Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Birthday for the Rower

Fourteen years – where did that time go? Fourteen years ago on Sunday, we welcomed a tiny bundle, born two weeks late and so very cherished. He was a quiet baby, snuggly and pink, with huge gray eyes that watched everything; a gentle baby who wanted to be held close and was easily soothed in arms.

He was, unexpectedly, a rambunctious toddler, but periods of bouncing off walls were interspersed with times of intense concentration, keen observation and sweet companionship. This was the child who taught me to really look at things; a walk around the block could take an hour, because mustn’t we examine every pebble, scrap of metal and piece of broken glass? And look! There’s a bug, and isn’t he cool?

The wild toddler grew into a calm boy who kept his keen sense of observation and appreciation for beauty around him. He became a wonderful big brother, welcoming home each of his new siblings and embracing them fully, sharing a room, toys, life, without question or complaint, and helping with their adjustments by his happy companionship.

His faith grew, and he follows his strong convictions, and shares them freely. We have wonderful discussions I wouldn’t expect to have with a person his age, and I am so thankful for the gift of this young man.

When he was tiny, he’d open each present, and joyfully exclaim, “It’s just what I always wanted!” He is still just as much fun to give presents to, and just as happy to receive them.

Still patient with little brothers who watch his every move;

Still an awful lot of fun.

 Happy Birthday, Rower. We love you, and the way you let your Light shine in our home and in the world. Keep on shining!

Trusting in Him,

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Children are Waiting

            Numbers can be hard to wrap your head around; statistics aren’t warm and fuzzy and who can relate to them? 147,000,000. 147 million. Can you picture 147 million of anything? I can't. How about more than 147 million orphans worldwide, right now – can you even begin to conceive of it?

Here is a thought: start here, with me, with these three children who are orphans no more, and imagine something different. Imagining this hurts like a sucker punch, but try with me for a minute, please.

Start with this boy - the one who is tall and strong, an amazing guitarist with a tender heart, a kind big brother and son -  and imagine that he is instead still in his country of birth. In this future, he lives in an orphanage, and his terror at the many changes of caregivers he experienced his first years has hardened into attachment disorder; he is angry, he is lonely, and inside his tender heart, he is afraid. His teeth haven’t received the extensive work they needed, to make up for poor prenatal nutrition, and his mouth hurts always; even his adult teeth have been destroyed by the constant infections of his baby teeth. In this reality, this child not placed initially because of a frightening diagnosis now suffers an unrelated hearing loss, and without hearing aids, he misses much of his world, including conversation and schoolwork. He does not have a guitar, pets, siblings, parents. He is alone, and at 18, the world will not receive him kindly.

            Imagine this child next: the child who rides a hand-cycle, keeps most of his family organized, is wildly intelligent and runs with his siblings on his prosthetic legs. Imagine that he was not adopted, but instead, sent to another orphanage – his third – where children are often sent when they haven’t found a family. His grief over losing the foster mother he loved so dearly, and the rejection he felt at their parting, have taken over his once joyful spirit. At two and a half, upon his arrival at the orphanage, his paperwork said he shrank into himself, had “slightly below normal intelligence” and that he could not play with the other children because of his limb differences. Imagine that now, at 11, he feels his differences deeply, stays apart from the other children, and has stopped trying to prove that he is smart. He needs vision therapy to help his eyes focus, but no-one has ever noticed this. Despite the work of dedicated people trying to change perceptions of those with disabilities in his birth country, in this reality, he will not have many chances as an adult.

            Last, imagine the youngest – eight now, full of words and imaginations and hugs. Imagine that at two and a half, when his lack of speech prompted a diagnosis of developmental delays, he was not adopted. Imagine that instead, he stays in an orphanage – his fifth placement. Perhaps he is moved again, at five, to a more permanent orphanage, where his rehabilitation therapy and hope of a family end. With each placement he shuts down further, though no-one knows that his blank stare, slack face and even drooling are part of him disassociating – a PTSD sort of reaction that has also stunted his physical growth. It is hard for him to pay attention, with his heart always racing so, and after a while, it becomes easier to give in fully to his habit of lying on the ground and pushing a toy in front of his face – that is soothing and always predictable. He stops asking for hugs, and people stop trying to teach him, because, after all, what could he learn? He is tiny and stunted, and his hope is gone.

These are not statistics – these are real children; my children, as “real” as the children physically born to me, and this is what they might have faced had they not been adopted. Imagining their options without a family is heart-wrenching, and imagining our family without them is equally so. It has been the greatest privilege of our lives to welcome our children home and provide them with what they need to thrive, and we have been outrageously blessed as we’ve watched them blossom.

But now we know – the more than 147,000,000 children waiting – they are not statistics. They are real children, in orphanages, foster homes and worse situations, around the world. They are children with names and personalities and feelings, waiting to become the people God made them to be, waiting for families who will love and nurture them and show them the way. They are, each one of them, bigger than a statistic, bigger than a diagnosis. Each one is a child of God, perhaps your child, waiting.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

Now you know: 147 million. Please, consider. Adoption and orphan care is not only for the childless or infertile – not just for those who hear an audible voice from God telling them to get busy and care for the orphans – he has told us: it’s in His book. We have been adopted and redeemed by a gracious God and how can we not want to respond in turn?

    God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.   Ephesians 1:5 NLT

     We are not left with a hopeless future; we belong, our future is certain, and we know we are loved. What about the more than 147,000,000 children? They are waiting.

Some resources to consider: Waiting child photolisting and advocacy, adoption e-zine. Our three youngest were Rainbow Kids.
Children's Home Society and Family Services (CHSFS was the placing agency for our boys)
Love without Boundaries -  worldwide group of volunteers dedicated to improving the lives of orphaned and impoverished children in China

I know there are many more - for this National Adoption Month, I'd be glad to share other resources brought to my attention.

Thankful to be part of this journey, and
Trusting in Him,


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Picture Study Wednesdays

            In an earlier post about our Tuesday Poet-Teas, I mentioned the rhythm of our weeks, and how comforting it is to small ones (and me!) to have certain things in the week to look forward to. Our Wednesday Picture Studies are another fun piece of structure and Charlotte Mason style learning that we all look forward to. I never cease to be amazed at the rapt attention of the children, ages 8 through almost 14,  as they gather around to look at a masterpiece I hold before them, and at their attention to detail and how their observations become deeper as they become familiar with the artist’s style and body of work.

Charlotte believed that education should be a feast for children, exposing them to a rich array of ideas, and that even young children are capable of appreciating fine works of art much more deeply than we give them credit for. She was keen on teaching children to really notice things around them, and picture study is a wonderful way to cultivate that habit and expose them to a culture of art appreciation that they’d not naturally seek out or be immersed in.

“By this sort of culture I mean, not so much the getting of knowledge, not even getting the power to learn, but the cultivation of the power to appreciate, to enjoy, whatever is just, true and beautiful in thought and expression.” (Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character.)

It sounds daunting, but is surprisingly easy, and takes about 15 minutes each week. While some folks use fine art prints made from internet websites, we’ve been helped greatly by a beautiful Picture Study Portfolio purchased from In general, one artist per term is chosen for study, and care is taken not to study the artists in chronological order. I chose Rembrandt for our first picture study experience, and ordered a Picture Study Portfolio that held 8 (beautiful!) full-color works printed on heavy, coated stock, and a booklet that contains instruction and a brief artist biography, as well as leading questions and a bit of information about each painting.

We read the biography first, in two short sittings, and began our study. Ideally, each child would have their own copy of each painting studied, and now additional copies are available through SCM. We have just one copy of each masterpiece, and while it’s perhaps not ideal, it’s worked. I slip the week’s masterpiece into a plastic sleeve to protect it from fingerprints (I want it to be handled once we've discussed it), and then I sit in the center of my group of guys, and ask them to silently look at the painting and see what they can notice about it. I don’t tell them the title of the painting or what it’s depicting – that comes later! Sometimes they’re excited and start to gush; they have to learn to wait, and quietly study for a few minutes. When everyone is ready, I turn the painting over, and ask what the kids noticed.

Some take great pains to remember the wardrobe, or the faces, or the expressions. They’ve learned to notice the source of light, and who is most emphasized by it, and to guess at the artist’s motivations. These things didn’t come naturally at first; a few leading questions (some are included in the guide) help jog their memories and spur their thoughts. The Wrestler studied Rembrandt’s self portrait and mused that the artist was honest in his assessment of himself; the Musician has taken a special interest in noting how the artist uses light. My very visual smallest learner takes special joy in this study, and notices things that escape the rest of us.

Once everyone has shared their observations, I tell the children the title of the painting and give them a few more details about it. Sometimes there’s a coordinating Bible passage listed in the guide, as in The Return of the Prodigal Son, and this deepens our appreciation. We don’t go deeply into technique or art history; this is a time to notice and enjoy.

            “We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon a child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education.

When we’re done with the masterpiece of the day, I place the picture on the wall, along with the others in our growing (decidedly unglamorous) gallery of Rembrandts. If each child had his own copy, he could put them in a binder, and have a small, portable gallery. Many people display just one masterpiece at a time, but we’ve also seen a benefit to leaving the pictures displayed together. Just last week, the Musician was sitting quietly at the table after a meal, studying the pictures, when he observed, “Rembrandt liked to use a lot of red in his paintings. Look at how much red there is in each picture.”

He was right. Not an earth shattering observation, but it showed me that he is looking, noticing and appreciating these beautiful pieces. A visiting friend with a degree in art history commented on the shapes used in the compositions of each piece – see the triangle in that one, the circle in another? Perhaps tomorrow, when the children have all made their oral observations, I’ll ask if they noticed any shapes in the way the figures are arranged, and then our wall gallery will offer a place where they can notice more shapes, should they choose to do so later.

If you've tried picture study at your house, I'd love to hear what works for you; please do share!
Breakfast is calling, and it’s already been noted that apple cider and pumpkin cookies, leftover from last night’s dinner, would be the perfect snack to go with our Poet-Tea today. I agree.

Wishing you a blessed day, and
            Trusting in Him,