Monday, November 28, 2011

A Most Joyful Noise

All week we have had the pleasure of having little Noah serenading us.  
The song we have heard day in and day out for some time goes something like this: "Amazing grace, how sweet... to trust in Jesus... loves all the little children... How great our God... saved me..."

It's his own song, the song in his heart, and in case you didn't recognize it, it is a compilation of Amazing Grace, 'Tis So Sweet, Jesus Loves the Little Children and How Great is Our God.

He just goes about his day singing parts of each of these, his favorite songs.

It's sweet sounds like these that have shown us the fruit of a decision Dan and I made years ago.  We decided sometime before the birth of our oldest child that we would not listen to secular radio.  We tucked away all our old CD's and began to familiarize ourselves with Christian music.  With no local Christian radio station, this has taken a bit of creativity, especially early on, in the pre-iPod dial-up internet days.

I think what initially prompted our decision was the day I was driving a mini van belonging to a family I was nannying for.  The mom had her Shaggy CD in the player and before I even realized what was playing, the children, both just toddlers at the time, began singing along.  They knew every word by heart.  It was about then that I decided I wanted my own children, when we had them, to have a very different song in their hearts.

Sure the message of many secular songs can be said to be "not that bad", and in very few cases the overall theme of some songs may actually be good.  Unfortunately, it's very difficult to filter out the "not that bad" from the atrocious and we decided it was simply better for us, and for who were then our future children, to nix it altogether.

Now, we have learned to enjoy jazz, classical and a wide variety of Christian music.  Our children know that there is other, more popular music and they recognize some of it.  It plays in dentist offices, grocery stores, shopping malls and restaurants.

They understand why we listen to different music at home and though none of us are musically gifted, Dan has done a wonderful job of instilling in the children a love of music, and a love of worship through song.

There may be no more joyful noise than that of a two year old singing Amazing Grace while in the bathtub getting ready for bed, or a six year old singing This is My Father's World while feeding his "pet cricket" (that he named Christopher) out on the front step, or the sound of a nine year old humming How Great Thou Art while whittling baby Jesus out of balsa wood for the nativity he's creating.  And yes, when it's all happening at once it sure is noise... but such joyful noise!

When the day ends, we gather for family worship.  Prayer, scripture reading and worship through song.  Oftentimes, the song placed on a young heart is the pick of the evening.  Lately, poor Noah can't decide which one to choose.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."  Colossians 3:16 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

“We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.”  Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
Given that we're now just a few days from Thanksgiving, it seemed appropriate to review the book that has been at the forefront of my mind since having read it a few months ago.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

It's currently #9 on the New York Times Bestseller list, which typically means for me that it's not worth my time.  In all honesty, I picked it up because the cover was pretty and it was super cheap when Borders went out of business. I find, generally speaking, that anything that spends time at the top of the bestseller list is watered down, feel-good Christianity at best.

This little treasure of a book was quite different.  Don't misunderstand.  It's not deep.  It does not reveal any new insight.  It doesn't delve into the depths of eschatology or the five points of Calvinism.  It addresses no hot button ethical issue.

It's quite simple really, yet challenging in it's own rite.  The author's beautiful poetic style is most appealing.  She tells the story of her life.  The story of how she overcame fear, overcame agoraphobia, overcame the unpleasantries of her past.
The key to her success, ultimately a relationship with the Lord Jesus and His grace, that grows and develops through thanksgiving, gratitude, eucharisteo, for the gifts He bestows on those He loves.  The story of her transformation is bathed in a celebration of grace.

The book, though a tale about the author's life, is practical for all.  Learning the seemingly simple art of giving thanks can have tremendous impact on our spiritual life.  The act of thanksgiving, as Ann explains, is about looking at all of life.  She says,
“On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgement and effort to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.”
Again, it's not my normal read, but it was timely.  Following a year of losses, reading these words:
“Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.” stung a bit, I must admit.  But she's right.  A proverbial elbow to my skeptical side.

Reading the book as I do most, small bits at a time in between wiping noses, dictating english lessons, and changing diapers, I was challenged to look at each and every aspect of my daily life.  I was struck by how much I miss!  Considering myself to be generally thankful, it was brought to my attention how much I overlook.  How many blessings come that are taken for granted!  How many seemingly unpleasant things come for which I am anything but thankful, giving little (or sometimes no) regard for the blessings that may be hidden within.

While not without it's problems, primarily being that there may be, (as a result of the focus of the book?) an overemphasis on our giving thanks, and not enough emphasis on the gift of grace and the one who gives it, One Thousand Gifts, regardless of where you are at in your spiritual journey, is a book most worthy of your time.

For some, it may serve as a lesson in thanksgiving, in gratitude, in eucharisteo.  A lesson in grace and in how to receive the gift of grace.
For others, as for me, it served as a reminder.  A reminder... and a challenge to see more deeply and to express more fully, gratitude, to the giver of all good gifts.  A reminder and a challenge to not only accept but to revel and bask in the gift of grace.

To give thanks for all things to the Father, the all knowing, all powerful, ever present God, is a blessing in and of itself for which to be thankful.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The 89 Cent Treasure

With Thanksgiving around the corner, there is much talk of turkey.

The grocery stores are running sales on the popular thanksgiving bird.  The wild turkeys are still meandering about our backyard and they are remembered daily in prayer in our house as the two year old prays, "Dear Dog... Tank you for da turkeys backyard".

... Perhaps he understands more than we think as our oldest seems determined to one of these years provide the turkey, one he has hunted himself, for our Thanksgiving table.  Maybe Noah knows that the turkeys might need protection from his big brother.  That's beside the point...

Feeding five mouths is not always easy, and is never cheap.  I am always looking for ways to create easy, economical meals and all the talk about turkey prompted me to share this tip.
One of the best ways I have found to accomplish both easy and economical meals is to take advantage of the oven roaster chickens that go on sale for about $.89/lb. from time to time.

When that sale runs, I stock up.  These chickens freeze well.  I thaw one for a few days in the fridge and after it has had time to thaw, I place one in the crock pot early in the day.  No liquid needed (in fact, if your crock pot is small, adding liquid may cause the pot to spill over).  Simply add salt, pepper and perhaps some poultry seasoning is all.  Left on the low setting until dinner time the chicken cooks perfectly.

Though you certainly can, we do not often simply eat the chicken this way as I find I can stretch it further if we use it in other dishes.  I have, over the years, compiled a large collection of recipes involving cooked chicken.

After dinner (yes, after, as I rarely plan to use this bird for this meal so as to save time), I debone the chicken.  I separate the meat into meal sized freezer bags.  I find that I can get at least six meals out of a good sized chicken.  The skin, bones, and juice all get put back into the crock pot and are refrigerated until the following day.  The meat is refrigerated or frozen for future use.

The following day, I add water and vegetable scraps to the carcass that has sat in the fridge.  This is left to simmer, again on low, all day in the crock pot.  At the end of the day, the liquid is strained.  The solids are tossed in the garbage and the broth that remains is saved and frozen for future use as stock, or broth for soup.
This stock is separated into several tupperware containers to be later used as soup broth.  Smaller, one-cup amounts, are saved in recycled yogurt or margarine containers to be used as stock or broth for casseroles, etc.  This all freezes perfectly.

Not only do I eliminate the need to buy broth or bouillon, but also I am able to very quickly thaw already cooked chicken and whip up a quick casserole, chicken pie, or stir fry.  It is also leaves me little excuse to be unprepared for dinner.

"She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens."  Proverbs 31:15
"It is good to give thanks to the Lord..." Psalm 92:1

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Favorite Books --of a 9 year old boy

When he was little we began to fill the tiny child sized bookshelf.  He loved to be read to.  He loved to thumb through the colorful pages of his books on his own.

When he was an infant I read to him from the Bible often, and we read Paddington Bear.  When he was two I read him The Wind in the Willows.  He doesn't remember either.  As he grew we continued our Bible reading and we read aloud Charlotte's Web, Christie's Old Organ, The Little Woodchopper, The Hidden Rainbow.

We talked about them and great lessons grew out of those most wonderful stories.  Though for me those are sweet memories of time spent with my oldest child, he doesn't recall them at all, or the conversations we had.  Some he has since reread on his own.

The little bookshelf one day overflowed.  We filled another, larger, one.  We grew even more selective about what we allowed to occupy a precious space on the shelf.  We got rid of anything that could be classified as twaddle (n. books that are silly, foolish, trivial, nonsensical, insignificant).

Finding quality literature for little boys is not always easy, but it is certainly possible.  It does take time and effort to filter out that which is valuable from that which is merely popular.  The time and effort is well worth it...

...That small boy who used to lay with his head tucked on my shoulder, night after night, listening to story after story has just turned nine, his head now at my shoulder as he stands beside me.

As I type, my eye glances at his father's bookshelves, filled to overflowing.  Mine look much the same.  Apples don't fall far from the tree.  Our younger sons' following in the footsteps of their oldest brother.  They are apples from the same tree.

As Isaiah, the boy now nine, was nearing this birthday I asked him for a list.  A list of his 25 favorite books.  One's he has read all on his own.

He said, "Sure Mom!  I will put them in order of my favorite for you!"

I smiled.  He began.  Days passed and I asked, "How's that book list coming?"

"Well... Ok", he replied.  "I'm having trouble.  I think I'm done and then I think of another one I really liked.  I keep drawing arrows because I can't decide what should be first and what should be next!"

I told him to forget the order and just write down what he would consider his top 25 as of today.

He struggled, admitting that he's read so many great stories.  Stories that have stretched his comprehension, expanded his vocabulary, developed his spelling ability, and impacted his play.  Stories that have sparked a love of adventure, taught him about right from wrong, fact from fiction, and have clued him in to what life may have been like in times past.

Having just turned 9, here is his list...
The list he could narrow to only 27.

The Holy Bible

The Chronicle's of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
(The original series, volumes 1-19)

Rascal by Sterling North

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

Buffalo Bill by Mary R. Davidson

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry

Dolphin Adventure and Dolphin Treasure by Wayne Grover

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

The Sugar Creek Gang by Paul Hutchens

On The Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Littles by John Peterson

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey

Ben and Me by Robert W. Lawson

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Little Woodchopper by anon.

Ralph S. Mouse Collection by Beverly Cleary

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Stuart Little by E.B. White

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

The Little Pilgrims Progress by Helen Taylor

The Imagination Station by Paul McCusker (an Adventures in Odyssey series)

*We highly recommend offering children the original, unabridged versions of any book.  They are the author's original work and are undiluted.  They are often far richer than any abridged, or early reader versions.  See in the column on the right the article, "What is Twaddle" bookmarked on Delicious, for a better understanding.


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