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Monday, February 20, 2012

A tribute to Grandpa

Grandpa went to be with Jesus on Wednesday, February 15th. I just returned from his funeral yesterday. All six of his children were able to be there for the events surrounding his funeral, and also 18 of us grand kids. Many of the great grandchildren were also able to be there. We cried and laughed as we remembered the life of this great man.
I lived some treasured moments over the week-end. For starters, thanks to Don staying home with my three boys, I was able to stay with Grandma in her apartment. The first night that I was there, it was just Grandma and me. Mom needed to spend some time with Dad, so they spent the night in a hotel. The time that I had with Grandma was priceless. As I laid next to her in her bed, we talked for a while before drifting off to sleep. The Lord gave me a special gift in being able to spend time with her like that. Who knows if that will ever happen again. I feel like I have gone so long without seeing her, or Grandpa. One of my heart breaks is that I had planned to finally make the road trip this summer so that my boys could spend some time with them before Grandpa passed away. Now that is not possible. But the Lord is full of unexpected blessings. He continues to provide. The afternoon after the funeral, I was laying next to Grandma once again because she needed a nap (I needed one too:). She said that she had so many good things to dream about. I said thank You Lord. She prayed and thanked God for the celebration of the life of the one that we love so much. Precious.
The second big blessing of the week-end was spending time with everyone else! I haven't seen most of my Lewis family in ages. We're talking 10 to 12 years for some of them, or more! It was so wonderful to catch up on everyone's lives. I am INCREDIBLY blessed to have a family like this one. Thank you, Grandpa, for leaving us such wonderful gifts in each other. I barely recognized some of my cousins.
The third big blessing was the trip there and back. I got to spend all of the car time talking to one of my favorite people in the whole world: my Dad. We pretty much solved all of the world's problems. We philosophized, theorized, chatted about everything and nothing. Dad and I are alike in a lot of ways. It was so much fun. I love you, Dad.
As I am typing, many of my family are gathered in Little Rock for the burial. My heart goes with you as you close the chapter on Claude Lewis' life. We all loved him dearly.
He was very brave, active, not shying away from the mission on his heart to take Jesus to a variety of third world locations. He was a doer. He loved to buy us hamburgers from McDonald's, and snow cones or ice cream cones. It was just fun when Grandpa was around.
I love you, Grandpa, and I can't wait to see you on the other side.
One of my favorite stories that we recount in my family is about one of the times that he came to France, and wanted to go get some croissants from the baker all by himself. He also tried to hard to say "fraise". Finally he burst out with "oh, why can't they just say "strawberry"! :)
Here are a few highlights from the week-end. My Aunt Cheri was a champ and opened up her home multiple times. We were so blessed with food from so many friends in Searcy.

.Above: Grandma and her daughters.
Below: Grandma and her children and their spouses.

Grandma and her children:

The grandsons (ALL 12 of them!)

Grandma and her grandchildren.

Below: the grandchildren except for Sarah... who is in Kenya. We missed you!!

Below: the Granddaughters. Sarah, Harper Claire represents you! LOL

Grandma.Below: David.
Below: (left to right) Daniel, Micah, Uncle Tim, Aunt Ann. Very front: Uncle Joel.

Below: Alisa.Jordan and Jon Scott.
Julie and her two sweet girls: Reese and Kellen (sp?..)

Right to left: Joel, Chad, Amanda.

Center below: Jordan.
Left to right: Jon Scott and Eric.

Charles and Thomas.
Claire, Robert, and David.

Aunt Merilyn and Uncle Jimmy Allen. (Aunt Merilyn is Grandma's little sister).

Melanie, Grandma, Uncle Jon.

Hayden and Daisy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

I am going there...

“I don’t want to step on anyone’s beliefs, but well, here we go.” --Bryan Regan (comedian).

Truthfully, that is not my intent at all. My hope is to perhaps put something out there that can be encouraging for anyone who is struggling with feeling good about their children’s education.

Let me start by stating that I have many friends/acquaintances who home school. Over the past few years, I have experienced some insecurity surrounding our choice for our children’s education. Most of this insecurity stems from rubbing up against people who have been convicted to homeschool. When Don and I moved to Wilmore three years ago, many of the friends we made were homeschooling their children, or decided to do so while we were there. Seeing the home school phenomenon bloom around the country has caused me to take a closer look at my childrens’ education--which is a good thing.

Don and I have talked about this at length. I really appreciate Don’s perspective, which I will share more with you throughout this post.

Some background: I was raised in one of the worst education systems-- French schools in Nantes, France. Teachers threw chalk, used physical punishment, pulled students’ ears for making mistakes, occasionally refused to let children go to the bathroom (with results including soiling and/or wetting clothing). They also degraded pupils verbally in front of other children, ranked students according to grades, and even seated us in order of our averages sometimes. Tests were occasionally handed out in order of lowest to highest (or vice versa). They felt free to insult children, and intimidate them.

Most children repeated one grade in elementary school. Many repeated two grades. By the time they reached middle school, many children were one or two years older than the ones who made it through without any failures. When I was in the seventh grade, half of my classmates failed to pass into the eighth grade (incidentally, bathrooms were often filled with cigarette smoke in middle school, because students would smoke in the stalls. Gotta love the French).

How did I survive do you ask?

Number one: GOD.

Number two: MOM and DAD and a healthy godly home.

Number three: I did OK academically. So it didn’t kill me to be seated in order of rank, you see? I remember one time being ninth out of twenty something. At least I made it in the top half, I thought.

Now: not everything about French school was bad. Teachers did teach, and children did learn. I don’t remember goofing around much. I would say that many of the teachers I had did seem to like teaching and children. By the eighth grade children were learning two foreign languages at the same time.

Everything was taken seriously: art, music, and PE included. It was difficult, but being challenged in school is a good thing.

I think that most of us parents tend to fall back on our own experiences when trying to raise their own children. Is this true for you? Do you find yourself trying to remember what you did when you were a certain age, or how your parents handled certain difficult situations? It’s natural to learn from our past. There are two tendencies that we have in parenting: one is to try to duplicate the good parts of our childhood, and two is to try NOT to duplicate the bad parts. However, sometimes, the things that we remember as good might not necessarily be the best thing for our children, and the things that we remember as bad might not necessarily be bad for our children. I trust my readers to assume certain disclaimers including very obviously bad or good things. I’m talking about gray areas here.

In our parenting, some of us tend to overcompensate for bad memories, or try too hard to relive the past. As an example of this, I think that some of us think that since we had a bad public school experience, we must therefore protect our children from public schools.

Another phenomenon that I observe in our generation of parents is a desire to protect our children from more than just public schools. We even pray that habitually. “Lord, protect our children.” I do it too. But do we pray for them to be brave? Do we pray for God to use them as salt and light in His kingdom?

Incidentally, most the things we try to protect our children from are not necessarily what Jesus would want to protect them from. Do we try to protect their minds from bad movies or from becoming too popular among their peers? Most often, I find myself wanting to protect them from being left out, or from getting their feelings hurt, or from failure.

Last month, I watched a documentary entitled “Waiting for Superman”. It was an interesting film about certain public schools in very populated areas, inner city mostly. It definitely did not make the public school system in America look good. Some teachers who have tenure should not be teachers at all and the schools cannot get rid of them. Because of the no child left behind stuff, there is an excessive amount of testing going on. Teachers feel pressure to teach to a whole new set of standards, and much of the fun of learning is lost. Some classes were videotaped in which nothing was going on in the classroom. Literally, the teacher just sat around, I guess. The teachers’ unions have paralyzed the board of education in the DC area. They have prevented them from getting rid of bad tenured teachers.

By the time they reach middle school, many students are placed in a certain “track”. In other words, there is a track for students with higher grades and test scores, and then there is another track for children with lower grades and test scores. The children who have lower test scores tend to be placed in classes where the learning progresses at a slower pace, and so they fall behind. And there are even more criticisms that we can list against public schools. Gangs, peer pressure and abuse, lack of challenges, etc…

OK, so let me turn the tables a little bit on you. Here is why, for the present time, Don and I have agreed to send our children to public schools:

I like the structure of school. I like that our children leave the house, and that when they return home, they are not at school anymore. It is over. Yes they might have homework, but they have left the workplace, per se. I like that they are being exposed socially. I like that they are exposed to a variety of teachers, different teaching styles, different sets of knowledge, teachers with different strengths and weaknesses. I actually appreciate the education they are getting. I am learning (and/or relearning) a lot of things myself. I like that they see a lot of life. I like that they have to learn how to navigate many different social situations.

Personally, I feel that this is a good scenario for my own relationship with my children, particularly my oldest child. We butt heads a lot, and I feel that it is healthy for us to be apart sometimes.

We have been blessed with excellent teachers. If Jon David and Luke had not been to public schools up to this point, they would have missed out on some high quality educators. I have a lot of respect for them. They work very hard every day, and have taught more to my children than I can think of or list.

The older my kids get, the more we have to work through heart breaks--kids being mean; teachers perhaps not acting fair; Jon David and Luke not liking school on some days; getting bored; too much homework sometimes. When bad days come, this is when I doubt myself. Don reminds me of something that I think is a huge key to feeling peaceful about parenting, and really life in general: we are not here to make our children’s lives easy. We are not even here to make them happy. I might even go so far as to say that our number one goal as parents is not to protect our children.

Our goal is to help them to be good, godly, and walk in God’s path for them. Our goal is to help them press into God when they suffer. I can hardly even stand to type that sentence, because I don’t want them so suffer!! Sometimes Don reminds me of how hard I had it, and how I turned out fine. But I don’t want them to get their feelings hurt! Don is right, though: I can’t protect them from that.

I feel like I need to interject here that we are in a good school zone. This makes a huge difference for sure. We are also blessed with very good teachers. And I understand that every single family is different, and there are many different GOOD ways to educated children. There plenty of situations where homeschooling is truly better for a child than structured school of any kind. Again, please hear disclaimer, disclaimer.

I just feel like there are a lot of support groups out there for homeschoolers, but not a lot of voices saying “I’m glad my children go to public schools.”

I like the independence and responsibility that children must develop when they attend public schools. I like the prayer club that Jon David participates in. I like that Jon David has had the opportunity to stand up to a bully. I like their musical programs. I like that Luke has to do sit ups every day. I liked the mother’s day tea that I had when Jon David was in the first grade. I like field trips, field days, etc…

Is it bad for children to be bored? To learn how to deal with being bored? To be subjected to a set of rules that they don’t like?

Finally, it is my hope that by sending my children to public schools, I am giving them opportunities to shine Jesus’ light in a dark world. Jon David has had the chance to talk to a child who does not believe it God; he has had the chance to rescue someone who was being picked on. I believe that going to public schools gives them a chance to put their faith into practice, and to reach out to others. Are they too young to carry the light of Christ into the world? No. They are not. Children are strong on the inside. God made them that way.

Again: please read appropriate disclaimers into this: public school is NOT for everyone, and hey, there might come a day when I pull my children out. If something serious happens, or if they are truly being threatened, then I will not hesitate.

I’m just talking in general terms, about regular situations and better than average public schools.

I appreciate the chance to be away from my children, and then to come back together and hear about their day.

Whatever the choice is for our children’s education, I think that we all occasionally need to be reminded that most importantly, they are God’s children, and we have to let go of them. God has a specific plan for each of our children. And if we hold on too tightly, we risk not allowing them to carry out that plan. His plan is the best thing that we can possibly imagine for them… although it might be difficult to watch sometimes. God is the best teacher that they could ever have, and I don’t want to withhold them from Him.

Since I am a teacher by profession (well, technically, my certificate has expired now lol), I can be very critical of other teachers. It is good for me to have an opportunity to trust others, to humble myself and allow others to grab the wheel. I struggle with wanting to be in control of all areas of my life. So this is just one way that I can practice letting someone else have control of some of my most prized possessions.

At the end of the day, life consists of giving up our own will in order to let God steer the boat. I hope to teach my children that as well.

Perhaps this has been helpful to someone out there. I hope so.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rob Bell and Greg Isles

There is a member of our church who hands me a book every so often. I really appreciate it. I like to read (when I have time), and I appreciate a chance to keep up with at least part of what is being put out there in the world.

The two books "Love Wins" and "The Footprints of God" by Rob Bell and Greg Isles respectively, were difficult reads for me. Not because they took a long time. They were page turners for sure. But they gave me a sour feeling inside. I found myself trying to be sure that I had time to read my bible and not let these authors feed me my last thought of the day before I went to sleep.
The logic that Rob Bell uses to explain away hell was bone chilling. There was one page in which he listed all of the verses in which Jesus mentions hell, and then he proceeded to say "that's it." But the verses were convicting! Even through his lens, which he was trying with all of his might to use to force us to refocus on something else, Jesus' words pierced through and seemed to override whatever mumbo jumbo he was trying to say.
His language is manipulative. For instance, he says that hell is only mentioned 12 times in the new testament. Why does he use the word "only"? Why is 12 such a small number? Jacob had 12 sons.. There are 12 tribes of Israel...
Not all of his points were bad, but what he was trying to say about the afterlife didn't seem to have enough backbone. I returned the book, so I can't give many more specific quotes. What I have just shared is what has lasted in my memory.

Greg Isles' book is a sci-fi thriller, with phylosophy intertwined in it. At first, I couldn't see exactly where he was going religiously, which was a good thing. By the time I did realize what point he was trying to get across, I was too involved in the action part of the story to be willing to stop reading.
To me, this was the first time that I dove into the brain of someone who buys into science as his god. I was dumbfounded at the logic--or in my opinion, lack thereof. I think that his main point was that "consciousness" was our God. The irony is that he seems to acknowledge the existence of God, but believes that God had nothing to do with the big bang theory. He believes that He was just as confused about it as we are when the world came into existence! He also acknowledged that he could not explain the origin of it. There were several portions of the story that revealed what I believe to be reflections of the author's struggles in his own spirit. I think that it bothers him that no one knows for sure where Jesus was buried. I think he struggles tremendously with the whole "bad things happen to good people" issue. However, I thought that the co-heroine handled that pretty well by pointing out the good that did come out of a particularly bad situation, and also by stating that if it weren't for God's goodness, how much worse could the situation have gotten? Still, I confess that the suffering that some people endure is sometimes a hurdle to my own faith as well.
Having said all of this, it is one thousand times more difficult to believe what this guy believes than the bible. When you come down to it, you have to give up trying to figure it out. At some point, you have to let go and have faith. Cling to God with all of your heart. He is all we've got.

Coming soon... my thoughts on homeschooling versus public schools. Haha. Joke.
Well, maybe not.
No really.
I guess you'll just have to wait and see!

Comic relief

I always sing to Caleb before I put him to bed. Lately, I often chose the song "Oh how I love Jesus because he first loved me." He loves to have me sing it about each member of the family. "Ah batas... Mommy. Ah batas... Daddy. Ah batas... etc..." Ah batas means "how about". So I proceed to sing each verse about each family member "Oh Daddy do you love Jesus," etc...
Well this is how the chorus goes: Oh how I love Jesus. Oh how I love Jesus. Oh how I love Jesus, because He first loved me."
OK, fade out on that scene. Next: Caleb is almost 2 and a half. He often refuses to do things. When I ask him why, for the longest time, he would say something unintelligible like "acaz. eee fuss lah me!" The funny thing was that he seemed fairly consistent in his uninteligibility. It was almost always those same sounds : "acaz. ee fuss lah me!" I finally figured out what he was saying in response to my "why" questions: "Because he first loved me!"
Well, final scene: the other day, I asked him why he didn't want to go poopoo on the potty. You might have guessed his answer: "Because he first loved me!"

Luke: Recently, I wanted Luke to take a bath. "Luke," I said, "when was the last time that you had a bath?" (This was probably a week and a half ago or so). His response: "Well, I had one in December!" Ha!!

Jon David (over Christmas), while driving through our neighborhood, looking at our neighbor's Christmas decorations. One neighbor had the traditional single candle in each window. Very elegant. When I commented on how nice it looked, JD said "yea, it looks so nice, you can almost tell that no kids live there."


Christmas Dregs

Above is the calendar that I made for Caleb, copying completely Jon David and Luke's--made by Wendy.

When Don, Rich, and Mike Jr. were growing up, Wendy started a tradition. She made Christmas calendars out of red felt. She decorated them with foam stickers, and sewed little white hooks on with red ribbons. In the top, right corner, she glued a poem about the 10 days before Christmas. With each of the ten ribbons, she tied ten miniature candy canes so that each of her three children could eat one candy cane every day from Dec. 15th until Christmas day.
When grandchildren began arriving, she set out to make one for each grandchild, too. Unfortunately, she had to stop after making Luke's.
My mother-in-law has been a tremendous blessing to me. I pray that the Lord takes care of her like only He can.
This was my first year to make a Christmas calendar. I wanted to continue on with what she started. With every step of making this (from trying to find each component at Walmart or Hobby Lobby to spending the time needed to sew and glue), I appreciated more and more the woman that is Wendy. I love you, Wendy. Our lives are much richer thanks to you.
Here are all three of my boys' calendars. Just like Wendy's three boys. :)

Don had spoken at "Christmas at the Square" in downtown Perry toward the beginning of the season. He did a fantastic job. We had a Christmas Eve Service at Grace Church. I thought it went really well, and once again, Don did great.
Afterwards, we spent some time with some friends before coming back home.
Jon David and Luke were of course full of excitement. We finally got everyone in bed, and began our last minute preparations. I went to bed around midnight.
Around 12:30, the phone rang... You know it's not good when someone you know is calling you at midnight on Christmas Eve.It was one of our church members. His wife had passed out at their home. Don headed out to the hospital.
The next morning (Christmas day, of course), I knew Don needed to sleep in. Little did I know that he had not returned home until 3:00 A.M.
Around 8:00, I thought we had better get our Christmas show on. I woke Don up and asked him if Vicky was OK... No, he said: she had passed away. I sat down on the floor and cried. Then, I wiped my tears away and opened my bedroom door to my three eager children, anticipating their Christmas gifts.
Vicky Malone was one amazing woman. She greeted all of the visitors at church, provided us with name tags, and made sure that newcomers felt welcome and knew where to go. The loss was great. We love you and miss you, Vicky.

That afternoon, we traveled to Thomasville to finish celebrating Chritmas with Grandma, Grandaddy, Uncle Rich, Aunt Laura, Nicholas and Andrew. We returned home on Wednesday since the funeral was that afternoon.
The anticipation. :)
Here are some pictures of our Christmas celebration this year.

Jon David and Luke each got to shop at their school for family Christmas gifts this year. It was fun to see them give gifts to each other (and Caleb and Mom and Dad too).

Below, Caleb is enjoying a gift from one of our church members:

Roll Tide!


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