Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Learning notes: It was the stench

Things we did

Last week, our friends, the Tillets, invited us to come along on their trip to the zoo. I thought it would be the perfect week to study Noah's story.

On Monday, we read various renditions of Noah's Ark. I checked out nearly all the picture books our local libraries had about Noah. There were so, so many (there were versions about Noah's trees, Noah's dog, etc.). Our favorite was probably the one by Jerry Pinkney, intricately illustrated with simple prose. Here is a quote that stayed with me:
And the Lord loved Noah.
God spoke to Noah.
Noah put down his basket and listened.
We also liked the one by Peter Spier. His illustrations were thoughtful and detailed. We compared the different versions and talked about how faithful each of the authors were at telling the original story. Some ventured far, far away from the Biblical account. Others were nearly unrecognizable. I thought it was important for the boys (especially Emeth, for now) to learn to distinguish between fact and fiction.

And we decorated paper boats.

But the zoo was indisputably the highlight of our week. The opportunity to spend time with friends is so precious, and so much fun (Thank you, Callie, Lei, and Kalina!).

Khesed was exclaiming "A!!!! A!!!!! A!!!!!" (for alligators).


Things we pondered and cherished

We pondered the smell.

More specifically, we pondered the smell of poop in the Australian House. For some reasons, the excrement of wombats and fruit bats was more pungent than the excrement of animals in other exhibitions. It was so memorable that we were still thinking about it days later in the comforts of our home.

It was the stench that led us to a cherished discussion about obeying God.

I find it funny that stenchy places have their ways of speaking to Hans and me about divine things.

The conversation started when they commented on how they really did not like the odor in the wombats' house. And I told them it was very likely that Noah's ark smelled just like that, if not worse. Noah and his family were rescued. Yes, their lives were saved, and they gave praise and thanks to the Lord. But building the ark was hard work. Planting food to take into the ark was hard work. Caring for the animals was hard work. It was not fun to be teased by their neighbors, to be thought as foolish. It was not (always) fun to be in a stuffy ark with lots of animals. Noah was very eager to know when the water would subside.

Obeying God is often hard work, and often not very fun.

*crickets chirping*

I don't think they understand this quite yet.

Our conversation also made me think about what I prioritize as their mother. Have I demonstrated through my parenting that fun and comfort and happiness (by themselves) are Most Important? Do I overemphasize, do I idolize, these secondary things? I would have to think about this a little more, but the idea itself is a little unsettling.

Finally, we loved the dolphins. It was really interesting for me to watch Khesed participating and responding to his surrounding. In our past field trips, he would sit back and quietly soak up his environment. During the dolphin show, he kept signing the letter "D" with his hand, and he would sign the letter "B" when he saw the dolphins playing with the ball. And because he is Khesed, my loudest child, his signs were coupled with exclamations, "Deeee!!!! Deeeee!!!! Deeee!!!! Beeee!!!! Beeee!!!!! Deeee!!!!! Deeeee!!!!!"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Learning notes: Love is the thing

I remember the awful look on my mother's face when I told her I wished I was the only child.

We were on a five-day journey from Iowa to San Francisco. I was 10, that means Jean was 6, Evelyn was 4 and Catherine was 2. It's too bad that the wanderlust that possessed my parents to drive across a foreign country did not make it into my genes.

Pa and Ma, may I have a dash of your bravery please?

My sisters had been arguing and crying for hours. Someone had lost an earring. All four of us were itchy and scratchy from the chicken pox. The old car was chugging along the highways through Utah's desert. I wish I had been paying attention. I am sure the landscape was breathtaking.

Instead, I chose to focus on myself. Woe is me! I am being so good! They are all being so bad! My poor sisters are stuck with this self-righteous oldest sister I can't think of a worse kind.


There it is! My self-righteous face digitized. Apparently, I give them this face a lot.




In her still low voice, my mother warned me to never, ever say that again.

When my mother used her calm voice, I knew then my transgression was much worse than the hours of screaming and crying from my younger siblings. Never, ever wish that I was the only child, she warned me again.

And I have not.


The thing we did, the thing we cherished, the thing we pondered

Last week, we had our first guest teacher.

When our friend Esther from New York City was planning her trip to Chicago, I asked her whether she would be willing to be a guest teacher at our homeschool. She kindly agreed.

She picked one of her favorite picture books as our book of the week and I put her in charge of one activity she would do with the boys. She picked Chickens Aren't the Only Ones by Ruth Heller, a lyrical book about eggs that came with beautiful illustrations. She also chose an eggs-periment (teehee) to do with Emeth, a lesson on hypothesis, observation, note taking, and conclusion.

The week before she arrived, I checked out all the books we needed from our local library. We were ready for her arrival.

What I did not know was that we were going to be sick, sick, and sick.

In God's kindness and mercy, he sent friends to provide fresh vegetable from their garden and grocery (Thank you, Vivian and William and Sharon!). And because Esther and I had planned everything in advance, the Lord even supplied the material and a teacher to teach my children.




People regularly ask me why we choose to educate our children at home. More and more, I simply tell them that I do it because I love doing it, and I would feel like I am missing out if I do not do it. Despite the fact that Hans had to remind me this morning to stop feeling like I am drowning (ha!), I really do love teaching them.

Among my favorite things about being my children's educator are the many hours I get to watch the brothers learning to love one another. I love watching Emeth reading to his younger brothers, Yohanan reading to Khesed, Yohanan helping Emeth with math (I know, it's very sweet). I love how they turn pages for the baby when they listen to audio books, how they are learning (and struggling) to celebrate when other people win at board games, how they are learning to say sorry, to forgive, and put one another first.

I get it now, Ma.

This thing we call love. I felt its gravity in my mother's ashen face. I remember the weight of sadness in her voice. That awful wish, I feel a little sick just thinking about it. There are very few things in life that are sweeter than brothers and sisters loving one another.


I love these weirdos to bits.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cacophonic grace


Have you heard the saying "that which does not kill you make you stronger"?

Yeah, I disagree.

Trials do not make me stronger. Trials reveal me. Trials disarm me. Sometimes, trials weaken. Sometimes, they crush. They can even kill. But trials do not make me stronger.

Trials put us on the stand. Bare faced, no mask, nowhere to hide. Trials turn up the volume of our emotions; they amplify the refrain of our souls.

What do we sing in the dark? What songs in the storm?

I had an unpleasant encounter recently. The incident was so petty, so trivial in comparison to the kinds of trials that other people would come upon. But it was enough to throw me off. Enough to reveal the unkindness and selfishness that was mine.

The struggle was something I regularly faced, but I somehow managed to tune it out, like the buzzing of a gnat. I knew I was disobeying the Lord, but I became an expert at avoiding it, masking it, justifying it especially to myself.

The incident brought my sin out into the open. The Ugly I had nurtured and stowed away in the closets of my soul became plain as day. Perhaps it was not obvious to outsiders, but before Hans and the boys, there was no hiding now.

The volume was turned up, and there was no song.

All I could hear was the harsh clamor of discord, blaring, "Mine! Mine! Mine!" I was the noisy gongs; I was the clanging cymbals.






Church bells may come to mind when we think of repentance. The lovely ringing of melodies so sweet and nostalgic, pouring out of the church's tall and ancient steeple. Each note, full and deep, calls the weary and hungry to come home.

My call of repentance sounded slightly different.

There, under the weight of the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals that was mine, the Lord called me to come. The cacophony was neither sweet nor delightful, but it was the sound of grace and mercy. In his perfect love and infinite knowledge, God gives his children pain if pain is the thing that would bring us back to him.

Trials amplify the poverty of our hearts. Trials do not make us stronger, but by God's grace, the Lord uses trials to drive us to our knees before the One who is strong. Here, we cast our eyes on the One who bore the weight of our sins. He bore the weight of the rugged cross.



Soul, sing the Lord's song in the dark, in the storm.
Soul, amplify Christ. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Learning notes: Humility laughs

Things we did

At the end of last week and most of this week, we were sick, sick, and sick. Lesson for the week: how to keep our mouths from complaining and our hearts joyful. I struggled (and I am still struggling) to find a rhythm to our days. The storm of sicknesses wiped out any kind of routine I had tried to establish during the first week of school. Yet again, the educator was the one being educated.


School work was strangely a nice distraction when we were sick. The boys continued with their math and handwriting, albeit rather slowly. For our book of the week, we read Tacky the Penguin and other books in the series by Helen Lester. We learned about adjectives, penguins, and a little bit about Antarctica. I had a lot planned for science, experimenting with ice, making ice cream, and such. But alas, ice and other cold things will have to wait for healthier days.




Things we cherished

Hans is deep in the trenches of writing and editing right now. Once in a while, he would emerge from his study to cheer us on. Last week, Hans taught the boys for a few minutes while I got lunch started. Unlike me, Hans did not shy away from using big words and complicated concepts. The boys were lost somewhere between the phrases "the adjective modifies the noun" and "here are the differences between adjectives and adverbs." Never mind the boys, even I scratched my head a couple of times.

But, here is the thing Emeth and Yohanan loved it.

They basked in their father's attention. They were engaged and responsive. They answered Hans' questions and tried again when they got the wrong answers. They roared in laughter at his examples and had the time of their lives. If someone were to be watching them from a distance (which would be creepy), Hans would have looked like a comedian. No one would guess this was a dad teaching his first-grader and pre-schooler English grammar.



Things we pondered

Watching Hans, I learned that a healthy dose of confusion helps keep my young men humble. Being a little lost can be a good thing; they learned that sometimes things are more complicated than our minds can handle, and that's OK.

Watching the boys, I saw that humility is not self-deprecating or awful. Instead, true humility looked more like laughing faces, bright and eager to learn, so happy to please their father.

That same week, my good friend Wini, all the way in Kuala Lumpur, posted a picture on Facebook. Her husband Tim was teaching her son Matthew how to fix the computer. Matthew is 7.
 

Tim teaching Matt how to fix the computer. Photo credit: Winifred Heron, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.





I am so grateful for learning families around the world. And by this I do not mean homeschooling families. I grew up in various public school systems in Malaysia and the United States. But my parents were my primary educators and my three sisters were my closest classmates. I learned to see the world with them and through them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Learning notes: The appendix led us to beautiful places

My good friend Jenni once described parenting as a re-living of our childhood. Another chance to read our favorite picture books, another chance to order chocolate ice-cream (every single time), to play, to hide, to seek, to be found.

Being my children's educator gives me another go at first grade and pre-school. Everyday, the educator gets re-educated, even though I am supposedly on the other side of the desk.

Because this virtual space is an extension of our lives, and because I love reading and regularly benefit from the chronicles of other learning families, I am going to jot down (as often as I am able) a few things we did, a few things we cherished, and a few things we pondered (somewhat) regularly.


Things we did

This year, the bigger boys are able to work on math and handwriting with less supervision. We are using a combination of Handwriting Without Tears, Singapore Math, and Kumon workbooks.

For about an hour or two everyday, we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty (metaphorically and literally). I am currently trying out a concept I learned from Jenni. The basic idea is that we would read a book in the beginning of each week, and throughout the week, we would re-read it and explore different aspects of that book. This way, we learn to enjoy the book not only for its story, but also as a portal through which we explore different places and subjects.

For example, the first book we read  was Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Throughout the week, we learned its geography (Paris, France), literary devices (rhymes), artwork (Eiffel Tower), biology (the digestive system), and so on.



Things we cherished

In the story, Madeline had to go to the hospital because of her appendix. So, I thought it would be a good way to have a look at where the appendix is located. I did not expect how much the boys would love it.

For days, I heard the boys saying random things like:

"But mommy! I don't need to go to the bathroom. My rectum is empty!"

As Hanan took bites of his lunch, he would say, "Now, the food is in my mouth. Now, the food is going down my esophagus. Now, the food is going into my small intestine.... (and he continues)"

Or, "Mommy, the bread is pushing my bladder!"

Or, "Look! A human fountain! Water is shooting out of the esophagus!"


"Look! A human fountain!"


And then, there were many, many conversations about the liver, the kidney, and the bladder. "The liver is so kind to give the small intestine its juice!"

Hanan was especially intrigue by the bladder. "Why does the bladder look like a heart? Is the bladder dirty? Hollabout (how about) the kidney?"

We stepped into the rabbit hole via the appendix; it led us to many beautiful places.



Things we pondered  

This week, I thought a lot about my educational method. As it turns out, I teach the way I cook.

The golden rule applies in life as it does in the kitchen as it also does at school: Do to others what you would have them do to you. Cook for others the things you would want to eat. Teach others the way you would want to learn.

Also, I am coming to terms with how horrible I am at following curriculum, just as I am horrible at following recipes.

I would begin with the intention of following a recipe. I would be inspired; I would study the recipe and assemble the ingredients. But somehow, as I begin to throw things in the pot, so to speak, I would often end up improvising and going with my preferences and instincts.

This new concept that Jenni showed me gives me enough room to be spontaneous, but it requires me to think a few days and weeks ahead in order to make the necessary preparation. Thanks, friend.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

K is for Khesed

Laughing at ourselves is necessary for life.

We had so much fun reading through all the Old Emethese and Old Hananese the other day. I had forgotten most of them. And I am so grateful for these whiffs of their baby years, so grateful that these nonsensical sounds are recorded for years to come.

As Khesed is eager to join his band of brothers, I have this sudden urge to capture some of his baby-ness before it all fades away.

When he was 15-months old, he placed the letter C, U, and P on my lap along with a cup. Hans thinks it was purely coincidental, there was no way a 15-month old could spell.



He is now 19-months, and he is still obsessed with the alphabet. It's nice that my children each have their little obsessions. Emeth loves dinosaurs and all living creatures. Hanan loves numbers. Khesed loves letters. It makes for really fun library trips. We get a little of everything. During their best moments, Emeth and Hanan read alphabet books to Khesed, make up alphabet games for Khesed, sing alphabet songs for Khesed, write out the alphabet for him. And the sweetest thing of all they clean up after their little brother, who loves toys that come in 26 pieces, at least.

Khesed is a man of few words. He pronounces only a few words perfectly, and always as exclamations:

Eat! - what he says when he is hungry. He is always hungry
Me! - what he says when he wants a piece of what everyone else is eating. He is my adventurous eater.
Shoe! - when his shoe falls off. His shoe always falls off.
Ball! - when he wants his brothers to play with him, which, as you can guess, is often.
Ge! - his favorite people in the world ("big brother" in Chinese)
Hand! - when he want to hold my hand. Hearing this word will never get old.
Yum! - when he knows we can't resist it when he says this so we will continue to feed him.
Yuck! - dirty things, crumbs.

A few weeks ago, he kept getting "Yum" and "Yuck" mixed up. His brothers thought he was hilarious.

He talks in letters. He labels things by the first letter of their names, or their phonetic sounds. When he wants more fish crackers, or when he sees fish, or flowers, he would shout, "F! F! F!" When he sees his favorite stuff animals (all beginning with P), he would make the "P" sound, over and over again. He does not even say "mommy" or "daddy." But he would occasionally run to me shouting, "M! M! M!" He does call Hans "D-D-Dah!"

But he calls bananas "ger-la-la-la!"

Here is a glossary, in case you ever strike up a conversation with Khesed:

A! - Apple
B! - Ball, bicycle, book
C! - Cat, cup
D! - Daddy, dog
E! - Elephant
F! - Fish, flower
G! - Giraffe, gorilla, grass
H! - hippo, hat, head
I! - Ice cream, he pronounces I as "Ig"
J!- juh
K! - kuh
L! - Lion (a.k.a. Raaaawr!), leaf
M! - Mommy, money (?!) - I was surprised as well
N! - Nose, numbers
O! - Oranges, I love oranges
P! - Panda, peacock, penguin
Q! - keeeew
R! - ah-re
S! - ssss
T! - Tree, trains
U! - uh! uh!
V! - veeeee
W! - wuh
X! - Xylophone
Y! - yuh
Z!- Zipper, zebra

Oh, and he loves numbers (Na!) and dinosaurs (Rawr!).

I have quite a collection of his pictures with his favorite things.








Friday, August 8, 2014

Behind the closet doors of my soul

After serving on the music teams of youth groups and churches for more than a decade, I still struggle with pride, and I still struggle with the desire for people to think well of me.

When I was leading as a teen, I used to watch my friends' facial expressions to see how well I was doing. Were they singing? Or were they distracted? When I married Hans, I would watch my husband's facial expressions. What was he thinking about? Did he not agree with the theology of this song? Should I have chosen a different song?

Yeah.

Our pastor preached a sermon on 1 Peter 4:10 a few Sundays ago: "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." Pastor Josh exhorted the congregation to serve the Lord and serve one another—excellently. Self-centered excellence, in the words of our pastor, is the American dream. Family-centered excellence is the Asian dream. As I was listening to his evaluation, I realized that I was both self-centered and family-centered.

Yeah.

The Church, according to Pastor Josh, is to strive towards Godly excellence, selfless excellence. 

We strive for excellence because we worship the one who is Most Excellent. Our talents and abilities, no matter how awesome, are nothing compared to the worthiness and splendor of our Lord. We are worshiping the King of kings and Lord of lords. The mindfulness and the hours we pour into the details of Sunday worship are all part of the gift we bring before him. Therefore, we delight in practicing, preparing, and praying to God for help, that we would know him and make him known.





Godly excellence, according to Pastor Josh, is done in God's way and for his name sake. While worldly success is measured by the number of thumbs-up, followers, and viral links, godly excellence cannot be measured — at least not by human means. The Lord is looking at our hearts. Are we faithful even in the little things? Do we serve because of love? Do we delight in fearing the Lord? 

We must pursue excellence not only when and where people can see us. Godly excellence, in fact, shines the brightest off the stage, from moment to moment, behind the closet doors of our souls, where the only person who sees us, sees everything about us.

Godly excellence is selfless. Selfless excellence points to Christ. To know Christ and make him known is the goal of an excellent worship team. We strive for excellence for this purpose: that the congregation would together delight in and meditate on the Word of God.

Mistakes can be distracting; sloppiness attract attention to ourselves. Therefore, during our worship services, we strive to minimize distractions. We get every Powerpoint slide to come up when it is supposed to. When reading Scripture, we practice saying the names in our passages; we make the passage a part of ourselves by reading it over and over and over again during the week. We think about our attire and choose outfits that would communicate reverence for the Lord. We pick truthful songs suitable for congregational singing, and sing them in keys that do not make us squeak. We balance the volumes on the sound system, and we make sure all the microphones are working and the stands are at their right heights.

We carry out the little things faithfully, and with love.



On this side of eternity, I will continue to struggle against pride, and against the desire for others to think well of me. I will struggle to serve selflessly and excellently. I will struggle to serve in faithfulness and love. The songs that I sing and sentences that I string will be flawed.

But

I will find comfort in the words of John Owen: killing sin is the work of the living. The very act of struggling is a sign that I am alive. I am alive in Christ. Apart from him, I would be dead. And dead people do not struggle.

Therefore, I will fight against my inclinations to pride, laziness, and disobedience. I will fight against my unloving, self-seeking, people-fearing tendencies. I will struggle against distracting thoughts on Sunday mornings, but mostly, I must struggle kneeling before the One who sees me, behind the closet doors of my soul.