Thursday, August 30, 2012

More Lessons from Little House

"On that dreadful morning when Mary could not see even sunshine full in her eyes, Pa had said that Laura must see for her. He had said, 'Your two eyes are quick enough, and your tongue, if you will use them for Mary.' And Laura had promised. So she tried to be eyes for Mary, and it was seldom that Mary need ask her, 'See out loud for me, Laura, please.'"
-Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake

So, we're still working through the Little House series on audio tape. Maddie is as eager as I am to listen whenever we're in the car. She even asks if we need to go to town for anything so she can ride along and listen.

We're up to the fourth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake. In comparison to the others, which move slowly and deliberately, you're hit with several major plot twists in the first 25 pages. A new member has been added to the Ingalls' brood: a baby girl, Grace. Mary, the oldest, is recovering from scarlet fever and has lost her lovely golden locks as well as her sight. Jack, the loyal and brave brindled bulldog, has died. Laura realizes that she is no longer a child and must help care for her sisters. The family is making preparations to move west to a new homestead after several years of hardship in Plum Creek.

I was moved almost to tears last night as we listened to the latest chapter on our way home from town. Mary, Laura, Carrie, Ma, and Baby Grace, were taking a train to meet up with Pa, who had gone ahead with the wagon and their possessions in preparation for the move west. Since Grace was still small and Mary still regaining her strength from her illness their progress would be slow, so the train ride would provide some support for the weary travelers. The train ride was a curiosity and luxury, and the girls were equal parts excited and terrified about their journey.

Ingalls Wilder describes the train ride in childlike detail. And it was through this description, quoted above, that I felt moved. Mary has lost her sight, but her younger sister Laura is bright and quick and shall "see out loud" for her sister. Laura describes the passenger car's appearance, the people going up and down the aisle, and the telegraph lines whizzing past the train car window. Mary need not ask for Laura's play-by-play, for Laura knows it is required of her and does it with great enthusiasm and tenderness.

For those readers who are lucky enough to have a sister, I imagine that this kind of relationship is automatic. Having two yucky younger brothers (love you, Joe and Tony!) I can't relate.

But isn't it a beautiful idea to have someone who can see for you when you are unable, or maybe unwilling, to see for yourself? And I don't just mean correcting you when you're headed down the wrong path. I mean someone you could count on to guide you through the rough times as well as celebrate with you in the good times. A a person who knows what you need before you're even aware that you need it.

I find Laura and Mary's relationship here to be like God's love for us. He knows what we need and what will guide us to success. As Jesus says in the sixth chapter of Matthew, "...your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."

But He does not shield us from failure and pain, as these shape us into useful instruments for His purposes. Mary and Laura have a difficult road ahead of them. They are starting over in a new land. While I wear myself out vacuuming my house, their days were filled with actually building and keeping a home with nothing but their strong hands and will. But they had each other.

Who is your extra set of eyes? Are you eyes for someone else? What does guiding and being guided teach you about yourself? I'd love to read your comments!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Bucket List

I'm officially declaring summer over. School started this week for both girls, and not a moment too soon. Here's how we did as a family on our summer bucket list, pictured below.

We completed 11 of 14 items. Not too shabby, considering we moved across almost 3 states and nearly 400 miles smack in the middle of summer vacation.

We'll be moving "Chicago Fire Match" to our next year's list. We did plenty of reading, but somehow "read a book under a tree" didn't happen. And just the idea of a "media free day" gives me the shakes, so maybe we need to work ourselves up to that one.

Anyone else have success (or not) with their summer goals? Please share! Stay tuned, we're working on a fall list soon...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Family Meetings

Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge. (Proverbs 23:12 NIV)

We're a busy family. We are able to eat dinner as a family most nights, but with school starting up for Todd and the girls, it's about to get much busier.

I've learned that assuming the kids know something is foolish. For example, assuming Ava knows how to feed the dog is a mistake. The food will end up floating in the water dish every time. Slowly and deliberately teaching her to look for the bowl that isn't full of water the key to success. Having her big sister oversee the operation helped, too. It took a few tries and a few failures, but she's got it down now. Mommy and Ollie are both thankful.

Intentional instruction is important. Almost as important as leading by example.

Each Monday we sit down to dinner as a family and go through the laminated agenda in the picture below. We try to keep it as brief as possible, but the entire process seems to take about 20 minutes.

The first point of the agenda is to go over our weekly Bible verse. Todd or I choose a verse based on what we've been struggling with as a family or something we came across in our personal Bible study time. Sometimes we even choose a verse from our family rules. We read it and ask Madeline if she can explain what it means in her own words. Some further clarification and explanation is usually necessary. We discuss what the verse means to us and how it should help direct out behavior choices.

Then we move on to the agenda items for discussion. This varies from week to week. It might include reminders about our family rules, details about calendar items, and general information that helps our family run smoothly.

We then go trough the calendar for the week. This is a critical part of our meeting but the least fun. It has been challenging of late, as the schedule of a pastor with a two-point charge means two sets of monthly meetings. Add family and school obligations and you get a very busy week!

It's clear to me that God made the path easier for me to be able to stay home this year for just this reason: I will need my full concentration to keep the household running smoothly. I need to focus on feeding, loving, and guiding the girls (and Todd!) without adding another full time job into the mix. God is good!

We end our family meeting with compliments and prayer. Each family member comes up with something kind to say to another member of the family. It's practice in both giving and receiving compliments. Mom and Dad usually get the ball rolling and model how to give and receive praise. The girls tend to get silly at about this point, but we'll keep working on it. It's important to us to teach the girls how to help build others up and also how to graciously accept others' praise.

We close in prayer, usually led by Todd. Then everyone scatters so Mom and Dad don't have time to think of anything else to talk about.

I'm not going to lie: this isn't always a fun family event. But it's important that everyone work together and know what it takes to keep the family happy and healthy. As the girls get older and the weekly calendar fills up even more we'll be glad we set this time aside to talk each week.

Anyone else out there have regular family meetings? Care to share your procedures?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Little Parsonage on the Prairie

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies. (Proverbs 31:10 NIV)

Remember last winter when Maddie got the entire Little House on the Prairie series and we said we'd read them aloud together and see if we could finish them all in 2012? Yeah, well, that's not happening.

Thankfully we live across the street from our town's public library which had the entire series on tape/CD. Since we seem to be in the car a lot we're nearly through Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in the series.

Maddie loves it! She has been asking awesome questions about life in the 1800s. She especially likes when Pa tells his stories to Laura and Mary around the cozy fireplace in the little log house.

I'm also getting a lot out of listening to the life of the Ingalls family. I remember reading some of the series as a child, but as an adult I am viewing the narrative through a different lens.

Laura and Mary are polite, curious, and obedient. Ma and Pa are loving, hardworking, and fair. At various moments in the book, I've found myself wishing I could be a fraction of the parents they are.

Ma is a great example of the "wife of noble character" referenced in Proverbs 31:10-31. This is one of my most visited (and highlighted!) chapters in my Bible. Here are a few selections I find particularly appropriate:

Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value. (Proverbs 31:11 NIV)

She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks. (Proverbs 31:17 NIV)

When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet. (Proverbs 31:21 NIV)

She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Proverbs 31:26, 27 NIV)

I'm particularly fascinated with how Ma, Pa, Laura, and Mary always seem to know what needs to be done in each season. They were so in tune with the land that they merely needed to observe the signs around them. They knew what a "sugar snow" meant, and when the oats were perfectly ripe and ready to be harvested. They knew how to make the most of their garden and preserved everything they could for winter. They were joyful at Pa's discovery of a honey tree and savored every meal prepared from fresh meat.

I find myself wondering how I can apply the Ingalls' simple joy for living and knowledge of the land and seasons to my own life. Country life has certainly changed my perspective. I view the coming fall with excitement in anticipation of beautiful scenery, cozy smells, and good things to eat. I can't wait to see what this land looks like clothed in autumn colors or covered in snow. I am curious to see what harvest will bring, and how the farmers' worried faces may change with the hope of a new spring.

So, in our little parsonage on the prairie, we're trying to enjoy the last warm breezes of summer and impatiently await the first smells of fall. And wait to see what God has in store for us. What an adventure!