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Here’s an interesting video on How Curiosity is Crushed that was shared by Faraday’s Candle on a comment on Three Critical Errors I Made in Homeschooling

http://faradayscandle.com/2014/09/

What do you think? Does testing and memorization ruin the beauty of science?

Michio Kaku states that we are all born scientists, that we all wonder why? We wonder ‘how is that possible?’ He’s absolutely right! Every child is curious about the world. I remember tearing apart dandelions to examine the base of the flower petals. Every puddle still draws me to it, wondering if there are any tadpoles or worms slithering along the bottom.

I do believe this is just one problem that schools face today. To examine even two issues of public education would fill a book, so I’ll just focus on the one that I believe is at the core of them all: Too much emphasis is put on Testing and too little on Character Development. Someone will comment that their school has a character quality of the week and therefore the children are learning about character.

That’s a good start.

It’s my belief that true character is formed on the back of discipline and faith – or the lack thereof . Within the word ‘discipline’ is the word ‘disciple’. A disciple is a student, “one who receives instruction from another”. Therefore, discipline is a lesson that is taught. When a character trait is flawed, it must be corrected. Disciplining a child doesn’t instinctively mean punishment, but a corrective action must take place. That action needs to have meaning.

Just Don’t Kill

The pessimistic side of me fears that Character Development in our American Culture is nearly a lost cause. Political correctness, the span of opinions between the intensely liberal and the overly conservative, and the desire to fit in make it almost impossible for a basic character quality to be agreed upon. But my optimistic side declares that there is hope. Most cultures believe it is wrong to kill. Telling lies is generally viewed as bad. Being independent and intelligent are desired, but the means to gain these character qualities is being forgotten. But we have the ‘no kill’ agreement. That’s a start.

Mr. Kaku calls the years of junior and senior high school the ‘Danger Years’. In an education system that houses 200-500 students of any particular age level, what else can be expected? Going back to the beginning of time, people aren’t meant to be grouped in large numbers with people their own age. The results are disastrous! If you disagree, read Lord of the Flies or go visit your neighborhood school and watch what happens when the teacher’s back is turned. Based on the souls that are forever wounded during these years, that ‘no kill’ quality appears to be lacking.

The Death of a Soul

Speaking from my own experiences, high school was not an academic pursuit. It was a social endeavor. An obstacle course of clothing, economic status, country-club memberships, and brands. That, I believed, was the stuff people were made of. There were, of course, exceptions to those rules, but they were few. How much more has this worsened with the onslaught of technology? Cell phones with cameras and video capabilities that catch every person’s nightmare, sharing it on social media in an extended version of global bullying.

I remember a beautiful girl from my high school who came out of the bathroom with her skirt tucked into her panties. It was horrifying for her, but thankfully a good friend rushed up and corrected the problem, quickly tugging at her skirt to fix it before too many boys saw. Everyone’s face burned with embarrassment for her. No one would have ever thought of taking a picture and posting it anywhere. That idea never even occurred to us. But that is the norm now. And what do the adults do about it?

Bullying makes the headlines. Taunts and language do break bones, no matter what childhood poems say. Bullying kills the soul. It can also kill the person. Many bullied students can’t cope and end their life.

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.”  http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html

From http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the THIRD leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

Education, Basic Needs and Eric:

When I did my student teaching, I went downtown to a public school and worked in the kindergarten room. Many of the children were bright and eager to impress the teacher, to learn how to read, to do the crafts, to play with others. But there was one boy, Eric, who miraculously made it to school every day on his own accord. His mother, whom I met at parent-teacher conferences, had needle marks up both arms. With a toothless smile, she openly shared that her profession was the oldest profession.

Her son came to school dressed, but usually not dressed well enough to protect him from the winter winds, nor were his clothes always clean. He came to school for breakfast and lunch. Numbers and letters meant nothing to him. After breakfast, while the other children huddled around my chair for a story, Eric was usually asleep in the reading corner. With his belly full and his little fingers and toes warmed, his eyes finally rested in the only safe place he knew.

The basic needs of food, water and shelter must all be met before an education is possible. I don’t know what Eric learned that year. I do know that I will never forget him.

True education happens in small groups or in one-on-one mentoring situations, but mentorship is a dying entity. The “flowers of curiosity” that Mr. Kaku mentions in the video don’t just keep blooming from childhood into adulthood. They must be nourished and tended. Safe environments, encouraging mentors, availability to classical literature and quiet hours spent without music or distractions are what makes a student a scholar.

There are facts to learn and poetry and formulas worth memorizing. But not for the purpose of passing a test and not at the expense of failing in character to make the grade. What do our children truly need to learn except to learn how to learn? What more do they need than the desire to enhance their minds? My answer: First, they need to know it’s possible. Second, a mentor to show them what it looks like to learn. And third, the time and space to learn.

They need mentors. Not ‘Danger Years’.

Let this be your next experiment: What would happen if children read classical literature and studied any subject of interest to them? How would that impact their education and love of learning if they did that for three months? What would the ‘beauty of science’ look like in that environment?

I Will Until

The entire world wants something. Peace. Money. Fitness. Beauty. Happiness. True Love. Family. Joy.

What is it that you want more than anything? Write it down. Don’t just think it. Thoughts are fleeting and easily lost in the breezy whims of life. Seal it onto paper with ink.

Do you really want that? I mean REALLY want it? Is that the something that wakes you up during the night? Does thinking about that cause you to daydream? If you so, keep reading. If you aren’t sure, keep reading anyway. If you want it but don’t feel like it’s something you can achieve, then you definitely need to keep reading!

Let me preface this with a disclaimer–I want something too. I’m learning how to reach my dream by studying people who have already reached theirs and are onto their second, third, fourth or tenth dream levels.

What do I want? I want everything listed in the first line and Perfect Faith. I don’t ever want to doubt God’s plans for me. I also want to be the most successful Independent Author who walked the earth. Lofty? Sure. Possible? Absolutely! I mean, somebody has to be the best…why not me? Am I there? Certainly not today, but tomorrow, if I live today correctly, I’ll be closer.

As I’m learning from mentors and as I read books on success in business, leadership, and faith, I am continuously finding a common theme: Not everyone is capable of competing for what they want.

Competing for that ‘one thing’ doesn’t necessarily mean that people are in a race to ‘get there first’. My greatest opponents in that competition is usually me. I am my greatest naysayer, the perfect enemy, the one who really knows what I have and have not accomplished. If I talk myself into something, I can talk myself out of it just as easily. That’s why I believe that not everyone is capable of competing for what they want. It’s also why I don’t want to be in that incapable group.

When I think of the word capable, I think of ‘having the ability’. But my friend Webster describes it differently: “competent; gifted; skillful.” To have capability means to “have power”. My definition is weak, but seems to be accurate for today’s culture. According to my old thinking, to be capable means that I have the ability. There are many people in the world today who are capable of doing great things. We hear that often, particularly from frustrated teachers and parents: “I know he/she is capable, but he/she just doesn’t!”

I much prefer Webster’s definition. It’s forward in its meaning and implication. Taking each of the words in the definition, here is what it breaks down into:

Competent = properly qualified

Gifted = possessing natural talent

Skillful = expert, dexterous

Do I feel competent as a writer? Sometimes. There are days I write scenes that just drip from my fingers onto the keyboard as if it takes no energy at all. Other days, I claw at the words, digging them out of my brain and pasting them to the page where they stick into gooey clumps.

Write BIG, write little, just write!

Write BIG, write little, just write!

Do I possess a natural talent for writing? Nope. Everything I’ve written has been toiled over, rewritten, thrown out and resurrected through several edits. In fact, a college professor told me that I had no natural ability whatsoever. I was furious. And as my mother can verify, when I am furious about something, I work diligently to prove that person wrong. I’m still in the process of following the map toward the treasure of great writing, but I’m better than I was a year ago. Next year is looking golden.

Skillful writing is not writing like an expert, although there is certainly a place for that. Skillful writing is more of a dedication to a skill, devoting time and energy to the practice of, to find mentorship, to grow thick skin in order to perfect it. Skill comes to those who want it and work for it over a period of time.

My first manuscript was a massive collection of sentences with no clear focus or destination. I spent over a year working on that story, but I didn’t heed the advice of the experts. When I did, I could see the gaping holes in my story. I had no natural skill. The intense amateur status of my writing was blinding. There was only one thing to do: throw it out and start over. And I did. I deleted every copy on the computer and shredded every paper copy I had.

The greatest gift I received from that ‘do-over’ was the freedom to start fresh. I read every book on writing I could find. I read other novels in the genre I loved. Years went by before I had a manuscript that was even worth sharing with someone else. My days were (and still are) filled with caring for my children and homeschooling, so the only times I had to write were early in the morning, late at night, and during nap times. But, I found that my capabilities to do that were tied to my motivation to make that dream of becoming an author a reality. That gave me power.

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My first book. I still feel goose bumps when I look at it :)

I told myself: I will write until I have a complete and well-written story.

Then I said: I will polish and submit this manuscript until I find a publisher.

Then: I will continue to write until each story idea is taken to its fullest potential.

The “I will…until” concept was only recently put into words for me, but as I look back over the last decade of writing, it’s exactly what I did. Now, with that motto in my head, I feel more motivated than ever to continue forward with new and bigger goals. More books, more stories, more speaking opportunities. More books to read, more people to meet, more abilities to uncover.

The “I will…until…” phrase is an attitude. It’s a frame of mind that creates a willpower fueled by ability that grows into expertise.

As a former classroom teacher, I approached the idea of homeschooling with a very strict, organized mindset. Students need desks and a schedule and textbooks. School should start at 9:00, lunch at noon, and we would wrap things up at 3:00. My children will be intelligent and polite and will compete well with traditionally schooled children.

The truth is, none of that matters. There are hundreds of misconceptions about homeschooling. All of mine were based on the fact that I have a Master’s degree in Education. It ended up being a setback for me as I had to reconstruct the philosophies behind classroom management and align them with the reality of a household.

Here are the three most valuable lessons I’ve learned about home-schooling in the past ten years:

  1. A school schedule is not a home-school schedule.

The first year I homeschooled, my oldest daughter was five. Outside of dealing with guilt for ‘denying’ her a kindergarten school year, I felt pressure to be the best homeschooling mom. Ever. I quickly realized that the full load of lessons that I used to teach a classroom of kindergarteners was quickly completely by my one five-year-old.

I will never forget the very first day of our official home-school. We began promptly at 9:00 with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. We read stories, practiced handwriting, and did a craft. We made play-dough from scratch and formed all the letters in her name. And then her sisters’ names. Then mine and my husband’s. We played outside and I was careful to provide time for her to run and jump. Those large motor skills are important, you know.

At 11:00 we called it a day. She consumed my plans as if she was a fish and all my carefully formulated lessons were nothing more than water over her gills.

What was different from teaching 25 students? Much of the time I spent as a kindergarten teacher (1 semester – my experience in this world is quite limited) was used in teaching songs and steps for the daily projects, managing transitions, discipline, academic testing, walking up and down halls for special classes, managing recess, and communicating with parents. With one five-year old (and younger siblings – a 3 year old and a one-year-old), my duties were drastically different. I was the teacher, custodian, lunch lady, and principal. Parent communications were constant (I do talk to myself). I didn’t need academic testing because it was clear to me what she grasped and what needed more work. Special classes – gym, computer, library – were all right there in the house, but we still fit playgrounds and libraries into our schedule as weekly stops.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

That was ten years ago. Our typical day is very different and we’ve gone through several different schedules and plans. For now, we work for 4-6 hours a day on reading, math, science, and music. We are going to add a foreign language to that mix in May. When most schools are winding down for the summer, we are changing gears and keeping the learning fresh with different subjects. Our schedule evolution could fill a book. Hmmm…maybe one day it will. It would be a comedy.

  1. Too many subjects a day keeps the Scholar away.

Because we only focus on four subjects at a time, my children don’t (typically) feel stressed about the amount of work they have to do. This feels like freedom to them because a year ago it was a different story. I had enrolled them in a faith-focused, accredited home-school. I needed the direction, the pre-planned lessons, and the books they use are amazing! When the lesson plans arrived, I unpacked three, four-pound bricks of shrink-wrapped lessons. Each brick had nine subjects spread out over a 36-week school year. They had several different recommendations of how to organize these lesson plans. I’m sorry to say, that after using this curriculum for two years, no suggestion worked well.

It was in the throes of a bitter winter that I noticed four things about our home-school:

  1. My daughters spent so much time at their desks, I didn’t really see them during the day. They may as well have been in school.
  2. The volume of subjects was weary. Mathematics, Religion, English, Reading Comprehension, Reading Thinking Skills, Spelling, Vocabulary, History, Science, Physical Education, Music, and Life Skills. Not one of these subjects overlapped.
  3. We were always behind. The lesson plans were organized by week and day. The only day we were on target was Week 1, Day 1. By the end of the first week, every child was on a different day in every subject. Despite the fact that the school said that was fine, to go through the lessons at your own pace, mine is the personality that doesn’t jive with that. By December, we should have been on week 16, but no one was. We felt like failures.
  4. That feeling of failure lead to short tempers. Mine, mostly.

Our solution was to return to what we love. Reading. We read and write for at least two hours a day. While this is the cornerstone of our education, there is also Math, Music and Science.

The kid's bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

The kid’s bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

  1. I am my own worst student.

Ten years ago as our home-schooling adventure began, I made a critical error. I believed that my degree in education gave me everything I needed to know about how to best teach. Only in retrospect and after many tears and prayers, was I able to admit that I had not studied enough.

My children’s education is only as good as the habits I exhibit. In other words, I can’t teach them anything. Every critical skill that my children learn, they learn from observation. If I want them to flip their lids when the dishes aren’t done, all I have to do is model that behavior once and they have it. They will take that lesson and apply it to moments when a sibling doesn’t return a borrowed jacket or absently leaves a glass on their desk. If I want to teach my children how to gently guide their youngest brother through the four-year-old stubborn streak, I have to model that day after day.

My bookshelf. I'm working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

My bookshelf. I’m working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

If I want my children to be avid, always-hungry readers, I must be an avid, hungry reader. If I want healthy children, I must follow healthy eating and exercise guidelines. The same is true for any circumstance: gentle nature, neatness, respect, gossip, etc.

To remedy my education in Education, I turned to un-schoolers, read about Montessori schools, dove into Classical Education and read up on Leadership Education. Taking the bits and pieces from each, I’ve applied what works for our family and am striving to create a household of learners who are eager to wake up each morning to join me at the table to read and learn. They have their own projects and books they are working on, but essentially, our family has taken a bold step to become Scholars.

I’ve entered.

I have really high hopes and dreams.

How about you?

Reader’s Favorite is a well-respected, high-volume website that works diligently to help small authors and independent authors find their platform. Sure, there is a price and depending on your opinion of ‘to pay or not to pay’ for contests, this one at least deserves a look. Click on the link on the right and enter!

Here is some information from their website, http://www.readersfavorite.com

Readers’ Favorite 2015
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Mini-critique of 5 key areas of your book.
Enhanced listing of your book with award level on our category pages, search results, and your main review page.
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Brian Tracy, in his Book, Eat That Frog! titled after a statement by Mark Twain. Paraphrasing Mr. Twain, he essentially said: If, upon waking every day, you had to eat a live frog, it’s best to just do it and get it over with. Then, for the rest of the day, nothing can be as bad as that.

 

Essentially, don’t procrastinate the ugly job, because it’s only going to grow worse.

 

Stare that task right in the face!

Stare that task right in the face!

Mr. Tracy states that eating that frog indicates “Your ability to select your most important task, to begin it, and then to concentrate on is single-mindedly until it is complete is the key to high levels of performance and personal productivity.” (pg. 109) In essence, figure out what it is you need to do and work on that until it’s finished.

 

He goes on to suggest that “Starting a high-priority task and persisting with that task until it is 100 percent complete is the true test of your character, your willpower, and your resolve.” (page 111) Clearly, Mr. Tracy isn’t referring to parents who stay-at-home or work from home while there are children around. For anyone who has spent three or more hours caring for a child, they can attest that nothing happens as planned, nothing stays where you put it, and anything that is too quiet is either asleep or in the depths of making a ghastly mess.

 

“Starting a high-priority task and persisting with that task until it is 100 percent complete is the true test of your character, your willpower, and your resolve.”

 

I felt angry when I read that. The book is geared toward professionals in a professional setting. But I’m a professional mom. My setting involves very domestic chores, children, their schedules, needs, and all the lessons (both life and academic) they must learn. Even now, as I’m typing this, my willpower is being tested by the four-year-old who is claiming to be hungry after having a breakfast of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, sliced bananas, and two cups of milk. Honestly!

 

To achieve this standard of success seems impossible as caring for a child (or two, or four, or twelve) is not a single-minded task. It involves cuddling, caring, cleaning, feeding, reading to and listening to a child. There is the grocery shopping, the meal planning, gift buying, bribery purchases, laundry, toilet scrubbing. Chores at home are undone as quickly as they are crossed off the list. Then add to the list the task of raising three teenage daughters. They prefer to be called ‘young adults’. Most days they do act like young adults. On the days they don’t, they are frog princesses waiting for that kiss…

 

There are even tasks a parent must think of before they become necessary–what items will be needed during the shopping trip (i.e. a change of clothes, that special stuffed animal), how the schedule change is going to effect that child who is schedule-dependent, or any number of unexpected situations (usually vomit) that are the norm for those who spend their day with children.

 

What is the Frog of my day? Mothers have so many little things to manage. Which one is the Frog with its big bulging eyes and slimy skin that I just need to choke down and move beyond? What is the job that will only get uglier if I procrastinate?

 

I don’t have an answer other than to say that as a mother, frogs jump at me and I have to make split-decisions. I don’t always choose wisely.

 

Since reading Brian Tracy’s book, I’ve been dipping my not-so-edible frogs in a “Prayer” sauce. As I make my list of to-do’s and as I juggle the frogs that jump onto my plate, I am learning that the power of prayer and the gift of sacrifice make a savory meal of any frog.

 

And so I will pray for you. That whatever frog jumps onto your plate, it is one that brings a fullness to your life and brings joy to those whom you love (because watching someone eat a frog is what reality TV was born on!). Mostly, I will pray that when you do cross that frog off your list, you have taken another step toward satisfying your dreams.

 

Bon Appétit!

Have a Dream? Don’t wait for Inspiration. Dreams are reached on the wings of determination.

 

Let me preface this post with a statement: If I can do it, so can you.

That’s what I tell people who express awe when they learn that we home-school our children and that I write books. If I can do it, so can you.

It’s not that everyone should write a book (although everyone should keep a journal), or that every parent should home-school their children. The idea behind the statement is that if there is something you really want to do, figure out how to do it. (Some days my greatest goal is to finish the laundry. Other days, my family would love it if my life’s ambition was to cook dinner.)

Here’s a formula I learned from Bob McEwen (CD, Freedom Matters, Life Leadership) : S = I + A

Success = Information + Action

The success I have achieved is a direct result of information I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources which I then put into action. I will follow that statement with this: The greater success I am striving for is from specific information I am harvesting from other who have the success I desire which I will put into action.

That’s all I’ve done: uncovered success by putting action behind information. My information was about writing, the time period I write about, the language of storytelling, and even the nature of marketing. Success in writing is not a result of inspiration, but dedication to a schedule.

To await inspiration is to die a dusty death.

To hunger for success is only step one. Satisfying that hunger requires a recipe (S=I+A, in case you forgot). It’s that simple.

As soon as I say that, the excuses start pouring in: But I have children. I have a full-time job. I don’t have a job, so I can’t afford to work toward my dream. I’m too old. I’m too young. I have a disease. I’m not smart enough.

Inspiration never comes to those with excuses. If you believe something is true, then it is. If you believe you are too old to do something, you are. But don’t tell that to the octogenarians who climb mountains or start new businesses, or to the teenagers who launch multi-million dollar ideas (think Facebook).

If you set a goal and work to meet it, the excuses fall away like winter coats in spring. I had a goal of writing a book. In the process of meeting that goal I had three children, adopted a fourth, and chose to home-school them all. In that span of fifteen years, I’ve not written one book, but fourteen. Some have been published, others will be, some will never see a reader. Regardless, each and every word I have written or typed has brought me closer to my goal.

That’s the side-effect of not awaiting inspiration but going out and making something happen…it will. Then what will you do? Make a new goal. A loftier goal. A seemingly unachievable goal, until you set aside the naysayers and just go and make it happen.

One of the highlights of homeschooling are the discussions I have with my children in the mornings. Our mornings are not a rush and flurry of breakfast, dressing and scrambling out the door. (note: I’m not saying that every family does that…just that ours would!) Instead, we have breakfast, clean-up and get to the dining room table by 8:30 every morning to do table time–our term for what happens at the table during that time. I know. I’m impressing you with our skill in naming events and habits.

It was at table time this week that a question came up in our faith studies that lead to an interesting discussion about plans for life, goals on how to achieve them and what’s needed to make it all come together.

Despite all my teaching (more thoughts on the ineffectiveness of teaching coming soon) and previous discussions about the importance of having one’s priorities in line, my children didn’t have it figured out yet. When I asked them what was the most important thing in life, they said, “God!” Score one for them.

Next question: If all your goals and dreams, your life’s accomplishments and relationships were to look like a pyramid, where would God be?

Their answer: At the top!

Wrong.

They argued for a moment, but watched as I drew this:

wpid-0227151636.jpg

Question: What’s the problem with putting God at the top? If you put Him there, there is nothing to hold Him up. That’s not to suggest that God needs us to hold him up, but if we are placing Him first, how does He stay up there while we are building our pyramid?

wpid-0227151643.jpg

Instead, make God and your faith formation the foundation. Build that foundation large and thick and sturdy. Prepare that foundation for earthquakes, hail storms, torrential rains and tornados. Keep the seams of the bricks strong with mortar. Check those seams often for leaks and patch them quickly. Inspect that foundation often for cracked bricks and holes that let in the elements.

Working up from that foundation, we can seek and find a thousand different answers as to what should be second, third, and fourth on the levels. My mentors, the people I trust most have encouraged me to focus on the following: First: God. Second: my personal education toward a greater understanding of my purpose. Third: my vocation (Marriage or Holy Orders). Fourth: my family. Fifth: myself (the quiet time to read and write I crave).

wpid-0227151652.jpg

I’m sure there is something in this list you will disagree with. I certainly did when I first heard this and my children were not sure about it either. But when asked to place their priorities on a pyramid with the foundation being the most important, it’s interesting to note that every person has taken TIME to think about it.

That’s the key. Take the time to think about your priorities. Write them down. Then follow them!

My husband and I used this as the foundation for our family meeting last night. It was a powerful conversation that will ultimately direct the family’s activities over the next few months and was formulated on the idea of the pyramid. If, as a family, we are not working toward the same goal, then we are pulling apart at the seams. This doesn’t mean that we must all have the same interests or must all do the same things, but everything we do individually must work for the Schaub Mob (our nickname).

wpid-0227151655.jpg

We, as a family, have a need to work together on a common goal. Using the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, the word “Compassion” came up several times. We decided that as a family, we need to practice showing compassion to each other, participating in activities that promote compassion, and carefully considering which activities will help us respond with passion.

Going back to the pyramid again, we are each building our own structure, but have agreed to strive to set the capstone of ‘compassion’ on the top. We discussed how this looks in daily living and with friends and other family members – striving to be leaders who have a plan of where they are going and how to get there. Compassion as the mission for our family will also guide our decisions in which and how many extracurricular activities we do. We don’t have it all figured out yet, but our goal is clear.

I share this with you because it has become an American tradition to go through life without a goal, without a plan and with no mission. As a result, our society has become complacent, lifeless and even in some circumstances, backwards. This is the first generation in which the children are less education than their parents (resource). If you think that you or your family falls into this category, join us in digging our way out of that. Start by laying a strong foundation on faith in God. Look to your family to help you build the next few levels. Choose a mission, a goal for yourself and your family. Build something great together.

While the Pharaohs built their pyramids out of pride, ours are built in order to create a legacy of faith-filled learners, self-educators and leaders. Who knows, your legacy might be a structure that lasts thousands of years and guides stray wanderers over miles of barren desert.

In preparing for a talk I’m gave to high school teachers this month, the image of a river came to my attention several times. From bible verses to inspirational quotes on Pinterest, the analogies I drew from the picture of a river were nearly endless.

I was going over my presentation one morning with my husband, discussing the different types of personalities and how that determines where we are in life. The more I thought about it, the more meaningful the analogy became.

This is not one of those ‘What kind of (fill-in-the-blank) are you?’ quizzes I’ve seen on Facebook, but more of a reflection that will hopefully help the reader identify how the flow of life, the stream of communication, the tributaries of distractions can determine how we are effectively functioning.

Are you the water in the river? Do you go with the flow, riding out every rush, every stagnant corner, following the crowd to whatever destination is at the end?

Or are you the river bank, watching the action from the (supposedly) safe sideline? Are you a muddy bank, steep in your convictions to not become a part of the rushing waters? Watch out for mudslides!

Are you that giant boulder planted firmly in the center of the river, stubbornly resisting change and forcing everything that comes near you to get out of the way?

Are you the tree on the edge of the river gripping the bank tightly as to not fall in, but gaining the nourishing waters from the current?

Are you the fallen tree that landed in the river and is now collecting debris?

Are you a slow, muddy river whose surface is difficult to see through? Are you a crystal-clear stream with light trickling noises as your water slides over a pebble-bed?

Are you a white-rapids river, daring rafters and kayaks to survive?

Are you a tributary river? A Delta? An Amazon?

Are you the Nile, flooding the surrounding area with life-sustaining nutrients?

I do not believe anyone can be stuck as one type of river. As we grow, we move from stagnant waters to rapids, from the watchful tree to the fallen debris-collecting corpse of wood.

Yesterday I was a dammed river who was stumped and couldn’t get past an obstacle. Today I feel like a surging river in the spring, filled with energy and charging forward. Tomorrow? Whatever river I will channel (pun intended) it will lead me toward greatness or ruin. I choose greatness.

As I read this passage this morning, I was suddenly caught by the question that came to mind:

How would I know if I was a weed?

Matthew 13:24-30

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning’ but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ”

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The parable implies that some people in the world are planted here by the evil one. I would prefer not to believe that Satan would create people for the sole purpose of evil, but my preferences have little to do with anything that goes on outside my own household. I do believe that God blesses every birth and fills us with the potential to be blessings to the world. Yes, that includes all children from every situation, background, race, and creed. But Satan does have power, can bend our perceptions, and warp our understanding of what is good, what is necessary, what God’s plan for us really is. In doing so, Satan plants seeds of doubt, which grow into weeds of discontent at the requests of God. If those seeds are given enough time and space to grow, we become weeds in the field. Weeds choke out the wheat.

But what is a weed? Weeds are any plant that grows among a crop, in this case, a field of wheat. A weed takes more energy from the soil than it needs, choking out the wheat. When I think of weeds, I think of all the hours I spend in my garden, pulling the unwanted plants up by the root, tossing them into the wheelbarrow and hauling them off to the weed pile–a ever growing mound of grass, dandelions and stray prairie plants that will destroy my strawberry patches and clutter up the rows of beets and tomatoes.

While the weeds in the parable are gathered and burned, the grain is ground into flour to make bread, the most basic meal, the most filling. But it’s ground into flour. How often do we feel ground between the milestones of faith vs. the world? How often do our choices to attempt to be Christians leave us feeling more like dusty flour than a whole grain?

What types of weeds are cluttering our world? The population can’t agree on what is a weed and what isn’t; even in a garden, some of the weeds do have beautiful flowers. How can we pull the sprouting menaces up by the root if we can’t even agree on what needs to be taken out and what needs to be given time to grow.

Abortion is a weed, choking out the newly planted seed of life.

Bullying is a weed that poisons the gentle hearts of children and adults.

Jealousy is a weed that alters our vision into seeing that what other people have is so much better than what we have.

Hatred is a weed that we plant in our own hearts. If it’s fed enough, it destroys our lives while leaving a trail of deadly seeds along the way.

What can counter these garden pests? Love. Abortion is stopped when a mother realizes that that clump of cells isn’t just a random growth formation, but an intentionally forming human being with a heartbeat and the potential to be a great person.

Bullying is the result of low self-esteem and is cured when self-love is nourished. Parents, teachers and other friends can help. The victims of bullying need more love than anyone. Words and physical abuse take years to heal, but if love is present in a never-ending supply, there is a cure.

Jealousy disappears when we learn to love the gifts and blessings we’ve been given. Sure, we might not have that car or those shoes, but we have what we have. Look around and see that you have things that others don’t. Jealousy is perspective. Love where you are.

Hatred is the opposite of love. Just as the darkness ends when the sun rises, so too does the blackness of hatred.

As a nation, we need to harvest a nourishing crop of LOVE. Then and only then can we identify the weeds.

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I was recently in a position to overhear a conversation at a book store concerning the quality of books for young adults. The statements regarding concern over the quality of recent young adult books was at the heart of the conversation. Teen romance is scary enough in real life, the idea of reading about it was enough to send one woman over the edge. The other woman tried to defend it, stating that the character qualities in the books were actually more mature than what the average teenager would experience and that by reading such literature (a term I use loosely when referring to teen romance books) it might actually help young hearts as they tramp through the dating scene.  Having never read teen romance, I must admit that I cannot declare an educated decision on this matter. In all honesty, both women are probably correct. When they caught me listening in, they asked me my opinion: What do you let your children read? How do you select books for teenagers? How do you make your children read? All good questions. booksI gladly climbed aboard my soapbox and shared.

What do I let my children read?

Books with integrity. Books with strong characters in nearly impossible situations who overcome odds to become great heroes. Books based on history–the ugly parts: The Holocaust (The Diary of Anne Frank or Number the Stars by Lois Lowry), Slavery (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson or Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas), War (The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne), Family Issues (Almost Home by Joan Bauer).

Books that allow escape: Fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende), Historical Fiction (The Little House of the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson).

Books that teach, encourage by example (Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour).

When I’m asked to give my opinion on how to select books for young adults, I can only offer suggestions. I encourage the reader to consider books that allow them to put on different skin, view through a different set of eyes, see a part of the world they would never otherwise see. That’s why we read or watch TV or go to the movies: for the experience of the story. My personal opinion will probably carry little weight with parents who are simply thrilled when their children read anything. The concern of the quality of the literature isn’t considered important, but it is. Just as people fawn over mass-produced or organic produce, the quality of literature is even more important because it effects the health of the soul. If detoxing your body is difficult, imagine how much more effort goes into detoxing a soul. If the Bible isn’t something a young adult reads regularly, then that is a great place to start.

When my children were young, I had grandiose plans of reading every book before they did. This worked until I was outnumbered three to one. As the stack of books for me to pre-approve grew taller than me, I realized that I needed a different strategy. It came down to a three-step process of approving books before I could read them.

  1. Read reviews of the book on Amazon. By reading a few of the 5 star and a few of the 1-2 star ratings and reviews, I could gather any potential inappropriate themes that I would not approve of.
  2. Post a request to friends for thoughts on the books we want to read. I used to use Facebook for this quite a bit. It generated some really great discussions.
  3. If a book passed the first two steps, then my children were allowed to read it, with one rule: If it ever felt inappropriate, they were to bring it to me for a discussion.

By doing our research and giving my children the authority to determine if I would approve of a book or not, we’ve discovered that they are much more cautionary than I am about what they read. Any book with a swear word is brought to my attention. I’ve even read books after my daughters have and have found words and sometimes phrases blackened out. Censorship at its best!

The last question, How do you make your children read?, really stumped me. Simple answer: I don’t make them read anything. Long answer: years of modeling reading, giving them time to read, providing time at the library for browsing, giving books as presents, rewarding good behavior with an extra story at bedtime. We turned off the TV years ago. Instead of the furniture arranged to watch a screen, it’s arranged around book shelves and tables with books and big comfy reading pillows.

Remember your teen years? Did anything your parents make you do become fulfilling? The typical answer is no. It comes down to putting your actions where your mouth is. You say you want children who are strong readers, then you must practice reading strong. If you want children who gravitate toward books instead of video games, then you must do the same. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t give your young girls romance novels! What good can they possibly glean from such books?

In all these qualifications of what to read and how to encourage teens to read, there was nothing that would classify a teen romance novel as a good choice.

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