A Silent Night in the Magic Kingdom

silent night

I so hope that everyone had a refreshing, worshipful, and restful Christmas.  I hope you were surrounded by family and built lots of warm memories together.

My family went to Disney for the first time this year.  My husband went there once as a child, but I have never been there, nor have our children.  We went on the trip rather than exchanging presents this year; being there together was our present.  And both sets of grandparents graciously gave us some of the funds to be able to go.  The time together building memories was the best gift.  We need not have been at Disney for that- we could have done it anywhere, but we had perfect weather there, visited Jonathan’s brother who lives in Merritt Island, and it was fun for our kids to enjoy the wonder of the “magic kingdom” when they are still young.

Disney tries really, really hard to make everything “magical.”  Everyone tells you (with an enormous smile) to “have a magical day.”  There are parades every afternoon and fireworks every night at every park, beautifully decorated Christmas trees at every entrance, and every ride seems to try to out-do the ride before.  It was quite impressive.  However, the simplest things were those that took my breath away- my favorite event was the candlelight processional at Epcot with a massive choir singing “Silent Night” on a colder-than-usual Florida evening, the booming voice of Trace Adkins reading scripture, the soprano soloist hitting impossibly high notes, and the air filling with the sounds of the Hallelujah Chorus.  It reminded me of the kingdom that is better than anything Walt Disney could have imagined.

My second favorite moment was at Hollywood Studios.  We went to something called the “Extreme Stunt Show” which was a behind-the-scenes car chase show with cars going over ramps and even an explosion or two.  Nathan had wide eyes the entire time.  They pulled a boy about Abby’s age out of the audience to supposedly “drive” the remote control life-sized car, and the host asked him if he had lots of practice with remote controls and he said he didn’t.  Surprised, the host asked him what he did with his time and the boy replied that he “played outside with his friends.”  The audience immediately burst into spontaneous applause, cheering louder than I heard them cheer at any of the fireworks shows.

Despite the fact that we were all there at Disney (and judging by the smart phones everywhere), and thus that the crowd had pretty much embraced the digital age, there was a consensus among the crowd that the boy had “chosen what was better,” in playing outside with his friends rather than playing video games.  It was such an emotional and positive reaction, though, that it surprised me.  It was as if the entire crowd was giving a “high five” to that boy’s parents.  And it made me reflect on establishing limits as parents and the choices we make in education.

I have seen parents (not necessarily at Arborbrook) raise their hands in defeat and say that they don’t know how to get their kids off their computers and how to get them to stop playing video games so much.  It has always puzzled me that such parents don’t seem to understand that part of their job as parents is to help their children establish healthy limits until they are old enough to establish their own.  Limits are somewhat out of vogue in our American culture.  We don’t like to be limited, to admit that we need boundaries.  But all of us do need them.  I have learned that I need to turn off my phone during dinner, not read my email before my morning quiet time, and turn off my computer during the day on Sundays- your limits are probably different from mine, but I know that my work and my digital life could consume what is most important- my relationship with God, time with my husband and my children.  And such limits help me prioritize the important over the urgent.

One of my favorite Charlotte Mason quotes is this: “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”  How you choose to educate your children is an important choice.  Parents at Arborbrook have chosen to prioritize different things than parents who have chosen other schools or other types of schooling.  We have chosen margin over the constant stress of a test-driven culture present at many schools.  We have chosen to spend time outdoors whenever we possibly can, like that young boy who played outside with his friends rather than being inside playing video games.  We have chosen gardening over excessive worksheets.  We have chosen to make God’s creation and great works of art important parts of our curriculum.  The fact is that there is not enough time to do everything, no matter how long you make your school day.  We have chosen to prioritize the enjoyment of learning and making connections with what students learn over “force-feeding” students with absolutely as much detail as possible.

I hope that you will be able to make an appointment to come to our winter family fellowship on Thursday, January 17th.  It will be a time for you to discover hands-on some of the techniques that we employ and some of the things we are doing in the classroom.  When your children come home excited about a particular dry-brush painting that they did, you will have a better idea of why they are excited.  When your child’s teachers ask you to have your child narrate to you, you will have a better idea of what they mean by that.  When your child points to a painting in a book or museum and tell you that they love that artist, you will understand how that came to be.

Today is the last day of 2012, and along with helping my daughter organize her room, I have been spending some time reflecting on the year- what I wish I had done differently, what I am thankful for, and what God has been teaching me.  I also spent some time in prayer.  I have been learning more about prayer this year but I feel like I could spend a lifetime doing nothing else and still not really understand the mystery and wonder of it.  I am praying for those who are out of work or who have lost a parent, for those struggling with sickness and for those who are struggling with how best to parent one of your children.  But most of all, I am praying for each of you to experience more of Him in the year to come.

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Numbering our Days Aright

“Teach us to number our days aright,

that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

    Psalm 90:12

Today I heard the sad news that a few nights ago our older neighbors down the street lost their son.  He was forty-three years old and had been diagnosed with cancer recently, the diagnosis too new for them to know yet how rapidly it had already spread throughout his body.

Yesterday, Nicholas Andrade came home via Air Ambulance to Charlotte.  So many of us have been praying, and reports are that he made it here safely.  We are so thrilled with his progress, yet aware how utterly his life and the lives of his family were changed in that one instant when he dove into the water.

I am meditating today on Psalm 90, that great psalm of Moses and the verse which keeps coming back to me is verse 12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

How do I number my days aright?  I do not know if I will be on this earth in ten years or another year or even another hour.  How do I live in that uncertainty?  Certainly I don’t believe God wants us to live in fear, but rather in hope and trust on Him.  How many petty things would I lay aside if I knew I did not have long to live?  I am pondering this thought today- How would my life be different if I knew my days were numbered? (as really they are numbered- I just don’t know the number).

I would worship.  I just returned from my church from a second night of a worship program full of songs that point people to Jesus.  The music was excellent and the words were full of Him.  And even if this were my last day, I would still go to church and worship.  I would want to know more about Jesus and to seek His face because worship is something I will be doing for all eternity, and I want to begin to learn to do that now.  Worship reconnects my emotions and will with my Father.  They are so easily distracted by lesser things.  So I would continue to worship.

I would forgive.  Our pastor spoke about this in church this morning.  Would I dare hold something against someone if I knew this was my last day on earth?  Of course not!  I am aware that I will stand someday before the Holy Judge, and I know I have been forgiven much, so it is a correct response to that forgiveness to forgive others who have wounded me.  Not that this is easy or natural to do- it requires the supernatural assistance of our Father.

I would speak the truth in love.  How many of us go through our days not saying something because it would be awkward, not sharing something personal we are being taught with another even when prompted because it takes time, not pouring truth into our children because we are too busy.  I would be more courageous in my speech.  I would risk reaching out to a stranger, risk speaking into the life of a friend.  I would take the risk of speaking the truth in love.

I would love recklessly.  I would spend my money on a gift someone needs but does not expect.  I would embrace people more.  I would look more people in the eyes.  I would stop and ask them how they are doing and really listen.  I would set aside my agenda for His agenda.  I would spend time with my children right this very minute.  I would love with abandon.

I would pray without ceasing.  I am reading a great, great book right now called A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller.  I highly recommend this book because it is teaching me how to pray like a child, with faith and hope and desperation, and how to pray without ceasing.  It is encouraging me to lay aside cynicism, the spirit of our age, and instead to hope in a loving father.  If I knew my days were numbered, I would pray without ceasing.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed upin this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Romans 13:8-12

It is a very busy time in the life of Arborbrook.  We are about to publish electives for the spring, we are getting ready for a Christmas program, basketball is in full swing, and re-enrollment begins in January with many new applications coming in now.  It is so easy to get caught up in all of the things that need doing that I lose focus on what we are doing those things for.

The Christmas program is about Jesus- it is about focusing on the incarnation, God become man, and allowing our children to participate in that worship experience.   It will be next Thursday morning during Assembly and you really won’t want to miss it!  Basketball is about our students getting exercise, learning to play as a team, learning to win with grace and to lose with honor, enjoying the shared fellowship of time together on the court towards a common purpose.  Electives are about giving our children further opportunities to explore new interests or to develop in the ones they have already, about helping them one day find the thing or things that God is pointing them to do in the future.

Everything we do at Arborbrook we hope to do with one thing in mind- to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Yes, we want our students to love to learn but we want them to love Jesus even more.  If you knew your days were numbered (and remember that they are), how would you live your life differently?  I hope that our students are learning to live in light of eternity, to put aside the deeds of darkness, and to put on the armor of light.  To Him be all glory and honor.

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