Acts of Love

On Motivation and Encouragement

The Fickle Season Of Lions and Lambs April 1, 2012

Filed under: faith,Family,Serving,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 6:40 pm
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Here in New Hampshire we have ended the fickle month of March, which as the old adage goes; comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The uncertain nature of this season can leave us all wary, because we are not sure if the lion has in fact left and if the lamb is here to stay. The beastly winter storms give way to the gentle lamb of green sprouts and warm rains, but any old fashion New Englander knows that the lion can return, unexpected and with a vengeance.Many of us refuse to put away our winter clothes, knowing we made need them at any  moment. While at the local garden center this week I joked with an older woman over the pansies that we may be acting on an overly optimistic impulse  with our flower purchases. The mothers pushing babies at the park declared that

“We should enjoy this warm weather now–because it could very well be snowing next week.’

We all nodded in agreement, because this warm weather could be snatched away at any minute.

Observing all this has made me think how this fickle season is so unlike the kingdom of God. Unlike March in all its unpredictability, the Kingdom of God unshakable and unchanging. His character is eternal, His promises are not fleeting, and once we abide in that kingdom, nothing can snatch it away. There is a sharp contrast between God’s kingdom and the world we live in: and the weather is not the only thing that is given to unpredictability. This past week the lottery jackpot was upwards of a half a billion dollars. People bought tickets with the fantasy that they could become a millionaire overnight (myself included). How like the American dream; our national ethos that by simply being born here we are guaranteed entry into the middle and upper class. We believe that we have the right to prosperity and success; without necessarily having to work for it. We have all been sold this bill of goods; this idea that riches will bring us happiness, this idea that our self-worth is inherent on college degrees, car titles, and paychecks. This American dream was a roaring lion in the 1990’s with the technology boom. But, what do we see happening now? People are realizing that this dream is not consistent, it is not stable, and it is given to erratic changeableness. Our riches can be gone in a second; snatched away by bad investments and failed businesses. What was once a roaring lion is now a meek and humble lamb.

Please do not misunderstand me here: I love my country. I thank God that I live in a place where I am not subject to abuse and oppression, where I am free to share my faith with others and to worship openly. I also know that simply because I am an American, and because I have a home and a car and food in my kitchen, I am in fact among the world’s wealthy elite. I am rich, and not just in a spiritual sense, and if you are reading this so are you. However, I know that many  have fallen victim to this American dream. They invested in the world’s economy and were left disappointed. We are called to be good stewards of what we have, and I would be lying if I said I never prayed to God about my husbands work life. I pray about Henry’s work life all the time, I pray that God would bless him with sales and opportunity. I do however know that our true investments are in God’s kingdom.

Because we are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12: 1-3)

We sometimes confuse our ‘blessings’ with the materials things that are given to us. Blessings are way more than money and belongings. Blessings are the capacity to know God. There is so much in my life that allows me to have a relationship with the Lord. I am blessed that I have time to spend in fellowship with other believers. I am blessed that I am educated enough to read God’s word and study it. I am blessed that my husband earns enough money so that I might stay home with our children and be actively involved with ministry.

I will say it again: we are blessed to be a blessing.

All that God gives us we can use to bless others, that is helping them to know God better. If you invest your time and energy in God’s kingdom, you will not be left bankrupt. If you plug into the Jesus dream, rather than the American dream, you will certainly not be left disappointed. If we get too caught up in the American dream we are in danger of becoming  that camel trying in vain  to squeeze its enormous hump through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24).We can become bogged down with the never-ending desire for ‘things’. Once we get the shiny new ‘thing’ we desire, we cross it off the list and move onto the next ‘thing’. This desire can become insatiable and distracting. We will never be satisfied if we desire materials things. However, if we seek after the kingdom dream, we find ourselves thirsting and longing for Jesus. This is a healthy desire!

There does not have to be any fear or hesitation when investing your time and blessings in God’s economy. You don’t have to feel like the gardener who is worried that by planting her garden, the frost may come and destroy her work. No, God promises us that we will bear fruit.

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

 to loose the chains of injustice  

  and untie the cords of the yoke,

 to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

 and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter

 when you see the naked, to clothe them,   

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,  

 and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,  

  and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

 9Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;   

you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,   

 with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry   

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,   

 and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;   

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land   

 and will strengthen your frame.

 You will be like a well-watered garden,

   like a spring whose waters never fail.

 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins   

and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called repairer of Broken Walls,   

 Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58

This is perhaps one of my favorite verses. When I feel tired and worn out I remember that God promises strength to those living their lives according to His will. He promises that we will be a beautiful thriving garden watered by His very spirit.

There are lions and lambs in our world. There are roaring beasts that can consume us. There are also quiet lambs that can secretly creep into our lives and cause us to misstep. In the kingdom of God however, the lion and the lamb are one in the same.

“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.” Revelation 5:5

“Worthy us the Lamb who was slaughtered–

To receive power and riches

and wisdom and strength

and honor and glory and blessings.” Revelations  5:12

We live in an ever-changing world. The seasons here in New England are unpredictable and erratic. Everything seems subject to change and even disposable. What is hot and trendy today is forgotten tomorrow. We change our hair, our homes, our friends, our spouses, and our politics. amidst this whirlwind of erratic change however, there is one place we have a guarantee of return on our investment, a promise of thriving spring,  and that place is God’s kingdom, because there is no difference between the lion and the lamb and there are no fickle seasons. His promises are eternal and His character is steadfast. His love for us is unending and His dreams for us will not leave us disappointed.

“For I am the Lord; I do not change.” Malachi 3: 6

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Starting Small March 30, 2012

Filed under: Books,Creativity,Family,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 1:34 am
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I have been wanting to share how we are ‘scratching the homeschool surface’ as it were. I am a certified teacher and hold a master’s degree in secondary education. Because I eat, live, and breath teaching and learning, we have chosen to homeschool our children. There are many other reasons, that I may go into in a later post. For now, I just want to share what it is we do each week.

This is our learning ‘space’. In reality however, we learn all over the house. I have this space designated for learning and teaching for organizations’ sake. Henry built our learning table. We created a vertical art and project station with items purchased from Ikea (stinking love that store).  We spend time here in the morning going over the date, weather, our letter/sound of the week, and our memory verse. We have been working on a bird watching station, but have yet to attract an actual bird.

We also keep most of our children’s books here. I love displaying the books on these picture ledges because I think it entices children to read, and is visually stimulating. We go to the library several times a week and keep our loaner books in one basket and our personal books in the other. The themes we are studying at the moment are ancient Egyptians, Seeds, and Elephants. Makayla always selects some pleasure reading books on  topics she is interested in as well.

This week we have been learning about the letter F. We made this nest out of paper mache, and then made this cute little bird family. Makayla named them Fluffy, Mr. fluffy, and Cheeky. I try to emphasize the sound of the letter, rather than the name. So we do activities and emphasise the sound, as in feather and fort! Makayla likes cutting and gluing (who doesn’t?) so we usually do a collage based on our letter/sound as well. I am working on basic math skills with some manipulative and everyday objects. Makayla loves to sort and categorize.

As  you can see, we are really just beginning to get the feel for homeschooling. I know the actual structured curriculum and such will not come for a few years. For now we are just getting comfortable and trying to figure out what type of routine will work for our family. I have been thinking about homeschooling since Makayla was a baby. As soon as she was born,  I knew there was no way I was going to hand her over to someone else at age 5, and essentially surrender my family’s rhythm and schedule. I love the ebb and flow of our learning as it is now, there is a natural flow from reading, to crafting, experimenting, and impromptu learning moments.

Happy Learning and Teaching,

Stephanie

 

More than Shamrocks and Snakes: The Real Saint Patrick. March 16, 2012

Filed under: Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 11:02 pm
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A few years ago I learned the story of the real Saint Patrick. His story is amazing, and a shining example to all of us believers. He was a humble man who lived a life marked by complete obedience and trust in God. I would like to share his story with you, so that  you too may know the real story of Saint Patrick’s day (if you don’t already). unfortunately, this story has managed to get lost amidst a sea of shamrock t-shirts, beer, and corned beef; it is a real shame.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Guinness just as much as the next person, but I think understanding the true history gives the annual remembrance a much deeper meaning, and recognizes God’s hand throughout history as well as His love for all people.

Patrick was born in the 5th century to Roman parents, who were living in Britain, a then Roman colony. At the age of 16 Patrick was kidnapped my Irish bandits and sold into slavery. For six years Patrick worked as a herdsman in the Irish hills. In the face of isolation, starvation, ill-treatment, and total loss of freedom, Patrick turned to God. He spent his entire days communing with God, and ultimately trusting that God had not abandoned him. It was while sleeping on one of these hills, that Patrick had a dream of great importance. God told him to go at once to the cost, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. Patrick obeyed, and made his escape to the coast, where a ship was in fact waiting. After a somewhat tumultuous journey during which he was nearly starved to death and briefly recaptured, Patrick arrived back in Britain and was reunited with his family.

Now, one would think that our Patrick would have kept his feet firmly planted in British soil, and steer clear of ships, but God had other plans. In yet another significant dream, God told Patrick to return to the Irish and bring them the Gospel. Patrick obeyed, and with no Jonah like reluctance. He became ordained as a priest and set sail once more to save the very same people who had enslaved and abused him.

Patrick preached the Gospel in Ireland for over 40 years. He traveled extensively throughout the island ministering, baptizing,  making disciples and church planing. Martyrdom was always a possibility, and he was regularly threatened and imprisoned at least once. Patrick died in Ireland, at the site of the very first church he built. By that time thousands had heard and received the Gospel, and many fruitful churches were established.

Patrick has become a legend, and a Saint of the Catholic church. He is associated with Shamrocks, which legend would have it he used to illustrate the concept of the trinity. He is also credited with banishing all snakes from Ireland, after a group of unruly serpents assailed him while on a 40 day solitary fast. Some have recently begun to suggest that Patrick was in fact two individual men, who overtime merged into one historic figure. However, there are two existing papers which Patrick wrote, and the details of his life and generally accepted as fact. How did this amazing story, with pirates, daring escapes, prophetic dreams, and radical obedience and trust, get so lost? I have no idea. Let us all then, offer a toast, to Patrick the great Missionary and Evangelist to the Irish:

‘Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!’

(Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)

 

Grace in a Name

Filed under: Creativity,Family,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 12:55 pm
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Anyone who has children knows the awesome responsibility of naming a child. When choosing names for our daughters Henry and I wanted to be sure the names were not too ordinary, and too unique for that matter. We named our first daughter Makayla, and our second daughter Harper.

There is a grace story to be found in Makayla’s middle name, which is: Grace. We decided on Grace because of me; more specifically my lack of physical Grace. When I was little people in my family would call me Grace, but for all the wrong reasons. I was clumsy; and not just regular kid clumsy, I was accident prone, regularly fell down stairs, had perpetually skinned knees, and generally lacking in coordination. I sincerely hoped my daughter would not inherit this trait of gracelessness, so we gave her the middle name Grace.

Did it work? well yes and no. She is a little clumsy, but she also has a Grace filled heart. She loves and accepts people effortlessly and without restraint. She is generous and kind. She has compassion and empathy. She is thankful and a veritable fount of creativity and curiosity.

I decided to interview Makayla. I have a journalistic streak in me, and thought this would be an interesting exercise in writing, and parenting for that matter. So below is an interview with my Grace-filled and Grace-named daughter.

Me: What is your favorite color?

Makayla: Yellow

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Makayla: I told you I never want to grow up!

Me: Well, what would you do for a job then?

Makayla: Wear doctor clothes.

Me: What is something you and I have in common?

Makayla: Our chins and our eyes.

Me: What is something you and Daddy have in common?

Makayla: Our hair is the same I think.

Me: When are you proud of yourself?

Makayla: When I win races.

Me: What makes you happy?

Makayla: Ice cream.

Me: What makes you sad?

Makayla: When kids won’t play with me.

Me: What is your super power?

Makayla: Helping people.

Me: Where in the world would you like to visit?

Makayla: Nowhere, I like it here at home.

Me: What is your favorite bible story?

Makayla: Joseph and his brothers.

Me: What is Mommy’s super power?

Makayla: Rescuing people.

Me: What is Harper’s super power?

Makayla: Picking up toys.

Me: What is Daddy’s super power?

Makayla: Playing golf.

Me: What is  your favorite thing to do with Mommy?

Makayla: Go to Kate’s house.

Me: What is your favorite thing to do with Daddy?

Makayla: Eat french fries.

Me: What is your favorite thing to do as a family?

Makayla: Go camping. 

Me: What do you like to learn about?

Makayla: The moon, and dinosaurs I think.

Me: What is a question you have right now?

Makayla: Ummm, what do caterpillars eat?

Me: Who do you love?

Makayla: You.

 

 

 

Grace Food March 10, 2012

Filed under: Lesson Plans,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 11:02 pm
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Grace Food: Pretzel Object Lesson

Ages: Ages toddler to teen

Objective: For students to have a concrete image to aid them in understanding God’s redemptive plan

Materials Needed:

Bread Flour

Yeast

Salt

Sugar

Egg

Oil

Water

Baking Soda

Sea Salt

Bible

Baking Sheet

Tongs

Measuring Cups and Spoons

Bread Machine (or mix dough manually)

Large Pot

Condiments

Procedure:

1) Prepare Pretzel Dough. (I use the following recipe and mix the ingredients in my bread machine on the dough cycle. Not sure exactly how you would prepare the dough manually)

3 cups bread flour

1 cup water

tablespoon sugar

teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

(Makes 6-8 large pretzels)

(Layer in bread machine according to manufacturers instructions; usually liquid, dry, and then yeast)

2) Give each student a piece of dough. Tell them you are going to tell them a story about God’s Grace and Love. Ask the students about the beginning of the world. Where did the story of Man begin? When students start talking about the Garden of Eden be sure to ask them to describe the garden. Be sure to emphasis that the garden was perfect, and that people and God were able to live close to each other.

3) Ask students what went wrong in the Garden of Eden. As you have a discussion about  how the devil, in the form of a snake, tempted Eve, ask the students to create a snake out of their dough. Discuss how sin entered the world and men and women were banished from the garden and thus separated from God.

4) Next, discuss God’s plan to redeem man and solve the problem of sin. Read the following verse: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). Ask students who this ‘head crusher’ is? Who is God going to send to destroy the devil and sin once and for all: Jesus! Younger  students will enjoy ‘crushing’ their snake’s head. You may discuss tools for not falling into the temptation of sin, and ways to resist the devil.

5) Next, explain that although men and women are sinners, God still loves us. Read John 3:16, “For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son that whoever shall believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” So, God can redeem this ugly snake, the sins’ of man, through love. Students can take their snake, and turn it into a heart, thus forming a pretzel!

6) Add a teaspoon of baking soda to a large pot of boiling water. Place each pretzel in the water for about 10 seconds, and then place on a greased baking sheet.

7) Brush each pretzel with egg white and sprinkle with sea salt.

8) Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until pretzels are thoroughly cooked. (cooking time will depend on how thick your pretzels are–just regularly check them so they don’t burn)

9) Serve pretzels warm, with dipping sauce of your choice. Be sure to give thanks to God for His unfailing love and grace!

A Few Notes:

* Monks used the pretzel to represent God’s love in the middle ages, this is not my idea–I just modified it slightly.

* This lesson can be modified for any age. I have done it with toddlers and high school students. Just engage the students in age appropriate discussions regarding sin.

* If you have the time, pretzels can be left to rise for one hour after they are formed, and before they are boiled. I usually skip this step and do not notice a difference, as long as the dough has been allowed to rise before hand.

 

A Grace Filled Day March 9, 2012

Filed under: Family,Hospitality,Serving,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 12:35 am
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Everyday with kids is busy, but we really outdid ourselves this Wednesday. After our homeschool time, the girls and I made the 45 minute trip to a nearby city for outreach and ministry in the refugee community. There is one family that we work with closely; Ismael and Juma and their three children, Siti, Soliman, and Nor. Each Wednesday we visit them in their apartment and help them with whatever it is they need. Somedays this means taking them to do laundry, to doctors appointment, sorting through bills, and other days we just spend time visiting and getting to know about each others culture. Juma will often cook us delicious (and very spicy) food from her homeland. Our older children play well together, and they especially love little Harper.

Because the drive is rather long, I try to make another stop while I am in the area. There are lots of places to shop and eat, but this week we decided to go to an indoor playground. So, we headed out to this playground we had heard good things about. Ironically it was about 50 degrees out, and we could have played outdoors for free, but it was rather wet and I would not want to show up on Juma’s door with two children caked in mud.  The indoor playground was empty, we were literally the only ones there. There were lots of big slides and tall structures to climb, but my cautious child Makayla kept booth feet planted firmly on the ground. The girls enjoyed themselves and we were able to get much pent-up-end-of-winter-energy out of our systems.

After we had played, we headed to Ismael and Juma’s house. This week they asked if I could take Juma to do some shopping. She directed me to this amazing ethnic market, were we shopped for a while. I ended up with a shopping basket full of treats from all over the world. While I was waiting for Juma to check-out I gave the kids ice cream, in the car, which in retrospect was not great idea. We brought the groceries back home and shared a lot of different snacks and drinks while the kids played. They kept showing me a pile of snow outside their door, grabbing handfuls and talking excitedly in their own language. I keep telling them that we have had a very mild winter, and that next year they will likely experience a real New England winter, but I am not sure they understood. We often can’t communicate exactly what we want to say, but we laugh a lot, and the children make all other boundaries seem unimportant.

It was back in the car after our snacks so we could be home before dinner. I had plans to go out with some girlfriends, and had dinner in the crockpot for Henry and the girls. After tubbing and feeding the kids, I freshened up a bit and headed out to the restaurant. It is amazing to think that I am old enough to have had friends for 20 years, but that is how long I have had these amazing ladies in my life. Even when long periods of time pass between our get together, we can always pick right back up where we left off. How blessed I am to have these kinds of friendships! Dinner was leisurely and relaxed, and then I headed back home, where I found two wide awake children (at 11pm) and a snoring husband. Those of us who were awake eventually got tucked in and to sleep.

What a grace filled day.

It struck me on the ride home from dinner how effortless it all was. I am blessed to be able to teach my kids at home, to be able to travel and reach out to others who are less fortunate, to be able to feed and cloth and care for my family with relative ease, to be able to enjoy a relaxing dinner with friends, and to come home to a loving family. It is easy to feel God’s grace on days like this, the challenge is to see God’s grace when the car breaks down, the children and ill, the dinner is burnt, the checkbook is overdrawn…His grace is still there, eternal and unchanging, it is just up to us to recognize it and soak in it.

I pray that God would give me the spiritual maturity and wisdom to always be aware of His constant and unfailing Grace.

 

Grace Defined March 6, 2012

Filed under: Serving,Teaching and Learning,Uncategorized — Acts of Love and Good Works @ 12:15 am
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Lent Day 13

Grace, a noun

* beauty of form or movement

* a sense of what is right

* a short prayer of thanksgiving before a meal

* a delayed allowance as a favor

* mercy

Grace, in the Christian context is defined as the unmerited mercy that God gave to mankind by sending His Son to die on a cross and give us eternal salvation.

Synonyms: elegance, poise, ease, pardon, charity, forgiveness, benevolence, prayer, generosity, respect, esteem, enrich, glorify, and elevate.

Antonyms: disfavor, ugliness, tactless, ill-will, spoil, insult.

one can fall from grace, have grace, extend grace, and be in good or bad graces with another person.

Grace is related to three greek words:

1) Charis: the state of kindness and favor, often with the focus on benefiting another.

2) Charisma: gracious gift

3) Chairo: to rejoice, be glad, and delight

The Hebrew word for grace is Chen, which is defined as favor, charm, and the moral quality of kindness.

Grace and Mercy are two parallel aspects of God’s character: Grace is getting the good that we do not deserve, and Mercy is not getting the bad we do deserve. Grace is God’s favor, that which God does for the benefit of His people. It is something we can never earn through works; it is totally free.

Grace conquers sin

It is a way of life

It is sufficient

It lightens our burden

It is beyond our understanding

Grace heals

Grace forgives

It is the opposite of ego

It helps us to accept

It fills our hearts

It sustains us

It allows God to see us for our best, and not for our worst

It allows us to love and be loved

It fills our churches, our homes, and our lives

It is glory with no beginning and no end

It is eternal

It is assurance and peace

It is hope and light

It is all around us

Grace is Amazing.

 

“Amazing Grace 

how sweet the sound 

that sav’d a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found

was blind but now I see”

~ John Newton