

Did you know that God also has a standard of measure? He doesn’t measure us according to the height of our body, but according to our moral character. He measures to see whether we are good or bad. God’s standard of measure is found in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we have the 10 Commandments. Every one in this room has broken at least one of these commandments. I know because Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!”

The only one who never sinned, who lived a perfect life, was Jesus Christ. He came to set a perfect example for us to imitate.

God’s moral law is a perfect law. Psalms says “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” In France, the standard may be different from here, but with God’s law, the standards are the same everywhere, all the time. It is wrong to lie and steal in France and it is wrong to lie and steal here in America – or anywhere else in the universe! It is wicked now to swear or murder and it was always wicked. It was just as wicked 3,000 years ago as it is today. God has only one standard for all people, for all time.

God requires even you young ladies to be pure and holy. And He requires it of us adults too. If it is wrong for a preacher to go see a particular movie, it is also wrong for you. We will all be measured by the same standard.

At the end of our lives, or when the Day of Judgement comes, God will measure each of us according to HIS standard. Not by whether you THINK you were good enough and TRIED hard, but by the absolutes of His word. If you have broken one commandment, the Bible says you have broken them all. Think about it like a set of fancy teacups and saucers. If you break one, you have broken the whole set – it cannot be perfect! So, none of us will measure up.  But, God provided a way to give us the extra inches we need – thru Jesus Christ. If you give your life to Him and let Him live through you – then God measures Jesus when it is your turn! He takes our place – just like He took our place on the cross. Make sure you have a relationship with Him...keep growing in Him...that leads to measuring up and fitting thru the ONE door to Heaven. If you don’t fit, there is only one alternative – Hell, and separation from God for eternity.

If I had measured you a year ago, and then again tonight, I bet I would find that you had grown some. Probably an inch or two.  Just as you have been growing in height, you should also be growing in Jesus Christ and into His character. You should be making progress towards being holy. You should be lying less, stealing less, murdering less, taking God’s name in vain less, and honoring your parents more than you did last year. You should be thinking more about others than about yourself – more so than last year.

You remember the story of Jesus preaching in the temple when He was 13? The Bible says there that He went home obediently with His parents and grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. Stature is height...but Jesus also grew in wisdom and in favor with God and man. I hope that you are growing in wisdom and in favor with God and man. If you want to grow, you must read the Bible and pray! And don’t just read the Bible – do what it says.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vacation 101

Ask a kid what he likes best about school and he’ll either say “lunch” or “vacation!” As homeschoolers, we’ve found the flexibility to do more traveling than the typical school setting might allow.

Because we don’t follow the normal 180-day schedule, we can find off-season days to head to the beach or the mountains. This helps the budget quite a bit! (I have to admit here that my amazing world-traveling mother-in-law has also helped us frequently get to where we want to go!)

Over the years, we panned for gold in the Yukon, we measured the great sequoia in California, we walked on that Great Wall in China, we played quoits in Williamsburg, we dipped our fingers in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, we traveled in trains, planes, automobiles and houseboats. We are now preparing for one of the most complicated itineraries we’ve ever faced: a Mediterranean tour including stops in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel.

Planning for vacations can be overwhelming. I can remember being overwhelmed by our first vacation with our first baby. We just wanted to spend a weekend at the beach. Is that so hard? It can be when you need a car seat, baby crib, playpen, beach umbrella, beach toys, baby food, and, oh yes, diapers!

My husband and I started a pattern then that we have followed ever since:

1. We make an itinerary. I type up a “formal document” that lists the days we will be traveling in the left column, then a column with the information about where we will be staying (hotels, tents, or houses) and what we will do while there. In the third column, I track the estimated amount of time for the drive or the visit to the museum or other point of interest. In the final column, I track the prices for lodging, attractions, restaurants, etc. (The 4-column approach doesn't work on this blog-site, so I just put the hours and cost next to each event.) Here is what one day of our last vacation looked like:

Day     Time     Destination/Hrs/Cost
9/15     9:30a      Breakfast at Hotel (FREE)
                           Drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga, TN (1½ hr)
            12:00n     Eat picnic lunch at Lookout Mountain?
                            Visit Ruby Falls & Lookout Mountain (open 8a-8p daily)
                                    1720 S. Scenic Highway, Chattanooga, TN
                               Take Guided Tour of Ruby Falls (1½ hr) ($18/pp)
                                     Wear sneakers & jacket (60-65 degrees)
                               Stay at La Quinta Chattanooga/Hamilton Place ($69)
                                      7017 Shallowford Rd, Chattanooga, TN
                                     Conf#________ (LQ Returns #______)
             6:00p         Eat dinner at Fazoli’s (same road/across street) ($8/pp)
                                      2332 Shallowford Village Drive, Chattanooga, TN

My husband likes running up the expenses in column 4 and making sure he knows how much money to prepare to spend.  The timelines are guesses and remain generally flexible.  We keep the itinerary in a folder for that specific vacation along with any mapquest directions, hotel confirmation forms and other paperwork we need while traveling.

When looking for lodging, we have a few things we generally look for:

a) price (of course)...I feel gypped if I spend over $100/night, and I go for lower when I can. However, you have to balance safety, comfort, and cleanliness with price. Don’t sacrifice a good night’s sleep for an extra $10.

b) location...I try to find a place near an interesting activity or sight (of course).

Everybody does that. But, what we really love is finding places that have:

c) indoor pools...if there is any boring moment, we can always swim; plus great to stretch out after a long drive!

d) in-room helpful so we can bring supplies to make lunches to take with us whenever possible.

e) free breakfast...this is a huge time/money/space saver. We don’t have to carry as much food. We can just go downstairs and not have to make breakfast or look for a restaurant. Eating out at restaurants can get really expensive!

2. We make a packing list. I keep all of my packing lists on the computer so the next time we go on vacation, I can browse through and see what we packed before for a similar vacation. For instance, we have a favorite hotel we like to stay at when we go to the beach (Sun Viking) and every time we go there, I just modify that list for our current needs (no more diapers!) and save it with the current year in the file name.

Our list of things to pack includes clothing, accessories, hygiene, medicines, games/toys, and food items as needed. I check things off as they go into the suitcase or car (or whatever). Of course, other special items like cameras, pillows, identification, money, and other things are listed as needed as well. Some vacations require more “stuff” than others. Last week, we were houseboating in Kentucky, and took along a lot of camping-type supplies (flashlights, fishing poles/bait, star and bird watching charts) that we would never consider taking on an airplane ride to New York City. Every packing list is tailored to the specific trip’s needs.

3. We make a countdown. For bigger or more exciting trips, I often print up little squares with numbers. Usually the pictures that go along with the numbers related to the trip – a cruise ship or an airplane or in the case of our upcoming Mediterranean tour, we have the Pantheon, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum included. Each day, the kids take turns pulling off one number and we get closer and closer to leaving. When I forget (or get too lazy) for this step, my (now high school aged) children remind me over and over again – so it really does help build excitement!

4. We make it educational. Now, don’t get carried away thinking that we make some huge effort or bore our kids to death on vacation. We really don’t. But, we try to find one or two things that make the brain function while we take a break from “regular school.” There are lots of ways to do this. In that first beach vacation with a preschooler, we just made an attempt to notice things. For instance, let’s talk about that salty water you just swallowed. See that horizon line? Oooh! Look at that crab! In later years, we could refer back to those things during science class – remember when...

On other trips (at the initial suggestion by my MIL), we’ve collected water or sand samples. We have a whole array of little plastic bottles of water on the shelf from the Red, Dead and Mediterranean Seas, the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. We didn’t do anything “educational” on the vacation but collect the water (the more exotic “flavors” were given to us by my traveling MIL) but later, at home, we compared salinity or color.

In the Sequoia forest (at the suggestion of my BIL/SIL who live near there), we took a ball of yarn. We found the fattest tree we could and tried to hug it all around. Failing that, we used the yarn and now have a cool souvenir that reminds us exactly how big – and it is really, really big – that tree really was.

Some trips were perfect for history or cultural instruction. On the drive from California to Washington, we took along little history books for each state we were driving through. My kids love to read, so it was no big deal to ask them to read those along the way and get a feel for the places and things we would see. On the trip to China, we studied up before-hand on geography, history and culture. We learned some common phrases (hello, thanks, where’s the bathroom) and customs.

Everywhere we can, we make sure to visit museums, science centers, planetariums, living history centers, and zoos in various places. We’ve taken tours of government buildings, factories, historical houses, and farms. There is such a vast variety of things you can do that don’t look like “school” along the way. I tend to google “fun things to do in...” wherever we are going and I usually get more lists than I know what to do with. We don’t do everything, we can’t afford everything, and we don’t have time for everything. We pick one or two things that fit our time, our interest (or the interest we are trying to build) and our budget. We had no idea we were interested in wallabies until we met the cutest pair last week at the Creation Museum in Kentucky! We’ll be following up that trip with a trip to the library to research about how we can get our own pair! (Not likely, but fun to think about.)

One of my son’s favorite trips was Patriot’s Point in South Carolina. He would not have been interested in touring a plantation at that time. He was (and is) all about the air craft carrier and submarine tours that we took there. One of my daughter’s favorite places was our Williamsburg/Yorktown/Jamestown adventure. She loved just running around on the redoubts at Yorktown, watching the glassblower and silversmith at Williamsburg, and trying to hoe the garden at the living history museum in Jamestown. We weren’t being overtly educational, but I think we all learned a lot from those trips.

In the long run, our main goals are always to be together and be relaxed and have fun. Having the itinerary and the packing list help us keep organized and sane. And we also take on age-appropriate challenges of learning things like: saying common phrases in Chinese or another local language, counting foreign currency, trying out some hypotheses, reading about and absorbing the places we visited. For our next trip, we are looking forward not only to seeing the amazing architecture and bringing biblical history to life, but also trying all the flavors of gelato that we can fit in!*

*update: Mediterranean vacation complete and both Italian and Greek gelato flavors have been evaluated. However, more tests may be needed in the future to validate our results.  ;o)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Keep the Faith, Baby

Ten and a half years ago when we started homeschooling, there was lots of pessimistic encouragement in the form of “It’s worth a try; you can’t mess up kindergarten.” In other words, never fear, for if (or when) you fail at this endeavor, the schools are still waiting to take your children and they could undo anything horrible that you did. 

Now, as my youngest enters high school, I find less people with encouraging words – even those who homeschool themselves. There is this idea that high school should be hard and not only should I not be able to teach most of it, but my kids must be missing something. I’ve heard moms say, “Aren’t you freaking out? Aren’t you worried? Aren’t you afraid?” 

I check in with my kids pretty regularly – I mean, I see them pretty much all day, every day, and we do talk about stuff. I ask them if they are still happy homeschooling. (They are.) In fact, they’d be highly offended if I wanted to switch venues at this point. They would think I was pretty hypocritical and wonder if I still loved them as much as I did when they were little. (I do.) 

Do I ever have fears and uncertainties? Of course. Who wouldn’t? We can’t know the future. We can’t know what we might have “missed,” by definition, until we run into problems. So far, we haven’t. But, I do know God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He knows the future. And He is the one who set us down this path. And I trust that He knows what He is doing, even when I don’t. 

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps. 
Proverbs 16:9

We are trying some new things this year. My kids have started earning college credits through examination. If they continue to do well, we’ll ditch more and more high school and keep on this path. I find that they are meeting the challenges that are set before them. When they hit a roadblock, we’ll stop and look for the way around or through it. 

I don’t know about you, but I was public schooled and ran into confusing situations and roadblocks and followed divergent paths and somehow I still got into (and graduated) college (and my college was the infamous UCF which stands for “U Can’t Finish”). Amazingly, those career goals (public school teacher) that I set for myself didn’t materialize, but God had uniquely prepared me to do what my future really held: wife, mother, homeschooler. So, fear or no fear, I’ll go down this road as far as God leads and as long as He is holding my hand.