Thursday, September 28, 2006

Breather Week

This week we aren't doing anything new for school, and we are accomplishing some of the other things that I just haven't been able to stay on top of. I think we're going to have to build these weeks in on a regular basis now. We are reviewing Latin vocab, math facts, and our memory work, and we are doing some history. We're also finishing another Classical Writing project. That's it for school.

On Monday we went to the commissary, and I bought tons of chicken to cook and chop for meals, as well as tons of squash, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables with which to make baby food. I got the chicken finished yesterday, but I still haven't tackled the vegetables--maybe tonight while the boys are at soccer. Yesterday Jonathan had a follow-up doctor's appointment. Good news--his poor little bum looks great, and the doctor thinks the strep is all gone, although she reswabbed to make sure. Also, I took the official pregnancy test, and now I am in the Tricare system, so we can start trying to get the waiver for off-base OB care.

Today we did something fun and different--we went to see the Washington Capitals, our NHL team, practice! They are building a new practice facility in Arlington, but it's not quite ready, so they have been practicing in Ashburn the past few weeks. And the best part is it was free! I realized how little I know about the Capitals, though. Without names on the back of their jerseys, I only recognized the big star, Alex Ovechkin, and that was mainly because we happened to be right there when he walked onto the ice, and he stopped to say something to some kids who were right by the rope (not mine, of course, LOL!). I have always read about how unfailingly nice and polite he is. Anyhow, then the only way I could keep track of him was that he had snazzy yellow shoelaces on his skates. Everyone else I was absolutely clueless about, including the head coach (although not anymore--his name is Glen Hanlon. I looked it up.) The other spectators seemed much more knowledgable. Many of them even had notebooks to scribble notes! They were not reporters either--I heard them talking about how they work over at AOL and were taking long lunch breaks.

The team was all wearing different color jerseys, with about 5 players for each color jersey--black, red, white, teal (is that a manly, hockey-player term? Because that is definitely the color), and gray. And 2 goalies. I could not tell which goalied was the starter one, Olie Kolzig, although I guessed he was the one with the snazzier helmet down by our end of the ice. The man sitting next to me came in after us, and after sitting down, proceeded to get out his own little notebook, divide the page into 5 areas, and then write down every player's last name under the appropriate color. I kept trying to look sideways at his notebook to figure out a few of the players' names, but I just couldn't do it without being too obvious, LOL.

So we saw about 24 players and the 2 goalies, and the paper said they have to be down to 23 by opening day. I couldn't tell if one color was the starters (Alex was in black, in case you were wondering), or if they were grouped by position (unlikely, based on how they were running drills). Anyhow, if one group were the "on the bubble" ones, I would have to say it was the gray guys. There were only 4 of them. But what do I know?! They all looked good to me! I love watching men play hockey--they are so confident on their skates, and they go so fast! Hockey is definitely a fast-moving, exciting game! I miss watching the Air Force Academy hockey games back when we were stationed there.

Anna is 6 months old!

Look at this big girl! Anna pushes up on all fours all the time, but then she just stays there, rocking away. Eventually, when she gets really excited, she will go into her parachute mode, with her arms spread and her legs straight. No concept that, if she just moved her knees and arms, she might actually go somewhere! But that's okay with me. She already gets around enough by inching and scrunching and rolling to qualify as mobile--she's just not very fast.

She's still a happy baby, and why shouldn't she be, with all the love and adoration showered on her by her 4 adoring big brothers?! She is definitely the princess of our home (while I, of course, am the queen, as Caleb so often reminds me!).

And here's a thought to leave you with--in 6 more months, she will almost be a big sister. Wow. I hope she will still be just as happy when that event comes about, LOL.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Would someone come visit us?!

Please?!!! We need about 2 days notice. That is because our house is so cluttered right now, and that's how long I think it would take us to get ready. All flat surfaces in the kitchen are covered in miscellaneous paperwork, the floor needs to be mopped, there is a castle set up in the family room instead of the play room, there are books and more papers on the couch--it's cluttered. And I am finding that I am not at all motivated on my own to really clean it up. I want to snap my fingers and have it be done. Sigh. So come over--motivate me!

Let's see--I haven't been blogging much lately. Don't worry though! You haven't missed much of real importance! Yesterday was a busy day. I went to a MOPS consignment sale while the boys were at soccer. This is a big deal around here--hundreds of consigners, if not over a thousand. I actually consigned some stuff this year (and if you know me well, you can guess where the stuff came from--not from anyone who might actually be reading my blog, LOL!). I picked up the stuff that didn't sell in the afternoon, and out of 63 or so items, I had 17 not sell. One thing I forgot to put a price on (airhead! LOL). I am always amazed at how different people's taste in clothing are. The best part of yesterday was that the time between when the soccer games finished (next door to the sale) and when I could pick up my unsold stuff was only about one hour, and so Bob took the kids home in the van, and I WENT OUT TO LUNCH ALL BY MYSELF!! Wow, that was a luxury! I went to Quiznos and had a regular turkey bacon guacamole sandwich on wheat bread which I did not share with anyone. And I only used one napkin. How nice to just sit with my own thoughts, using my mouth only for eating and not for talking.

This afternoon after church we went on a wild goose car hunt. The credit union was having a sale down at the George Mason Patriot Center (with THOUSANDS of new AND used cars priced under invoice!!), so we thought we go take a look at Siennas to see if they really were cheaper there. As we parked, a guy in a Sienna drove by and asked if he could give us a ride to the sale. "Umm, no" I said, thinking, "That's odd--why would we ride with a perfect stranger somewhere." Duh, was I clueless. Soon after, a guy in a golf cart drives up and asks the same thing. We ask how you get to the actual event, and he points vaguely off in the distance, in a different direction than we were preparing to walk. So we assume that it must be a long ways off, and the event is providing shuttle service. However the golf cart is very small, so I am not sure how we can fit, but the guy is sure we can do it. So Caleb, Jonathan, the stroller, and I ride up front with "Charter" (that's his name, LOL), while Nathan, Luke, and Bob ride in the back, facing backwards, with Bob holding Anna. Yeah, that's got to be safe. And to think I didn't think we'd all fit in the Sienna! Well, the guy turned out to be a Nissan salesman, so he delivers us to where the Nissans are, which is a long ways off, pretty much where he was vaguely pointing. After looking at a Quest, (which he told us on the drive was big enough for 8, but in fact only has 7 seats no matter what), we wandered off to find the Toyota lot. Eventually we found it--practically right across the street from where we parked, where we were intending to walk in the first place, but a good deal away from the Nissan part. And then they had no 8 person Siennas there at all. Ah well. So, to recap, we could have ridden over with the first guy, who I now realize was a Toyota shuttle driver, and not some weirdo stalking parking lots to kidnap large families, and he would have taken us right there. Or we could have walked in the direction we were planning and found it right away on our own. Instead we let someone "help" us, and it took a lot longer in the end! A good object lesson for the kids on how sometimes people help you out of their own agenda, not yours. I told them I felt like Jill in The Silver Chair--I didn't recognize the signs, so it cost us lots of time, LOL! But we are no further along in our car search, however many object lessons we may have had. I think Bob and I are both convinced now of the wisdom of doing all our car shopping on the internet, LOL.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Proverbs 19:25

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Prov. 19:25

I think this is my theme verse for this year. We have settled into a routine that is working fairly well for all of us, but it certainly isn't the routine that I had in mind for this year! I have been nursing Anna the first 2 feedings of the day, and she gets rice cereal after the second one. Then for the third feeding, she gets a bottle of soy formula and her vegetables, and then I nurse her again for the fourth one, and give her more cereal. Then she gets one more bottle before bed. This plan is making her a lot happier, and she is back to waking up at 8:00 in the morning and having good naps. Poor girl--she just wasn't getting enough for a few weeks there. We'll see how long my dwindling milk supply will last with only 3 feedings a day. I don't think very long, but that's okay. The boys all love giving Anna her bottle.

I have actually not felt as tired with this pregnancy as I was with Anna. My theory is that I just am used to being tired, LOL, so a little more tiredness is not such a big shock to the system. That, and God is merciful and won't give us more than we can handle. Anyhow, we have been able to continue on with our normal school routine in the morning. The afternoons are pretty much shot, however, as I am quite tired then and must nap. So no errands are being run or "fun" afternoon subjects being done (like history and science). This is deja vu, because that also happened last year, and that's why we didn't finish Story of the World 3 then. Maybe we'll being doing it for a third year! But all is not lost--I get alot of the books on the reading lists in the activity guide out of the library, and the older boys like to read them on their own. The necessary things are getting done, and I see progress being made, even if we're not getting in all I had originally thought we would.

People have been asking how I'm doing with the pregnancy, as in, "Are you accepting it", and really I am fine with that. Clearly, this baby was put there by the Lord. My neighbor told me that not being fertile while nursing was the oldest wives' tale in the book, but you know, for me it wasn't. I have never been fertile until I wean, which is always around 9 months to a year. I can appreciate that this is not the case for some people, but for me, I have 4 other data points, which are more than most people for this sort of thing! So I have to say that this baby is the Lord's timing, and I'm okay with that.

My problems are more in the area of my plans not working out. I already HAD the year of not getting anything done in the afternoon--that was last year, and I wasn't planning on it being this year too! And not just school projects either. I would love to do more scrapbooking, even just keeping up with my little books for each boy. I have lots of organization projects I would like to tackle. I wanted to finish stripping and staining a dresser that is in our garage, where it has been since we moved into this house in July of 2004! I would like to be able to keep the house "clean", not just "habitable", which is all I have energy for right now (actually, what gets done, the boys are doing right now). But currently I nap all afternoon, do dinner, than have no energy for anything more strenuous than reading, being on the computer, or playing with Anna. That is what I am having a hard time accepting.

Also, I have sailed through 5 pregnancies with just a few twinges of nauseousness. This one, however, has hit me a lot harder, and I've been much more queasy. This, combined with my afternoon fatigue, has made fixing dinner a challenge! Yesterday I made white chili in the crockpot, and I spent the day being absolutely repulsed by the smell (although it did taste really good to me when I actually ate it, LOL). Today I forced myself up from my nap at 4:30 to make pork tenderloin--no smell issues, but boy, was it hard to get moving! So I'm still not sure of the best plan, especially when nothing sounds appetizing at all!

In summary, I'm giving over my plans for the year to the Lord, putting them off for another year at least, and that's been the hardest thing for me to deal with so far. But I am resting in the promise of 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 a hope and a future."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Fourth Grade

I remember 4th grade as being a really fun year. It was our last year in Okinawa, where I went to an off-base school called Okinawa Christian School. My teacher for 4th grade was named Mrs. Freeman. She was really young--fresh out of college, I would say, and she was married to a young airman. I think she had some classical teaching in her past because one thing she really emphasized memorization. And I clearly remember much of what she had us memorize-- such as presidents, states and capitols, hymns, The Star-Spangled Banner (all 4 verses, LOL), and lots of Scripture. We didn't just memorize verses scattered here and there; we memorized big chunks, like Psalm 1, 1 Cor. 13, Ephesians 6:10-20, and Revelation 5:6-14. It's all still there, albeit a bit rusty, in King James English!

This year for the boys, I have decided to really stress memorization. We always did some before, but I wasn't as faithful in continually going back over what we memorized, so things like the poems from First Language Lessons are not really stuck in their brains. So far we have already memorized the Preamble to the Constitution, and we are definitely going to do the presidents and states and capitols. We've started on 1 Cor. 13 as well--we've done 4 verses so far. Latin involves a fair amount of memorization anyhow, but we are more faithfully reviewing our prayers. I also think we will start memorizing a poem a month--I think that is about all I can handle right now.

Since we are not doing AWANA this year, we really have to be faithful with our Scripture memory work. I always felt like it was so much more rewarding to memorize a big chunk of verses than just random scattered verses. AWANA is really good for the important scattered verses, so now we'll just work on some continuity and context. We are working on some single verses just for our family life, such as Eph. 4:32

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

I'm sure you all can imagine why we would need to have this verse memorized! Maybe we'll go back and memorize the verses around it too, which are also very helpful for dealing with our words!

So Mrs. Freeman, wherever you are, I just wanted to say thanks for putting all that important stuff in my brain and helping it to stick! You were a great teacher, even though I did think you gave too much homework!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Now that I've come down off the ceiling . . .

I think I am becoming a little more adjusted to the idea of having another baby so soon, at least in the theoretical sense. Everyone else in the house is thrilled (well, everyone who can express thoughts, LOL).

Caleb: "Now Anna will be a big sister! Except . . . she's not big. So she'll be a little big sister."

Nathan's thoughts immediately turned to his schoolwork.

Nathan: "Another baby?! Luke, the last time this happened, we didn't have school for a WEEK!"

Me: "A week?! It was more like a month!"

Nathan (dancing happily around): "Even better!!"

The new baby's gender has also been a source of conjecture, but some people are confident they know what it is.

Luke: "I'm pretty much expecting this baby to be a girl, because, well, we already have 4 boys, so we need to stock up more on girls." I guess he had already placed his order, LOL, so all we need to do now is pick it up.

Anna is happily unaware that her world will be rocked in a few short months. She started pushing up on all fours and rocking today, so I'm confident that she will be very mobile soon, probably just right around the time that I feel pregnant enough to not want to chase her around, LOL.

As for me, I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast today, officially stopping my no-dairy diet. I've had some cheese lately on lasagna and such, and Anna has actually done just fine with it--no spitting up, eczema breakouts or anything--so I'm hoping she's worked through all that now. I just feel like I need more than muffins for breakfast right now. I'll eat the muffins for snacks. I'm also increasing my protein intake in other areas. When we went to Sams yesterday, I bought a big thing of roasted almonds to snack on, as well as a ton of eggs so I can hard-boil some. I think I need lots of protein, with nursing and being pregnant.

In a fit of prescient procrastination, I never got around to putting the box of maternity clothes back in the basement, so they are still conveniently located in my closet for whenever I will start needing them (soon, I am sure). I was a bit hasty in giving Amy hers back when we were home in July, however! I'm so glad that I lost all the pregnancy weight from Anna, although my tummy never shrank down to my satisfaction. And that won't be happening for awhile now either! The pregnancy does answer the question of why my weight loss had plateaued right at my prepregnancy weight, as well as why my tummy had actually started to look a bit bigger over the past 2 weeks or so. I was getting pretty discouraged!

So my plan right now is to just keep on keeping on with a normal routine and everything. We'll see how that all pans out . . .

Thursday, September 14, 2006


You know, life has been going pretty smoothly lately--no big stresses or anything. But things have changed rather dramatically. First, we have noticed within the last week that our church is going off in a direction that we are not really comfortable with. That has been a big shock to us, and we're still trying to figure out exactly what our response is going to be.

That, however, was nothing compared to the shock I received today when I took a pregnancy test and found out it was positive. Whoa. Now I wasn't completely floored--obviously I suspected something was up, or I wouldn't have taken the test, right?! I've been pretty queasy the past few days, and also very emotional. Mainly queasy, though. I had an extra test from the 2-pack I bought when I tested for Anna last July, so I figured I would go ahead and use it, just to "ease my mind". LOL. Well, it answered the question of why I've been feeling funny, but it has certainly opened up a whole 'nother set of them. Like, for example, what are we going to do about another vehicle? We have no more room in the Odyssey. Fortunately, we had been discussing getting a Toyota Sienna, the kind with 6 rear seats, so it looks like we'll just do that sooner rather than later. How about another crib? How will I work the room situation? Do I stop nursing? The always helpful Well-Trained Mind board ladies said to keep on, so I guess I will for a little while longer. Anna hasn't been napping really well this past week, though, so maybe I am just not keeping up with milk supply.

Another question is when on earth will I be due? My LMP date is June 22, 2005, LOL. I would guess I'm maybe around 7 weeks, since I'm having symptoms, but that's a big guess. I saw absolutely nothing to indicate impending fertility. I know sometimes you don't, but, well, I always have, and it's always been around the time I stopped nursing! I'm still nursing Anna 5 times a day, so getting pregnant was not a thought that even remotely crossed my mind. I think I will be lucky if Anna and the new baby are 14 months apart. I've never had kids that close together before! I am a little overwhelmed, although not as overwhelmed as if these were my first 2 babies. Nathan and Luke are such big helps, both with Anna, and also around the house.
Jonathan has a follow-up appointment at the clinic next Wednesday, so while we're there, I'll go ahead and take the official test to get into the Tricare system. Then we can begin all the fun of applying for the waiver for off-base OB care again. Please start praying now that we will be granted one!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Clean Slate

I think we can officially say now that we have "started a new school year". I started a new lesson plan book on Monday anyhow. Right before we went to WSS, my order from Rainbow Resource came, and Monday was our first day for some of the new things for this year. We started the new spelling program, How to Teach Spelling, with a review of short vowels and consonant sounds. Might as well build up Nathan's confidence level with stuff he knows! The program focuses on teaching the various letter combinations that make each sound, and there really isn't a list of words for each week and a test a the end. I think that will be good thing for Nathan. Every day there is dictation, both of nonsense words (that just use the rule, so you really have to think about that rule), and of real words, and you are always reviewing the past diphthongs and blends that you have learned. We'll see how it works!

We also started Classical Writing. This writing program is based on the progymnasmata which is a "carefully graded set of composition exercises to prepare the students for the study of formal rhetoric" (from The Latin-Centered Curriculum by Andrew Campbell). The idea is to study the theory of writing skills you use, then analyze and imitate great writers who are using those skills, and then practice by writing a composition on your own.In the first level, we are studying individual fables. Each week (well, every 2 weeks for us), we take a different fable, analyze it according to what skill we are working on, and then eventually they write their version of the fable, using the skills we've worked on. For me, this is so much better than the old "write a story where you are a historical figure" or other types of creative writing. Some people are really good at that. I'm not, and so far, the boys haven't seemed to be either. This way you are studying what great writers do, and then imitating them, so that eventually (in high school) you can write using a variety of different styles depending on the situation at hand. This is what great speechwriters of the past, such as Abraham Lincoln, did, and it is very effective, especially in situations requiring logical arguments or persuation. Those seem more likely situations for the boys to some day be in, given their personalities, as opposed to needing to creatively write a 500 page novel. So we'll see how the program works. I like the idea of it! We started off Monday with "The Tortoise and the Hare", that old classic.

So that is the new stuff. Luke is still in Saxon 3 for math, and Nathan started mid-August Saxon 6/5. We're still plugging through Story of the World 3 for history. That got short shrift last year with the new baby. We only have 7 more weeks of Latina Christiana 1,and then it will be on to LC 2. That also came in the big box o' goodies from Rainbow. What else . . . for grammar, we're doing Easy Grammer this year, and we're only doing it maybe twice a week, since we do so much grammar in Latin, and also in Classical Writing. I think it will be more on a need-to basis, if I see weak areas or areas we need to review in particular.

I started Caleb officially doing school back in August when Nathan and Luke were at art camp every morning for a week. We're using Veritas Press Phonics Museum, since I already had it all, and Saxon 1 for math. That's pretty much it for him, although he listens in to history and whatever science we do. He picks up some Latin too. I've decided I'll start Prima Latina with him and Jonathan when Caleb is in second grade and Jonathan is in first, like I did for Nathan and Luke. That worked well.

Oh, one other new thing we've started is reading poetry. I went to a homeschool support group meeting the end of August, and poetry was the topic. That has never been a huge interest of mine, but after that night, I went home feeling like I should do more with it. So I dug out my book of classic children's poems and started reading them every morning after our Bible/prayer time. The boys are really enjoying them! I also got a book of Shel Silverstein poems the last time I was at the library, and those have been big hits too. Who knew?!

Our homeschool co-of, TNT, started today. It was Caleb's first time to be in a class, and he was so very excited. He gets to take his backpack with his lunch in it, as well as his pencil box. He skipped the whole way across the parking lot. The first unit is on problem-solving. The next unit (end of October-November) is Ancient Greece, which is what I am teaching this year. I guess I should get on that, LOL. Anyhow, at home I only have Jonathan and Anna. It was so quiet!

So now you are all caught up on where we are for this school year!

Friday, September 08, 2006

I would like to nominate myself . . .

. . . for the Worst Mother of the Year award. Anna checked out just fine yesterday at her doctor's appointment, but I have now come to realize that the sole reason she was so fussy had to be the Lord's prodding so that I would make an appointment, and while I made one for her, I would also make one for Jonathan. You may recall that back here, in the beginning of August , I posted about how Jonathan had been bleeding when he pooped. Well, it got a bit better for awhile, but then we started traveling every weekend, and so he simply wasn't as regular, so he started bleeding and complaining again. After White Sulphur Springs it was worse than it has ever been, so I was going to try to get an appointment this week or next, but it was certainly not a priority. I am so not confident of the Fairfax Clinic's competence, and it takes at least 35 minutes to get there, and so . . . I kept putting it off. But after Anna's bad day on Wednesday, I decided I might as well call at 6:00 Thursday morning and try to get 2 appointments, which I did.

When the doctor examined Jonathan, she found 3 big fissures, which she swabbed for strep. She said that they would never heal on their own, since everything was so swollen, and any time he had the least hard bit of poop, they would just open again. She put him on antibiotics even before the strep test came back (it was positive, by the way), and a stool softener. We also have bactoban ointment and a hydrocortisone cream for the swelling to put on the area. Poor boy! I can't believe he's been so normal and chipper this whole time! So this was a lesson to me that the Fairfax Clinic is not always completely incompetent. I really liked this doctor, who we have not had before, and I will definitely be asking for her again. I feel so badly that I didn't take him in right away. I was so afraid it would just be a huge waste of time, and they wouldn't be able to do anything for him. So it took Anna and her nursing issues to force me to take him in, and I'm so thankful for them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

White Sulphur Springs Family Picture

Here is the traditional "wagon" shot in front of White Sulphur Springs. My eyes are closed, but ah well. The picture is a little blurry, so maybe you can't really tell!

A Better Picture

Anna loves to swing in the back yard, and fortunately for her, she has plenty of big brothers who are ready, able, and willing to push her! She usually has a great big smile on her face, but here she is staring at all the "red-eye" lights from the camera.

She nursed this morning 2 times without problems, but I went ahead and made an appointment anyway. I have to call between 6:00 and 6:15 to get a same-day appointment, so I didn't know then how she would do today. Also, I've been giving her a lot of Motrin, so I don't want that to just mask any underlying problem other than teething. I'll let you know what the doctor says, but I'm not counting on it being anything helpful, since that is how the clinic is!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Anna's Bad Day

Hey, Blogger let me post a picture! Quick, I'd better try some more, especially since this is not one of our better shots!

Amazingly, being able to post a picture is one of the better things that has happened this day. Anna has had a rough day. Well, actually I should say that I have had a rough day with Anna. It started out just fine, with her waking up at 7:45 and nursing fine. And all was well this morning, and she nursed again at 10:30. Something happened between 10:30 and 1:30, when she got up to nurse again, and she is no longer remotely interested in nursing. Nada. She won't even put my nipple in her mouth. I finally gave up around 2:00 and gave her a bottle (with frozen breast milk) because we were trying to get out the door to Sam's. I figured at 4:30, she'd be fine, since now I was really full of milk, but she wouldn't suck for more than about 1 second. Grrr. I checked for thrush but don't see anything suspictious, and I don't think she has an ear infection, because she is perfectly fine except when I try to put my nipple in her mouth. Then she starts crying a mad, loud cry! Eventually I get tired of her wailing away in my lap, so I put her down on the floor. She stops crying, looks around, and starts playing with whatever toys are nearby. It's me!!! Seriously, I am so frustrated with her. I imagine it is teething, but I gave her tylenol around 5:00, so you would think that would have kicked in by now.

I should explain how all this relates to the picture. After the failed 4:30 nursing attempt, I decided to try rice cereal with her, since I was planning on starting solid food soon anyways. She was fine with that, and happily ate it. Still not interested in nursing afterward, however. Bob is giving her a bottle now before bed, after an hour of on-again-off-again attempted nursing (with no success).

I have never had this problem with any of the boys, so I am not sure what to make of it. I guess I will try to make an appointment tomorrow to make sure there is nothing wrong. What fun!! I am not ready to stop nursing, especially with potential allergy problems, and since I haven't been pumping regularily for awhile, I can no longer pump more than 3-4 ounces at a time. I suppose I could build that back up again, but good grief. Like I have all sorts of extra time to be pumping AND giving bottles. Grrrrrrrrrrr. Anna is definitely NOT on my good side tonight. Good thing she's cute. (To be honest, she doesn't even look that cute in the picture. I need to find a better one!)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thoughts on Russia

I mentioned yesterday that our speaker, John, spent many years in Russia. He was invited there by the Russian government to teach ethics classes to their military officers, and he was free to use the Bible as a source. He also had home Bible studies and discipleship opportunities with many of the Russian officers who wanted to participate.

John said that when he and his team first went over to Russia, they used materials and methods that had been developed and worked fairly well in the U.S. to talk about spiritual things, for example the Four Spiritual Laws. They had no impact whatsoever in Russia, and gradually he realized that he was dealing with an entirely different type of culture. Here in America, we've always been primarily a guilt-based society. Most people know things that they are doing wrong, even if they are not particularly religious, because our country has a strong moral foundation and moral laws that transcend various religions. When people go against these things, they feel guilty, and they look for things to absolve them of their guilt. So something like the illustration of Christ being the bridge between a holy God and us sinful people works.

In Russia, however, they are a shame-based society, and they don't have a concept of "what I did wrong", but rather "who I am" that makes them unworthy. This especially affects men. Russia is a matriarchal society, and the years under Communism basically stripped men of their manhood. A police state works because people live in fear, and men have no power to save those who they love, so they just anesthesize themselves, with alcohol being the drug of choice. Also, they make very little money, and it is hard to support their families, so again, they are beaten down and hopeless. Women there think that men are useless, and the men accept that, and to compensate, they have a false machismo such that they are more violent and abusive, because then they are acting "manly". John said the officers he dealt with were very aggressive and confrontational, both with him and with each other, because that's just how they operate.

So how do you approach a shame-based society? Like Jesus did, you meet their needs. You model Godly relationships, you give them scripture, and you allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. The stories John shared were really amazing. Every 2 weeks they would have a big dinner and Bible study in their house, and any officer and his family could come. John's wife Rachel would cook tons of food,because first they would fill their empty stomachs. The officers would bring their whole families, knowing that this was one time that week that their kids could have a full balanced meal. Then they would have a Bible study for a few hours, and then they would have dessert and socialize for a few hours. John made it a huge point to serve his wife and the others. He would serve dinner, and then he would jump up and start clearing the table and washing up. That really got the women's attention, since they felt that all men were useless, and then they were glad to send their husbands off to spend time with John, even if they themselves were atheist! The men were astounded too. No one had ever seen people serving each other. Their society is very much "take care of yourself", so this was pretty radical. After seeing how John and his wife related to each other, the couples had a model for how marriages are supposed to work, and it was very attractive.

One phrase John lived by was this: "Radical responses to personal injustices earn us the right to speak truth." He based this on Matt. 5:39-42 (the "turn the other cheek" passage). He gave several examples. Bribery is a huge industry in Russia, since policemen and other groups in power are not paid well at all by the government. Before John went over there, he felt very convicted to follow Biblical standards and not pay bribes. So he would be walking down the street as a typical Westerner, and he would see the policemen ahead lock up on him. They would ask for his papers and then tell him there was a problem (this was signal to pay a few dollars of a bribe). John would say there was no problem, so they would take him off down to the station. After harassing him for several hours, they would finally let him go. Then he would turn back to the policeman and ask if it was hard to provide for his family. "Oh yes," the man would answer. "Very difficult with little money." "I want to give you a gift," John would say. And then he would pull out a roll of rubles and give it to them to the man, who would be absolutely astonished. So John didn't pay the bribe, but he understood the system and the problems, and wanted to help them. This shocking response led to ministry opportunities.

He also used a lot of humor to relive tense situations and put people off-guard, because of course, after an aggressive statement, they were expecting him to escalate the argument with more confrontation. He told of one man, a military colonel on the fast track to general who was a leader in his class. The man felt compelled by his position to try to intimidate John, so each week he would stand up at the start of their class (the ethics one), and say some aggressive statement out of left field ("My MiG-31 is better than your A10." [? I think that's what he said!]) Then he would stand there, glaring with arms crossed, and John would answer something like, "Well, I appreciate your observation, and I am glad we have never had to put your theory to the test!" Everyone would start laughing. After many weeks of interacting with this man, he came up after class and suggested that they trade pictures of their aircrafts. John took the picture and looked at it later on the subway, and the man had signed it "your brother in Christ". How neat!

Another man came to John's house one night for Bible study, and introduced himself by saying, "My name is Sergey, and I am an atheist!" John gave him a big old hug and said, "Great! I love you, man! Come into my house and eat a good dinner!" This was not the response Sergey had expected! John took a photo of Sergey and his family that first night. He and his wife are just sort of staring into the camera with absolutely no expression (John said that basically no one smiles there--everyone just tries to stay blended in). Several months later, he and his wife became Christians, and John took another picture. Wow, what a difference--they are smiling, he had his arm around her, and they have a look of hope.

He had a lot of other great stories, but John made an interesting point at the end of the session--he said that when he came back into the States, he noticed that we are becoming a shame-based society as well. People no longer feel any guilt based on what they have done wrong, in part because they have no real moral compass, or they feel the rules don't apply to them. But because of the high incidence of abuse, broken homes, etc., people feel very shameful, as if these things happened because of who they are, and they have no hope of feeling worthwhile. This would change how we minister to people, since going at them from a "forgiveness" aspect entirely is not going to be very effective.

Sunday John talked a lot about spiritual warfare, and I'll have to come back later to talk about those points.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Great Weekend

We're back from a wonderful retreat at White Sulphur Springs. Although the weather was rainy Friday and Saturday, everyone still managed to have fun with rock-climbing, foosball, and a square dance. Sunday was much nicer, weather-speaking, and Nathan got to go horse-back riding, and all the boys got to go canoeing with Bob in one of the ponds. We had a fun smore campfire and skit/game/song time Sunday night. One of my favorite things was staying up late talking each night with old friends. I did a lot of laughing! Anna was a pretty cooperative baby, napping very well so that I could be up and around while she was napping.

The speaker was really excellent, and I will try to write more tomorrow about some of his points. His name was John Voss, and he was a Navigator staff member in Russia for 10 years, from 1995 (I think) to 2005. His insights on the Russian military and culture in general were fascinating, and his insights into spiritual battle here in our country were also very compelling. So, more later . . . Right now, I have 4 very stinky boys who are in desperate need of showers and baths!