24 March 2013

Commentary on One Thousand Gifts

This past week a commentary on One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp was brought to my attention. 

According to this commentary, ‘One Thousands Gifts is a New Age Emergent movement, drawing women into its deception’. The information in One Thousands Gifts is accused of being a false perception, compared with a virus, sweeping through the church worldwide and apparently now the homeschooling community. The friend who brought this under my attention, was concerned that since I have a blog and because of my influence on homeschoolers, I might be involved in leading women astray. 

I don’t want to lead any one astray, and do understand that some women look to me for advice and guidance and that no deceit should be found in my teachings.  It is important that the books I recommend be scriptural in every way and we are not party to spreading a false gospel.

In the light of this, I want to share my response with you:

Dear Friend

Words on paper can be a blessing, but very soon after I started blogging I realized it can easy be misinterpreted, cause misunderstanding and devision. Years ago I attended a seminar by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson’s wife, Darlene Wilkinson on the Prayer of Jabez for Women. During this seminar she pointed out that our reaction to teaching can often be influenced by our maturity level, and we must be very careful to criticize each other, since we are seldom at the same maturity level. 

I might be on a spiritual level, that may cause me to be blind for what you find concerning in reading “One Thousand Gifts”. For this reason I also asked Christo, as my priest and leader, to give commentary. We as a family watched the One Thousand Gifts DVD’s together, and he also experienced first hand what the effect of One Thousand Gifts was on my life.
Now I want to add a few things before I get to One Thousand Gifts itself. Over the years almost every single mentor in my walk of faith, has been criticized on a book they wrote.  We would have been very poor in knowledge and understanding of the Word of God and our walk of faith, if it wasn’t for Dr. Bruce Wilkinson’s many teachings and books.
Nancy Campbell herself isn’t appreciated for her books “Be Fruitful and Multiply”, “The Power of Motherhood”, “The Gate-Keeper of the Home” or the Above Rubies magazine. Debi Pearl, for her book Created to be His Helpmeet. Though I don’t necessarily endorse any of the other teachings by No Greater Joy, Debi Pearl’s book gave me great insight in understanding my husband and finding joy in being submissive. Also Rick Joyner wrote a few great books which influenced our understanding of the spiritual realm. What his current teachings are like, I am not familiar with .

Do I agree with each and every word in all the books I read? Often not! Every now and then there would be something that I don’t quite agree with, or would love to have a better explanation for. 

But then I remember 1 Thessalonians 5:21,“Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

and Phillipians 2:12b, “...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” 

I trust God to let me discern what is right and edifying.  The above Authors boldly teach on controversial, not so popular Bible truths and often challenge their readers to blindly step out in faith, while trusting the Lord.

Furthermore Christo and me are not unfamiliar with criticism on our way of living. Our first encounter was 17 years ago when we chose homeopathic/natural medicine above allopathic medicine, due to the illness of our firstborn, CJ. Followed by not vaccinating our children. We then left the traditionally Reformed church, leaving behind our family, with all their criticism.  Soon after that it was our choice to homeschool our children. Rejection, ridicule and criticism since we surrendered my womb to the Lord in 2005. In all these criticizing, we desperately searched the Lord for wisdom and guidance. Often we were not able to find an answer with people, we always turn to the Holy Spirit to open God’s Word as our only authority. 

Criticism is good, when received with a humble, teachable spirit.  Each time when we receive criticism it make us stop and reevaluate what we are busy doing, are we still calibrated to the Word, Gods plan for our lives. Often this reevaluation of our intentions and knowledge, in addition to searching the scriptures, contributed to an even stronger belief, being even more convicted by the Holy Spirit of that which we stand for. Each time the Lord brought us back to the big picture of His word on the specific topic and then guide us to specifics. Many theologic arguments were put before us, but time and time again God revealed to us His truths, as unto simple minded men. 

“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” Matt 11:25

All these, plus many personal trials and tribulations have added to our maturity level. It is this past and present experiences that influence the way we make choices. 

About a year ago I read a similar commentary, accusing Ann of being of the New Age movement. I read it, found it ridiculous, and tucked it away, since it was the exact time during which I lost another precious baby. I always had to work very hard to achieve something. My mother had very high expectations of me, and with her very critical personality, I often disappointed her, leaving me with a very low self esteem.  Over the years I’ve developed a distorted picture of God not always being on my side. It felt like He was not very impressed with me. I knew He loved me, but maybe He didn't like me.  My opinion about God was, that for whatever reason He would often just allow hard things to happen to me, for no apparent reason.

After reading “One Thousand Gifts”, this distorted picture of God changed dramatically! As I thought back to the hard times, it was almost like the veil had been taken away and I could see clearly. I could see God in the small things, His hand of protection and guidance. I could also identify that going through the tests of fire was to purify me.  One Thousand Gifts, opened my eyes to see God’s pain with me in my miscarriage. Not leaving me to just go through the pain, almost like He is to busy running the World and I had to take care of myself. 

Do you understand what I experienced, my Friend? There is no way that something like a New Age movement, or another ‘jesus’ could do this for me!  I trusted God all my life, to keep me and guide me - He promises it in His Word and I stand on it. He will not let me go astray, because He knows my heart, He knows my past, He knows my weaknesses and in all this He meets me.  And that is exactly what He did with One Thousand Gifts.

The fruit of this book in my life, is life-giving - not death! Critics will often be concerned with the ‘roots’ of others’ choices or the ‘roots’ of their teachings. This also happened with us. People told us (in their opinions) how and what was wrong with our choices. With our choice of homeopathy, it was the evil Eastern roots. With surrendering my womb it was the root of keeping the law, which would bring death to our souls. Having all these blessings (children) in my life, do bring tiredness and sacrificing of self, but its fruit is life and that in abundance, not death! Interesting nowhere in the Bible do I read you have to validate something according to its roots, but judge according to its FRUIT!

And God says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits.”  I have been reading Ann’s blog for years now, and the fruit I see there is life-giving too! In her husband, in her marriage and in her children!  We can be so quick to jump to conclusions, far removed from being Spirit filled or even Godly truth! Mostly based on misconceptions or on what others say about something or someone.

Many of the things I read about in One Thousand Gifts, compare with teachings we received over the years. Dr. Bruce’s “Testing of your Faith”, as well as the “Unveiling Glory”, “Cat and Dog Theology” teachings we received 10 years ago, with the Word foundational to these teachings.  

I question the sincerity and motive of the commentators who pull One Thousand Gifts and Ann Voskamp’s faith apart. I remember years ago, while I was still in school, studying a poem. It was one of the compulsory poems we had to study for our final exams. After pulling the poem apart, the teacher stopped for a moment and thoughtfully commented, “The Poet most probably didn’t mean half of the things we added to this poem, but never mind.”  
I wonder how much is added to Ann’s beautiful poetic, romantic writings, which is a godly given talent and just who she is. I understand that her poetic style may not appeal to everybody, but her different style is no reason to criticize or question the validity of her message.

It is so sad to me when ‘highly theological educated’ people (like in the link you sent me) trample with their dirty shoes of criticism and proud theological arguments on holy ground, on ground where we are supposed to take our shoes off.

God love diversity! Just this past weekend, I attended a Walk through the New Testament seminar, with CJ, Heidi-Mari, Josua and Danika. It was interesting to hear again, how God was aware of this concept of people being different in many ways. He used 4 different people with different focus, personality, way of acting, authority and goals to document the four gospels.

Matthew, a Hebrew, wrote for the Hebrews. Their focus was the past, he wrote out of emotion. For the Hebrews religion was their way of acting, traditions is the goal and commands the authority. 

Due to these characteristics, he portraits Jesus as the King.

Mark, a Roman, wrote for the Romans. Their focus was the present, he wrote out of the will. For the Romans, Caesar was the authority, construction was their way of acting and domination the goal. 

He portraits Jesus as the Servant.

Luke, a Greek, wrote for the Greeks. Their focus was the future, he wrote out of the mind. For the Greeks culture is the authority, education their way of acting and sophistication the goal. 

He portraits Jesus as the Perfect Man.  

Johan, wrote as a Christian, for Christians. Their focus is eternity, his writing style is in the spirit. For the Christian, Christ is the authority, revelation the way of acting and Evangelism the gaol. 

He portrait Jesus as the Son of God. 

Even today, these four gospels, speak to different people on different levels. 

In the light of this, there will be books written in a style (poetry) and in emotion (romantic) that you might not be comfortable with and may make you feel uneasy. And that is fine.

So dear Friend, I appreciate your concern and warning, but One Thousand Gifts enriched my walk with the Lord so much. Although I only read the Bible, no devotionals and seldom commentaries, we love to read other books in our free time!  I believe I’m blessed with the gift of discernment and I very quickly feel an unease in my spirit when I read something not from the Lord. I love to read the books the Lord send over my path, especially from respected authors and mentors we have come to know since 1999 when we recommitted our lives to the Lord.

So I humbly ask that you hear my heart when I say that I appreciate your concern over me possibly going astray, very much. I know that as a friend you are looking out for me, but in this instance I believe I am doing no wrong.

I would like to add two testimonies from women I know:
“How can I even begin to say how much Christ used this book to change my attitude towards life! My cry to God was Psalm 86:4 'Make glad the soul of your servant, for to You Lord I lift up my soul'. I asked God to make me 'glad'. I asked Him to help me find joy in the dark times and when I really did not feel like it. The Bible was full of all these thanksgiving verses and it was like they were jumping out towards me. I am not one to read 'self-help' books so much and believe that God will speak to me through His Word. However, God brought One Thousand Gifts to me through a precious friend whom I trust very much.  
It was a completely 'Bible based' book and everything Ann Voskamp said, was backed by scripture. I started giving thanks to God every day for little things and then I started writing them down. The day my dear granny died still stands out to me as I took the 'gifts' from Ann's blog and looked for them everyday. The gifts we were looking for that day was 'a gift worn, white and whispered. I stood by Oumie's bed and took her worn hand in mine, stroked her white hair over the pillow and we whispered “I love you” to each other. It was only later that night when I wrote down my gifts that I realized this and started giving thanks to my awesome God for these things. I still write down 3 gifts every day and realize that thanksgiving is Gods grace to give us the joy we long for. Even more so when we don't feel thankful.
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and a thank offering and into His courts with praise! Be THANKFUL AND SAY SO TO HIM, bless and affectionately praise His name!” Psalm 100:4. It is evident in scripture that thanking our Father and Lord Jesus Christ daily for His gifts by the power of the Holy Spirit will bring us joy and I am so thankful to Ann Voskamp for pointing this out to us through her book One Thousand Gifts!” 
“I believe that at the heart of Ann's message is a deep desire for us all to draw closer to Him by gaining an appreciation of the bounty of His gifts to us in ordinary every day occurrences and situations that we take for granted. I believe that because of the poetic beauty with which Ann writes, some mistake this for mysticism, but aren't we all mystified by the grace of God. The Apostle Paul called this gift of grace and mercy a mystery - Christ in Us, the hope of glory!  
Ann has opened my eyes to God's blessings in the ordinary, everyday and given me a new appreciation for the gifts that I take for granted every day. Yes, now I do see Jesus in the ordinary and I look for blessings in the midst of storms and trials but I see this as an enhancement to my spiritual growth, not some emotional virus. How much easier is it to Give thanks in everything, when you are truly looking for the gift in every thing that comes? I am truly thankful that I am not bound by such legalism that would take issue with a poetic mandate to count our blessings and appreciate the gifts of God.”

My friend (yes, we still share a sweet friendship) and I couldn’t agree on whether One Thousands Gifts is a false teaching or not. 

Always remember to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) for yourself, not on the recommendation of another. 
Also “...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phillipians 2:12b-13)

The commentary that was sent to me and made me write this posting, you can read here.
Some interesting material for those who are still skeptical about One Thousand Gifts and Ann Voskamp’s heart behind the book can be found in Christianity Today.
Ann Voskamp’s view on some of these here and here.

With much love

Finally, brethren,
whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just,
whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report,
if there is any virtue and
if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things.
Philippians 4:8

17 March 2013

Homeschooling the Primary Years

I wanted to share our cleaning routine/rhythm, after the previous post on Balancing homeschooling and domestic work, but I thought it good to first share a little about my homeschool style. 

Insight into how I homeschool, might give more insight on our cleaning routine, because the two cannot be separated.

I often get questions on how I manage to homeschool 8 children, give individual attention to each one, what  I teach at what age and how  I make sure they know everything they need to know.

With my eldest now almost at the end of his homeschooling journey, my youngest not in the journey yet, and 6 children in between, you might think I have it all figured out! To the contrary. Every year, like every season, is a challenge and bring along new trials and fears, as well as joy’s, laughter and learning opportunities. But most of all it results in more trust in the Faithful One who called me to homeschool my children. 

If I could give advice to any new homeschooling mother it will be: 

“The way you homeschool in the primary years of your child’s life will make or break your homeschooling journey!”

The single, most imported thing I’ve observed over the past 12 years, was the learning curve in my children.  Observing this learning curve, helped me see the big picture of when to do what in our homeschooling journey. I’m so thankful that I have the little ones on which I can apply the wisdom obtained while homeschooling my older children.

When I just started homeschooling CJ and Heidi-Mari, people often asked me if I’m intending to homeschool them all the way through high school. It was an interesting question for me, since I believed (and now after 12years, know) the biggest challenge in homeschooling is the preschool and primary school levels.  I truly believe the success of your homeschooling journey rises and falls on how you homeschool the primary years of your child’s life.  Not only are these early years of homeschooling crucial for your child’s learning experience and capturing a love for learning; it is paramount for you as the homeschooling mother’s satisfaction of homeschooling, in the midst of sacrifices and hard work.

I’ve come to recognize three stages of learning in my children:

First Stage - Exploring through playing and making messes.

This stage is roughly between 2 and 9. The years of investigating and exploring. Now this is not new to you! Children love to explore, take things apart, want to know how things work and making a mess. Children in this age range, constantly ask questions and eagerly want to learn! At least once a week I read about mothers who proudly share how their toddlers love to learn. How these little ones at the age of 5 are begging them to go to school or “do school” with their older siblings. They are like sponges and the Mother just don’t have enough activities to keep them busy, while they learn to write their names, want to read and write and eagerly listen as she reads to them.

But then at the age of 7 to 8 years old, things often change.  The child who with delight and enthusiasm jumped into the first few months of learning, now rather wants to go and play, reluctant to join mommy for the learning activities. I get these concerning letters, on a regular basis. Mothers who now have to drag their children to their activities. 

In observing my little ones, I got the answer: Little ones love to explore and investigate new things, and soon start to push mommy to teach them how to write their name, or read, eager to learn simple maths, after picking up how to count spontaneously. With the influence of the school system, and often pressure from family and friends the parent begin formal teaching. After all the child indicated that he/she is ready to learn.

BUT the school journey very soon become routine work and repetition. In the beginning everything is new and interesting, but then after a few months there isn’t much new, interesting stuff anymore, it is mostly the same work over and over again.

From the mother’s side the workload of formal teaching, is exhausting and frustrating due to a child who now is unwilling to learn and how does she fit in the other children or take care of her home.

Our work plan: 

Stay away from formal teaching for the first 8 to 9 years!  Do very little maths, reading and writing - let the child be free to choose and guide you. Create a positive atmosphere of creative playing, arts and crafts, Bible stories and accidental learning of numbers, letters, followed by spontaneous reading, writing and maths. 

These can easily be done by lapbooking and very simple, informal unit studies.  Lapbooking and informal unit studies, allow children to explore life around them. Answer their many, many questions incorporated into some kind of learning activity, with very little, to no routine work, especially with boys. Girls might start earlier with routine work and more formal teaching.
We’re playing most of the days. 

Bible teaching is done through Discipleland. Discipleland is hands on, each age group’s worksheets appropriate for their interests and due to the extra learning activities,  not one day is the same! 

We use Maths-U-See for maths and we play with the manipulatives over and over again, without me pressurizing to move on. I like to share with you what I’ve observed with each of my children, concerning maths. Each one of them begged me to start maths at the end of their 5th year, just before turning 6. For months they will eagerly learn about numbers and count the blocks. Then like clockwork at the age of 7 they would loose interest. It would appear that they forgot everything. But interestingly, around the end of the 8th year towards 9, it all comes back again. And then they are on the run! They will grab the concepts and in no time catch up with the 18 months they lost interest. During the time they lost interest, I put the books away, till they ask for it again, or I introduce it every 6 months and evaluate the response.

Since Afrikaans is our mother tongue, we do Clever to recognize letters and start simple spelling and “Mart Meij’s Lekkerlees” for early reading, but never on a routine basis. I observed the same pattern, I observed with maths, with language too. But I noticed, the language would often excel during the period the maths stagnate. 

Because the first language’s reading and writing only gets established at the age of 9, we never start the second language before the age of 10. Interestingly again, the child is then at an emotional level, that enable him/her to master the second language in no time, without frustration. At the age of 12 no one would be able to say the child only started with the second language at the age of 10.  We use Christian Liberty Reading Series’ Adventures in Phonics level A and B and the Noah Webster’s reading handbook with the Grade K phonics readers. For South Africans these books are available from Christian Liberty Press in Cape Town.

To summarize: 

Lapbooking and discovering every day things is the focus, not language and maths. Currently we are learning the days of the week, months of the year, we observe the weather, seasons, as well as what to wear and what is in season to eat. We also learn time and sequences in a fun way, using all 5 senses to reinforce the knowledge. 

I had an interesting conversation with a mother whose 6year old child is in Gr 1 in the school system, about crafts. Children don’t do starch painting, modeling clay and messy arts anymore.  I remember when I was still at that very young age (many, many moons ago!) how I enjoyed it. The first 3 years of school, grades one to three now days, consisted of arts and the occasional formal learning. Tests and exams didn’t exist!! I wrote my first exam in Grade 4.

It is a known fact that young adults leaving school, are not capable of spelling, doing maths, or have a love for reading. But at the age of 10 (grade 4) their workload is the equivalent of grade 7, three decades ago!  What do we want to accomplish by squeezing in loads and loads of information in an under 10 year old’s little head, while that child should still be playing, making messes? They are not able to concentrate for longer than 10 minutes, but have to sit in a classroom for 6 solid hours!

Dear mother allow your child to play the first, almost decade of his life. There are more than enough time to fill their heads with information, at an age that they are emotionally ready to receive the information.

With much love

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