Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 110

Thanking God this week for...
  • my husband's steady strength
  • his servanthood, selflessness, patience
  • Elijah's delight in "helping" set the table and empty the dishwasher
  • getting to sit through the entire church service on Sunday
  • naps when I desperately need them
  • our very nice but very cheap new printer/scanner/copier (thanks, Jamie!)
  • homemade bread
  • the opportunity to join a CSA
  • speaking to me through this blog post
  • His perfect, sure, true, pure, joy-producing Word
  • helping me to write it on my heart

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Problem is Us

Over the last several months I've gotten hooked on Chicago Public Radio's This American Life. I first remember hearing about it years ago from my dear friend Pam, who was in love with Ira Glass and the show, but for whatever reason, I wasn't interested at the time. Now, I'm a podcast subscriber who looks forward to every Monday morning when I download the newest episode.

You may remember that a few months ago, I linked to an episode of TAL called "The Giant Pool of Money," in which a couple of reporters broke down the mortgage crisis in easy-to-understand terms. It was brilliant. Well, they've done it again with "Bad Bank," which aired about a month ago and made the current banking crisis comprehensible to ordinary people. I was reminded of the episode the other day when Rod Dreher linked to and excerpted from the transcript. This part is incredibly eye-opening:

Alex Blumberg: ...When a bank is insolvent, it doesn't have enough capital to cover its losses. In that situation, banks would actually be doing the RIGHT thing by keeping the bailout money that we're giving them. It needs to hold onto their capital, that's how they fix their balance sheets. If they loaned the money away, they'd be returning to the situation we're trying to rescue them from. In other words, saving the banking system, means that the banks that are worst off, should loan less, not more. But beyond the balance sheet, David Beim has a much more profound reason why banks shouldn't lend. He shows me something on his computer.

David Beim: Ok, so here is a picture, a graphic, and a chart that goes back to 1916 and up to...

Alex Blumberg: We're in his office, and we're looking at a graph, and it's, basically, a measure of how much debt we the citizens of America, are in. How much we all owe--on our mortgages and credit cards and auto loans--compared to the economy as a whole, the GDP. And for most of history, the amount we owed was a lot smaller than the economy as a whole. This ratio, household debt to GDP bounces along around between 30 and 50 percent, for most of the '30s and '40s 50s, 60s, and 70s, right into the 80s. Then it breaks through 50 % in the 80s, starts heading up in the 1990s. And then ...

David Beim: From 2000 to 2008, it just goes, almost a hockey stick, it goes dramatically upward.

Alex Blumberg: Like a rocket.

David Beim: It hits 100% of GDP. That is to say, currently, consumers own 13 trillion dollars when the GDP is $13 trillion. That's a $100 trillion owed by individuals. That is a ton.

Alex Blumberg: I'm going to ask a leading question, because I'm looking at a graph right here. Tell me professor, has there ever been a time where we owed that much before?

David Beim: I'm glad you asked me that. And guess what? The earlier peak, which is way over on the left part of the chart, where debt is 100% of GDP, was in 1929. This is a map of twin peaks. One in 1929 and one in 2007.

Alex Blumberg: Does that chart scare you?

David Beim: Yes. That chart is the most striking piece of evidence that I have that what is happening to us is something that goes way beyond toxic assets in banks, it's something that had little to do with mortgage securitization, or ethics on Wall Street, or anything else. It says the problem is us.
The problem is not the banks, greedy though they may be, overpaid though they may be. The problem is us. We have over-borrowed. We have been living very high on the hog. We are, our standard of living has been rising dramatically over the last 25 years, and we have been borrowing to make much of that prosperity happen.

Alex Blumberg: And so, when you see Congress, sort of saying we need more, we need to make sure there are strings attached to this money, to make sure the banks are lending it out, that doesn't make any sense.

David Beim: It makes, not only no sense, it makes reverse sense. It's nonsense. Because what the banks have done is already lend too much. The name of this problem is too much debt. We have over-borrowed, and we have done that over many, many decades. And now it's reached just an unbearable peak where people on average cannot repay the debts they've got.

Interestingly, Planet Money (an NPR podcast I occasionally listen to--also great for translating the economic news into plain English for me to understand) said the same thing in a recent podcast. We all want someone to blame for this mess we've in--it's human nature to try and pass the buck--but the painful truth is, to find someone to point a finger at, we need look no further than the bathroom mirror.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Woe to the Blind and Impatient

"Woe to those not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands. ...Woe to those who...say, 'Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it'" (Isaiah 5:11, 12, 18, 19).

How often I have been so absorbed with my cravings, my complaints, my circumstances that I do not see God's faithful, loving deeds on my behalf? How many times have I missed seeing His hand at work around me because my focus is on myself?

How often do I lash out in frustration because I do not understand what He is doing in and around me? How many times have I angrily cried out, thinking that because *I* cannot see a purpose in what is happening, there must not be one? How many times have I protested that there must be a more pleasant way, an easier, better way? How often have I demanded answers, solutions, clarity of understanding?

Forgive me, Lord. Open my eyes, that I may see Your beauty and majesty. Enlighten the eyes of my heart, that I may know the hope to which You have called me and the riches of Your glorious inheritance. Increase my faith in future grace, so that I can wait patiently for You to act on my behalf. Enable me to trust Your sovereign goodness and loving wisdom when I can't see with my physical eyes or understand with my finite mind what You are doing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fasting and Feasting

Here in the middle of Lent, I'm reflecting on another thoughtful article from First Things. This one, written by Peter Leithart, is called "Keep the Fast, Keep the Feast." A little excerpt to whet your appetite:
Everywhere we turn, the world tells us not to keep the fast. Everywhere we turn, the world tempts us to be Adam. Our culture is devoted to stoking up our appetites and convincing us that we need to have it all, and to have it all yesterday. We are fooling ourselves if we think we don’t participate in that culture. Few things provide a better counter to that temptation than a diligent, thoughtful observance of Lent and the cultivation of Lenten way of life. Yes, the Church is a festive community, but unless we are also a fasting community, then we are simply a mirror of the world around us.

Fasting looks like an enemy to life, but the opposite is true. We live abundantly only if we know how to fast—which is to say, only if we are disciplined to wait until the feast is ready. Lent trains us to be a people of patience and restraint, a people who rejoices in a God who has time and gives us time and makes us wait for the treasures He gives. Lent trains us to follow the Master who kept the fast.

Read the rest.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 109

Thanking God this week for...
  • today's playdate with my friend Jamie and her kiddos
  • yesterday's playdate with several fun moms
  • a spontaneous lunch visit with a dear friend on Tuesday
  • the fact that Steve only works late once a month
  • a chance to catch up with my brother tonight
  • lots of birthday wishes
  • surprise packages in the mail
  • birthday cake
  • vacuum cleaners
  • long walks
  • grace greater than all my sin

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What I Deserve On My Birthday

I'm another year older today, but I don't know that I feel another year wiser.

In preparation for my birthday, I went back and read last year's blog posts about birthday expectations and learning important lessons. Yet it seems that perhaps I didn't learn those lessons very thoroughly; a year later, here I am wrestling with some of the same warped thinking. This year it's less about who remembered or forgot; I received a surprising number of perfectly-timed snail-mail cards, and my inbox was flooded with Facebook wall post notifications all day (thanks, all!). But there remains in my heart a foolish belief that I deserve all kinds of things today, just by virtue of being born.

Sounds ridiculous as I type it out, doesn't it? In fact, if motherhood has taught me anything, it's that my mom should be the one we are celebrating today, for all that she went through 27 years ago this morning, and for the sacrifices she made day in and day out for decades afterwards! Yet on March 18, I develop this crazy sense of entitlement, thinking that all kinds of pleasures both simple and extraordinary should come my way, and that I should not have to deal with a whiny toddler or perform household chores or eat anything but my very favorite foods.

Somehow I have so easily forgotten those words I have memorized, the truth about what I am entitled to:

Thinking myself to be wise, I have shown myself to be a fool, and because of my arrogance, God has every right to damn me to the everlasting experience of His terrifying wrath in the lake of fire. So as for myself, apart from Christ I am bound by the guilt of my sin, and also bound by the power of sin, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures. Apart from Christ I am also utterly deserving of, and destined for, eternal punishment in the lake of fire...

Mostly, though, my discouragement today comes not from dashed expectations, but from introspection. Birthdays tend to make me pensive, and as I reflect today on who I am at 27, I'm afraid that I am pretty much the same person I was when I turned 26. I don't see much evidence of growth over the last year, and I don't like what I see when the mirror is held up to my soul.

So as my birthday draws to a close and I enjoy a slice of cake with my hubby (he's frosting it as I write--a new recipe I'm anxious to try and will share if it's as yummy as I anticipate...oh wait a minute, there I go with the expectations again...), all I can do is remind myself of the rest of that memorized truth:

In saving me, God also justified me, and being justified through Christ, I have a peace with God that will endure forever. In justifying me, God declared me innocent of my sins and pronounced me righteous with the very righteousness of Jesus.

God also allowed His future and present wrath against me to be completely propitiated by Jesus, who bore it upon Himself while on the cross. Consequently, God now has only love, compassion, and deepest affection for me, and this love is without any admixture of wrath whatsoever. God always looks upon me and treats me with gracious favor, always working all things together for my ultimate and eternal good.

...I don’t deserve any of this, even on my [birthday]; but this is my salvation, and herein I stand. Thank You, Jesus.

(Quotes in italics taken from "A Gospel Narrative: Prose Version" from A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent. Focus Publishing, 2008.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cling to What is Good

Most of the time when I see church road signs, intended to be clever, I roll my eyes in disgust. But a while back I saw one that, refreshingly, made me think--made me ponder gospel truth, even.

The sign was a simple quotation of a Bible verse: “Cling to what is good – Romans 12:9.” Usually we bemoan the practice of taking verses out of context, of hacking the Bible to little bits (and rightfully so!). But I think it was precisely the fact that this verse was only quoted in part that made me notice it and think differently about it. I’m used to seeing it paired with the first half of its sentence: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

It’s not that I want to disregard the admonition to “hate what is evil”; however, putting it aside for a moment helped me to focus on the rest of the instruction from Paul. Cling to what is good. As I drove by the sign, my mind immediately jumped to another Scripture: Jesus rebuking the rich young ruler. "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." And another: “there is no one who does good, not even one.”

I’ve always read Romans 12:9 as a discernment verse, instructing me to reject sinful things in the world and instead choose good things. Reading it with new eyes, I see that in another sense, there are no good things for me to cling to in this world. Only Jesus is good. And so ultimately this verse doesn’t just call me to exercise discernment; it calls me to hold onto Jesus, to cling to Him and fix my eyes on Him.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Vaccine Activism

You may or may not have heard the recent news that vaccine manufacturer Merck is stopping production of its monovalent versions of the MMR vaccine. While the official vaccine schedule recommends the MMR vaccine (and now even the MMR-V, adding chicken pox to the shot), up until now, parents have had the option to give their children separate shots for measles, mumps, and rubella (or choose only one or two of the three).

Among other reasons for doing this, some people develop immunity naturally to one or two of the three diseases (determined by a titer blood test), so getting all three in the MMR is overkill. Other people simply prefer to space out their kids' vaccines, rather than giving several all at once. However, if Merck stops offering separate measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines, parents will have fewer choices--it will be all or nothing.

I've recently been told that Merck is taking calls from consumers and will be evaluating demand before making a decision about continuing to manufacture single-dose vials. If you are a parent who wants choices when it comes to the dozens of vaccines given to children, I would really appreciate it if you would call Merck and request that they resume manufacturing the single dose vials of the MMR.

This call was very simple to make yesterday--it took me less than one minute. The number is (800) 672-6372; press 2 at the first prompt and 3 at the second prompt. You can just tell the representative that you would like to have the option to have the individual vaccinations, for the reasons stated above.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 108

Thanking God this week for...
  • the time change not being as rough on Elijah as it apparently is on a lot of little ones and their mamas
  • a weekend at home with our families
  • a date with my husband
  • Tortelloni Florentine at Bravo!
  • spinach and artichoke dip with parmesan flatbread at Bravo!
  • warm weather and sunshine
  • the fabulous park/playground within walking distance from our house
  • long walks with Steve and Elijah
  • the unity and good communication Steve and I enjoy
  • the way Steve's company makes safety such a priority
  • the technology that allows Elijah and me to watch videos of his baby cousin online
  • fascinating books that challenge my thinking
  • the hope of heaven
  • the incredible promise of Romans 8:32 for every day here on earth

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The WHY Behind the What

"His father had never interfered with him by asking, 'Why do you behave as you do?'" (1 Kings 1:6)

David is dying. His son Solomon has already been named as the one who will inherit the throne. But the rebellious and prideful Adonijah has other plans, and sets himself up to become king. In the introduction to the story, the author of 1 Kings inserts the statement above as a parenthetical explanation: "Why Adonijah Turned Out Badly."

The application I've always heard taught is the obvious one: Parents, look what happens when you don't discipline your kids. The most loving thing to do is to discipline them; otherwise, look how drastically their character could go wrong. Lazy parenting, permissiveness, failure to rein in your kids now will reap devastating results down the road.

True, perhaps. But when I read this verse, one little word leaps off the page at me: WHY. It doesn't say, "His father had never interfered with him by punishing him for his bad behavior." It says his father had never interfered with him by asking, "WHY do you behave as you do?"

The more I've learned about gospel-centered living, the more I've begun to understand how crucial it is to look for the "WHY" behind the "what." The fact is, wrong thinking underlies wrong actions. Sin is not a behavior problem; it is a heart problem. And if you dig deeply enough, you'll find that at the root of your sinful actions is a flawed thought pattern. Buried beneath the pride, or the anxiety, or the jealousy, is some sort of unbelief--a misconception of God's character; a failure to trust Him; a lack of faith in His promises.

As John Piper says in Future Grace, it's bad news--the sin is more devastating than you thought; its roots are embedded far more deeply in your soul than you realized--but it's good news. For when we discover the real problem at its core, we can apply the gospel and trust the power of the cross to pull the sin out by its roots, rather than cutting off the weed only to have it spring back again.

We tend to moralize without applying the gospel. We do it with the unbelieving world as we denounce their sins without addressing their lostness, and we do it in our own pursuit of holiness. It's easier. Problem with lust? Stop looking at porn. Problem with laziness? Get disciplined and work harder. Problem with lying? Start telling the truth.

But these "solutions" don't cut at the root of the sin. They're like taking an aspirin to heal a headache caused by a brain tumor.

Aspirin may seem to bring relief to the situation, but it's a temporary fix. Only attacking the tumor can truly solve the problem--and only the gospel has the power to destroy the cancerous tumor of sin. We must dig deeper. We must treat the cause and not just the symptom. Why am I so full of lust? Why am I slothful and completely unmotivated? Why do I seek to cover up the truth? Somehow, the heart of the matter is that I act the way I do because, regardless of what I profess to believe, in some way I don't functionally believe that God is who He says He is or that His promises are true. (See my recent post "What the Law Could Not Do, Christ Did" as an illustration of this truth in light of jealousy.)

It's much more difficult to ask the probing questions and discover the "WHY." Brain surgery is a lot more invasive and painful and complicated and messy than popping a Tylenol. But I want to learn to do this kind of soul-examination. I don't want temporary headache relief; I want that destructive tumor out of my head. I want to live in the joy and abundance of fully believing God and trusting His promises to pour out His grace in my life.

And I want to apply this same thoughtfulness and gospel-centeredness to parenting. I don't want to be the kind of parent David was. By the grace of God, I hope that I won't just seek to correct bad behavior. I pray that I'll apply the gospel and shepherd Elijah's heart--that I'll get at the "WHY" behind his sin so that he can walk in that same cancer-free joy and freedom, thanks to the cross.

(revised version of a post originally published on May 11, 2006)

Monday, March 09, 2009

C-Love - A Monday Meme

I haven't done any memes in a while, but thought this one looked like fun. My new friend Sarah listed ten things she loves that start with P, then assigned letters to anyone who wanted to play along. She gave me "C," so here's my list: Ten things I love that start with "C."

1. Cinnamon. Chocolate is too obvious (though a life without chocolate would be a sad, sad life indeed!), but I love food so much, you know I had to put SOME sort of food on this list. What's not to like about cinnamon? The smell is so warm and inviting, and it tastes so good in so many things: quick breads, cookies, muffins, lattes...yum.

2. Camera. I jumped into the DSLR world two years ago when I got a Nikon D50 for Christmas from Steve and my parents. It was spendy, but well worth the investment. My favorite thing about my camera is the shutter response time. Unlike my first digital camera, when you click the shutter, it takes the picture instantly--no lag time!--which means you actually capture the face the child is making. Essential for taking good photos of my little guy. I also love being able to take photos in low light without using the ugly built-in flash. I still wish I knew a lot more about photography; I've barely begun to learn what this camera can do. But even though my skills are limited, it still takes great photos.

3. Cuddling. I can't think of any physical place in the world I feel more safe and secure than curled up next to my strong husband. We just fit. And we lucked out when it comes to "love languages"--physical touch is his number one and a very close second for me--so we both enjoy snuggling close constantly. I'm sure we are that couple who makes people gag sometimes, but you know what? We're fine with that :) (But no, we don't do massages in church!)

4. Cards. If physical touch is my number-two love language, words of affirmation definitely takes first place--which is probably why I love sending and receiving cards so much. I first got hooked on Hallmark's "fresh ink" cards, thanks to my friend Kathryn. I don't buy cards very often anymore (though I am a sucker for cute packs of notecards), because my friend Melissa got me sucked into Stampin' Up and making my own cards, which I have really enjoyed.

5. Colorado. I spent the summers of 2003 and 2004 in Denver working for Kingdom Building Ministries and fell in love with the area. The weather is perfect; the scenery is breathtaking. There was nothing like seeing fabulous mountain views on your drive to work every morning! Estes Park is especially dear to my heart because it was the site of a life-changing retreat with my mentor in April 2005...and Steve proposed to me in Rocky Mountain National Park in July 2004.

6. Chorale. While we're walking down memory lane...without question, the highlight of my college years was the time I spent with the Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale. Four-thirty p.m. every weekday was sanctuary for me. In both rehearsals and concerts, we had some incredible times of worship and made some glorious music. The group was my family; nearly all of my closest college friends are chorale comrades. I learned more than I can recount from Prof Guy, an incredibly talented conductor and one of the most passionate people I know. And it was serving as women's chaplain for the group that gave me a passion for women's ministry and cultivated some of my gifts. So many fun and crazy and touching memories...ah, I miss it.

7. Conversations. Few things in this world bless and energize me more than a long heart-to-heart with someone thoughtful. I despise small talk, but I love having deep conversations about things that matter.

8. Contemporary hymns. I've really swung back and forth dramatically on the worship music spectrum over the years, but what I love about contemporary hymns is that they strike a beautiful balance. I'm so thankful for songwriters who combine rich theology and deep, thoughtful lyrics with modern music that stirs my heart.

9. Counsel. Mentoring has been a passion of mine ever since I was first paired with Diane as an intern at KBM (see #5 above). I love to learn from older, wiser, godly women who are ahead of me on this journey and can challenge and encourage me. I think it's so important to humble myself and seek wise counsel from others, even if pride makes me struggle with being teachable at times. And, I'll be honest, I love to share what I've learned and give counsel to others--though I try not to pass out too much unsolicited advice :)

10. Cross centered living. (Ooh, double points for two Cs!) My exposure to various people from Sovereign Grace Ministries and then reading C.J. Mahaney's book The Cross Centered Life a few years ago radically transformed my understanding of the Christian life. I experienced a huge paradigm shift as I came to realize that the cross wasn't just something to think about on Good Friday, that the gospel wasn't simply a story nonbelievers needed to hear to become Christians and then move on to deeper things. The glory of the cross, the truth of the gospel has relevance to every aspect of my life as a believer. I cannot ever move on from here.

And there you have it! If you'd like a letter to make a list of your own, leave a comment below and I'll send you one.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

One More Reading Resource

One last brief reading post :) I ran across this website a couple of months ago and thought it looked like a fantastic resource:

Read Kiddo Read

Happy reading to your children! And take some time to curl up with a good book of your own this weekend :)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Books We Love

To wrap up this week's series on reading, I thought I'd start a conversation about favorite books. WHAT do you read to your kiddos? We have some favorites so far, and I always love to hear about other people's beloved books. Some consistently popular choices in our house:

~The Very Hungry Caterpillar - This book is a classic for a reason--it's brilliant. Counting, the days of the week, food, and a beautiful story about a caterpillar's transformation. One of our first books, and I definitely have it memorized. Eric Carle has lots of wonderful books; we also enjoy Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and the accompanying books in that series.

~Almost anything by Sandra Boynton. Our first books of hers were Boynton's Greatest Hits: Volume II (The Going to Bed Book, Horns to Toes, Opposites, But Not the Hippopotamus). These books bear repeated readings better than most of Elijah's other books--which was really important in those early days when we had very few options and were reading the same dozen books endlessly! We've since collected a lot more--I especially love Birthday Monsters! and Dinosaur's Binkit. Also, though we don't really look at the accompanying books much, I definitely recommend Boynton's music. Rhinoceros Tap is a road trip essential for us.

~One of the biggest reasons I'm passionate about Elijah reading is so that he can and will read God's Word. My two favorite children's Bible storybooks are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible.

Other hits:
~How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? (part of a series of "How Do Dinosaurs...?" books--we have two and hope to collect more)
~anything by Dr. Seuss--I know some people don't like him, but his books are well-loved at our house
~Guess How Much I Love You
~Ten Little Ladybugs - Elijah really likes to touch the 3-D bugs
~Move Over, Rover!

What books do you and your kids love?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 107

Thanking God this week for...
  • lunch with a friend last Friday
  • the opportunity to actually sit through an entire church service on Sunday
  • my parents, who instilled in me the importance of education and bought me lots of books
  • the ability to read, and read quickly
  • all that I have learned through books
  • my husband's enjoyment of reading
  • my son's love for reading
  • the privilege of reading His Word
  • brownies
  • deep conversations with my hubby
  • soft mattresses
  • the book of Isaiah
  • Elijah's cold being relatively mild
  • all of the ways he cracks us up daily
  • grace to get back up and keep trying
  • knowing the victory has already been won by Christ

The Read-Aloud Handbook: A Must-Read for Parents

I asserted in my last post that I think The Read-Aloud Handbook should be required reading for every parent. Maybe that's overstating the case--I know there are plenty of caring, involved parents who don't need this book to teach them to read to their children. But as the daughter of public school educators, I dream of what might happen if every parent in America had to read at least an article excerpted from this book! Here's why:

Jim Trelease, the author, quotes the Commission on Reading's 1985 report "Becoming a Nation of Readers," which found that “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Trelease says that “poverty and illiteracy are related—they are the parents of desperation and imprisonment.”

And if you're tuning out because you're not a parent, consider this:

“Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation—the literate and the illiterate.”

Trelease points out that it's never too early to read to your child. You started talking to your newborn on the very first day, didn't you? Maybe even before that, while she was still in the womb! She couldn't understand you, but that didn't stop you. Reading is the same way.

“We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure; create background knowledge; build vocabulary; provide a reading role model.”

But children need to hear more words than we would normally speak in conversations, or even than are commonly heard on TV shows. Trelease writes:

Most conversation is plain and simple, whether it’s between two adults or with children. It consists of the five thousand words we use all the time, called the Basic Lexicon. Then there are another five thousand words we use in conversation less often. …Beyond that ten thousand mark are the "rare words," and these play a critical role in reading. The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined not by the ten thousand common words but by how many "rare words" we understand.

…printed text contains the most rare words. Whereas an adult uses only nine rare words (per thousand) when talking with a three-year-old, there are three times as many in a children’s book… oral communication (including a TV script) is decidedly inferior to print when building vocabulary. …This poses serious problems for at-risk children who watch large amounts of TV, hear fewer words, and encounter print less often at home. Such children face a gigantic word gap that impedes reading progress throughout school.”

And this little fact, based on research, was astounding to me: “the larger the vocabularies and the more complex the thinking process in youth, the less chance of Alzheimer’s damage”! Reading has side effects I never even imagined.

In case you haven't gotten my point, I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook. I'd also encourage you to check out Jim Trelease's personal website for lots of great information, including these handy PDF files:

Ten Facts About Reading
30 DOs to Remember When Reading Aloud
A Dozen DON'Ts to Remember When Reading Aloud

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Book Every Parent Should Read

There are plenty of debates in the world of parenting. Attachment parenting, cry-it-out, breastfeeding, diapering, vaccinations, daycare, eating organic, spanking...the hot-button issues are nearly endless. Pick any one of them, and you are almost sure not only to find people who passionately think XYZ is THE best thing you can do for a child, but also to find just as many passionate other people who believe the complete opposite, and think XYZ is harmful, or at least is not that necessary, or not possible for everyone. It's enough to make a mother's head spin.

So while Steve and I have made choices for our family about the things listed above, and while I hold very strong opinions about a few of these issues, I'd be treading on pretty shaky ground to say that any book advocating one of these viewpoints should be required reading for every parent. They're sensitive decisions, and people who I deeply respect and who love their children tremendously come down on different sides of the arguments.

However, I'm going to be bold and say that reading to your children falls entirely outside this realm of parenting debates. Can anyone argue that NOT reading to your child is better than reading to him? Can anyone claim that it's not possible for everyone? (At least in the U.S., even illiterate parents have access to public libraries where they can obtain audiobooks for free.) Would anyone say that reading to your child is harmful? So maybe reading to children is the one issue all of us mothers can agree on --let's do it, because it's a GOOD thing.

That's why there IS at least one book I think every parent should read.

When Elijah was four months old, my mom gave me The Read-Aloud Handbook. I wasn’t particularly interested at first; I was already sold on reading to my son, and the title didn't seem particularly intriguing, to be honest. But Mom’s enthusiastic description of the author, Jim Trelease (based on hearing him speak in person), intrigued me. After reading the introduction to the book, I was captivated.

I knew instinctively, having been raised in a home that valued education, that reading was important. But it wasn’t until I read The Read-Aloud Handbook that I understood exactly why it was so vital to a child’s growth. Trelease uses up-to-date research and inspiring anecdotes to illustrate the power of reading to shape an individual and even a nation. He explains the value of reading aloud even to children who can read for themselves, and shows how to begin. He provides tips for coaxing kids away from the TV and advice on how to create a reader-friendly environment at home.

The second half of the book is a read-aloud treasury. Trelease lists 1,000 books that are great for reading aloud, from picture books to novels, and shares some of his favorites; you can even find books listed by theme.

I have some quotes from the book I'd like to share, but I'm afraid it'll make this post way too long--so watch for a follow-up post later today or tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can check out Jim Trelease's website, including these printable brochures:

Ten Facts About Reading
30 DOs to Remember When Reading Aloud
A Dozen DON'Ts to Remember When Reading Aloud

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Imagination Library: A Fabulous Gift

God bless Dolly Parton.

I don't care for her voice (at ALL), and I've never been to Dollywood. But it's because of Miss Dolly Parton that I'm eager to check the mailbox at the beginning of each month. I'm anticipating another brand-new book wrapped in cellophane any day now. When it finally arrives, I'll tear the plastic off immediately and head to our reading chair, where Elijah and I will discover a new story.

No idea what I'm talking about? Then it's my delight to introduce you to the Imagination Library.

In 1996, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort to benefit the children of her home county in east Tennessee. Dolly wanted to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families. She wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.

So she decided to mail a brand new, age-appropriate book each month to every child under 5 in Sevier County. With the arrival of every child’s first book, the classic The Little Engine That Could, every child could now experience the joy of finding their very own book in their mailbox. These moments continue each month until the child turns 5... Needless to say the experience has been a smashing success. So much so that many other communities clamored to provide the Imagination Library to their children.

Is that an awesome idea or what? The Imagination Library has gone nationwide, and we're blessed to be living in an area that participates. What an incredible gift to parents. Parenting brings plenty of overwhelming expenses, and even if you have the means to buy books regularly, how do you know which ones to choose? We’ve gotten some duds through the program, sure (Peter Rabbit’s Book of Colors is the worst so far; my husband and I are annoyed to no end that the book doesn’t even order the colors of the spectrum properly), but we’ve also received well-known classics from Eric Carle and discovered delightful new books like Good Night, Gorilla and Ready, Set, Skip.

Receiving books through the Imagination Library can be a great starting point for exploring authors or illustrators, and it's a wonderful way to build your child's library. Reading doesn't have to be expensive. It's accessible to everyone for free through the local public library, of course, but I think it's also extremely important for your children to have books of their very own. We've amassed quite a collection so far and it has cost me very, very little between gifts, used book sales/yard sales, and the wonderful Imagination Library. Just think of it--60 brand-new books for each kid in your family!

So that's why I'm thankful for Dolly Parton. I applaud her efforts to promote reading to children! I'm sure a lot of you are already aware of this program, but if it's new to you, check out the website and register your child online today!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Passing Along a Love of Reading

It was my mom who opened the world of books to me. To be honest, I don’t have many vivid memories of her reading to me when I was very small. But I do remember that when I was in elementary school and middle school, shopping trips with her always included a stop at Media Play, where I could typically, without too much cajoling, persuade her to buy me a brand-new paperback.

My nose was *always* in books when I was young. A squatty shelf in our hallway held dozens of volumes for me to pore over constantly. My bedroom furniture included a large bookshelf attached to the desk, which soon filled up with the latest volumes in my favorite series: The Baby-sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High. I devoured anything I could get my hands on; grounding me was useless because I preferred to sit quietly in my room and read anyway. (Yes, I was a nerd.)

I remember signing up for the summer reading program at the library each year, Mom driving me across town week after week to exchange one tall stack of books for another. There I’d collect a new bookmark at the circulation desk and eagerly fill out brightly-colored papers to stick up on library walls and shelves, celebrating my prolific reading.

I have no doubt it’s that love of reading that made all the difference in my education. The books I read endlessly made me a whiz speller, an articulate speaker with a broad vocabulary, a clear and thoughtful writer. And those books opened worlds to me.

One of my greatest hopes for my eighteen-month-old son is to open those worlds to him. I want a lot of things for Elijah, but few more than for him to love reading.

That’s why I registered at right along with Babies R Us when I was pregnant. It’s why I put books at the top of his wishlists for birthday or Christmas gift-givers. It’s why I eagerly head straight for the children’s books at yard sales, hoping to add to our growing collection. And it’s why every time it's a little too quiet in the living room, I melt when I peek around the corner only to find Elijah turning the pages of a book.

There are a whole lot of things I’m screwing up as a mother, a whole lot of things I thought I’d do but have failed at miserably. I didn’t manage to follow through with baby sign language; I don’t play classical music on an endless loop. But I read to Elijah as much as I can.

I’m delighted that my little guy loves books so much. When I sit down in the reading chair, he’ll drop what he’s doing and toddle over to me, anxious to climb up into my lap. The mere mention of the word "read" will bring whining if you're not prepared to follow up with action! It’s not unusual for him to sit for 40 minutes as I read book after book, letting him turn the pages with his eager, chubby hands.

Last week, he discovered that he can initiate reading time by bringing a book to me and whining to be picked up. Nine times out of ten, I don't have the heart to refuse the pleading eyes of a toddler who loves to be read to. Which means that now every time I sit down, I can count on a book being insistently held out to me, accompanied by frustrated cries if I don't immediately respond. I'll admit that the interruption isn't always welcome, but I'm trying to focus on my gratitude that Elijah enjoys reading so much.

This week, elementary schools around the country are observing Read Across America Week (happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!), and we're going to join in the celebration here at Lavender *Sparkles*. Check back over the next few days to hear me talk about the reason we get excited to visit the mailbox at the beginning of each month, some of our favorite children's books, and the book I think should be required reading for every parent in America.

Meanwhile, feel free to start discussing reading in the comments. Do you love to read? Who instilled that in you? What books do you remember loving when you were young?

Grace Has Brought Me; Grace Will Lead Me

After I pulled Future Grace off the shelf last week to find a quote, I was reminded of how much I loved the book when I read it three years ago and how deeply it impacted me. Thumbing through it, I realized that I need to hear its message again perhaps more now than ever, so I've decided to read through it this month (it's conveniently arranged it in 31 chapters, so that you can read one each day and be done in a month).

John Piper introduces the book's theme this way:

[My mother] taught me to live my life between two lines of "Amazing Grace." The first line: "'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far." The second line: "And grace will lead me home." ...believing the first line fortifies faith in the second line; and believing the second line empowers radical obedience to Jesus.

It's a heady book; I only got about halfway through it the first time I picked it up, in college. Four years later, in a totally different season of life, I felt compelled to try again--and the book was astounding to me.

Piper proposes that for too long, the church has set forth "gratitude" as "the driving force in authentic Christian living." While in reality, the Bible teaches that although gratitude is crucial--indeed, how could we be anything but grateful for what God has done for us?--it cannot be this "driving force." It does not have the power. Instead, "faith in future grace" is what can and must propel us to follow Christ wholeheartedly and faithfully.

This was nearly revolutionary to me. Gratitude has certainly been at the heart of my thinking for years. I have been thoroughly convicted of the desperate need for me to remember God's past faithfulness--in my own life and as recorded in His Word. But Future Grace helped me to realize that this theme of remembering and gratitude that God has stirred up in me not an end, but a means toward trusting Him. It's really another way of saying, "live between the two lines of 'Amazing Grace.'" It is remembering what God has done--especially at the cross--so that you can have a bolstered faith in what God will do. It is seeing how God has kept His promises so that you can believe that He will continue to keep His promises!

As I learn now in new, deeper ways what it means to trust God, I'm returning to this wonderful book. I plan to spend the next month reminding myself of how faithful God has been, how rock-solid are His promises, so that I can not only live a life of gratitude, but more importantly, trust Him unswervingly no matter what tomorrow brings, continuing to ask Him for grace and believing that He will work in all details of my life for His glory and my good.

(adapted from a post originally published on April 27, 2006)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Clear Message: Trust

I've noticed over the years that when God is trying to teach me something, He hits me with the message from several angles all at once. He remembers that [I am] dust--in other words, He knows I am thick-headed--and so He patiently, graciously reinforces a truth in a bunch of unrelated ways (people, books, blogs, sermons, etc.) until I finally get it.

The theme these last couple of weeks has been unmistakable: Trust. Some circumstances have come up in my life recently that are tempting me to fear, resentment, bitterness, etc. Yet almost instantly, God invited me, urged me to trust Him. I've been hearing it everywhere, from the lyrics of this song, to the repetition of the word "trust" throughout the entire album, to pulling an old book off my shelf for a totally separate purpose and remembering its theme of trust, to hearing this quote on a podcast, to what I saw on Friday afternoon. I was so blown away by the kindness and mercy of God in speaking so clearly to me on Friday that I have to share the story here.

Back in January, when I thought through a Bible reading plan for this year, I decided that I'd spend the month of March reading Isaiah. Since March starts tomorrow already, I wanted to read the chapter on Isaiah in Mark Dever's wonderful book The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, to get a good overview.

I opened the book and saw that Dever's title for Isaiah is "Messiah" and thought, "Oh, how appropriate that I'm going to be reading this during Lent!" And then I looked at the outline for the chapter. It went like this:


The Problem: Trusting the Wrong Things
-Trusting Other Kings
-Trusting Other Gods
-Trusting Themselves
-Trusting Their Own Unfaithful Leaders
-Whom Shall We Trust?

The Solution: Trusting God
-Trusting God's Coming Judgment
-Trusting God's Coming Deliverance and Salvation
-Whom Shall We Trust?

The Solution Sharpened: Hoping and Trusting in Christ
-Hoping in a Coming Messiah-King
-Hoping in a Coming Servant
-Hoping in the Messiah-King and Servant as One!
-Hoping in Jesus as This One
-In Whom Shall We Hope?

Um. WOW. Could it be any more clear? How amazing is that?

I'm so thankful for powerful reminders of God's sovereignty. I'm thankful that He's trustworthy, that He's good, that He loves me and is for me. And I'm thankful that in His kindness, He reminds me over and over of these truths until they sink deeply into my heart.