Why it's truly a Black Friday and where we find Light.

Friday, November 28, 2014

I find it deeply ironic that it happens on the day after the American Thanksgiving.  Yes, on the day after a nation sits around the table of thanks - that table cloth is quickly yanked from under the piled plates.  And the race begins to buy, buy, buy.

People pour into stores snatching up the latest gizmos, gadgets, toys, clothes, stuff.  Because don't we all need just a little more stuff?  It's one of the biggest 'shopping' days of the year as retailers compete for the first real burst of Christmas shopping insanity.  And it's insane alright.  The scenes look like a bunch of crazed, starving animals attacking their prey. The prey is the stuff and the prey is each other. Websites have "Black Friday Death Counts", a woman attacks her neighbour with pepper spray for the best TV, a man is shot (yes, SHOT) for a parking space.  Crowds push down doors at Wal-mart, kill an employee, and trample elderly women and children.  All this for a waffle maker on sale.  Or an X-Box at a 'door breaker' price.  And yep, the door was broken.

And so are the souls.

Yeah, there's a reason it's called Black Friday, friends.

Because greed?  Greed is always, always black.   The darkness of all darkness is found in the emptiness of consumption, pleasure, and entertainment.  This want for more stuff of this world - it always leads to that deep black space.  In fact, the Word of God says the love of money - the love of STUFF - it's the root of all kinds of evil.  So we blaze around like fools and we grasp at evil.  There's no other way to put it.  More for me, more for us, more, more, more of everything we don't need.

While we know, yes we KNOW people are starving.  Right this very moment, children are starving to death while people fight to the death for the newest flat screen.  And children are smuggled for dirty desires.  And our sisters and brothers are abused so that we may have more of our cheap goods.  Injustices reign supreme in the world of big retail - and when we swipe that card, we buy in to the big, bloody mess.

My heart has been aching lately, friends.  I mean, really.   Last year, I cried myself to sleep the day after Christmas when my soul broke in pieces for the greed I saw creeping into our children's hearts after the 'I WANT MORE' mentality of all those gifts.  They piled high in the living room and on boxing day, they craved to shop for more.

And are we much better?  We point to children but we are so much the same.  A new wall colour, a new shirt, new shoes, new mud room, the latest kitchen gadget, a new mixer, and we can always find something we want.  And once we get what we want, we want something else.  Because greed and the thirst for more stuff is never, ever quenched.  Ever.  That is the nature of sin.  The very life of greed is that it breeds more greed.

And the truth we all know is that true beauty - what really matters in this world can't be purchased at any store.

The kids and I watch videos from Gospel for Asia about how Christmas is Forgotten.  The masses chant "KEEP CHRIST IS CHRISTMAS" when in reality, Christ was never in it to begin with. Very little about our conventional Christmas points to the Saviour at all.  And if we would all dig a little deeper, we would see the roots of Christmas have absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, His birth or our salvation.

This year, we aren't putting up a tree or hanging sparkly lights.  We aren't running around like maniacs buying the next thing we need to 'celebrate' or the best gift for each other.  We are saying no to what this world says is unavoidable.  Because we believe everything should be put through the fire of the Word of God.  Everything should have to pass the gate of, "why do we do this, really?", and the door of, "what is the root of this tradition?"

And we've seen the roots and we've seen the whys and we believe a change is in desperately needed. And though in some ways it isn't easy and in many ways it isn't understood by others - we are choosing to be still.  We are lighting a simple Menorah and reading the best book ever written and we are desperately clinging to truth.  We are embracing the Festival of Lights when Christ Jesus Himself claimed to be the very Light of this world.  And I can't help but see the contrast between the Light of Life and the Blackness of consumption which has become Christmas.

All of the world's a stage and the theme of the Western script is buy, buy, buy so you can find joy, joy, joy.

Keep on consuming until you're full to capacity and finally, you will be happy!  Isn't that the North American billboard?  But this is the crazy thing - it's an upside down paradigm where the very thing that is preached to bring peace, brings chaos and unrest at best and complete despair at worst.  Once the fix of the next great deal is achieved, the feeling doesn't last.  Just grasping, clawing for the next hit.  And it is utter insanity and it is nowhere near what we are called to as Christ followers.  We are actually called to the complete opposite lifestyle.

And we need to think deeper on the issue of Black Friday and this overall black consumption.  It's not just about how it affects us or our children.  It's about how it affects the soul of the world. 

 It's about how what we buy hurts our planet, our neighbour, and our neighour's children.  It's about how almost all the mass produced products we buy are made by people who suffer greatly so that we can have our new iPad or camera or TV.  Or our new clothes from brand name stores.  Or toys from third world countries where little hands have screwed together the parts our children will roll along our new kitchen floors.

Tears roll down my cheeks and yes, the truth hurts.  And my soul is crying out this year for change.  For justice.  I mean, that crazy GROANING the bible speaks of where only the Spirit can properly communicate your deepest heart twistings to the One who knows all and sees all.

And I can't ignore these deep pains any longer and I know it is the Holy Spirit whispering right back to me.  Through that still, small, grace-filled voice I hear it: "Say no to the craziness and grasp on to something real.  Grasp on to Me.  Do not store up treasures on this earth because it will make you a slave to this earth.   You are not of this world when you are in Me.  Start living as I've called you to live.  Do not be afraid.  My way is always the best way..."

The frenzied buying that happens at Christmas (and all year 'round, for that matter) reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Oh, how those words have pierced me deep.  And right along with drink and sex and ambition we can so easily add greed and the lust for more material things.  The things that promise immediate pleasure.  And aren't we all far too easily pleased?

We grab at the stuff of this world when the Lord of all Light gives us real, unending, everlasting joy and life.  When He says 'follow me' He doesn't mean to the shopping mall.  He means to the slums.  To the home in East Africa where children find hope after living alone on the street.  To the well in India where women now find clean water for their babies and the very Living Water who can save their souls.  To the hopeless and homeless.  To the family table where children hear truth and feel warmth and know they are far more valuable than just getting piles of presents.  That they are worth our time and our truth and our very soul longings to raise them up to know what is real and what brings fullness of joy.  

Black Friday breeds a black saturday.  And sowing greed brings a harvest of a lust for more stuff and less Jesus and less of what actually matters.  We need to break free from the nonsense and stand against the lie that buying stuff will fill us up.  

Simple as that.  And then, we need to model it and teach these truths to our children.  Because buying junk we don't need never fills, it empties.  

I can't wait to share with you how our family has felt led to shake it up this year... more is coming this week offering ideas and (hopefully!) inspiration for making this year a very different 'holiday' season for you and your loved ones.  All is a big pile of wonderful grace, friends.

Albert - Five in a Row Volume 4

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I haven't been posting a ton of our homeschooling stuff this year.  The main reason is that it takes a really (really) long time to upload all the images and describe every detail of our studies.  Also, I often forget to take photos as we are doing activities, and then forget what activities we even did or where I found them online or elsewhere...  so I'm not the best at blogging for homeschool, to be honest!

So, this year, I hope to share bits and pieces of our homeschooling in an easier way.  These will be snapshots of our studies or days and small captions with the photos.  Hope this works to still give a glimpse into homeschool life as well as provide some ideas/inspiration!

Be blessed and I hope you enjoy a peek at our first 'row' in Volume 4 of Five in a Row, Albert, by Jim LaMarche.

Main areas of study for Albert:

  • nests and nesting birds
  • Cardinals
  • embracing and enjoying nature
  • gentleness of heart
  • facing fears
  • whimsical tales
  • city living
  • maple trees and maple syrup
  • language arts: adjectives, descriptive sentences, list making, letter writing, symbolism
  • art: working with water colors and pencil crayons, sketching nature, sculpture
  • music: Vivaldi, the Four Seasons
  • drama: pantomime and miming
  • science: noise and decibels, the human body - joints

On a hunt for nests in the woods.

Bark rubbings.

Comparing leaves in our neighborhood.

On a hike, looking for cardinals and birds of all kinds.

Feeding the Chickadees.

Art project: using self-drying clay to make a cardinal and her eggs.

For our study of 'city living' we created a house out of two shoe boxes.

Some of the resources we used.

Our Lapbooks:

Thanks for reading!

A Charlotte Mason Education - Part 1: Foundations

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's an unusually warm autumn afternoon when we mount bikes and venture to the nearby stream for afternoon art and nature study lessons.  I breathe deep and feel freedom run through my bones. Alex rides on the tandem bike behind me, a true 'bicycle built for two', and whoops as we breeze down hills.  We bump over grass and find a deserted picnic table (all the picnic tables are deserted on weekday afternoons) and we lean together and unload art supplies.  We talk about what we see and what to sketch and all this beauty around us.  We discuss what God makes to blossom this time of year.  We are surrounded by tall trees and open air.  We are together.  This is our 'school'.  Not every day.  But many days.  Beautiful days.  Freedom days.  This is the longing for the fresh and wonderful feeling of a happy, meaningful, and fruitful home education.  

It was the freedom of trusting God, my children, and my instincts that drew me to Charlotte Mason's philosophies.

When I discovered the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, I realized her ideals and methods were what I had hoped and dreamed for our homeschool.  Charlotte was and is an incredibly respected philosopher and educator.  She has profoundly impacted the world of home and school and her students, no matter from what walk of life or ability, excelled.  I was filled with joy, and longing to learn more about these philosophies that have shaped lives in such positive ways.  So, over the past many years, I've tried to learn more, and  I've worked hard to implement Charlotte's ideas into our home and learning.

I am in no way an expert on Charlotte Mason or her philosophies.  I want to remain really humble here and express, we are still in progress and I'm learning more every day about what works best in our home and how to use these wonderful methods to bring out the best in all of us!  So many Moms were asking me to share some posts about Charlotte Mason, so after praying and thinking about it - here I am.  I just want to be authentic and share our heart and experiences with this life-giving way of education our children.  My prayer is that other Moms and families can experience the freedom we have found in our homeschool.  So...

Charlotte's philosophies are in the same breath completely logical and divinely whimsical.

It's true.  Whimsical because so much of it seems too good to be true.  Too simple to be affective.  No tests.  No fill in the blanks.  No 'busy work'.  Hours of reading classics and good quality living books and then discussing what we've read.  Going about our daily business of life intentionally and joyfully.  Now this was a 'curriculum' I can follow!

Charlotte Mason believed a philosophy of education must be made up of far more than simply academics - that education comprised of body, soul, and spirit.  She expressed often the importance of acknowledging children as 'born persons' who come out of the womb with their own set of unique gifts, talents, desires, abilities, challenges, and callings.  She believed children had an incredible amount of value in the eyes of God and so should they also in the eyes of man (and Mom)!  This was a unique view for her era in the late 1800s when children were believed best to be seen and not heard. 

This idea of children being 'born persons' resonates so deeply with me as a Mom.  I'm sure most of us can relate to the strong desire to embrace and celebrate our children as people, made by God, on purpose, for a purpose.  This is why I feel a boxed education just can't work.  It can't bring out the very best in a young child because it ignores the foundational truth of their existence - they are completely unique and have very unique needs in order to flourish.  I believe my job as a Mom is to help them grow to know God and find joy in serving the Lord and others in the specific ways they are gifted and have been called.  

These precious beings we raise are whole people.  And whole people are about so much more than just their academic knowledge.

When we are 'homeschoolers', it is the same as saying we are taking on the full responsibility to educate our children.  There is no outside source, we are the source.  When I committed to homeschooling, I knew this.  I was wholly responsible for the education of our children.  And so, naturally, I desired to define just what educating a child actually means

I prefer to use Charlotte Mason's term of 'raising up' a child when seeking this answer.  It's also a biblical ideal, this raising up business.  So many of Mason's philosophies and ideas stem from biblical truth as she was a follower of Jesus and believed heavily in the power of God and the Holy Spirit in the home and 'school'.  Yes!

So, we are raising up children.  Whole children.  Children who have incredible value and eternal worth.  We are not merely filling a brain bucket with knowledge.  We are raising up a whole entire human being who will grow into adulthood right before our very eyes.  It is an enormous and wonderful and completely overwhelming responsibility.  Any parent will admit that truth - homeschooler or any walk of life.

What I love so much about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is that it focuses on developing the child from the inside out.  We recognize we are facilitating the growth and development of a future adult and we respect and lovingly direct their unique path.   We are putting our trust in them and building a strong relationship with the child.  We are investing in their spiritual health and we are inspiring them to be thinkers, inspirers, and to embrace who they are as unique beings.  We are challenging them to grow and at the same time challenging ourselves with these very same ideals.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

This is Charlotte Mason's motto that so neatly expresses the soul of her philosophies.  If we can wrap our minds and hearts around this simple sentence, it can completely revolutionize our home and family life right along with our homeschooling experience.  I know this, because I've lived it.   I've seen the beauty of living out the truth in these eight words - let me briefly give an overview of the fulness of them.

In Charlotte's world, true academics take up only one third of the whole education of the child.  That's right - one third. 

 This basic idea of education is life means we walk daily, wide-eyed and open-eared waiting to see something beautiful, something interesting, something worth discussing.  We present our children with 'things worth seeing' and, as Charlotte said, "all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do".   Ideas we present to our children are living ideas that inspire them to think.  Our children also grow to understand that learning never stops and is not contained in a building or a room.  

Their academic schedule is full and rich.  Because Charlotte Mason's philosophies are often known for being gentle, some people mistake her philosophies as being the same as 'unschooling' or even a lazy learning approach.   Nothing could be further from the truth!  Charlotte expected much from her students.  The young child homeschooled using this method is studying classical music, art and art history (including picture study), ancient history, languages (often Latin), memorizing poetry and scripture, engaging in and enjoying advanced classical literature, keeping nature journals, notebooks, and historical timelines, and learning about wide variety of interesting topics that are never watered down or 'brought to his level'.  This is no 'whatever' mentality for learning!

The other two thirds of the education are atmosphere and discipline.  Atmosphere, simply put, is what surrounds the child on a daily basis.  What is family life like?  What kinds of beliefs and values are the parents instilling in the child through home life and daily living?  What are the conscious and subconscious messages being delivered to the child about life, learning, family, home life, and our purpose as human beings?  Charlotte said this about atmosphere: "the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives".  This means - they are watching and listening, and we are responsible for what they see and hear.  And what they see and hear will shape who they become.  This also means, if our children are in school rather than with us, they are breathing in the atmosphere emanating from their teachers and their peers and the ideas which rule their lives.  One of the huge reasons we have our children under our own roof.

Discipline is where those habits Charlotte often spoke of come in.  Where a child is 'trained up' to follow in a positive direction with self-motivation and self-learning.  Many of these habits include things like courtesy, kindness, manners, diligence, patience, attention, memorization, observation, integrity, obedience, self-control... you know, the things we parents need to work on right along with our children!

See, in Charlotte Mason's philosophy, home education becomes a rich, multi-layered concept that begs far more thought than 'which curriculum should I choose?'.  This is what makes it so appealing to me.  Because it inspires me daily to remember that two thirds of what our children are learning, has nothing to do with whether or not they are excelling at math.  No, it's far deeper and far richer than that!  Do they love learning?  Are they thinkers?  Are they self-motivated?  Are they learning to be better people - more loving, caring, diligent?  Are they growing in their relationship with and knowledge of God?  Are they surrounded with a family atmosphere of love and acceptance?  Am I reflecting the kind of actions I would hope for them to imitate?

Ah, all of a sudden 'homeschooling' just got so much deeper.  Yes, far deeper and so, so rich.

"Education is a discipline - that is, the discipline of the good habits in which the child is trained.  Education is a life, nourished upon ideas; and education is an atmosphere - that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives."
-Charlotte Mason

This post is not meant in any way to be comprehensive.  I have not gone into great detail here because it is my prayer and plan to unpack many of Charlotte's philosophies in a personal way over the next several weeks.  We will be looking individually at the idea of education as an atmosphere, discipline, and life in three separate posts.  I am also planning (Lord willing) to cover many topics, such as nature study, language arts, living books, habits, journaling, children's mottos, and so on.  I am praying this Charlotte Mason series inspires and challenges myself and other home educators in our journey.  I'm also praying we can dig deeper and press harder into Christ Jesus, our Eternal Well.  He is the first step to 'raising up' our children with grace, love, and divine purpose.


Some Resources to visit online:

Ambleside Online's Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles

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