Last First Day

He awoke this morning before I did. His shower taken, lunch packed, and first-day cinnamon roll eaten before I made my way downstairs. No longer the sleepy-eyed tow-headed toddler in Superman pjs. He stands over six feet and is freshly shaved. The boy has become man, and it’s his last first day of school.

Our prayer over him this morning was simple.

Lord, make this year not about earning good grades or getting into college, but about leaning into you.
Give him knowledge – so he may grow in wisdom and wonder of the world.
Fuel his love of learning.
Protect his tender heart.
But allow heartache and hard days to do their necessary work. The painful chisels chipping away at the old and leaving an image that looks more like you.
Stop me when I step in and try to disrupt your work.
Give us much laughter.
And big dreams.
And eyes to see the miracles unfolding in unlikely and ordinary places.
Do what you must to grow him into the man you created him to be.
And thank you for the privilege of being his mom.

Soli Deo gloria.

Have a great last first day, Will.

 



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Mini-Me

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It’s a strange phenomenon – to have a child who bears your resemblance. My son looks just like his dad. He walks with the same posture and cadence. Their childhood photographs are virtually indistinguishable. The origin of my daughter’s knack for messiness and love of all things creative and comfortable isn’t a mystery. There’s a certain fulfillment that comes with seeing a smaller version of ourselves forging new territory in the world. In it’s purest form, the fulfillment reflects the heart of our Maker, who created His children in His own image. It was very good.

But as the story unfolds, the simple enjoyment of our children’s image-bearing has a dark side. One that creeps up in slight shadows, every-so-stealthily eclipsing the light. These smaller humans are trained to reflect our political postures, our preferences in literature, music, sports teams and social causes. We’re proud of our “Mini-Me”s. They’ve turned out well, of course, if they’ve turned out like us.

Having been thoroughly indoctrinated since birth, my children choose Starbucks as their favored supplier of refreshment. They prefer signed, hardback books to the lesser mass-produced paperback versions. Their artistic, movie-going, and musical palates are being refined daily. While listening to the (repeating) stream of popular songs on the radio, one of my children posed the (reasonable) question, “Why isn’t Ben Shive’s music played on our radio station?” To which his brother promptly responded, “The difference between Ben Shive and a lot of the music on the radio is like the difference between Tolkien and Percy Jackson.” They paused for a moment of somber reflection – perhaps for those starved souls who don’t know the difference. My children are becoming increasingly insightful – and opinionated. I’m grateful. I’m proud. Mission succeeded. Until I reconsider the mission. Until I return to the original mandate.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

~ Even creators of mediocre books and cheesy teen-angst music?

~ Even politicians who view things from a radically different viewpoint from my own?

~ Even pop-culture icons who make millions from our lust for celebrity?

~ Even friends who make radically different choices in how they parent, spend their money, deal with disappointment, and (fill your soap opera box of choice in here)?

“In humility, value others above yourselves.”

Am I modeling humility for my children? Are they learning to look for the dignity in others, regardless of their differences of opinions? Are their hearts being trained toward compassion and curiosity rather than judgment and pride?

Too often, my parenting is reflective of my own image rather than the image of the Father. My family becomes an unintentional empire through which I propagate my cause. The task seems insurmountable – to lead young ones toward the light, when my own sight is so skewed.

Yet the perfect parent steps in. He reminds us that He will complete the good works He has begun. That He will gently lead those who have young. That He will redeem my arrogant heart, my selfish motives, and my distorted view of myself.

It is in my brokenness that He does his best work.

As I listen to my children echo my opinions and preferences, my hope is that I will experience less satisfaction and more conviction. There, in the messiness of my own heart, the Potter molds and shapes me toward the image of His Son. Oddly, it is often through my inadequacy, rather than my competency, that my children catch a glimpse of their Father and an understanding of His goodness. It is at the pivotal point of humility and dependence that we begin to see ourselves in correct relationship with our Maker.

And it is very good.

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“Mini-Me”s in training.

 



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Bach, Legos and Andrew Peterson

This is the story…
behind the video…
behind the book review…
behind the coveted Wingfeather picture…

Our family spent the better part of last year studying the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  Together, we journeyed through his childhood, his family, his character, and his music.  We discovered that his family was so well-known that it was common to be said of excellent musicians, “He’s quite a Bach.”  Branding at it’s best in the 1800’s.

If my children remember one thing from our study, I hope that it is the signature with which Bach signed his music.  “Soli Deo Gloria” To the Glory of God Alone.”  My youngest used the phrase for copywork.  We all memorized it, and spent a fair amount of time discussing how those words translate into everyday life.  For each child, there was a thoughtful application.  I’d like to share with you what it meant for one child in particular.  And then I invite you to consider what it may mean in your life.

Will, my 12-year-old, has always been an old soul.  He read The Chronicles of Narnia at a young age, and was eager to explain that the books were “really about God and Jesus in a fun way.”  His interests are distinctive.  Will devours books, often spends his hard-earned money on beakers (and copper wire, pvc pipe, you get the picture) for science experiments, has the mind of an engineer and the heart of a musician.  It’s quite a combination.

Last spring, the majority of his energies were focused on learning, practicing, and perfecting 3 pieces of Bach to be played at his sister’s wedding.  Quite an undertaking and somewhat of a stretch.  In the early, somewhat painful, stages of learning the music, he was convinced that he couldn’t do it.  Too much, too hard, too little time.  We pressed on, cheering “Soli Deo Gloria.”  Real world translation:

Perfect performance isn’t the goal.

Pouring out our talents and gifting for God’s glory is.

We’re called to humility in giving rather than pride in accomplishment.

In addition to the world of Bach, Will spends a fair amount of time in the world of Legos.  Stop-motion videos, to be precise.  I wish that I had the attention to detail and patience that are required to produce a 2 minute stop-motion video.  I don’t.  But Will has spent numerous hours in perfecting his technique.  Scenes from Star Wars, the Wilderking Trilogy, and various robberies have been immortalized in the form of Lego videos.  Soli Deo Gloria… how in the world does this phrase apply here?  It feels like a stretch at best.  Not quite of the magnitude of a shepherd boy spending years perfecting his shot with a sling…  but a stretch.

Then came the Andrew Peterson’s unexpected announcement that there would be a contest for bloggers reviewing his latest book, The Monster in the Hollows.  Let me admit that we’re serious fans, and that the children have been indoctrinated accordingly.  So knowing that the contest would most likely be entered by adults who were “real writers”, we chose to believe that it was true, regardless of the outcome:

Soli Deo Gloria. 

God doesn’t call us to be like others. 

He calls us to use our individual gifting to His glory.

When the reviews came pouring in, I allowed Will to read through a few.  “I can’t do that” was his response.  No, he couldn’t.  But he could give out of what he had.  He mustered up the courage to hope, and days later, he had created a video for The Monster in the Hollows.  He then wrote a review that came straight from his heart.  To my knowledge, he was the only child who entered the contest among many adults.

Weeks later, the big day came.  The announcement was made.  The family celebrated.  Will’s younger brother literally jumped up and down while he cheered, and his little sister threw her arms around his neck and rewarded him with her infectious kiss.  The coveted award to the winner was an original Wingfeather Saga drawing.   Will was able to choose his favorite character or scene from the book, and Andrew would get to work drawing.

After months of anticipation, I’m grateful to report that Andrew delivered the drawing and it will soon take up permanent residency in our home.  The jury is still out regarding its chosen location – either in our family library or in the boys’ room.  Here’s a peek:

On the back of the picture is the following inscription:

 

As summer fades into fall, and months compound into years, the excitement of winning the contest may lose some of its luster.  My hope is that as we continue to enjoy the drawing so generously crafted for Will, it will be a tangible memorial stone for our family.  It will serve as a reminder that yes, it is true:

When we offer our gifting, passions and desires back to the Great Creator to use for His glory, He can and will use anything to accomplish that purpose. 

Even little boys who likes to read clever books and create with Legos.

The Great Library at Ban Rona in it’s most likely spot – over Will’s library.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For more on the Wingfeather Saga (including Andrew’s upcoming book, The Warden and the Wolf King) visit here.

You can read Will’s review and watch the video here.



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Packing Up

When they were days old, we prepared to leave the hospital.  We packed their bags.  With blankets and hats, plenty of diapers, extra onezies, a spare bottle of formula, diaper wipes, hand sanitizer, burp cloths.   We wanted them to be clean, well fed, and comfortable.

When they were two, we packed their bags.  With sippee cups and goldfish, well-loved board books, favorite stuffed animals, and a change of clothes – just in case.  We wanted them to be happy and content.

When they were seven, we packed their bags.  With soccer cleats and ballet shoes,  snacks for the road, favorite stories on CD for the car, markers for creating and books for reading.  We wanted them to explore the world, to receive a taste of the wonder, challenge, and richness that it had to offer.

When they were thirteen, we packed their bags.  We offered words of caution, wisdom,  preparation, and encouragement. While we watched them packed their bags.  With textbooks and notebooks, Gatorade, musical instrument and sports equipment.  The weight of the backpack was nothing compared to the weight of learning to parent teenagers.   We wanted them to make wise choices.

When they left for college, we helped them pack their bags.  With coordinating sheets and comforters, new towels, three seasons worth of clothing, and cleaning supplies and an iron that may or may not be utilized.  We drove away from campus feeling acutely aware of all that we wished we’d said and done.  Hoping that we’d left them with “enough”, and praying that as they needed wisdom, strength,or encouragement, they would reach into the bags we’d been packing for years.

This January, Chapman, our oldest son, studied in England for several weeks.  When he returned, he pulled from his bag several thoughtful gifts for our family.  Gifts that were so very “Chapman”, including sticky balls filled with a strange gooey substance for the kids, and a beautiful painting for me.  Yet the most significant gift that emerged from the dirty laundry and crumpled remnants of sightseeing receipts was his gift for my husband.

From his bag, Chapman presented a Blazon of Arms for our family. The certificate that accompanied it stated the following:

“Coats of arms originated in the 13th century as designs carried by knights of old on their shields in order that they could be identified on the battlefield.  These ‘armorials’ were formally recorded by heralds, with crests and mottoes later supplementing the arms.  The language of heraldry is of great antiquity and each ‘charge’ or device is symbolic.”  Its design was to reflect the character of the family.  It was a public display of private, deeply-held values.  It marked a soldier on the battlefield.

“Silander” is a Finnish name, for which there is no existing Blazon of Arms.  As a result, Chapman was given the freedom to choose from a long list of attributes to create his own.  A fitting job for an eldest son.

For the arms, he chose a lion atop a chief azure with three amulets, signifying strength and faith.  For the crest, he chose an arm embossed in armor  brandishing a sword entwined with a serpent proper, signifying wisdom.

When they were young, I thought that the goal of parenting was to smuggle all the advice, caution, wisdom, and encouragement into their bags, in hopes that they would make room and keep it all.  But as they became young adults, the bag became weighty.  Some of what we had packed was no longer needed.  Some of it just didn’t fit.

As Chapman walks across the stage today, he’ll be crossing the bridge into the land of full-fledged adulthood.  As he meets the experiences and challenges that the world has to offer, I’m grateful that the Good Gift Giver will continue to provide him with all that he’ll need. Far more than we ever could.   I also take comfort in knowing that it’s time for Chapman to choose what to take (and not to take) along on the journey.   He’ll sift through his bag bulging with two decades worth of advice, education, suggestion, heartache, experience, disappointment, hopes and dreams in order to emerge wearing a crest that’s distinctly his own.  One that is a public display of private, deeply held values.  A crest that embodies the guiding principles for his life.  One that will mark him on the battlefield.

The Silander Family motto –  Fides Vires Sapientia

Faith, Strength and Wisdom

I’d say he’s off to a promising start.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Through all the years of late night feedings, doctors appointments, carpooling, dance class, soccer games, piano recitals, math tests, church picnics, beach vacations, instructions in manners, challenges in disciplining, debate over appropriate movies (music, clothing and friendships), and dreams for the future, there was always that still small voice whispering, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” 

As we help our children pack up for the next adventure in their lives, the goal is not perfect parenting, nor is it perfect children.  The goal is for our children to lean on the Perfect Parent.  For that same still small voice is whispering to them,

“My grace is sufficient for you,  for my power
is made perfect in your weakness.”  2 Cor. 12:9



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Books for Boys: Why it Matters

 

Boys. Wow. They’re different. Having grown up in an estrogen-rich home with only one sister, I had a limited understanding of just how diverse the differences between boys and girls were. As a college student, I was stunned to see one of our male neighbors (we’ll call him “Hamilton”) drink directly from a carton of milk. Who ever thought of doing such a thing? I was shocked not only by the action, but also by my naiveté. At the wise old age of twenty, I apparently had a few things left to learn about the opposite sex.

When I married my husband, with him came Chapman, a charming blue-eyed little boy. This life change resulted in my immediate enrollment in “Boys 101”.  No more auditing. This was the real class. One of my earliest “boy memories” was created within the first few months of marriage. I was happily lost in the world of my latest book, when a sudden noise jarred me back to reality. It became repetitious. It was getting louder. In the corner of the family room, lounging happily on the floor, was a very content 4-yr-old Chapman. He had his matchbox cars lined up neatly in two rows. Every few minutes, after they had completed the requisite figure 8’s, one car from each of the rows would collide with great velocity into the another. Each crash came with impressively accurate sound effects.  Mystery of said noise solved. I leaned over and asked what I thought was a reasonable question. “Could you please be a little bit quieter when you do that?” He gave me a look that I will never forget.  It communicated something close to, “And what would be the point of that?” Hamilton’s milk carton sprang to mind. Boys.

Yes, boys differ from girls in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, the literacy rate for boys falling consistently behind that of girls is one of them. No doubt, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the problem, yet there is a consistent common denominator among researchers: Boys read far less than do girls.

Why aren’t our boys interested in reading? 

“Boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys. Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding “masculine” perspectives or “stereotypes” than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.” Why Johnny Won’t Read (The Washington Post)

So what’s the response?  

We want our boys to want to read. Unfortunately, many publishers have attempted to solve the problem by “insisting that we must ‘meet them where they are’—that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.  For elementary and middle-school boys, that means ‘books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.’ AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to “grossology” parties. ‘Just get ’em reading,’ she counsels cheerily. ‘Worry about what they’re reading later.”  How to Raise Boys Who Read (Wall Street Journal)

One of the many problems with this approach is that the end-goal is rarely reached. Boys’ hearts and minds hunger for stories of substance. We spoil their appetite by providing them with a steady diet of intellectual junk-food. The “at least they’re reading” theory is a bad one. In dumbing down the books that we give our boys, we’re reinforcing destructive messages about reading, quality literature, and the intellectual capacity of our young men.

In this powerful 3-minute video, Sally Lloyd-Jones (author of The Jesus Storybook Bible and Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing) shares the importance of capturing a child’s imagination:

What can we do to help facilitate healthy appetites for great story?

~Be intentional. Have a standard and a plan – for books to purchase and for books from the library.  For each of my children, I’ve created a list of books that I would like them to read AND that I think they’d enjoy. This makes the quick trip to the library or the Christmas list for Grandma an efficient, pain-free way to obtain quality books for them.  Visit the Exceptional Resources for Children’s Books page.  Each book listed is filled with great recommendations.

~Put limits on “distractions” (screen time).  When left to our own propensities, we often gravitate toward that which requires less work. Reading is deeply rewarding, but it requires more work than do video games and the TV. The studies correlating literacy with screen time are staggering. Our boys are building life-long patterns. The everyday choices matter.

~Listen to their interests and look for books that would be engaging to them. One of my sons judges the quality of a book by the number of battles that occur within. His first literary love was the Dan Frontier series (Frontiersman and Indians). Then came Peter Pan battling Captain Hook, Robin Hood, and King Arthur. He’s also, shall we say, addicted to engaged in  all things Star Wars. Although I might not deem the Star Wars books as great literature, they do embody great story. Battle Boy’s brother has a keen sense of humor and is drawn to books that are clever. To name a few, he’s been absorbed in Edith Nesbit’s Complete Book of Dragons, Jonathan Roger’s The Wilderking Trilogy, and most recently, GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. The Chronicles of Narnia and Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga are forever woven into the tapestry of both of their childhoods.  Although we try to provide a “well-rounded meal” of different genres of literature, I always defer to their tastes when purchasing books for gifts or rewards.

~Read aloud.  And whenever possible, have Dad read aloud.  Consistently.  My husband, who is not necessarily a read-for-pleasure guy, has committed to read aloud to the boys at night before they go to bed. I do the research and supply the “boy books.” They’ve worked their way through most of the Ralph Moody Little Britches series, and the three of them have developed a “secret culture” of which I’m (happily) not a part. The characters have become their friends. Together, they’ve endured perilous adventures and explored foreign lands. They’ve experienced the joy of being swept up in story.

~Appreciate boys for who they’ve been created to be.  Have vision for who they can become. Look for books that affirm and inspire them. Look for books that delight the imagination. Begin with “the end” in mind. If you want young men who are thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, brave, and of high character, give them a steady diet of books that will shape their souls in that direction.

More than the painting you see or the music you hear, the words you read become in the very act of reading them part of who you are, especially if they are the words of exceptionally promising writers. If there is poison in the words, you are poisoned; if there is nourishment, you are nourished; if there is beauty, you are made a little more beautiful. In Hebrew, the word dabar means both word and also deed. A word doesn’t merely say something, it does something. It brings something into being.”  Frederick Buechner

When you have a few quiet minutes, listen to this song by Steve Taylor (you’ll have to listen beyond the very 80’s synthesizer).  At its very heart is the power of the Greatest Story.

For our boys…

Hero by Steve Taylor
















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