Why did I write ‘Trouble the Water’?

book cover

Since the publication of my new book, Trouble the Water, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about why I decided to write it. It’s geared primarily toward middle grade readers (roughly ages 10-14) but I have had adults tell me they have enjoyed it as well. It takes place in the pre-Civil War south and tackles the issue of slavery. The deeper issue the main character wrestles with is, “Just because my society says something is OK, does that mean that God approves of it?” My hope is that kids (and adults) will apply that question to the issues of our own modern society.

So why did I write it? I originally started with the question, “How could a Bible believing Christian in the 1800s condone and participate in enslaving other human beings, made in God’s image? How could a true follower of Jesus justify that with their faith?

I did a lot of research, but wasn’t really able to answer that question. I suppose only God knows what went on in believers’ hearts who owned slaves. Some denominations tried to refuse communion to slaveholders, but the outcry of the southern members of those denominations was so great that the leadership gave in. The issue of slavery eventually split the Baptist denomination and the Southern Baptist denomination (which supported slavery saying that the races were meant to be separate) became a distinct group.

The Methodists in the north also condemned slavery but ended up splitting over the issue because the southern members supported it.

The Quakers were really the only denomination as a whole that denounced slavery from the start and remained united in that belief as a group. They were actively involved with the Underground Railroad and helped many slaves escape to freedom.

In spite of the general consensus within southern churches that slavery was ok with God, I believe God kept a remnant of believers who rebelled against this evil institution and sought to do what they could to help the slaves. There were many individual churches and Christians who were an active part of the Underground Railroad, risking their lives to help slaves to freedom. Hence my story of a boy who just couldn’t believe that God who loves all people would accept one group of people enslaving another.

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Is Violence in Christian Fiction OK?

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One writing project I’ve been working on over the years is a middle grade historical fiction novel that takes place in the antebellum south. A white boy befriends a slave while they both work on a plantation. In the story, the boy hears the slave being whipped. I don’t believe I was overly graphic about it – the character (and therefore the reader) doesn’t even see the event happening. He only hears it.

I had my 12 year old son read the book to get his feedback on it. He enjoyed the story very much and had no problem with the whipping scene. My 10 year old daughter read it, got to that scene in the book, and came to me in tears asking why I had written it. Yikes!

It really made me stop and think. As a writer, how much violence and what kind is OK? What I wrote about was the type of thing that really happened. Far worse happened to those slaves that I didn’t include. The last thing I want to do with my writing is to reduce little girls to tears! But does that mean I should shield them from the truth of that time period?

Around the same time, I read Joel Rosenberg’s trilogy “The Twelfth Imam”. I found it all fascinating, and in many ways it reminded me that God’s Word is true and His story of history is unfolding in the news each day. There is some pretty heavy violence in the book and some very disturbing scenes. I almost put it down several times because I wasn’t sure if I should be filling my mind with the images the book created. And yet they were all true things. Those disturbing things described really do happen in the Middle East. (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read it.) It’s true and should cause me to pray for those involved in the real Middle East (not Rosenberg’s fictional Middle East, although they’re not far apart!). But should I fill my mind with that kind of violence?

I also started reading a book by Ted Dekker, another Christian author. This book partially took place in the Middle East as well and included some very disturbing violence. That one I decided to set aside and not finish. Again, the violence was something that truly happens in that part of the world, but do I need to know about it? If I don’t know about it, am I just sheltering myself in my cozy, safe suburb and turning a blind eye to the evils in the world? That can’t be right, either…

So both as a writer and a reader, I struggle with this. In my fiction, I enjoy writing about redemption. How does God change people from being against Him to for Him? Many times, that transformation is messy. The situations that He redeems us out of are messy, ugly, and disturbing. Should Christian authors write about that? But it really happens…

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

But what if that which is true isn’t lovely?

I don’t have an answer to this one. I would welcome your thoughts!

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Help for the Highly Distractable Homeschool Mom

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“Mom, I need help on my math,” my daughter calls from the other room.

I stop folding the laundry and go in to help her. After reviewing fractions with her for a couple minutes, the 4 year old’s timer goes off, signalling the end of his screen time for the morning. I enforce that and deal with the resulting behavioral issues.

“Mom, what do I need to do for English?” my older son asks from his desk. While giving him directions, the notification alarm whistles on my phone. I see it’s an email from hubby asking me to take care of something for him.

In the middle of doing that, the mail truck drives up and I want to see if that magazine finally paid me for my article.

When I come back inside from getting the mail, I walk past the laundry room and remember that I need to finish folding the laundry.

Then my daughter needs help again. In the middle of that, the 4 year old says he’s hungry and announces that the “leg bone is connected to the butt bone” which disrupts any quiet we may have had as the older two laugh at the little one’s silliness…

I’m left with half a dozen tasks half completed and my brain in a fog, not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing next. The above scenario really isn’t an exaggeration, either! This is an area that I’m really struggling with lately and am trying to change. I certainly don’t have it figured out, but here are some things I’ve been trying…

1. Mute the smart phone notifications. I have found that I’m particularly thrown off course by auditory distractions and that little whistle on my phone is a huge one! I like knowing when hubby emails me from work, but I really don’t need to know the very second the email comes in. I also don’t need to know when something else horrible happens on the news or when some other ad appears in my email inbox. Texts and facebook notifications definitely fall into that category as well. It’s so tempting to see if there’s something fun or interesting going on, but it throws me off track big time. If I mute the phone at least during our main academic time, I do much better.

2. Teach the kids not to interrupt. We’re still working on this (and probably will be for a while), but I’m trying to teach my older kids (ages 10 and 12) that when I’m teaching (or correcting) the 4 year old, they need to wait for my help until I’m done. Many times the “I need help!” turns into a “Never mind – I figured it out” five minutes later. I’m trying to train them that if they’re really stuck, to move on to something else until I’m available to help them. The same thing goes for the 4 year old. If he’s supposed to be playing independently, he can’t interrupt my working with the older kids every five minutes to ask for a snack or just be silly to demand attention.

I’m also trying to train my kids to get up and come to  where I am to ask for help rather than always calling for me to come to them. If I’m folding laundry and they have a math question, they can come to the laundry room with their math book and usually I can answer the question while still folding laundry. That way I’m helping them without physically leaving (and therefore forgetting) what I was doing.

3. Have paper or an electronic version ready for “squirrel!” moments. You’re teaching a child a history lesson and suddenly remember that you need to add apples to the grocery list, you forgot to pay a bill, or a brilliant idea for something pops into your head. Keep paper and pen handy, or the electronic equivalent. I like using Evernote, Toodledo, and Out of Milk for my notes, to do lists, and grocery lists. It’s handy to have everything in one place. There are plenty of other options as well.

4. Everything has its time. Just as the “a place for everything and everything in its place” is so handy for keeping track of physical things, the same idea helps me when managing my time. If I know that I plan to do my writing during the kids’ silent reading time, then I don’t have to worry about when I’m going to fit it in. It already has a place. If I plan to do housecleaning chores during our mid morning break at 9:30, then I can put it out of my mind other times of day because I know it has its time to get done.

How about you? What tricks have you developed to keep from becoming too scatter-brained during your school day?

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I Finally Found the Perfect Homeschool Schedule!

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Just kidding. Sorry. Trust me, I’ve searched high and low to find the perfect schedule and it still eludes me. I keep refining it and I find some things that work, but then other things don’t work.

Since the first of the year, we start school earlier (8:30am) and have the big kids (ages 10 and 12) do an hour of schoolwork independently while I work with the 4 year old. Then we break at 9:30 and do our chores, Bible time and read aloud while the 4 year old does some electronic school with ABC Mouse or other similar programs. At 10:30 we’re back to doing academics before lunch, etc.

I thought we had found the perfect schedule. I love getting some academics done right away and then having dedicated time for chores, Bible and read aloud where I don’t feel rushed. I also enjoy having the (relatively) uninterrupted time working with my youngest.

The problem that has surfaced is that the older two are a bit too independent. There have been some struggles in certain subjects because I haven’t taken enough time to sit down with them and make sure they understand their material. There’s a fine line between encouraging student independence and Mom laziness. 🙂 It was nice having them do their work on their own with me only having to correct their work, until tests and quizzes came back with an obvious lack of understanding.

The other problem is that I need more definite ending times for the little guy’s screen time or it gets out of hand. He loves playing on his tablet or watching videos and I like it when he’s quietly occupied, but too much isn’t a good thing. He’s such an active child that he needs to be constantly occupied with something specific or he’s getting into trouble. I need that planned out ahead of time or the day descends into chaos.

So, we’re back to the schedule drawing board. We’ll keep the parts we like and try to tweak the areas that need work. I’ll have the big kids take turns reading to their brother while I teach the other, then switch. I’ll have definite ending times for the little one’s screens and plan specific types of activities (puzzles, art, outside play, etc) for the time slots that need it.

That will work for a while, and then we’ll need to tweak some more. Oh well! There is no perfect schedule – at least not one that works for every family at every point in life. I’m sure the sooner we realize that, the less stressed we’ll be. 🙂

Have you found the perfect schedule?

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Fun Ways to Use Bananagrams to Teach Reading

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There are tons of websites out there about how to teach our kids, so I don’t generally try to compete with them, but this will be one exception. My four year old is on the brink of reading. Seeing that light bulb go on is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling. 🙂 This little guy is by far my most active one yet, and I seem to need to switch things up on a regular basis. The more different games and materials I can use to teach the same thing, the better. He gets bored too easily with one thing over and over.

I’m a very tactile person, and I just love Bananagrams. It’s silly, but I love how they feel and how they clink together… Anyway, I found several ways to use them as another tool to teach my little ball of energy to read. He seems to like them, too.

1. Identifying letters. OK, so that’s pretty obvious, but I had to start somewhere…

2. Letter sounds. I like shuffling them up and quizzing him to see which ones he knows the sounds for. Then I can put them into a “knows it” pile and a “needs more work” pile.

3. Putting letters in order. Pretty self explanatory, but they’re just the right size to scoot around a table and work on singing the alphabet song while putting them in the right order.

4. Play ‘what’s missing?’ Put the letters in alphabetical order then take some out and have your child tell you what’s missing.

5. Sound out simple words. It’s easy with the tiles to form simple words and switch out letters to alter them. You can also have the letters separated from each other, sound them out, then gradually move them closer together to get your child to blend the sounds together into a word. B—-A—-G, B–A–G, BAG. For me, it’s always tricky to make that transition from them saying “buh, ahhh, guh” to “bag”.

6. Child forms words. Let your child build his own words.

7. Child builds sentences. Self explanatory.

Now that I’m on my third child learning to read, I have all these different resources to use. Good thing this is the kid who is going to need me to use all of them to keep him engaged!

Any other ideas??

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The Struggle to be More Mature than My Kids…

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I’m 40. It shouldn’t be difficult to for me to behave with more maturity than my 4, 10, and 12 year olds. But, alas, some days my biggest challenge is to do just that.

I caught myself the other day telling one child not to yell at the other just because one was cranky and yelled first. That was right after the cranky child was cranky with me and I yelled at her. Ugh. It’s not exactly fair to ask the kids to do what I’m not doing myself.

Parenting these days definitely isn’t as physically draining as it was when I was chasing toddlers all over trying to keep them from tearing the house, the library, or a friend’s house, to pieces. This Mom thing is way more emotionally draining now than it was before! My sister in law, who has two grown boys, likes to tell me “Little kids = little problems. Big kids = big problems.” We don’t have any big problems at this point, but parenting is definitely getting more complicated.

What seems to be most complicated at the moment is my keeping my own emotions and reactions in check. It’s so hard not to ride the tween mood roller coaster along with them! I find myself really struggling to not get upset and cranky attitudes.

As for so much of this homeschooling stuff, it provides more and more opportunities to go deeper walking with God. I learned all about walking in the power of the Holy Spirit back in college when I was involved with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) but applying it all seems to be quite an ongoing lesson. Ask for forgiveness, surrender the situation to God, ask Him to take the reins again. Repeat.

How do you avoid reacting poorly to the poor attitudes and moods of your kids?

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Is Homeschooling an Idol?

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I was listening to a podcast recently from Homeschooling in Real Life that I found very convicting. It was about a homeschool mom who had fallen into the trap of legalism and what it did to her and her family. I highly recommend listening yourself. Here is one of the thoughts it raised in me and how I found it convicting…

Is homeschooling an idol? An idol is something that replaces God. Something that we put our faith in instead of trusting God alone. I homeschool because of God – how could it become an idol?

We all want our kids to walk with God. For many of us, that’s a big reason why we chose to homeschool to begin with – to remove them from the negative influences of public school until they’re mature enough to handle it, thereby increasing the likelihood of them walking with God.

That’s all true and good. We’re making the best decision we know how and following God’s lead in our lives. However, I think the problem can arise when we start to put our faith in homeschooling to save our kids. If I just homeschool them, they’ll turn out OK and be vibrant Christ followers as adults. I catch myself in this lie regularly!

Homeschooling may prove to be a vital thing in their lives that God uses to lead them to Christ and then grow them into mature Christians. But the point is that Jesus saves our kids. Not us. Not our homeschooling.

Some homeschooling kids turn out great, and some make a mess of their lives. Plenty of kids who grew up in horrible homes and went to public school end up as faithful Christians and plenty of them makes messes of their lives. Homeschooling is a great option, but it’s not a magic answer.

Jesus is the only answer.

I foresee at least two problems (although there are probably more) that could arise from trusting in homeschooling to save our kids. (In addition to the obvious that it’s sin to trust anything over God.)

1. If, at some point, homeschooling becomes not the best learning environment for our kids, for whatever reason, the tendency would be to feel as if we’re ruining our kids, disobeying God, destining them for disaster, etc. Every child is unique and every situation is unique. While I see homeschooling as a great option for all our kids right now, it may not always be. There could be many good reasons why a traditional school environment might be God’s will for a child for a time or permanently. We shouldn’t refuse to pray about that option because we believe that homeschooling is the only way our kids will turn out to be followers of Christ. We must obey God in all things, including our kids’ learning environment. Even if it may mean not homeschooling.

2. If we get too comfortable with the idea that homeschooling will get and keep our kids on the right track, it can be easier to neglect their spiritual formation. “I’m already homeschooling, so it will be OK.” We still need to be diligent to study God’s Word with them and more importantly (conviction here for me) model a Christ centered life to them. Spend time in worship, service, and showing them what it means to daily walk with God. They still need to make a personal decision to accept Jesus as their Savior and follow Him. I find myself busy filling their heads with knowledge about God, but I also need to show them how to follow Him.

Do you ever struggle with making homeschooling into an idol in your life?

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