Change: When the Teachers Get Schooled

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Jon and I are always looking for ways to be more engaging as teachers and more effective as time managers. During this school year, we have experienced several new realities, personally and collectively, which have impacted our work and home school schedules. As such, towards the end of the year, we were on information overload. And we knew a change needed to occur.

Since we both have untraditional work schedules (Wed.-Sun.), but also share the home schooling responsibilities of our kids, our home school week is a bit creative. We school Tuesday-Saturday (catch up day) and observe Mondays as our Family Sabbath. On this day, there’s no school, no work, but plenty of rest, reflection and recreation. After a bit of discussion, we made a simple adjustment in our home school routine.

The changes we made were small, but significant. We decided, parents would no longer teach every subject, everyday. On Tuesdays, Jon would teach a complete week’s worth of Science and Geography (book work, field trips, experiments, etc.) Leaving Language Arts (Grammar, Writing, Spelling & Literature) for me to teach Wednesday-Friday. At the beginning of each week, the kids were given an assignment sheet which listed items for which they were solely responsible. In addition to their daily chores, they were responsible for reading, math, and music practice. Parents were available, if needed. But now, the kids had the responsibility for execution and completion.

In the first week alone, the transformation was significant! To our surprise, the kids welcomed the additional responsibility and appreciated the opportunity to earn extras for a job well done (i.e. screen time, special date with parents, etc.) In addition, since Mom and Dad weren’t teaching every subject, everyday, we felt as if we had more “bandwidth”. This afforded us the opportunity to further and more fully investigate interesting topics or to spend additional time in areas that required closer attention or extra practice for one or both of our students.

But we soon discovered this change wasn’t merely about home schooling. It reached far beyond our classroom into every sphere and facet of our family’s lives. Having kids who are 9-years-old and 11-years-old, we are quiet aware that we are entering a new season of parenting. We are smack-dab in the middle of the Tween Years, soon to be embarking on the Teen Years and then, it’s LAUNCH TIME, BABY.

It is our desire to raise our kids to be problem-solvers, risk-takers and comfortable thinking and living outside-of-the-box. We have no desire to raise kids who only know the correct outward response. Or who do the right thing out of fear of doing the wrong thing or of being different. Or who continue to do things simply because that’s they way they’ve always been done. Nope! We desire to train our children to do the right thing because they know in their hearts that’s what needs to be done. And, sometimes, doing the right thing means making changes. Even if they are uncomfortable, unpopular, or uncharted territory.

It’s our desire to create an environment of love and trust, which is grounded in the Word, that brings about heart change. This is real change. Living and learning, relating and responding, from the inside out. To do this, we have to let go of some control, share the responsibility, broaden the boundaries, and give our children freedom to make some of the decisions and even a few mistakes.

As parents, it’s our desire to be in the trenches with our children, working together to bring about heart and life change. So when they find themselves in a particular situation, relationship or conflict, they don’t just ‘do the right thing’ because that’s what’s expected of them. They do the right thing because it’s the godly thing to do.

In all areas of our lives, even in our role as parents, we want to be open to accessing and adjusting. Willing to make the needed changes. Even mid-course, if necessary. If not, we risk stagnation and death. And to always be about growing and developing, learning and transforming. Never settling for status quo. Or fearing change, but facing it head-on.

Life lesson:
Never be afraid to make necessary changes that are within your ability and control to make. For even a seemingly small change can bring about significant transformation.

Mother’s Day: Words from My Heart

Jada B. Swanson:

For many women, Mother’s Day holds mixed emotions. Last year, I shared my heart about this day and a desire to come alongside the many women in our spheres of influence who need hope, encouragement and love. May our hearts be open and our eyes be wide to those in our midst who we can come alongside.

Originally posted on Jada Swanson:

I completely understand the feeling of dread walking into church on that day. The day I wished I could have pulled the covers up over my head, but didn’t. Or rather couldn’t. As a member of the church staff, it was a workday. So, I had to show up.

Smile on.

Ready to go.

Even if my heart was breaking inside.

Many of you know the day of which I speak. When the youngest mom, the oldest mom, the mom with the most kids, the mom with the youngest child, and even, the one with the most kids with her at church were honored.

All of them.

And then, there was the rest of us.

We weren’t meant to be excluded or made to feel less than. Yet, oftentimes, we were and we did.

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Lessons from My Childhood: Waste Not, Want Not

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Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Yesterday, after all our guests had gone home, my husband and I were cleaning up after Sunday Supper. As I peered into the roasting pan, I saw the remnants of a delicious Easter meal, but I was also flooded with memories from my childhood. Growing up, it was an everyday occurrence to have folks over to our home. No invitation necessary, just drop by. (By the way, I miss that!) Our doors were always open and guests were always welcome. It was easy to set another place at the table. And no matter what, there would always be enough to eat.

My daddy was born right in the middle of The Great Depression. And I didn’t realize just how much his childhood impacted my own, until my husband and I began our quest to live a more simple life. You see, my folks were “recycling and reusing” long before it became a catch-phrase in our society. Growing up, we were taught never to waste, to think outside-of-the-box when it came to additional uses for ordinary items, and shown how to fix things, instead of tossing them aside because it needed a minor repair or to purchase the latest model.

While my momma was the cook, my daddy was the cleaner. After a big meal–be it turkey, ham or roast–he would meticulously package up the leftovers. Of course, our guests always had first dibs. And Daddy would package up bundles for them to take home. Then, with whatever was left, our family would use in sandwiches, soups and such throughout the week. But he always made sure to use EVERYTHING, even if that meant sticking a ham bone in the freezer.

Today, I don’t even consider throwing out a ham bone. Come on, now! Do you even realize how much flavor is in that appendage? Throw it into a pot with some dried beans, bay leaves, onions and seasonings. Then, fill it up with water and simmer for a good, long while, and you’ve got Soul Food at it’s finest. The only other thing needed is a piping, hot pan of freshly baked cornbread. Now, that’s some good eatin’!

But what about all that luscious goodness left in the very bottom of the roasting pan? You know, all those bits and pieces of ham and the rich, flavorful stock. Well, that makes the best cooking liquid for Jambalaya, risotto, gravy to smother over biscuits, even soup! Or freeze it in an ice cube tray to add extra bursts of flavor to most any dish. Oh. My. Yum.

This is but one simple lesson my folks taught me. There are many, many others. Some of which I haven’t always embraced. You see, there was a time early in our marriage, when my husband and I were sucked into the vortex of “keeping up with the Joneses”. About a decade ago, we realized we couldn’t keep up with them. But more importantly, we didn’t even want to keep trying. It wasn’t worth the time, effort and expense, not to mention debt.

Upon that revelation, our overall philosophy of living changed and we began to incorporate those changes into our daily lives. This didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s still taking place, slowly and day by day. Yet, it was then that I began to embrace what had been modeled to me by my folks: It’s okay to be different, to have less, and to live within one’s means.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more and more apparent that we live in a disposable society…be it resources or relationships. But my folks taught me there was another way to live: be generous, be frugal, be wise. These lessons will never go out of style. And I will carry them with me always. For this and so much more, I am very grateful.

But what about my ham leftovers? Well, I hear my kitchen calling my name. Something amazing is about to happen with those leftovers and that ham bone! And I can only imagine that it’s gonna be oh, so good!

It All Began with an Order at Starbucks…

latte-love My kids remember everything. Absolutely everything. And they don’t let me forget anything. I mean, anything. Sometimes, this can be annoying. But in this instance, it was endearing. For had they not, we would have missed out. And it all began with an order at Starbucks.

Nearly six years ago, we packed up our family and all that we owned (or what could fit into the moving van) and moved from Colorado back to Washington State.  Leaving behind secure jobs, stable incomes and very dear friends, we knew that God had called us back to this area to live, minister and plant a church.

Although we moved back to a familiar area of the state, much had changed in the time we’d been away. It helped that we knew our way around town, but we were still getting to know a lot of new faces. And his was a face my kids remembered…they just knew it. But they just couldn’t remember from where.

Then, one day, I ordered a latte at the drive-thru at Starbucks. As I rolled my window up, pulled around to pick up my order, my kids shrieked from the backseat when they saw the barista, “Momma, we know him! That’s him!”

“Him who?” I asked.

“That’s the guy that always makes us laugh at Fred Meyer’s! You know, the checker guy! What’s his name, Momma? We should invite him to church!” said my 5-year old son from the backseat.

Having only been back in the area a few weeks, I honestly had no idea who or what my kids were talking about, especially if it involved an occurrence during a shopping trip. You see, I am not a fan of shopping. As is the case with shopping with young kids, or at least my kids, I just did my best to get in and get out without anyone melting down, having an accident or me losing my mind. But this day, well, it was different. This was the day that we introduced ourselves to “Checker Guy”.

When he opened the window to hand me my latte, my son said, “Mom, ask him if he works at Fred Meyer’s. I know he does, Momma!”

To appease my kids, I did ask him. And he confirmed that he did, indeed, work at Starbucks and Fred Meyer’s.  And on that day, he went from being “Checker Guy” to Michael, or Mr. Michael to my kids. And from that day on, we were now dubbed the “J-Family”.

During those first few months back in town, we saw him frequently at both places. Eventually, he learned our first names, too. This made our kids’ day and greatly impressed me and my husband. I mean, can you even imagine the multitude of people he must come in contact with each week? Seriously!

Whenever we saw him at Starbucks, we’d say hello. And if we were grocery shopping at Freddie’s, the kids always made sure that we only checked out at his register. Over time, through short conversations here and there, we shared that we had moved back to plant a church in town. He said to let him know when we began having services because he’d like to attend. And he did. As well, he and my husband got together for lunch. Through our interactions, he began to share parts of his story with us.

And even after our church plant was closed, we continued to see him around town, usually at Fred Meyer’s. It became a joke with him that if Jon and I where there alone, we must be on a date. For some unknown reason, our in-town dates always ended up there. I know, how romantic! It always amazed me how a conversation with Michael went from 0-100 in five or ten minutes. And, as typical, I would always end the conversation saying, “We really need to have you over for dinner sometime!”

After a while, we stopped seeing him at our Freddie’s. Jon discovered he’d been promoted, and was working at another store close by. One evening, we were on a date and dropped in to pick up a few things. Michael was working that night, so we chatted for a bit.  Things were continuing to look up for him. He was on the management track for the company, and the very next day would find out if he would get his own store to manage.

Before we left, we got his number and told him we’d be praying for him. The next day, I texted him to let him know we were praying for him, and were anxious to hear how it went. When Jon saw him a few weeks later, he told him he got the job, and we may not see him much because the store he would be working in was further south.

That was a year ago.

A week ago, I was in the store where I last saw him, and wondered how he was doing. Wanting to send him a text, I looked in my phone for his number but it wasn’t there. Unfortunately, when I got a new phone my contacts didn’t transfer. I had no way to get in touch with him. But I distinctly remember saying a prayer for him as I walked out to the parking lot.

Which brings me to last night….

Late last night, I opened up my computer, launched Google and headed to Facebook. This was the first thing that I saw on my newsfeed:

Today I learned that an old friend took his life over the weekend. While I wasn’t super close with him over the years, as our lives split paths, I still saw him every now and then while he was working, and randomly a few other times. Michael was ALWAYS nice, super energetic, joyful, and encouraging. The last time I saw him we had a deep and encouraging conversation in the middle of Whole Foods, where he told me about his past and how free he had felt from all his struggles. This was about a year ago. Needless to say, it was shocking to hear the news. It’s so sad that this happened, but no matter what I trust God. Michael, you will be missed by many.

Immediately, as I read it, my heart sank. I didn’t know for certain, but as I put the pieces together (similar ages, high schools, churches, etc.), it became clear to me, she was referencing someone that I knew. To be sure, I private messaged her and my fears were confirmed: It was our Michael that she was mourning. As I closed my computer, tears filled my eyes, and all I could think was,

“Michael, we never had you over for dinner!”

Why am I sharing this? I share it as a reminder to myself (and maybe to you, too) that everyone has a name: the post man, the ticket taker at the movies, the bank teller, the garbage collector, the little old lady down the street, the grocery clerk, and yes, even the barista at Starbucks. We just need to take the time to ask what it is and then, call them by their name. Since they usually wear name tags, they make it easy for us! :-)

But not only does everyone have a name, everyone has a story. A story to share with others, maybe even you. It might be in little bits and pieces, here and there or, perhaps, all at once in one long sitting. And the parts of someone’s story that you are privileged to hear and to hold….Ah now! Those are gifts. Sweet gifts that are not to be forgotten. Or taken lightly. But remembered and valued and cherished.

And to think it all began with an order at Starbucks. I am so glad my kids knew everything and pestered me to find out “Checker Guy’s” name.

Michael, the last page of your story may have been written this weekend, but you will continue to be a part of mine and my family’s story. In such a short time, you taught us so much. You made us feel welcomed in a new community. From you, we learned the importance of calling others by their name. You blew us away by remembering random things we shared. You really listened. You made a difference. You impacted lives. And you will be missed. One more thing: We will have that dinner one day! Save a spot at the table for us, okay! Because we know where you live!

It’s on like Donkey Kong: Scripture Memory

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Every week, my pastor-husband, Jon, memorizes the entire Scripture passage for which his sermon is based. Every. Single. Week. This is on top of his other work and family duties and responsibilities. And each Sunday, he recites the passage to the congregation in story-form.

It’s powerful and engaging.

And inspiring.

And convicting.

And sickening. (No, not really. Well, maybe!)

This week, I got to thinking about it, and realized that he has probably memorized more Scripture in the last six weeks than most of us have or will memorize in our entire lives. Wow! Oh, of course, it’s not a competition. But it’s still a WOW!

I wondered, “How in the heck does he do that?” as if it’s some special skill or gift out of my reach. But Scripture memory is not a spiritual gift or something that only a few people can accomplish. It’s an ability that requires patience, persistence and commitment. I mean, we memorize phone numbers, addresses and other day-to-day information. Not to mention movie lines, the menus at our favorite eateries, and the stats for an entire team of baseball players. Right? Uh-huh. I’m picking up my toes, too!

If that can be accomplished, if our brains can take in and recall that needless information, then God’s Word can be memorized and ‘hidden in our hearts’. (Psalm 119:11) Right? Right!

I mean, it’s not that I can’t memorize. After all, I am a musician. Memorization is sort of a job requirement. No, seriously, it is. I mean, I have memorized thousands of pieces for cello, piano and voice. I’m talking page after page after page of music notes. One after the other.

And, good grief, the lyrics that I still have stuck in my head from nearly two decades ago. It’s insane! I was required to memorize music for church, productions for school and work, and other performances over the years as a professional singer. And get this: most of those lyrics weren’t even in English, my native language, but were written in Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, French and German.

So, I thought, “Jada, what IS your excuse?” And you know what? I don’t have one. I got nothing. Nada. Zilch. Other than simply not doing it, not setting aside time for it and not making it a priority in my life.

Do I think God’s angry at me? NO. Do I think Jon’s a ‘better Christian’ because he memorizes Scripture and I really don’t? No. But I do think it’s a worthy pursuit and a discipline that I need to engage and activate in my life.

As I have thought about it, it’s not that I haven’t tried to memorize God’s Word. Or that I don’t have a few memory verses stored up in my noggin. But I know I can do more. Not because it’s expected of me or because I have something to prove (to myself or others). And it sure ain’t because there’s some reward waiting at the end of all this.

No, it’s because as Christ-follower, I know and believe that God’s Word, the Bible, is my instruction manual for my life. As such, I need to have more of it internalized, memorized, and ‘hidden in my heart’.

His Word is life.

His Word is love.

His Word is truth.

And I want more of that floating around in my brain to recall on crazy days, during tough times and to share with others who might need encouragement or guidance. So, that’s my personal challenge: Memorize God’s Word. Period. I have all sorts of tools afforded to me. Now, it’s time to take them out and use them. Set aside the time and make it a priority. And just get ‘er done!

If we don’t keep learning and growing, we aren’t truly living. Or so ’tis my belief. My soon-to-be-40 year old self has some work to do, eh? First, the 5K challenge and now this! By the way, those two could go hand-in-hand, I believe! So, with that, I will be memorizing the book of Philippians. And, now, I’m off to get started!

[Recipe] Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

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Thai Chicken Noodle Soup


Ingredients:

  • 1 T coconut oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 can baby corn
  • 4 oz tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3 T lime juice (Tonight, all I had was lemon, so that’s what I used.)
  • 2 t red curry paste, or more to taste
  • 3 T fish sauce
  • 1 lb chicken breast, thinly sliced on bias
  • 8 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions, drained an drizzled with sesame oil (to keep from sticking and for flavor)
  • Garnishes: cilantro, chopped peanuts, bean sprouts and lime wedges (squeeze lime juice over soup).

Directions:
In a stockpot, heat oil or butter over medium heat. Add onions, red bell pepper, garlic, ginger and cilantro, cooking until softened. Stir in chicken stock, coconut milk and honey and bring to a simmer. Stir in baby corn, tomato sauce and peanut butter. In a bowl, combine lime juice, red curry paste and fish sauce. Stir into soup. While continuing to simmer, add chicken and cook 5 minutes, or until done. Before serving, taste test. Need more salt? Add more fish sauce. More spice? Add more red curry paste. More sweet? Add honey. To serve, place a mound of noodles in each bowl, then top with soup. Garnish with the items of your choice.

King Cake, Baby!

Jada B. Swanson:

Mardi Gras is Tuesday, March 4 th! Are you gonna make a King Cake? Check out this recipe!

Originally posted on Jada Swanson:

King Cake, Baby!

Even though I’m a Louisiana Girl, I’ve never made a King Cake. That might have to do with the fact I perpetually make horrible things when it comes to baking. However, something happend within the last year, or so. Whenever I bake something, it’s actually edible. No, seriously, it is!

Perhaps, this is due to actually following the recipe. DUH! See, when you are predominantly a cook, you can toss this or that into a dish and know it will work. Well, usually! Not so much with baking, though. Consequently, I’ve had many, many, many disasters in the kitchen when it comes to baked goods. Just ask my husband, bless his heart!

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