Thursday, December 17, 2015

Give Them Godly Heroes

Amy Carmichael folded her chubby three-year-old hands and pleaded with God for blue eyes. When she woke the next morning and checked the mirror to find them still brown, she ran to her mother in distress to ask why God hadn’t answered her prayer. Her mother taught her that sometimes God says yes and sometimes He says no, but it seemed God had given her brown eyes for a reason.

Years later as Amy served as a missionary in India, she discovered the horrible practices forced upon young girls in the Hindu temples. She began a quest to rescue young girls dedicated for temple service, but the practices were so hidden from public view that she needed to put on a sari, stain her skin and enter the temple as an Indian. Blue eyes would have been an easy giveaway! It was as she went about this mission to help rescue girls out of physical and spiritual danger that she was so powerfully reminded that God works everything for His purposes, even brown eyes.

Though I’ve only met her though stories, Amy Carmichael is one of a host of faithful witnesses who spurs me on in the mission to live a life of love and faithfulness. My parents introduced me to this godly hero when I was eight. They could have told me a thousand times that what God gives us, He uses for His glory (and they did), but her story burns in my mind to this day.

My encouragement today to you is simply this: Give your children godly heroes.

One of the most effective ways we can do this is to read missionary biographies to our children.
I don’t want to give you a spoiler for a book in a Sonlight Core package, but you and your children can discover inspiring real life characters in missionary biographies like those of Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward. You can see the power of prayer in the life of George Muller and see sacrifice personified in Adoniram Judson.

We want to fill our children with inspiration and let them stand in awe at the great work God has done.
Introducing our children to people of character and faithfulness throughout history helps them learn lessons in how to boldly follow a vision, how to suffer well, and how to give rather than to get. They can see the beauty of a life poured out for others.
They will see how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
And they will remember these stories as they encounter their own difficulties and temptations that they might also stand strong for Jesus whatever the cost.

Not only are you filling your children with inspiration, you are helping them rally a team of encouragers from throughout the ages that will inspire them to run the race “Hebrews 12:1-2 style,” laying aside every weight with eyes fixed on Jesus.

If you’re afraid these saintly tales might bore your children, have no fear. These stories draw your children into the adventure. They also show the humanity of these heroes in colorful ways. (I think of Amy Carmichael's childhood escapades, such as hiding a frozen mouse in her pocket, only to have the hidden rodent revive in the middle of dinner to the terror of the household, or later, her harrowing moments of being sought for arrest as a missionary for her work in human rights.)

I love that Sonlight schedules missionary biographies like these into weekly reading assignments so that you don’t have to put “find quality missionary biographies” on your to-do list, but can simply do your assigned reading and know you are giving your children a treasure.

(Of course, if you and your children are passionate about these stories, you’ll likely all be on the lookout for many more books like these beyond those assigned, so get ready to hunt anyway!)

The world will offer your children cartoon characters and Disney princesses, caped crusaders, and sports stars—and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with your kids enjoying those—but before you stands a chance to give them a gift that lasts a  lifetime. Give them the gift of godly heroes.

I’ll leave you with this letter we received from Jill O, a missionary for 30 years to Japan. She’s homeschooled with Sonlight for 22 years and wrote to tell about her experience. In case you think these stories are just for your children’s benefit, here’s a piece of what she has to say:
“One unexpected benefit I have personally grown to appreciate about Sonlight is that the books you chose have greatly helped me to develop and maintain an attitude of perseverance and gratefulness while facing my own trials and heartaches here in a foreign land!
The understanding that this rich heritage that we share as Christians was purchased at such high price, has become deeply etched on my heart as I have read aloud the stories of the pioneers of the Oregon Trail, of David Livingstone in Africa, of Corrie Ten Boom during WW2, or of Brother Andrew as 'God’s Smuggler.'

Considering these individuals and groups who endured and overcame such hardships, and others who actually laid down their very lives in the process of fighting for their nation or for their Christian beliefs, has put my own life into a more realistic perspective—made my struggles seem more surmountable.

These heroes of the Faith have helped me to keep my own faith strong as we, too, have faced trials, loneliness, and losses of our own.  These stories have helped me to know that we, by God’s grace, can finish strong! So, thank you, Sonlight friends, for choosing books that have continued to inspire and strengthen us, and that have helped to create and reinforce strong moral and godly values for our children.”

What are your favorite inspiring biographies and why?
Enjoying the adventure,
Laura Lee

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The "Insider" Factor: 3 Ways Reading Aloud Together Strengthens Your Family

Ever had a moment with friends when someone quotes a movie or book you love, and suddenly all those who have seen or read it join in, throwing out their favorites lines? (Cue your favorite Anne of Green Gables quotes now in the comments, bosom friends and kindred spirits.) What feels so good about a conversation like that is that you are all “insiders” on a shared experience.
You can harness that same powerful bond in your own family when you read aloud great books together.
That’s one of the strengths of a literature-based education. The information printed on the page (while crucial) is only part of the benefit to your children. The shared experience and emotional bonds are just as important in shaping who they are.
Having a robot or a computer spout the information to your child wouldn’t provide the same education for the whole person. Your children will look back on that book and recall not just the content, but they will remember the cuddles, the laughter, the quality time together, the feeling of being loved. They’ll remember watching you cry over the ending and enjoy reminiscing with siblings over that story.

This shared dynamic is a powerful gift to your homeschool experience. It’s also a key ingredient in building a legacy of lifelong learners.
There are a jillion reasons reading aloud to your children is a great idea, but I want to pause and unpack just a few of the intangible relational benefits.
Here are three ways reading aloud to your children, no matter their age, strengthens your family identity and relationships.

  1. The "insider" factor: The experience of reading aloud together offers us a shared adventure and mutual "friends."
My college roommate and I had only known each other for a few hours when I knew we would be good buds.  We had few surface commonalities. (I was a Southern gal with a drawl and a penchant for fried okra, she was a “Northerner” who used essential oils before it was cool and ate her veggies raw.) Even though we had never met before, we quickly bonded over our bookshelves and realized we had mutual friends: Lucy and Edmund, Charlotte and Wilbur, Elizabeth and Darcy, Cosette and Jean Valjean. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but we could both relate to this whole world that we each had "lived in" once upon a time with our own families.
When we read quality books aloud with our children, we share a common experience that we can look back on and reference for years to come. The books we read are woven into the fabric of our family culture and identity. We have ventured into unknown worlds together; we can speak the language. We are insiders to the story. Talk about a powerful bond!

2. We also share our reactions to the stories we read together.
Powerful books that touch us tend to draw out emotions that we all process and share together. So your children aren’t just affected by the story itself, they also watch your reaction to it and learn empathy from your emotions.  It can be a good thing for kids to see what we value as they watch mom or dad cry or belly laugh. When we share the experience, we are vulnerable side by side, hearts laid bare, wanting truth, justice or that happy ending together.
I love watching my six-year-old son’s face when I pause at a cliff-hanger. He can barely stand to wait and find out what happens and he even starts to pace while I read sometimes, feeling the tension and  rooting on the protagonist. I find that watching his reactions double my pleasure of reading a book, especially one I already love. I can’t wait to introduce him to certain books that I loved as a child!
Every year for as long as I can remember, my family has gathered around at Christmas to hear my dad read aloud from The Donkey’s Gift. I settle in and wait for the unique voices for each character and feel as if the world is, for a moment, as it should be. The experience of listening to him read that familiar book is a flood of positive memories and a sense of security. Every word carries with it a reminder of love communicated, quality time, laughing out loud, and sacred tradition. Even as adults with our own children, we go out of our way to make it happen, because it’s what we do.

3. Finally, we grow closer together through the discussions that spring from the stories we read.
You may have conversations that would never arise but for a book you are reading together. Maybe you discuss World War II and good and evil when you read Twenty and Ten. You might discuss the power of our words or what it feels like to be an immigrant after you read The Hundred Dresses. Books are catalysts for discussing ideas, processing worldview and forming character. Take advantage of the time to discuss a broad array of ideas now with your children close to you. This process will put them in good stead for sorting out other ideas they encounter once they leave home.
When you share moving, inspiring tales together with your family, you are creating a family culture that values reading. You are building a legacy of a love for learning in your home. And perhaps most important of all, you are also paving the way to become kindred spirits.
What about you? Do you have special memories of books shared with your family?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Gift of Your Presence

I think a lot about what I want to do for my kids to help them succeed in life. Just recently I was combatting the “I’m not doing enough” feeling and a simple Pinterest browse sent me reeling. As I was scurrying around to provide experiences for my kids, I ran headlong into a truth so simple, it stopped me in my tracks.
As a homeschool alum looking back, I’m shocked to discover that when I think about what made me feel most secure, most thankful for my parents, most fulfilled and happy, it was less about the things my parents did for me or produced (think Pinterest-worthy crafts or perfect unit studies) but their availability and attention.
As a child, I almost took it for granted that of course my parents wanted to hear this new poem I wrote or wanted to come and see the map my brothers and I had created or that they would want to be drawn into a game we just knew everybody in the family would love. Not that they never had moments when they were busy or that they made their world revolve around us, but they listened and were available enough that that was the default. They made us think it was worth it to say  "Come see!" "Did you hear ...?" I can't wait to tell you about ….”
This child-like assumption of unconditional love and interest is a great gift we can give our children. When we give the gift of attention, we are modeling selflessness and the art of listening well; we teach our children that though they are not perfect, that they have ideas worth sharing.
My parents directed my learning, sure, but I now appreciate the restraint it required for them to give me time to absorb and produce and process and speak it back to them in the different ways I was inspired, before driving on to the next thing. In that sense, I felt I was active in my own education.
As a parent, however, it’s all too easy for me to slip into production-line mentality. Let’s just get everyone through the right book, the meal, the clean up, the next activity and get through a Successful Day, easily forgetting that life and love and memories are made in the in-betweens.
I remember someone laughing about a phrase I used during a Sonlight Conversations webinar earlier this year when I said that I want to remember that our children are not a herd to be managed but souls to be nurtured. But it’s true that we need that reminder sometimes, right?
In the midst of the busyness of all the things I need to do for my children to give them a good education, I’m reminded that sometimes one of the best gifts I can give them is to be still and listen, watch and ask, and just “be” with them without an agenda.

Yes, we need to get through the math book and we need to clean up breakfast, but I am going to take an extra few minutes to look into those eyes, let him finish that story, grab that little hand, absorb it all as he explains the jet propulsion of the Lego ship he just built or she pulls me out back to show me the little pile of acorns and petals she gathered.
The of work of being present doesn’t necessarily give me results to show off on my Facebook page. My children’s creations might sometimes look more like Pinterest Fails than pinnable beauties. However, the act of being present and tuning into my kids teaches me selflessness, it purifies my motives and it’s an investment in their hearts. How I spend my time with my children teaches them volumes about who I believe God created them to be: People of value, people with interesting ideas, people worthy of my best time. I pray they will learn to value, listen to and enjoy other people through my example.
As we are going about the things we need to do, I have to remember to hold these children up as treasured even in the midst of the crazy. As simple as it seems, the gift of my presence is one that will last my children a lifetime.
I'd be negligent not to add that this is one of the things I am most thankful for about a tool like Sonlight: Sonlight helps me make the most of my time together with my children. By its very nature, the curriculum encourages parent-child interaction and discussion, not just a “go do this worksheet” mentality. Having resources like the IG and great literature already hand-picked frees me up to do more of the parts of homeschooling that matter most to me, like spending time cuddled up with my kiddos, making memories.
What are ways you carve out time to just be together in the midst of the every day?