Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Loneliness in the Journey

I am so glad for the break that is being provided to me because I committed to writing this post for Intentional Journey. I need the break right now. I'm in the midst of the chaos that is school planning for our upcoming school year. For the past few summers, I have started planning earlier, toward the beginning of August, used a boxed curriculum and had friends who were a year ahead of me in said boxed curriculum (great resource). This year, I have none of those things in place since Eric and I decided the boxed curriculum wasn't working for our kids anymore, and, because June and July were such busy months for our family, we took it easy for most of August. I don't regret that. I needed it. Eric needed it (technically, he only took it easy on the weekends and evenings). My kids needed it. All of these things have, however, caused school planning to be a little more chaotic and stressful than usual, which is totally fine, but this break to write is so appreciated.

I get so many questions about homeschooling. 1. "Why do you do homeschool?" 2."Will you do this forever?" or, one of my least favorites, "When will you put them into school?" 3. "Do you get a tax break for curriculum?" 4. "Does the school district provide curriculum?" or "What curriculum do you use?" 5. "What about socialization (my true least favorite)?"

So, in short...1. God called us to it. 2. Yes. Forever and ever, and they won't go to school until college if they should so choose. 3. Ha!!! NO. 4. No. We use a variety of different resources for curriculum, and, while a few are free via the internet, most of them come out of our pocket. 5. What about it??? Have you met my kids?

I think that too many people look at us as if we are weird, counter-cultural Christians that they just can't relate to, or they disagree with our calling to the extent that the harshness of their judgment prevents them from forming a true relationship with us. In some cases we have even lost relationships with friends due to this calling from the Lord. Sometimes, this trail that we blaze is lonely. As much as I hear some homeschoolers scoff at the many questions  our public and private schooling peers ask of us, I welcome them because it is my hope that it means that someone wants to know not just about this journey, but also about me, what I do and the things that are closest to my heart. I am that homeschooling mom. The lonely one. The one who sometimes really needs someone to swim to her island rather than always having to row her boat against the tide to get to them. So, please, ask your questions. I will answer them as well as I can.

While this journey has lonely seasons, I am grateful for it. God has done and continues to do incredible things for our family through our homeschool. Because of our obedience in choosing different curriculum this year, the Lord has allowed our Bible study and devotional time to come together like never before. I'm so excited about what we're going to be doing with our kids this year! This is the most important part of our child training, the part that I wish more Christian parents would do whether or not they homeschool. 

This year, we'll continue our family study of Our 24 Family Ways. I believe this is exactly what the Lord has for us right now, and He is going to transform our family through it! Instead of Eric teaching one thing during our daily family worship time while I teach something completely different in the morning, the Lord directed us to coordinate the two things. It may sound simple and almost unimportant to have these two times of our day be cohesive, but I was pretty much married to the boxed curriculum the past few years, so this is a big deal for us! in the evening while incorporating the Bible memory work into our morning devotional that I do with the kids at the start of our school day. We're also using this fantastic idea for a scripture memorization box that I found at Simply Charlotte Mason

We believe that the Lord can only do the great things He desires to do through us if we walk in faith and obedience, and homeschooling is part of that. The choice we are making is not whether to homeschool or not. The choice is obedience to the Lord.

More than anything, we want the glory of God to shine in our lives. Our family has not arrived at this, but we are working toward it. These steps of obedience and these reminders from God that He is directing our footsteps, take us closer and closer to that light permeating our individual lives, our family and our home. It is worth a little loneliness to experience that. It is worth a little loneliness to know that the most important relationship in our lives is in order because we are obeying Him. 

That said, if you have a homeschooling family in your church, I challenge you to befriend them. Reach out. They may really need your friendship. It may open your mind to another point-of-view that will challenge you. Your willingness to step out of your comfort zone will likely be a blessing to you and to the family. The Lord designed us for relationships. We need you more than you realize.

I guess I should wrap this up and get back to lesson planning. This little vulnerable window will likely be followed up with others in the future on my personal blog. My newest goal is to be open about our homeschooling journey rather than trying to explain it away or to try to fit in with everyone else. This is my journey. Our journey. And we have bumps in our road. Even so...we love this journey. I could never have imagined this blessing. I am...grateful.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Old vs New

One of the things I like to do is give my opinion on topics that don't matter in the long run.  One of these topics is old earth vs. new earth and how it relates to a literal six days of creation.  Here's why it doesn't matter: salvation hinges on believing that Christ came, died, and rose again and in doing so, paved the way for all who believe to enter Heaven.  Beyond that, it's all irrelevant but fun to discuss.

I believe in a literal six days of creation.  God used six consecutive twenty-four hour time periods to create everything, and rested on day seven.  The purpose in creation was to create a people who would choose to worship God, unlike the angels who don't have that option.  I also believe that immortality was part of the original plan.  Time was not important - except that there were days and nights which were necessary for the growth of God's creation.

The Bible doesn't say how long Adam and Eve were in the garden before their run-in with the serpent.  However, because Genesis 2 is the story of man's beginning and chapter 3 details the fall, some are lead to believe that the fall happened the very next day.  Personally, I'd like to give them a bit more credit than that.  It is entirely possible that Adam and Eve were in the garden for many millennia before being kicked out.  Since time wasn't important, no one kept track.

Age isn't mentioned until after the fall - when time began to matter.  It's amazing what we keep track of when we know there's going to be an end eventually.  We have assumed that Adam's age mentioned in the Bible is based on his creation day; however, it is also possible that the counting started after the expulsion from Eden.  Thus the earth could be both billions of years old and created in six literal days.

Again, none of the preceding matters.  If it did, the Scriptures would be clear on the topic.  It would be documented.  However, everyday life for an unknown period of time isn't vital for salvation, so it wasn't mentioned and shouldn't be a topic upon which a stake should be driven.  It is, however, fun to discuss!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is Jesus a Socialist? : A Discussion and Response


Last week an article by Billy Hallowell on The Blaze titled “Is Jesus Christ a Socialist” was brought to my attention. Comments and discussion were solicited. Hallowell presents points and arguments from both those for and against this viewpoint. I would encourage you to read the article. Once you’ve done so, here are some of my own responses and ponderings on Hallowell’s commentary.

“… some on the far left have begun to claim that Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible advocate socialism and preach against capitalism”

Isn’t co-opting Christ for our own purposes tantamount to remaking God in our own image? Both sides are guilty of this, if you ask me.

“… he [Greggory Paul] claims that socialism has its roots in the Christian Bible.”

That’s probably a more accurate inquiry than the title of the article, since Christ is first century and modern socialism originates in the eighteenth.

Paul questions why Christians have abandoned the socialistic inclinations espoused by Jesus Christ to embrace capitalistic beliefs that contradict, in his view, Biblical principles.”

Good question, except that I wouldn’t use the word socialistic since that strikes me as drawing commentary from Christ and the Apostles on an area that they didn’t give instruction. Reconsidering Biblical principles on how we live our lives is hugely important, but we ought not to turn it into a discussion of economic-political debate as that was not the basis of Christ and the Apostle’s commentaries.

Paul contends that ‘a set of profound contradictions have developed within modern conservative Christianity.’”

I would agree with that, even in the area that Paul is perplexed over – that is, over the beliefs and behaviors of modern conservative Christians that contradict our origins. Still, I would not center that evaluation on an economic-political model.

Christians who denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science, yet espouse social Darwinism (i.e. capitalism) are doing so without examining the antithetical nature of their thinking.”

I would agree with this. I would also propose that the opposite is true. Non-Christians who champion Darwin’s evolutionary science, also seem to reject social Darwinism without examining the antithetical nature of their thinking.

In citing examples straight from the Bible that he calls ‘outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx,’”

I’m pretty confident in saying that the Bible does not contain any examples of “outright socialism”. Communal living that looks like socialism, yes, but nothing that proposes a governmental management of national economics which coerces sharing on the people. Besides that, I’m pretty sure that Marx was not friendly to Christianity or its doctrines. Also, we don’t really see any kind of socialism established once Christianity becomes the state religion. If we don’t see it in existing in a much closer time proximity to Christ and the Apostles, then why would we propose it as the Biblical model millennia later?

Paul seizes upon the book of Acts. Acts 2:42-47 reads:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’”

OK. If we’re going to use this as an example of socialism (and even assume governmental involvement, which I already spoke about above), then let’s start from the beginning … come and devote yourself to the Apostles’ teaching, to fellowship and the breaking of bread and prayer.” If one is not doing that, then I suspect they are attempting an end around maneuver which seeks to selectively pick up on convenient points that support one’s own beliefs while avoiding the really core necessities on which those points are established. Early Christians didn’t come together and share their belongings with unbelievers and yet that seems to be the proposal here based on governmental involvement in that sharing. We can not honestly separate the behavior from the motivation behind it.

For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Let’s not overlook “from time to time” and turn it into an “all must always comply” sort of thing. Also, the proceeds were laid at the Apostles’ feet, not Herod’s or Pilate’s or Caesar’s. Are those who wish to lead us into modern economic-governmental socialism willing to lay the collection at the church’s feet for distribution?

To Paul, these Biblical accounts, teamed with a story in chapter five in which a man and wife were stricken dead for failing ‘to turn over all…property to the church,’ constitute ‘the first description of socialism in history.’”

Ananias and Saphira were stricken dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (by lying to the Apostles), not for “failing to ‘turn over all … property to the church’” This is either a fundamental misunderstanding of Scripture or a false argument on Paul’s part here.

David French and Jordan Sekulow, attorneys for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), took serious issue with Paul’s assessment.”

Can someone explain why are we seeking theological and doctrinal commentary from attorneys?

Furthermore, the two legal minds do not see socialism as a “biblical mandate” and they write that the true question should not be, “Does the Bible mandate socialism?” Instead, they say critics and adherents, alike, should be asking, ‘Is socialism compatible with the Bible?’”

I would agree that is a more appropriate question.

According to French and Sekulow, the man and wife who were stricken dead in Acts perished because of their deceit, not because, as Paul believes, they hadn’t turned all of their possessions over to the church.”

Exactly.

“… they point out that in Luke, Chapter 10, Jesus says that “the worker deserves his wages” (clearly, this statement meshes more with capitalism).”

This would be an example of how both sides attempt to co-opt Christ and the Apostle’s instructions for their own purposes. I would propose that they neither champion socialism nor do they champion capitalism. Insisting that they did is simply not an intellectually honest proposition. Again we are better to consider whether either is compatible with Scriptural instructions, or better yet, just go to the models given by Scripture themselves.

While the Bible calls us to help the poor, it is also clear that the poor must help themselves to the extent they are able. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul warns against idleness and says, ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’”

This is tied to that conservative capitalist fallacy that those who are impoverished are so because of idleness. This is simply not stereotypically true. It also flies in contradiction to Christ and the Apostles’ instructions towards mercy and care of the poor.

They allege that socialism creates poverty, writing that the few remaining socialistic nations are stricken with economic deficiency and intense interdependence as a result of the economic system.”

Capitalism also creates poverty. Poverty exists. Pinning it on one’s political opponents is simply political posturing.

Then, they tie the recent issues seen in Europe — London’s riots and Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland’s economic woes — to failed experiments with socialism.”

The recent issues seen in Europe are also tied to failed economics in America as well, not just with experiments in socialism in Europe.

In the end, French and Sekulow believe that Christians have overwhelming rejected socialism because the Bible is contradictory to its underpinnings.”

Just as with Paul, I believe this to go to far in its claims. Just as Scripture does not categorically support socialism, neither does it categorically reject it. There are clearly examples in Scripture of socialist-like communal living. It is unnecessary to resort to extremes in polarization in order to discuss and debate just what is and isn’t compatible with Scripture.

Richards concludes with the following words: ‘The Bible isn’t an economics textbook’”

Although it gives economic models and instructions; which both socialists and capitalists chose to ignore, it isn’t an economics textbook. Those who wish to enlist Christ and the Apostles’ instructions into their economic and political causes would be far better served spending that time humbly considering those instructions in regards to the salvation of their immortal souls.

________________________________________________________________________
This was submitted to me by Jason Dillingham.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Walk Across America

I’m not sure this trip qualifies as a vacation, but it certainly was an adventure! In 2006 my wife Jane and I walked across America. We left Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles on January 1 and arrived in Washington D.C. on July 4.

First I’ll give you some basic facts about the walk. Jane and I walked an average of twenty miles per day Monday through Friday and about thirteen to fifteen miles on Saturday. We didn’t walk on Sunday (except for the first day of the walk). Most of the time it was just the two of us. We followed Route 66 from California to Oklahoma City, which was the half-way point. After that we basically followed the I-40 corridor until we reached the Virginia border. Then we followed Route 11 to New Market, VA and then east to D.C. We walked 2770 miles, wore out 20 pair of walking shoes, and took nearly 10 million steps.

That’s the technical aspect of the walk, but the real life-changing experience of the walk was interacting with the thousands of people we met along the way. We met and talked with people from every kind of background, economic condition, race, religion and nationality imaginable. We walked through five Native American reservations, through the barrios and skid-rows of major cities, through deserts, forests, over mountains, through creeks and through every possible kind of fence and barrier you can think of. We talked to hundreds of people, heard many of their stories, prayed with many of them and shared meals and drinks with even more. 

We were in pain, were injured, ignored and laughed at, but nothing could dampen the call that we felt to place the sole of our feet down all the way across this nation. We saw more homeless people than most Americans see in a lifetime. We hugged more prostitutes, drug addicts and alcoholics than we ever knew existed. We’ve never been more tired, blistered, sunburned or endangered in our life, but it was truly the best six months or our lives. There’s no way to explain the sense of accomplishment we felt as we crossed the bridge from Arlington Memorial Cemetery into Washington D.C. 

I could tell literally hundreds of stories we heard from the people we met; like the Havasupai Indian who lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. His name was Wallace Senyela. Or the homeless couple, Will and Linnea who we met in Flagstaff, AZ. We actually saw them four different times that week, something that should never happen when you’re walking a straight line across America. We believe every step was ordered by God…every meeting, a divine appointment. 

Lots of folks have asked us how we did it. Well, the spiritual answer is “with God’s help.” The practical answer is “one step at a time.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clifty Falls for Outdoorsy People, We are not them.

When my oldest child was in the fourth grade, one of the projects they were assigned was an Indiana Project. She did her project on Clifty Falls near Madison Indiana. That summer she really wanted to see the waterfalls she had learned about, so we took a very scenic route to Kings Island that year and went to Clifty Falls on the way there.

Perhaps I should preface this with three points. 1. We do not rough it. Our idea of roughing it is when the satellite goes out during a storm. We do NOT camp, ever. 2. This was our first time near hiking trails. 3. The ages of our children at this time were 10, 8, and 3. The grades they are currently in and at the time the three year old was very much still in a stroller.

We arrived at Clifty Falls and checked into our hotel. (Do not judge me. Refer to point number 1) Plus if interested the hotel is quite lovely. We received a map of the trails at check in, and my husband studied it and announced that we should do the first trail before dinner. It said it was an easy trail. We went outside and he proceeds to get the stroller out. I asked him, "What are you doing?" He says, "Getting the Stroller?" I say, "You know it's a trail right?" He says, "It is marked as easy, it'll be fine." I reply with "Does it also say it is paved?" As you can imagine I did get a look.

We started on the trail with our girls follow us as we pushed the boy in the stroller. It starts out pretty easy until it curves around and the terrain gets rougher and goes uphill. After we curve around and begin our trek back my husband turns to me and says, "Doesn't this remind you of The Fugitive? You know after the train crash and they are all escaping into the woods?" Now by this point I have already begun my mantra of "Do not touch anything green, look with your eyes and not your hands. The last thing we need on this trip is poison ivy."

The girls are leading the way and we have to keep telling them to slow down and now I have to worry not only about poison ivy but about fugitives and who knows what kind of wild animals are hiding in the woods. The terrain gets worse and harder to get the stroller through with down limbs blocking the paths.

We ask my son to get out of the stroller and walk but he refuses. We go a few more feet and look at the path and then I tell it to him straight. "Son" I say, "If you do not get out and walk up this hill, there is a good chance none of us will get out of here alive." So he gets out and walks and we finally get out of the woods (or deliverance) alive.

The next day we drive to each waterfall, walk the few feet to see the dried up waterfall, take a picture and hop in the car to drive to the next one. I asked them all if they enjoyed their time in the great outdoors and we went to Kings Island. Where things are out in the open and if there are fugitives running around, there are plenty of witnesses to point the finger to the bad guy. What can I say? While I do enjoy all of God's creations and I think every bit of it is beautiful, I'm kind of a city girl at heart or at the very least a town person. Plus I really enjoy the blue ice cream. You can't get that in the woods.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Branson, Missouri

A couple weeks back I went to Branson with some members of my family.  My family left Ohio, stayed in Indy overnight with me, and then we all got up early to head off.  The drive from Indianapolis to Branson: boring. The only redeeming part was driving through St. Louis, a place I have been once and would like to go visit again.

Allow me to describe Branson.  It is clearly a town that was not initially designed to be a cultural center.  The city layout alone would alert you to this.  There is one main street, and regardless of the day of the week or the time of day, the traffic crawls as though it were NYC.  The city planners decided the best way to help this traffic dilemma was to create three different routes that can be taken to bypass the main street, yet still get you where you need to go. There are red, yellow, and blue routes, each of which run mostly parallel with the main street.  As long as you have a map, you'll be able to navigate the town okay.

We did not take in a show (we were travelling with three kids under 8, so we didn't want to even attempt it) however, the variety of available shows certainly provided enough to keep us all entertained had we chosen to go. There were country shows, Christian shows, instrumental performances, acrobatics and more.

Here's what we did do:

  • Rode the Branson Ducks - WWII era DUKW transports that have the ability to drive along the road, and then also drive right down a ramp and then be used as a boat.  We toured Table Rock Lake in this manner.
  • Toured the Titanic Museum - a built to scale replica of the doomed ship.  We were handed a card with a passenger's name on it, and at the end of the tour, we could see if our passenger survived the disaster.  It's a self-guided tour, with a hand-held audio player that provides you details about what you're seeing.  I did notice that in the area of the grand staircase, the music playing in the background was from the movie score, but that was the only place that was playing.  My passenger, a 38 year old female survived, but her husband and 3 of her 5 children did not.
  • Rode go-karts and bumper boats - a favorite of my 7 year old nephew
  • Toured Talking Rocks Cavern - a cavern 100 feet below the surface that is wired with stereo that provides commentary regarding the history of the area and the discovery of the cavern.
  • Drove through the College of the Ozarks campus - a school that has dubbed itself "Hard Work U" due to the fact that it does not charge tuition, and requires that its students earn their keep by working in some capacity.  The campus was beautiful and expansive. 
  • Drove several times through the countryside to take in the scenic views.
  • Shopped at the outlet malls.
  • Ate at several local restaurants.  We only ate at one national chain restaurant during our visit in Branson, the rest of the time we were very intentional about eating at local places.
  • Toured a toy museum - floor to ceiling toys from several generations.  All of us found at least one toy we remembered playing with as a kid.  In addition, the museum was run by Christians, so we didn't have to worry about what kinds of things we would have to shield the kids' eyes from.
Things we did NOT do:
  • As previously mentioned, we did not catch a show.
  • We did not zip-line over the city
  • We did not take a helicopter tour of the city.
  • We did not drive on the main street after the first day of being there.
  • We did not stay in a hotel.  My sister owns a Bluegreen vacation club package, so we stayed at a Bluegreen resort.
I do not know that I will be visiting Branson again, but I do think that it's somewhere everyone should go at least once.  I do know that there is year-round entertainment, and I would imagine the area is absolutely gorgeous in the fall when all the leaves change.

By way of distance, Branson is roughly 8-9 hours from Indianapolis - depending on how frequently you would need to stop.  Based on the TV commercials I saw, Frontier Airlines does service the Branson Airport, so that might be an inexpensive way to get there as well.

If you go or have already been, let me know what you thought.  I'd be interested in hearing your experience.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Family Vacation - Pigeon Forge, TN

Our favorite family vacation spot is Pigeon Forge, TN.  The area offers tons of family fun (go karts, thrill rides, arcades, live theater) and shopping opportunities in addition to providing an educational experience - the area is rich in history (do yourself a favor and look up the Walker Sisters before you head down to the area) as well as and endless number of hiking trails and chances to get close to nature.

We usually stay in cabins in the small town of Townsend, TN.  Known as "The Quiet Side of the Smokies", Townsend offers a peaceful place to lay your head after a busy day.  Townsend is a peaceful half an hour drive outside of Pigeon Forge.  There are plenty of places to stop along the way (down US Rte 321).  We always travel to the area in October, because we enjoy the beauty of the leaves changing color in the Autumn.  In October, in Wears Valley, TN (which is along the route from Townsend to Pigeon Forge), there are two seasonal festivals.  The Pumpkin Festival is a small, food oriented festival with live bluegrass music, and lots of produce (pumpkins, gourds, apples) for sale, along with tasty treats like fried apple pies and southern BBQ ribs and other local fare.  The larger festival in Wears Valley is the Harvest Festival.  This one is a shopping-centric fest with dozens of unique vendor booths.  They also have food available, although it is more county-fair type food.  There are also games and activities for the kids.

When you venture into the town of Pigeon Forge, be prepared to have the children on sensory overload.  If you go in the evening, there are lots of bright, flashy lights and lots of people.  The city is extremely crowded on weekends and we generally avoid the area at all costs on weekends.  The other towns in the area that have a lot of tourist-y type activities are Sevierville (lots of shopping) and Gatlinburg (shopping as well as lots of activities).  We venture outside of these towns during weekends.   We jaunt into these towns on weekdays, arriving on the early side (attractions and shops open around 9 am) and leave well before the crowds start forming in the evenings.  My boys' favorite thing to do in Pigeon Forge is riding Go-Karts.  There are several places that offer buy one ride ticket, get the second free during certain hours.  So, the boys ride Go-Karts for half price.  (Health Warning: Most of the Go-Karts are loud and kick back a fair amount of noxious fumes.  My boys don't care, but I am sure to keep some migraine medication in my purse for when the headache from the fumes hits me.)

The city of Gatlinburg offers some unique attractions.  We never miss the Ripley's Believe It or Not Aquarium.  With tax, this attraction costs about $20 for an adult, less for children, but it is well worth the expense... you can easily spend several hours at this location and the kids will love the interactive displays and moving sidewalk.   The Ripley's franchise has several other venues in Gatlinburg, museums, walk-through maze, haunted house, and others... discounts can be had by buying tickets for several attractions at once.

Gatlinburg also offers an off-the-beaten-path treasure for shoppers.   The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community Trail is an 8 -mile loop full of unique shops, restaurants and galleries.  My kids hate it.  My mom and I adore it.  (Might I suggest dropping the children off at the Aquarium with Grandpa while you and Mom go shopping?)  Find Out More About The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Trail Here 

Last but certainly not least, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must-see when you're in the area.  Our favorite locations include the Little Greenbriar School (park at the school and you can hike to the aforementioned Walker Sisters' cabin - it is about a mile and a half each way - a great hike - leave your dogs at home and make a lot of noise - bears frequent this area- I am completely enamored with the Walker Sisters' story and we've incorporated this history into many homeschool lessons.  (Learn More About The Walker Sisters Here) .  (Photo of the boys inside of the Little Greenbriar School)



Right near Little Greenbriar, there is a rest & picnic (and hiking) area called Metcalf bottoms.  You can hike from the school right down to Metcalf bottoms in about ten minutes. (Photo of boys hiking down to Metcalf Bottoms)



This is a good place to walk the dog, stretch your legs before a hike, use the facilities or have a picnic lunch without the fear of a bear wandering over to share.  Once you're at Metcalf Bottoms, you can exit one of two ways, to the left, you'll head toward Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (and heading through the Park, you can continue on to Cherokee, NC, the Blue Ridge Parkway (a beautifully breathtaking drive) and along this road, you'll also find many trails that you can pick up, as well as landmarks... Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the Smokies, there's a mile-long steep incline (but nicely paved) path up to the highest point, with a lookout with amazing views, Laurel Falls Trail (one of the trail patches we earned last year) is down this way (this trail is well marked and is a moderately difficult hike- very steep cliffs made me nervous with my youngest, I kept him extra close) and you can also pick up the famous Appalachian Trail at the TN-NC state line.  Alum Caves trail is also down this way (this is a pretty difficult trail - wear hiking boots - not regular gym shoes, and the youngest of children (maybe under 10) should probably sit this one out... DEFINITELY A WORKOUT).  Now - back to Metcalf Bottoms - if you make a right to exit this recreational area, very shortly, you'll come to a recreational area on your left called The Sinks.  Awesome waterfall, rocky cliffs jutting out of the river banks, hiking and climbing are all waiting for you at The Sinks.  This is one of my boys' favorite areas.  (This is a photo of them at The Sinks)



Continuing down this road (through the National Park), You'll come to a quiet (as long as you don't go on a weekend!) area called Cade's Cove.  An historic settlement with original (and some rehabbed) buildings, hiking trails and an 11 mile loop that you drive through.  About halfway through the loop, you'll find the visitors' center.  Run by the National Park service, here you'll find a gift shop with books (some great field guides!), stuffed animals, patches (for all of those trails you hiked during your stay!) and other odds and ends. There is also a water powered mill where they still grind corn and several other buildings at this stop.  Cade's Cove is a place you'll want to bring your camera, we always see lots of wild life here.  Deer, wild turkeys and even the occasional bear can be found at Cade's Cove.  Try to arrive early in the morning for the best chance to see bears.

Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area make for a wonderful family getaway.  There is plenty to do for everyone and one of the best parts is that the kids sleep very well every night. We have a lot of fun every time we go and we find new things to do every time we're there.  I've been going since I was 12 years old and I'm still not bored of this location.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Disney Memories

I remember the moment they saw the castle for the first time like it was yesterday. Their senses were taking it all in as we walked down Main Street, USA looking at all the sites, meeting Disney characters, listening to music and laughter, smelling tantalizing treats. We walked through Cinderella's castle and discovered Arthur's sword awaiting the children next to the carousel. They pulled and pulled to no avail and then climbed onto valiant horses and rode off into the sunset. Well...sort of. They rode around and around. Dreams do come true at Disney World, but it was just a carousel, after all.

These kinds of memories are what makes vacation so incredible for me. Some of my favorite memories have been made at Disney World. I was 11 the first time I went to Disney World. Dad surprised us as we were driving home from Miami by pulling into Epcot Center and following it up with a trip to the Magic Kingdom the next day. I loved that surprise(Duh. Who wouldn't?). I was glad to return to Disney a few times during my teen years and once when I was in my early 20s. When we had kids, I couldn't wait to take them! Disney is amazing. AMAZING. Disney knows how to make vacation special.

I realize that some of you are thinking that Disney is just too expensive, but we have found ways to make it more affordable. We have taken our family twice without using any credit cards. We stayed off-Disney grounds, which I actually prefer to some degree because it gets you away from the chaos. This is important to us because we want to return home from vacation feeling rested, not exhausted. We didn't go to the parks for 7 days straight the way all those supposed money saving plans want you to (oy. Thinking about that makes me feel exhausted). We planned time to relax, which meant we spent less money.

We also ate breakfast and sometimes lunch at our condo. We packed a picnic for the beach. The first time we went to Orlando, we even attended a time share presentation which gave us a kid suite at a hotel for 6 nights plus 2 days worth of Magic Kingdom tickets for less than $300!!! We turned down the time share, of course (I don't recommend this method to everyone unless you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can say no). On days that we weren't at the parks, we swam in the pool where we were staying, drove to the beach once, visited Kennedy Space Center and spent some time at Downtown Disney, which is a great place to get souvenirs so you don't have to carry them around the parks. We also stuck to a very strict souvenir budget. You don't have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars and come home with everything you see. Disney memories are only worth it if you make wise financial choices. Plan ahead and stick to the plan.

These days, our kids seem to be planning our next Disney vacation all the time. We aren't in a place where we can take a vacation right now, but the dream of a great vacation is there. When we recall stories about our last trip...Cinderella asking Ava if the mice made her dress, Lukas riding his first big roller coaster, lunch with Pooh and friends and driving on the beach and spending a relaxing day by the clear blue water...we realize it was worth every penny, every minute spent in the car driving(another money saver) all the way to Florida with two young children, and every moment I spent on-line researching and planning.

It was probably a year and a half ago when we were having a conversation with my mom and she mentioned that my aunt had never been to Disney World and didn't have any desire to go. Ava looked at my mom with eyes as big as saucers and said, "Aunt Bonnie doesn't want to go to Disney World!!! But it's the happiest place on EARTH!" That's enough confirmation for me that this blessing will never be forgotten. Some day...the Disney magic will come to life for us again!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fan...or Follower?

Last week, our church started on a journey to find if we are fans or followers of Jesus Christ.  I wasn’t there to see the movie (my daughter was sick and I needed to stay home with her) but I have been thinking a lot about this all week.
I think most Christians would immediately say, “Yes, I am a follower of Jesus Christ!”  But I think for most it would be wishful thinking…I know that it is for me.
Mark 8:34
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
Following Jesus is not easy, it means giving up everything you have ever thought was your own and turning to him.  I have always been intrigued with the story of how Jesus called the disciples.  In many of their stories there was hardly a conversation before Jesus said “Follow me” and the disciples dropped EVERYTHING and went. I mean, Matthew was sitting in his tax collecting booth-WORKING; Jesus walked by and said “Follow me.”  And Matthew immediately got up and LEFT, and as far as we know NEVER LOOKED BACK.
It is hard for me to imagine this is in our day and age.  Before we hire someone (or elect someone), we want to know everything we possibly can about them.  We do background checks, Facebook checks, twitter checks…we call references and need letters of recommendations.  Would you EVER consider following someone immediately who came up to you and said “follow me”.  Now, I can hear you saying, “But they aren’t Jesus” and I get your argument, but when Jesus called some of these men, he was just a carpenter that hadn’t done a miracle yet.  He wasn’t famous, he wasn’t extremely good looking…he was just like every other man.
What have I done?  When Jesus whispers in my heart, “follow me”, do I get up and leave immediately to do what he wants?  Not many times.  There have been moments, I have left the state and town that I loved and where all those I loved was and came to a college that I had NEVER HEARD of before God told me to go.  I can’t say that I haven’t looked back since that day…there were definitely times when I longed to be back where I was comfortable. 
However, I cannot focus on the past.  I have to look at today, am I following Jesus today? Am I trusting him with me entire life, believing that HE knows what is best for me?  Am I ready to give up everything I own and love if He says go?  Am I will to give my time, my money, my EVERYTHING, to someone I met on the street – if God tells me to?  Am I willing to give my LIFE for what I believe in?  Until I can say yes to each and every one of those, I am only a fan.  And being a fan just isn’t good enough for me. 
So…are you a fan or a follower? 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Feed My Sheep

In many cultures food is an expression of love, most notably seen in meals given to grieving and/or taxed families. It allows friends and family to show their love and concern in a palpable way. This act started hundreds of years ago when wakes were common out of necessity -- lack of medical means provided three days' watch over a body to make sure that the person was really dead. In this day and age, we can more definitively determine death; so our after-death customs have changed. In the past 4 years I have attended six family funerals, 3 funerals for friends and "like family," and have helped with the food & preparation for 2 others. One thing that strikes me is that people always feel the need to deny help, to deny meals, and to say that they can take care of it on their own.

Why are we afraid to let others help us? I know that our society tells us that we need to be Superman or Super Woman, handling whatever life throws at us with business-like efficiency. Leaning on others is often construed as weakness, but let's face it: we cannot get through it alone. At the very least we need God by our side. But the best way is to share our burdens, sorrows, and joys with those going through this life with us. We know that we are blessed when others do for us. But have you stopped to think that you are allowing another person to be blessed by serving you? I feel that I grow personally through every "helping-others situation" I've been a part of.

Three years ago this past June my mom almost died. As I write this, it brings tears to my eyes.  I was 30 years old with a 2 1/2-year-old and a 1-year-old at home. I was NOT prepared to face losing my mom. I was too young and horribly overwhelmed! A routine surgery went drastically wrong, and my mom became severely septic. She spent over a week in SICU, and I wanted to spend as much time there as possible. My husband was fantastic about this but I was constantly worried that I needed to be providing for my girls and Rich in our home -- not gone all the time.

My brother flew in from California, my sister and her family came home from Des Moines, and we all kept vigil. During this time, my dad had a full house and he was barely there. My parents' church stepped up and started providing wonderful meals for my family. A fabulous, home-cooked, well-rounded dinner showed up hot at the door every day for months. Even after my mom was able to leave the hospital and continue recovering at home, the people of the church kept loving on and providing for this most basic need so that my dad, brother, mom, and even myself wouldn't have to worry about it. It was relieving to have meals taken care of so that we could focus on other matters of more importance. I believe that the love and care so easily shown to us through the church family meals was elemental in both my brothers journeys back toward Christ. This amazing example of Christ in action is what made my parents' church my church as well.

More recently, at the visitations/funerals for my dad's parents that were only a couple of months apart, many of the people they had known over the years showed up to the funeral home with veggie trays, pastries, finger sandwiches, juice boxes for the kids, you name it. I'll admit my first reaction was "Why would they do that?" But the long days dragged on, with our large family at the funeral home and church for over 6 hours at a time, and I became grateful for it. Every one had options when they went to the kitchen; the kids were full and therefore happy. Each item given also came with a story of how my grandparents had touched their lives or been important in some way, and I will be forever grateful for the way those meals fed me in both body and soul.

So whether you're facing a debilitating illness or suffering a death in the family, allow yourself to sit back and be taken care of. Bask in the love and support that your family and friends have for you, knowing that the simple act of providing for you is a blessing to them as well. See in these acts the true messages: "We love you," "We don't have the words so we wanted to provide something tangible," "We will help carry you through this time because we are brothers and sisters in this together," or even "You have blessed me, and I would love to bless you in return."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

BOOK REVIEW
I'm a pretty avid reader. If it's not some article of interest on the internet, I've got my nose in a book. While nursing a little one, there's not much else to do BUT read. :-)

This year for my birthday, I was given a book entitled "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp.

One word: monumental.

I've read a number of literary works in my history, but very few have been so moving as this book has been upon my spiritual life. I'm currently on my second read-through, as I now want to sit, ponder, and chew on the Scriptural truths she presents.

The entire theme of this book is of Ann's personal "spiritual journey to joy". Immediately I felt a connection with her and her words as I too have been on my own path to discovering joy. Though I am a Christian and I find joy in my salvation, I struggle with day to day feelings of joy in the mundane. Harder yet, finding joy in the painful, trying, and heart aching moments of life. In her book, Ann covers both ends of the spectrum.

Her adventure began with a dare to write down (in list form) 1,000 gifts.
Here's what she started with:
1. morning shadows across the old floors
2. jam piled high on the toast
3. cry of blue jay from high in the spruce

Her list is simple. It's the things in life that made her smile. Her list of thanks.  Her eucharisteo. Broken down to its meaning, eucharisteo (a Greek word) means: grace, thanksgiving, joy.  That was her pursuit. Her way into the fullest life. Which she found!

The more "gifts" she wrote down, the more gifts she wanted to write down. It was almost an addiction to seek out things to write down. It made her ever aware of her present. Made her live life fully in the here and now. Forced her to really STOP and give thanks to the Lord that made all these gifts. To breath deep the life that she was living.

Reading her book encouraged me to begin my own 1,000 gifts list. To date, I am on 269. Whew. Got a long ways to go. It sounded like it took her approximately a year to rack up 1,000 gifts, as she went through each of the seasons, noting the blessings she experienced during.

The result: she found JOY!

Oh, how I want to find that joy!!!
And to know it's possible by simply GIVING THANKS!

I believe that there are some instances in which an individual has a legitimate chemical imbalance that causes them to struggle with depression. For that, medical attention should be sought. But for many, I wonder if the key to kicking depression could be to stop, look around, and truly give thanks for the blessings that are their's every day. To think on, live in, and enjoy God's abundant and constant stream of gifts.

The sun coming up each morning.
Warm summer evenings.
Dipping hot feet into cool waters.
The sweetness of ice cream.
Spontaneous "I love you"s from children.
Back rubs.
Waking up to clean dishes and an empty sink.
The smell of new car.
Your favorite meal prepared.
A new outfit.
A cut lawn & beautifully landscaped yards.
Etc.

... whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.
Phillipians 4:8

We can give thanks in ALL situations under ALL circumstances. There's always SOMEthing to give thanks for. We need to seek it to find it.

This book is so unique, from it's theme to it's writing style. If you are looking for a spiritual challenge, this book is one you should pick up and delve into. It seriously is phenomenal!
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One Thousand Gifts can be found on Facebook.

Ann Voskamp can be found online at:
www.onethousandgifts.com
AND
www.aholyexperience.com

Monday, August 8, 2011

Breaking Through

I love to sing.  I love to worship God in singing.  There is absolutely nothing like it.  But there are times when I don't feel like singing.  Times when I don't feel like worshiping.  It can be days where I'm just so sad because of the circumstances that I can't muster up enough energy to even open my mouth.  Sometimes it's because I'm too busy to do it.  It can take a lot out of you to worship God through music.  And sometimes you just don't want to...plain and simple.

You know there are people out there that think if you don't feel like worshiping God, then it means you have sin in your life.  This can be true, but not always.  I believe that sometimes these moments are very similar to writer's block.  It's like there's this huge wall that has stopped the words from flowing out.  You rack your brain and you keep trying to think of an idea, but to no avail.

But there's a solution to writer's block, right?  The answer for many is to start typing words.  Don't think about a formula or sentences or getting anything right.  Just type.  It may take a few minutes or a few hours of this before it happens.  The ideas DO come!  The words DO flow!  And all it took wasn't some big detailed plan, but just simply getting started.

That is what I've learned about worship.  You just got to get started.  And don't stop until that wall has been shattered.  The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of His people.  If you are having one of those days or weeks, I challenge you to try it.  Stick in a CD or turn on a radio station or perhaps an Internet radio like Pandora.  It's okay if you sing one word to a few sentences.  When it gets to a song you really know.  Belt it out.  Don't stop.  Don't worry about being in tune.  Don't worry about who's outside listening.  This can even be in your car.  But JUST KEEP SINGING!

And I guarantee you that the wall will shatter like glass.  The break through will happen and all because you decided to praise God despite what you felt.  Let me assure you it is the most rewarding thing you can ever do in your day.

Here's a couple of my favorites that have helped me to break through.  Let me know what yours are in the comments below.







Friday, August 5, 2011

The Influence of Mothering

Mothering is a deeply complicated subject these days, isn't it? I have written posts recently that have gotten me into a little trouble even though my motives were pure (but only because people read between the lines and found things that weren't there). Even so, I'm going to attempt another post on this topic, a topic that should be so simple and sweet but is utterly complex and too often controversial these days.

Everyone has their own idea about the things that mothering concerns these days. Few subscribe to a June Cleaver-esque concept of motherhood, fewer care to be grain grinding, goat milking, garden growing hippie chicks, and even fewer subscribe to a truly Biblical model of motherhood. Wouldn't it have been fantastic if God just spelled it out for us in intricate detail that left no room for error? He kind of does. Check out Titus 2 if you're interested in learning about Biblical womanhood as the Lord defines it for us. I don't live to perfection, but I do try to live by this passage of scripture.

That is not really what I want to talk about in this post. It definitely applies to what is on my mind, but it was more or less a free bit of info for your benefit. What I really want to talk about is how women define their worth. It breaks my heart when I hear one who is called "Mama" say that they aren't doing enough to serve the church or community, that they don't "feel" like their life brings enough to the table, that they need to be "doing more" so that they are truly having an effect on the lives of those within their circle of influence.

Um. What??? Mothering is enough. I don't care if you work outside the home or if you don't. Mothering is enough. Mothering provides you with an opportunity to influence not just a few lives, but the lives of future generations in a way that no one else could. The opportunity a mother has is unmatched. Your children, your grandchildren, your great, great great grandchildren will all be influenced by you. Why isn't this enough for the modern woman? 100 years ago, women wouldn't even have given such an ungodly thought the time of day because they were taught to care for their husbands, children and homes in a way that brought glory to God. They were taught that these tasks themselves brought glory to God!!!

The work you do outside your home at a job, church, or community organization pales in comparison to the work you do in your home. If you don't feel like you are valuable, then I dare say you are defining yourself by the wrong standard. The world has unfortunately influenced the church, and that same world may tell you that it is okay to feel like you need more to feel like you are being used, but it just isn't true. You are looking for your value in all the wrong places (did that line just bring up an old love song for you? Totally accidental).

If you are seeking outside opportunities to serve or influence others, I challenge you to look inward. Your children don't need you to be busy. The Father gave them to you so that you could be their greatest influence. Take it seriously. They'll be gone some day, and then you'll have plenty of time to influence your church, community and co-workers.

You, Mother, are doing God's work when you are choosing to serve at home. Mothering is a noble calling, and we should never look at our lives as if we are not doing enough because we remember those other talents and gifts we have. This is your season to mother. Do it with passion. Do it with grace, hope, diligence, fortitude and honor. When you are through and you are surrounded by healthy, Christ-like adults, your children will rise up and call you blessed!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Livin' on the Edge

The Sidewalk Prophets have a song out right now called "You Love Me Anyway," and while I thoroughly enjoy the song and its meaning, there is one line that really gets me thinking.  Towards the end of the first verse the lyric says "Still You call me to walk/On the edge of this world," and no matter how often I hear the song I shake my head.

We're not called to walk the edge of the world, we're called to be right in there getting dirty with the sinners.  Christ did this so frequently that the Pharisees got upset about it.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ referred to his followers as the salt of the earth.  Salt is no good unless it's mixed in with something.  No one has ever prepared a meal with an unopened salt shaker nearby and then commented how well it was mixed into the food.  There is no effect when the salt remains on the counter top unused.

Conversely, one does not want to add too much salt to a meal, because then the flavor of the food is hidden by the excess salt.  We have to be careful to sprinkle our witness in a manner that allows the flavoring to be obvious without being overbearing.  It's a very fine line that some choose to walk as an unused salt shaker, and others choose to walk as a leaking shaker.  Being either of these does not help to further the cause of the Gospel, and in some instances, it's more detrimental than anything.

Think about where you're sprinkling salt.  Are you contributing to the flavor of the lives you come in contact with, or are you merely pouring salt in a pile on the edge of the world?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Smiling Through The Tears

When you've been to as many funerals as I have, you have to get a sense of humor. It's the only way to get through it. Not that I don't mourn or have my bought with sadness and discouragements, I just know that for me, you have to find an opportunity to laugh or I will go a bit crazy.

July is rough for me. July is the month that my mother passed away the day before my birthday. Thereby putting a monkey wrench in any thoughts of celebration. If you know me you know that when I lost my mother I fell and I fell far into a pit of depression and despair. This lasted for about two years. I just couldn't believe that the only parent that I had that cared enough to call regularly and talk to me about anything, even if it was to yell at me, was gone.

Now that I'm a healthier, livelier me, I kind of think she figured (yes I know it's not as though she had a choice in the matter) that if she was gonna go in July at least this way I'd always remember her on my birthday. Great thanks mom! The first couple years I spent hiding or rather running away from any and all reminders of her. Now it's just something that is a part of my month and I accept it begrudgingly. I remind myself of how we used to fight. My but that woman could make me crazy. So whenever my oldest starts arguing with me and driving me crazy I call her by my mother's name, which in turn makes her crazy. So you see, I can find things to joke about.

This month however, we lost my cousin over the fourth of July weekend. She had been very ill with Cancer for a long time. In fact when she was a baby they didn't give her but two years to live. She lived 36 years. She always had a smile, she never complained and every single time I saw her she had a hug for me and told me she loved me. If only we could all live by that example. I cannot imagine what my aunt and uncle are going through, they have lost both of their children, having lost their oldest a couple years ago to a tragic accident. Seeing their sorrow and the look of complete defeat even as my aunt said they were praising God that she was now with him in heaven, completely broke my heart. After the viewing as I lay in bed I wept for them. I also wept for me because I felt so helpless to help them, I had no magic words to share. I fumbled along saying practically nothing. What do you say to a broken man that says to you “I just wish we could have had her a while longer, you know?” What do you say to the heartbroken woman that says to you “I can't lose my mom, I'll never get through this if she dies.” I have no idea. Also grandma is 86 and for all intense and purposes as fit as a fiddle. I begged God to get us through this time and to keep me upright so I wouldn't fall again, as current situations and memories flooded my mind.

We have an awesome God. I also have to believe He has a sense of humor, that and I know He gets my sense of humor. The next morning of the funeral we all gathered to pay our respects. There were three preachers in attendance that spoke. After going through the line we all gathered in the atrium and talked. It was quite cold in the building so when they released us to go to our cars everyone gladly went outside to get warmed up and get in their cars. Grandma was in the atrium with us. Apparently no one grabbed her to go to the car. While we are all sitting in our cars waiting for the procession to go my uncle who had brought her comes walking through the cars, throwing is hands in the air and calling out “I can't find my mom!” See things like this I find funny. A grown man walking and trying to find his mom, I find funny. Soon my cousins wife comes to our car to see if we stole grandma. Then I get out of the car to join the search. My aunt and my dad join the search, checking restrooms, I got whisked away to check the lounge. The entire time I kept thinking she is on the other side of the building where the doors are. No one would listen to me. As I walked back outside to go to my car here comes grandma being walked around the building by my Schwan man, who happens to be a friend of the family. They hurriedly put her in a car and the procession proceeds to the cemetery. Where once we are out of the car she walks up to me and says “It's the darnedest thing. I just walk outside to get warm and all of YOU get lost.” How funny is that?

All of us got lost. I think all of us do get lost at times. I think in the hustle and bustle of life we just get turned around from what is really important. I will miss my cousin, I miss my mother every day. It's good to know that even in the midst of tears, God is there and with God, you can always find a reason to smile.