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Consider the Flowers of the Fields

As I was walking along, busy talking to God about a very difficult matter, feeling almost hopeless despite my prayers, I was interrupted by this.  Yes, a baby honeysuckle bush at the very edge of our lawn!  What a surprise!

God can do that, you know.

In fact, he can do anything.  I know that.  You probably do, too. 

So why do we forget?  Part of it could be because we forget to look at the world God has given us, and that makes us forget the reminders he has built into it.

As I marvelled over the flowers of recent weeks, I thought of what Jesus said.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

These verses from the Sermon on the Mount are in a passage about not being anxious, and they end by telling us to “seek first the kingdom of God and then all these things [he was talking about the necessities of life] will be added to us.”  

Not only can the beauty God has created fill us with joy and praise.  It can also comfort us and point us back to the Bible.

So be sure to go outside with your eyes and ears open, your nose ready to smell, and your heart focused on the Creator.

Review: Teach Them Your Way, O Lord by Amanda de Boer

Over the years we have used many story Bibles, but Teach Them Your Way, O Lord by Amanda de Boer is the best one I have come across. Written by a gifted mother and former teacher, it has several features that make it unique…. (see my full review)

Teach Them Your Way O Lord

I wish this story Bible had been written years ago when my five children were small.   It is now becoming my favorite gift to Christian families with little ones.

If you are looking for a story Bible to help you teach your preschoolers the gospel and what it means for everyday life as well as Bible narratives, you will be thankful for Teach Them Your Way, O Lord. I think it could be used with children who are slightly older as well, and parents, too, will benefit from reading it to their little ones.

You can read my full review of Teach Them Your Way, O Lord at The Curriculum Choice.

(Although I had been planning to share another post about nature, technology glitches have been making it impossible to upload my photos.  Hopefully soon!)

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read, or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure: I bought Teach Them Your Way, O Lord as a gift and was so impressed that I wanted to tell others about it. I am not compensated for sharing my opinions.

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemakers, Friendship Friday.

Reflections on The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

We are surrounded, overwhelmed, and almost defined by our technology. Andy Crouch tries to come to grips with this phenomenon in The Tech-Wise Family, looking at statistics, biblical principles, and personal experience to arrive at ten Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

Just as fish do not understand water, so we do not comprehend the all-encompassing effect of the technology that has silently taken over our world. It is one of the greatest changes mankind has ever had to deal with, and we are not dealing with it well.

In fact, Crouch writes that ‘the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it.’ Thus, even in our current culture, ‘families have few more pressing needs than for guidance about how to handle the devices that have colonized our homes and our attention.’

In other words, we need to do more than merely have internet filters and screen limits; we need to realize that we are being enslaved unwittingly. We desperately need to consider what it means to love the Lord our God with our whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves now, in our tech-saturated culture. Once we begin to understand that, we need to work toward it faithfully in ourselves, our families, and our churches.

Thus Crouch points out that we Christians need to think about what technology’s proper place in our lives should be, and then to ensure that we put it there, in its proper place, and keep it there. This is countercultural—radical, even—and difficult, but probably more necessary than we can imagine.

Technology is in its proper place, writes Crouch, when

  • it encourages connection ‘with the real people we have been given to love’, not with people we will never meet.
  • it encourages conversation, not when it inhibits talking and listening.
  • it helps us care for our bodies, not when it promises escape from our physical limits.
  • it assists us in developing skills in all aspects of culture, not when we consume it passively.
  • it helps us see creation with awe and responsibility, not when it keeps us from engaging with it in real life.
  • we use it purposefully, not when we let it overrun our lives.

This wise list is a good start to thinking biblically about tech. Now, how do we ensure these things happen?

In The Tech-Wise Family, Crouch addresses this question to help us reduce the hold technology has over us and to return to a more biblical, God-centered way of living. First, he presents insights and research from Barna Group. Then he discusses a set of nudges, disciplines, and choices that will help us focus on ‘the hard and beautiful work of becoming wise and courageous people together’ which, with explanation, is what he claims family is really about. Even though there may be some quibbles with that statement, it is valid in many respects. Or, in different terms, he states that we need to be able to focus on our core callings and commitments without distractions. To this end, he argues for ten far-ranging commitments we should make regarding our families’ use of technology.

According to Crouch, we need to make three key commitments that will have tremendous impact on every aspect of our families’ lives. We need to decide

  • to strive for the wisdom to guide our actions biblically and the courage to act upon this wisdom. We are not called to make our children’s lives easier but better.
  • to set up our physical homes to encourage creativity, relationship building, and engagement.
  • to structure our time biblically, in terms of fruitful work and fruitful rest, not fruitless toil and fruitless leisure. Crouch points out that Sabbath keeping, like honoring our parents, is a commandment based on what we would have been required to do even without the fall into sin.

In terms of daily life, we need to consider

  • waking and sleeping—so that our last and first thoughts are not dependent on our phones. We were created to need rest and we should ensure that we get both sleep and down time, with our phones away from our bedrooms.
  • learning and working—so that our children will have time to grow up in the real world instead of in a virtual one. We are human, bodies and souls, and we need to live as God created us to, with our bodies as well as our minds.
  • the good news about boredom—so that dependence on technology will not ‘undermine our ability to enjoy and notice the abundance of the ordinary’. Boredom is an important warning sign that our capacity for fruitful work and rest have been seriously depleted, and the solution is not more screen time but less of it. Families should use screens together, for a specific, creative purpose.
  • car time—so that we use these valuable hours for conversation. If, as some suggest, most conversations take about seven minutes to really begin, then the extended screen-free time we can enforce in our cars is a beautiful opportunity.
  • total access to our children’s devices and passwords for our spouse’s devices—so that we will be less likely to give in to sexual temptation online. Even though determined teens can get around any safety features we provide (and phones are inherently unsafe), it is important that they know there are boundaries and that they have our guidance. As for spouses, the goal is not surveillance but to keep so connected with each other that sin will be less attractive and, if it happens, less damaging to our souls and relationships.

Finally, Crouch points to two things that matter most in our families:

  • Singing together instead of relying on recorded or performed music in our lives and worship, because ‘the most important thing we can learn to do is worship’ and we are commanded to learn this in families. (Deut 6:4-9)
  • Showing up in each other’s lives in person, because this shows us the frailty and limitations of our bodies which technology, medical as well as distractive, tries to deny. We are human; we are born, we grow, and we die; and we are meant to do so together, spurring each other along ‘on the way to a better life, the life that really is life.’

Crouch addresses each of these points thoughtfully, often with surprising clarity and insight, and helps us understand how to live wisely with technology in our families. In each case, he provides a reality check, where he shares how the commitments have worked out in his family. He openly admits that it is not easy, sharing both struggles and successes, and celebrating partial wins.  I agree that it is not easy; our family, too, has a long way to go.

The Tech-Wise Family should be read by all Christian parents, probably by all Christians who own a cell phone. But will it be widely read? Most likely not. Ironically, many of us are too distracted to read and think deeply. Furthermore, we are too afraid of being convinced and then needing to change our lifestyle. Finally, each of us is certain that, ‘I can handle this.’ (But wait, isn’t that what all addicts say?)

That begs the question: Are we addicted to technology? If so, we need to repent and reengage with God, each other, and the world. Is technology distracting us from our primary calling and commitments? If so, we need to put it in its proper place. And since all addiction, including that to tech and porn, feeds on emptiness, it becomes even more important to follow Crouch’s suggestions to increase relationships, meaning, and satisfaction. We need to experience for ourselves what Crouch’s daughter wrote, that ‘technology promises wonder, but the world out there is better than anything technology can offer.’

The Tech-Wise Family is a helpful guide to living as Christians in an increasingly distracted world. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus warned us against being so distracted by the things of this world that his Word in us would be unfruitful. This is serious stuff, and we parents should carefully consider the things Andy Crouch says, both for our families and ourselves. This book is not primarily an anti-tech rant (actually Crouch loves tech, too, and uses it constantly); it is about our very salvation.

So let us be wise, learning what we need to learn and applying it diligently. Let us remember that no one can have two masters. When he said that, Jesus was referring to being enslaved by money, but tech has an equally strong hold on many. If tech is our master, we are in danger; if tech is our servant, we can use it to God’s glory.

May God bless us all as we bravely navigate this new world that we are only beginning to realize we have entered.

Related articles I have written:

Review of Captivated:  Finding Freedom in a Media-Captive Culture, a Christian documentary that addresses similar issues.

Glow Kids, Screens, and Education.”  It turns out that screens may cause more educational problems than we suspected.

“Screens and our Kids’ Mental Health, with Tips for Parents.”

Review of Glow Kids:  How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras.

Review of 52 Ways to Connect with your Smartphone Obsessed Kid by Jonathan McKee. Practical ways to connect or reconnect.

Review of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane.  “Is it possible for children to learn about relationships and responsibilities when the vast majority of their time is spent absorbed in a screen?”

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read, or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemakers, Friendship Friday.

A Surprising Lesson from Stinging Nettles

Recently my husband came in asking, “Do you want some nettles?” After all, we do eat them once in a while, especially in chicken soup, because they are so healthy.

So he showed me the enormous patch he was about to pull up, I showed him the difference between wild raspberry and nettles, and a while later he came in with an enormous pile of nettles.

stinging nettles to process

Rather overwhelmed, I looked at two herb books for more information, because it is one thing to eat nettles as a minor ingredient in soup once in a while, but it is something else entirely eat a table full. There I found recipes, dozens of health benefits, and all sorts of interesting tidbits.

Did you know that the ancient Greeks and Romans devoted more land to growing nettles than any other crop, using it for food, medicine, and clothing? My father recalls Dutch farmers having nettle fields to benefit the soil, but he did not know if they just plowed it in as a green fertilizer or if they actually harvested it.

But there I was, with an intimidating mountain of this stinging plant to prepare, and I was just procrastinating. So I put on the yellow rubber gloves I always use with nettles and set to work, stripping off the side leaves to freeze for winter soups and pinching off the tops to eat for supper.

processing stinging nettles

Once this was done, I rinsed and re-rinsed them to get rid of all the dirt. Most of them I froze for soup, using the stovetop variant of my three-step blanching method. The tips I cooked lightly and then served with olive oil, lemon juice, and feta cheese and my family loved them. The blanching liquid, which was essentially concentrated nettle tea, we saved to drink over the next few days.

Looking at the result—22 wee packs of nettles for 22 pots of winter soup, a vegetable for supper, and a few pints of nettle tea—I wondered it if was worth it all the work.

But I hadn’t only been making a bit of food. I had also been showing the kids a new activity, intentionally working on our family’s health, learning to use what God has placed in our yard, listening to Alison Balsom’s trumpet music, and accepting a gift from my husband and from God. I had been intentionally learning from people of the past and using what our society considers useless.

“It’s so weird, mom!” Miss 16 protested when someone showed up at the door and saw the pile of nettles. Yes, it is. Like making soup stock, or homeschooling, or being a stay at home mom, or being a Christian, this was, in some sense, a countercultural act.

But perhaps we all need to become more comfortable being a bit weird. Not that we all need to harvest garden weeds, but we all need to learn to be different, to be brave enough to do things that our society considers strange. Like being Christians. Like trusting God rather than the government or Google or the dollar. Like homeschooling. Like doing whatever it is God has called us to do. I wonder if, like other disciplines, it requires intentional practice to get more comfortable with being ‘different’.

If so, one can practice being countercultural in many ways, large and small, and that one recent afternoon I did so by processing a tableful of stinging nettles. I thought I was just preparing food; it turns out I was also making a small statement.

The story of another gift from my husband.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read, or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

This may be linked to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemakers, Friendship Friday.

Review: A Little Book for New Historians by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Homeschoolers study history; it’s one of the things we do rather well. In fact, there are many homeschool programs that organize the year, or even the full 12 years, according to historical themes. Our family, too, has learned an enormous amount of history over the years and continues to do so. Yet I have always had questions:

  • What exactly is history?
  • Why should a Christian study it?
  • How should Christians look at history?
  • What about everyday history instead of governments, revolutions, and battles?
  • What about biases and revisionist history?
  • What about some of the Christian approaches to history which claim to understand God’s plans?

Professor Robert Tracy McKenzie addresses these questions and many more in A Little Book for New Historians: Why and How to Study History. Superbly organized, this little book is a gem for homeschooling parents. It discusses important ideas behind studying history, answering questions about both the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. Those who have absorbed the lessons of this book will be able to give their children a more grounded and rounded introduction to history and will know why they do so.

First McKenzie discusses why we should study history. Defining history as the ‘remembered past’ he points out that sound historical thinking is something we have to work at because we are not automatically equipped to remember the past accurately and wisely. In fact, in our ‘present tense culture’, looking at history is a radical activity. Doing so has various practical rewards, but history is much too complex to treat merely as a series of lessons for today. Besides, as Christians we believe that history is linear, not cyclical, so it will not automatically repeat. Even so, serious study of the past can be an expression of Christian obedience and worship.

I was intrigued by McKenzie’s six reasons why a Christian should study history:

  1. God created us to be historical beings.
  2. History is foundational to Christianity.
  3. The church includes living and dead, past and present.
  4. Just as God created nature, he also created the past.
  5. When we are faced with the immensity of the past and strive to make sense of it, we are driven to awe, humility, and worship.
  6. Historical understanding helps us renew our minds and take our thoughts captive to Christ by helping us see our own culture from the outside.

Having established that we should study history, McKenzie then outlines how to do so faithfully. To gain an overview of a period, we listen to other historians through secondary sources, always remembering that we are listening in to a conversation about the past, not actually experiencing the past.   By looking at primary sources, we can also listen to people from the past. It takes humility to encounter the past and learn from it instead of merely labelling it or judging it by our culture’s standards. We need to learn how to ‘study the past on its own terms but not for its own sake’ and how to construct a persuasive interpretation of the past. In this sense, studying history is not passive at all, but intense and even creative.

History is not only intense academically but it can also be life-changing. As we encounter people of the past who lived in different times and thought so differently, we encounter things that we think are strange, silly, or even sinful but that seemed normal and right to people of those days. Grappling with this can be life-changing. As McKenzie points out,

The study of history affords a marvellous framework for life-changing moral inquiry, provided that we emphasize moral reflection above moral judgement.… Moral reflection means that we work to identify with those whom we are otherwise tempted to judge. (98-100)

Thus, McKenzie’s conclusion is this:

“If you are a new historian, you should expect to increase in historical knowledge, thinking skill, and consciousness, but you should also hope to grow in humility, charity, and wisdom.” (105)

Looking at the study of history in this way changes our understanding of what we do in our homeschools. Of course, we will still teach our kids the people, places, dates, and events, but we will realize that history is so much more than that. We will learn to learn from the past. Faced with the intricate, interrelated, overwhelming immensity that is the past, we will stand in awe at what God has done and is doing. Thus we can continue to tell our kids that learning history is not about the test; it’s about life.

Although A Little Book for New Historians would be primarily for the parents in a homeschool, it is also suitable for an upper high school level history course. This is an excellent choice for a homeschooling mom’s summer reading, especially if her children are teens.

Some of my related articles

“Six Historical Thinking Skills and Your Homeschool” In this article I hoped to someday read about the topic of historical thinking from a Christian point of view; A Little Book for New Historians has been the answer for me.

“Canadian History Through Literature”

“Examples of High School Records for Multiyear, Literature-Based History Courses”

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read, or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure: A Little Book for New Historians showed up unexpectedly in my mailbox and I am thankful it did.  As always, I have given my own honest opinions.

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday.

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