Growing a Great People

So the many days rush by blurring into yet another year… “My how they have grown.” “How old are they now?”, “Look he’s taller than you” – yeh… well… almost!

In the trenches we don’t see or measure these things. We just keep the meals coming and washing folded. Yet truth reigns and another year slips under the radar – hard to measure yet easy to view as friendships deepened, clothes seem to have shrunk as legs have sprouted and confidences have grown.

This Mamma heart swelling with pride as our little troop joined in the Christmas service – violin poised and voices raised. Greeting adults with young manly handshakes and choosing to not take the biggest or be brave enough to say they don’t need yet another slice. Why yes I do see they have grown!

Small army of ours gathered outside on a chilly, windy, Christmas eve dressed as shepherds guarding their little toy flock. Bread poised above a shared pootjie pot of soup. Sparkling eyes, brother banter, voices rising to sing into the Silent Night.

I stand in awe as I survey this festivity our love has created. One Mamma’s heart swollen beyond this created realm.

Sleep evading me I crept out to greet a dark, wet Christmas morn. Enveloped in the predawn the presence of God wrapped around a deep worn heart. Candles flicking Hope into this new season as preparations for the day ahead are being born. One man child emerging from his slumber into the candle light to share his mother’s joy. Unrestrained exuberance digging into his stocking treasure. Full of awe I watch this teetering between unrestrained childishness and embracing the uncharted territory of adulthood as he digs in gleefully, then pauses – looks up grinning, “These were such good ideas for our stockings – Thanks Mom.” Slowly more little souls emerge clutching their loot come join us in the candle light.

Mamma’s heart filled with deep warm oozing love for these great beings from which I daily learn so much. Yet as I survey this my heart breaks. It breaks for my humanity that I carry – how I so easily crumple these precious ones with my careless words and harsh tones. If my Heavenly father spoke and instructed me in the ways I often allow to carelessly slip off my tongue would I want to call him Father? Yet these resilient children of mine look up with eyes brimful of love and endearment. Again my heart breaks. “Father fill me with your wisdom as I raise these souls of yours! Fill me with your thoughts and your words! Fill my well and capacity so deep that my patience expounds all reason and logic.”

As I gingerly reach for each of their gifts they have for me –  from bookmarks to flowers to poems and chubby finger scribbling – each one personally thought of and made just for me, as I watch them thank a sibling for the grapes they have given them or share in the joy of another’s gift – my heart strings pull. Heaven is filled with my prayer – “Oh Father God how did you dare entrust me with these precious children of yours?”

So today as I stand and see the morn of yet another year sprinkling the horizon. As the rays peep over the closing of this chapter and the opening of another new year I cling to the request of Solomon,

“But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people…. So give your servant a discerning  heart to govern your people and to distinguish  between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

“A Great People” – Yes who am I to be entrusted with such as these? Each day this week, month, year – till I begin to get it right – I pray Dear Father help me guard my words and give me wisdom to train these Great People in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it but will instead be ready to do the will of their Father.”  So yes this year they have grown greatly, in all aspects – but above all that they are loved more fiercely by this mamma every day.

 

Building Beyond the Holiday Season

As the craziness of the holiday seasons engulfs our reality it is so easy for us to become caught up in the business of it all and in so doing in fact nullify it all. Despite your background or religious preference December has become a time of holiday and celebrating family. We organise our lives around trips to visit long lost family members – be it granny up the road or a cousin in another province – as well as travelling to distant corners of the world. We may not even have to travel far but “getting together” and connecting with each other is what is on all our minds. We race around purchasing gifts, arranging menus, organising food and entertainment. We become so caught up in organising this amazing family get together that we do in fact often miss the family in it all.

This may simply outplay in that as we are finally all gathered that we are in fact all too tired to actually enjoy each other’s company or with all the planning and scheming and imagining, the day doesn’t go quite as we expected so disappointment, hurt and resentment knocks loud at our door – leaving a bitter taste in our lives. These can however be avoided by simply resting well and choosing to keep our minds on the reality that we are all human and that things will therefore not usually play out as we imagined. So keeping expectations real can allow us to experience these family times as something to treasure – even if they are not perfect.

A deeper concern however, is that in the business of this all we totally miss each other – especially our little people. We are rushing in and out to shops, baking cooking, organising outings and playdates and the holidays are bustling and happening all around us. We are all together – in the same house – most of the time, and yet do we really stop and truly see one another.

In his play Our Town, first performed in 1938 Thornton Wilder perfectly captures this in a scene when Emily asks to return from her grave to visit her 12th Birthday. She is then seen observing the day from the future. Her words capture so much that we too often don’t wish to acknowledge:

“Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me….. I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another….. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.”

How easily the days and years slip by. How easily it is to provide our children with a beautiful home, amazing food, friends, entertainment and toys beyond their wildest dreams but if we stopped and asked them what they truly desired more than anything else – they would say they would give it all up for your time. All our children – and aunty and granny for that matter – really want from us is our love and attention. They want to know that they are more important than the food being presented just right or the table being laid perfectly. They want to be a part of our lives. They want us to stop running and take the time to push them on the swing or sit on the floor and draw with them. To include them in our shopping and let them help make an imperfect pudding or set the table with us – including the name tags that they have lovingly scrawled out for each guest.

So as we bustle about creating the perfect day don’t forget about the people that are all a part of your reality. People that love you dearly and wish for nothing more than to have you share that love with them. The challenge here is to take a moment in this craziness to spend a quiet moment with each of our special little people. Bake some biscuits with your daughter or make a puzzle together. Single out one of your children to cuddle up on the bed with to watch a movie or take a slow walk around the neighbourhood or simply take the time to stop and listen to what they are trying to say to you – as Sally Clarkson experienced – you may be suitably surprised by what you hear them say.

As much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise it’s not the perfect roast but rather these little intimate moments that our children will remember. And above all its these times that weave into creating relationship with each of them something that will become the fibre who you are as a family. Something they can hold in their hearts as they grow – knowing my mom and dad loved and valued me more and beyond their “to do” list. So let’s be challenged this holiday to not become so caught up in organising family time that we miss the Family in it altogether.

 

 

Learning Beside Mama

Toy Train Set 084Despite popular belief that children should spent as much time as possible socialising with their peer group, there are always easy and fun ways to include them into what we, the big people, are doing. It is at these times, when children work side by side with adults, that they learn more than when left alone with a room full of toys. Yes, a pretend tea set or train set allows them to spend time imagining all sorts of games. Through pretend play children develop their concept of who they are and how society and relationships as a whole fits together. Make believe is a fundamental part of childhood. However, toys don’t specifically allow a child to learn life skills that they will need in daily life. A child may be able to cut up play dough to make a dolls dinner, however, cutting a cucumber and adding it to the salad for dinner gives the activity meaning and purpose. Instead of just pretending to be useful and playing a role they are engaging in real life activities that make them feel useful and a part of the family. This gives them a sense of belonging and importance.

From the age of two or three years – under adult supervision – a child can be given a cutting board and a blunt knife, to cut up fruit and vegetables. Start off with soft fruit such as a banana, or paw-paw so that they don’t need much effort or co-ordination. From about three years children have enough co-ordination to start peeling carrots. Children as young as two years can learn to break an egg. Simply place a bowl under a mug and break the egg into the mug and if it misses the egg lands in the bowl. You may need to stick your fingers into the shell with them a few times and scoop out the shell bits. However, by being a part of the family unit in such a meaningful way from the beginning develops children to want to help as they get older. Incorporate your child in all your household chores such as hanging up and folding washing, washing dishes – you do the glass ones and they do the plastic ones. From the time they can walk children can help put dishes away and pick up toys. All these are not only training your child in vital life skills but also building an attitude of service and responsibility. Children love feeling that they are trusted and needed, therefore by giving them the responsibility of feeding a pet or wiping a table builds their self-esteem too. As children are included in the household activity they feel needed and loved.

Sjouwen van melkbusen / Children helping out a...

These times of working together as a team deepen family relationships, build friendships and encourage siblings to make a plan and work together for the good of the family. Children don’t need to be bribed and rewarded for helping keep the home running smoothly instead you may have natural consequences such as if they haven’t fed the dog they may not have their supper. Or the family can’t go out to the park until all the responsibilities are completed.

December is such a wonderful time as Christmas creates so many of these co-working opportunities. It is however also a stressful, busy time. One therefore has to determine before each morning if little people will be playing a big part in our day and if so we need to dress with an extra layer of patience each morning.

Family is such a special and wonderful concept. It is designed to train and teach a child in so many ways and yet we get caught up in babying children, pampering them and rushing to meet their needs. Instead we should see children as a part of the family. By drawing our children into the centre of the home action, we are not only preparing them for life and teaching them many important skills but they grow up secure feeling needed, valued and loved too.

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St Nicholas Celebration

Many years ago when our first son celebrated his first Christmas something just didn’t sit right with us regarding the whole Santa Clause – Father Christmas experience. This was strange as these childhood fantasies were the structure upon which my childhood was build. That aside… we chose a different route for our growing family.

We are in a difficult situation as the rest of the cousins believe in Father Christmas, sleigh , reindeer and elves overseeing their annual behaviour… Therefore in a bid to maintain family relationships and not foster pride in our children (explaining to them that other people choose to celebrate St Nicholas day on Christmas day) we chose to create and celebrate our own St Nicholas day.  This began with us making a pope’s hat – which is looking a bit weathered after 11 years of use. Then on the 6 December, after dinner we sit the children down and using very basic pictures off clipart we tell the wonderful story of how a real pope called Saint Nicholas helped pay for 3 girls to get married, by throwing gold down the chimney into their stockings. During the story Dad leaves the room and as I end the story he reappears in the hat and a big jacket or bathrobe. How funny how the children don’t recognise him! Only at the age of 6 does one of them say, “but it’s dad!” Only for us to hear another whisper, “He just has Dad’s shoes on!” St Nicolas then greets the children and says he’s so glad to hear us telling of how he gave and he then gives each child a tiny gift. This may even be just a small bag of sweets – the one year they got a tub of ice-cream to share with the family. He then reminds them about God and how he gave Jesus and how we must now prepare our hearts to give during the Christmas season.

After a quick photo shoot he leaves and the children head off to bed. This is the beginning of our time of thinking of others. This is out played in that each child is to personally make gifts for other family members. Another activity is that when we put up the nativity set Jesus manger is empty and we have a small tub of straw. Every time someone helps another or silently serves someone they get to put a piece of straw in the manger. It’s the hope that on Christmas morning there will be a soft bed for Jesus to lie in.

St Nicholas day has become a much loved family celebration that lasts maybe 45 minutes and yet speaks volumes to not only the children, but our hearts too.

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Christmas – Our Way

Christmas has always been an interesting time in our home. And in the homeschool circles you come across many families who no longer celebrate this holiday. I have always been so grateful that during our first years of marriage we lived in a town far from family so that we could work through some tough thought processes and decisions. On our return to living amongst the family we had managed to establish our own traditions, beliefs and who we were.

The most obvious of these was Christmas. We came to realise that this season has so many roots and evokes huge emotion within people. We could spend hours discussing the different world views and the pros and cons to various views. Instead I’ll simply share how we as a family spend this special season. We have spent a great deal of time learning about the different Jewish festivals and how these link to Christianity. From this study we have begun to celebrate Hanukkah which celebrates the miracle of light. This we find is an awesome introduction to Christmas as it keeps us focused on Jesus, the Light of the world. The 6 December then finds us celebrating St Nicolas Day. This we found fundamental as all the cousins have father Christmas arrive on Christmas day and whilst we chose to move away from this we found it important to honour them and not teach our children to be filled with pride by saying “we right and they are wrong,” – we simply do things differently. So by us celebrating a ST Nicolas day we could simply explain they celebrate St Nicolas day on Christmas day.

The the decision as to whether we should celebrate Christmas at all… After much deliberation we decided to continue celebrating it, for a number of reasons. Firstly the rest of our family does – many of whom are not saved so we saw this as an excellent chance to witness to them. We found it was an entire month of celebrating our savior and focusing on him. Christ himself recognised and celebrated Hanukkah which was not a God ordained holiday but rather a man made one. Therefore if our hearts are right we too are free to celebrate man made holidays and traditions.

So as a family Christmas is an exciting, much anticipated time of year. It does require much preparation and heart searching but that is what makes this time so special to us all.

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Christmas Hope

Every year, for Christmas  we choose a theme and colour scheme for the season. This year it was Hope with the colours gold and white. What a special and beautiful Christmas it turned out to be.

Throughout December we have spoken about Hope an how we need to have Hope in Jesus alone as it is only through Him that we will have true joy and peace. We decorated the lounge in line with the theme using candles and butterflies. It so beautifully reflected the theme and the message to our children.

On Christmas morning we were unable to attend church so instead I sewed little paper pockets and placed butterflies with Bible verses, and a chocolate, inside each one.

For our Bible time we then read through the verses and stuck them upon a gold cross. This was a very special time and helped us focus upon Jesus and the hope we have in him before we opened our gifts.

Having a theme is such a simple idea and yet it helps keep us focused on a different aspect of God every year and makes each year that little bit extra special.

Here are some of the verses we used:

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Titus 3:5-7 He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Romans 5:3-5 We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 8:24-25 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 12:12 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Psalm 39:7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

Psalm 31:24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

Psalm 147:11 The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Lamentations 3:24
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him / hope in him”

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Great Gifts

As we settle into a new year I thought I’d just take a few moments to re-look at some of the great gifts we either received, gave or made over the Christmas season. Many of these were inexpensive and easy to make and yet were so much fun and were loved by all.

We made our own tags and wrapping paper and then…..

Knight #1 made everyone calendars with personalized photos for each person. we then laminated these and they were so well received by every one.

Knight #2 made stress balls and these were a great hit.

The twins made Ginger bread flowers for the girls and gingerbread men for the boys.

Maiden#1 made an assortment of gifts. Including notebooks and a fantastic biscuit recipe book for me! Yum-yum!!!

Gifts that our children recieved that were a great hit were a hairdryer for Maiden #1 (and her own tube of toothpaste – so she doesn’t need to share with the other little people) The boys were over joyed with their FIFA computer game. Knight #1 was thrilled with a bird call CD whilst Knight #2 is enjoying a soccer activity book. The twins are loving their Sylvanian families toys.

But the best gift by far was from their aunt huge piece of plastic, some dish-washing liquid and the garden hose!

Unexpected Christmas Eve Magic

After a full month of Christmas preparations it was finally time to sit down and begin our annual Christmas Eve traditions. As we had indulged in a huge braai over lunch time we had decided to forfeit out traditional Christmas dinner for snacks instead. The evening was to run that we’d begin by lighting our Hanukkah candles and reciting the blessings; this would be followed by acting out the Christmas story. We would then have our snacks before having a time of Christmas carols. Knight#1 had spent the past 3 weeks typing out carols to make us each a carol book and he’d spent every spare minute practicing them on his violin so we were all looking forward to this part of the evening. We were then to have pudding before trying to herd 5 very excited little people into bed.

Well that was the plan….

Just as we lit our first candle and begun reciting the first blessing the house was filled with the most awful, painful cry. On jumping up Lord Dad and Grandpa discovered our Labrador puppy had fallen into a full convulsion. As they tried to help it onto a softer surface it began foaming at the mouth and then turned on them. At that moment Lady Mom arrived to witness our adorable pup turn into a ferocious animal that wanted to only attack. The puppy then took off running around the garden barking hysterically.

Having worked in a rabies laboratory Lord Dad had seen movies of rabid animals and Christmas Eve or not he’d take no chances. As we had all played with and been nipped and scratched by Molly in the past week he insisted we were all to be inoculated against rabies. Knowing all the vets were closed we managed to coax the puppy into an outside room. We then quickly made brown bread and peanut butter sandwiches and herded the entire family into the car to try find some rabies inoculations for the family.

Prior to leaving we’d called various hospitals to only discover each private hospital only kept one or two vaccines and we’d need to pay at least R800 per person to walk into the emergency room and then R500 per injection. The rabies course also runs over 4 injections so we were looking at about R2800 per person! With this all in mind we headed off to our local government hospital.

What a joke.

Our adventure began with a clerk who could not spell and kept mixing our names up. I offered to help fill in the basic details but he said he had to fill it all in. An hour later we had our files and now had to speak to a nurse – before we saw a doctor who would do the injections – she was not amused with the situation and simply told us, “Do you realise how busy I am and how many forms I’m going to have to fill in?” She then disappeared and arrived 15 minutes later with another sister. She explained to us that as it was Christmas Eve and they would deal with the stabbed, wounded, accident cases and dying first we would not be seen to for at least another 6 hours or so! Having already been there for 3 hours we sat in the car park in desperation and phoned anyone and everyone we thought could help. We eventually discovered another small government clinic open 24/7, which were referring all their patients to the hospital and were therefore pretty much empty. We quickly rushed across to them. An hour later we had all had our injections and were heading home.

During all this time the children had dozed in and out of sleep. As we headed home now the clock struck midnight and it was officially Christmas morning. Amazingly enough no one was upset or moaning instead as the clock struck the older children burst into song – rocking the neighbourhood with Joy to the World. As we negotiated the thickest mist I’ve ever driven in we crept home to our Christmas Eve – now forever changed.

Not sure whether we should have more peanut butter sarmies or tuck kids straight into bed we gingerly opened the door and put on the kettle. Then the most amazing evening began to take place. The children headed to the supper table and began eating the Christmas treats, another began to play the piano and while others collapsed on the couch and began to nibble on some chips. The next hour was spent in a surreal dream of laughter, song, jokes and ice-cream. The children then drifted off to bed whilst we finished wrapping gifts and ensuring everything was ready for when they woke.

Yes, Christmas day was quite a blur but no one fought or moaned. Something special and magical had happened the night before and in the words of Knight#1, “Our adventure last night made this my best Christmas ever.” Well let me add, “It was my best too, my boy, mine too!”

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Postscript – Looks like the puppy may have simply had a convulsion and is still in isolation and under observation to determine if it is rabies though it is looking more like it was fit.

Christ The King

Every year before Christmas we pray about our Christmas theme.  The one year we had the colours yellow and white for Jesus the light, last year we focused on white for peace and this year God gave us the colours red and gold. So we made red and gold angels, crackers and serviette holders.

The red representing the blood that resulted in the babe born in Bethlehem becoming our eternal king, which was reflected in the gold. Through Bible readings and prayer with the children we realised that a baby born in a foreign land had not significance to us – let alone a baby born 2000 years ago having any eternal significance to us. It is purely through this baby’s life, death, resurrection and kingship that we can remember, rejoice and celebrate this babe’s birth.

We spent time discussing how we would treat a king. What gifts we would bring and the time we’d spend trying to see his face. We then looked at what gifts our king would like – “a broken and contrite heart.” We also discussed how much time we spend searching Our King’s face.

Later we spent time asking ourselves what a King would expect from his subjects – he’s want loyalty, respect, trust, love, submission, honesty and such. What attitudes do we bring before our king?

This time has been so special and the children have learned so many valuable life lessons. We have all developed a deeper love for our heavenly king. As we set our table with red and gold, placed the crown on our crown Christmas cake, put up the red and gold balloons and the crown serviette holders we were constantly reminded that the babe’s birth we celebrated is today sitting upon His kingly throne. What a special blessed time we’ve had together.

Christmas Angels

This year we spent our advent time focusing on Christ our King so our colour scheme for Christmas was red and gold. At the last minute I decided the table looked a bit bare so I had to figure a quick fix for the next day – here are the instructions for the gold angles we decided to add to our Christmas table.

You’ll need some gold cardboard and gold doylies, if you don’t have gold ones you can use white and spray paint them – but then you need to allow time for them to dry, tape and scissors.

Cut the cardboard into circles the same size as the doylies for the bodies and smaller circles for the heads. Then cut a straight line from the edge of the large, body circle to the centre of the circle.

Then fold these to make a cone and tape them closed.

Cut the doyly into quarters. Use 2 quarters to make the wings. Place them in the correct position and tape them together then tape them to the body. You may need to use your fingers to place them in the correct position.

 

Next roll some tape so it becomes double sided tape and use it to add the head to the body.

 

There you have it some lovely angels for your Christmas table!

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